The Swale, Kent this morning.
The Swale, Kent this morning.
Back at my parents for Valentine weekend was never going to be easy. I escaped on Sunday afternoon for a walk in the woods. My childhood wood. The one which had always symbolised wilderness and magic and adventure to me because it was the only one I could get to undetected by my parents.
I avoided the crowds of the Country Park and headed ‘off piste’ to lean my back against a many branched oak tree and blend and be still and become part of nature, not apart from it.
A friend told me recently that he too felt this need to separate himself from people, to head for the countryside and be alone. This, he told me, made him, ‘not normal.’ I had thought on this. Was I also not normal? Probably, yes. After all, few women of my age were spending Valentine’s afternoon snuggled up to an oak tree in a wood. Clearly, by this benchmark, I was crazy but, to my mind, wishing to be surrounded by people 24/7 was unthinkable, that was simply insanity!
A blackbird dashed through the wood in alarm pursued by a sparrowhawk, twisting on its side, flashing its pale plumaged undercarriage. Neither of them noticed me. The sparrowhawk missed, the blackbird crashed into scrub. I saw the path the hawk took by the wave of crows rising to mob it.
It was growing dark. I knew the parents would worry. I headed back, taking the less used path beside the derelict hospital.
A barn owl hunted the rough grass, luminous and long winged in the gathering gloom. I hid in the trees watching it quarter the grass, legs hanging low, listening, listening to the shrews, that I too could hear. Out here alone, silent, abnormal and happy to be so.
The nature of running a small environmental consultancy means that you have periods of the year when things are quiet, times when there is nothing to survey, no rivers to restore and no water voles to rescue. This pause in the year is usually welcome. It is a chance to plan where you are and where you want to go in the year ahead.
2016 begun for us with a fantastic day surveying on Barksore Marshes, a peninsula of land where the Medway Estuary meets the Swale. We were there to look at opportunities to improve the grassland for breeding waders, essentially looking at where the site could hold shallow pools of water and estimating how high the grass might be come the Spring.
With all jobs there are days when work is work but some days work is just a privilege. Today was one of those days. To spend a bright winter’s morning visiting a beautiful area closed to the public was a joy. Out on the Swale knots and dunlins twisted through the fog with a noise like a wave breaking on shingle and dark bellied brent geese paddled in the shallows of the bay.
a mid month meeting with wildlife photographer Robert Canis http://www.robertcanis.com gave us the opportunity to discuss joint projects to raise awareness of the beauty of the North Kent Marshes and the need to minimise disturbance to fragile estuarine habitats.
Our plans for the year ahead have started to evolve with staff training in hedgelaying and water vole trapping coming up and plans to work with Hadlow Agricultural College to offer work experience placements to students wishing to get a grounding in survey work and the reality of working as a consultant.
We value this opportunity to help others and give something back and with that in mind we joined the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership for a day’s volunteering at a farm near Wye. Enjoying a day of action coppicing a hazel hedge and creating faggots (twiggy bundles) to use in river work this summer.
We end January refreshed and excited by plans for the year ahead.
I feel these days there is a never ending stream of battles to fight. No sooner do you breathe a small sigh of relief at the squashing of one scheme poised to damage the places you love then another comes along. It wears you down, but I guess that’s the point.
On Thursday by accident I hear of a proposal to begin a sea plane business in the Medway Estuary. The guy shows me the map of where the planes are planning to land, between the breeding tern colony on Burntwick Island and the RSPB reserve of Normarsh. This area is a RAMSAR site rightly protected as one of the most important places for breeding and overwintering waders and wildfowl in the country. Peel Ports are running a consultation I am told but I am amazed that the proposals have even reached this stage.
I call my friends, Medway Swale Estuary Partnership, the RSPB, Countryside professionals in Medway Council. None of them have heard of these plans. So just who is being consulted?
Having raised the alarm things swing into action. The conservation bodies who protect this area begin to add their voices to the consultation.
“Well done you, for making people aware of this,” my friend says before going on to tell me that a development company have just won their appeal to build on the site at the end of my road.
Bakersfield is a scrubby brownfield site chocha block with songbirds, including nightingales, orchids and reptiles. McCulloch Homes’ original planning application had been thrown out by Medway Council as the site is just too valuable for wildlife but now the developers have won on appeal because the council isn’t meeting the government’s demands for housing at a quick enough pace.
I had protested against these plans, breathed a sigh of relief when they were dropped and now I have to swing into action to protest again. I do so, writing to Buglife, to the council, to my MP but it is exhausting, it is time consuming, it is never ending. It is designed to grind you down and make you stop saying ‘No.’ But saying No is still our right, it is the most important thing we can do. While I still live in some semblance of a democracy I will keep going. Raise awareness, protest, say no. giving in is not an option.
To contribute to the consultation for sea planes landing in the Medway Estuary contact email@example.com
To protest against the planned development at Bakersfield contact firstname.lastname@example.org