A walk to Yantlet Creek

yantlet 6 creek

Yantlet Creek looking towards the London Stone and the Thames

Just finished the first round of dawn bird surveys. Even at 6am on a barren grassland with an Arctic wind flying along the Thames then I know that this job is a privilege. I see isolated bays and sunrises, the sharp light of dawn, hunting marsh harriers and a world with only me and the skylarks awake.

Tuesday I walked the sea wall at Yantlet Creek on the Thames Estuary. The bay at the creek mouth was deserted apart from me and a big dog fox who bounded off in puppy leaps but was overcome with curiosity every few steps, stopping to turn back and judge me. Deciding I was harmless, he stopped to shake himself sending a shower of droplets into the air, an eiderdown on dew sent skywards.

I walked down to the memorial stone marking the entrance to the bay. When I came here many years ago there had been a plaque commemorating the death of a young boy who had drowned in the bay, now all that was left was a green stain where the copper plaque had been lifted by thieves, for its scrap value no doubt.

yantlet 1  memorial stone

memorial stone

 

I sat down for second breakfast, coffee and muller rice and watched the moon fade and an egret fishing the shallows. The trails of water reaching the creek wriggled their way across the mud like blood vessels across the brain. There were birds in the bay, redshank, oystercatchers, godwit, a whole flock of knot peppering the water with their wing beats but none on the land I had come here to survey.

That is where my real work begins, not on these dawn walks to count birds, that part is easy, the real work is in enthusing a farmer to make the changes that are needed to create land suitable for these birds to breed.

An easy jet plane flew over the gas container storage depot out on the Isle of Grain and I felt myself slip through a wormhole in time. The marshes, the bays do not seem of this century and, in them, I become not of this century. Slipping into a world of Bawley boats and labour on the land and gentleman naturalists heading out with butterfly nets.

Despite its fragility the world I occupy seems more solid. If the industry and the aeroplane vanish, as one day they will, the bays will remain and part of me will remain in them as having attempted to create an alchemy of land and water and wildlife, the bones of life, onto which the 21st century’s imposition seems tinny and temporary.

yantlet 2 sea pursulane in flower

Yantlet Creek looking towards the London Stone and the Thames

 

Second breakfast finished I continued on my way past the saltmarsh towards the head of the creek where two black backed gulls guarded an ancient dock demanding tolls from all who dared to pass.

 

Dawn on the Isle of Sheep

20160418-0001

In the midst of six days of 4.30am wake up calls as I head out for the first round of breeding wader surveys on the marshes of Sheppey, the isle of sheep. The early start means I am like a bear with a sore head by midday but, believe me, I never for one moment doubt how lucky I am that this is my day job. Marsh harriers, plummeting lapwing, beautiful sunrises and on Monday my first swallow of the year, flying across Capel Fleet.

At home in the woods.

Carol, Ray and shelter two

I am working on ideas for a new book. Currently what it’s about is all a bit unclear. I get an idea here, a thought there, I am told a great story and it leads down another path. Is it going to be fiction, non fiction, a rather daring mixture of both? At the moment I can’t tell you.

I can say that part of the research has seen me taking to the woods on a weekly basis to try out survival skills. One week I cooked bacon and nettle sandwiches in the woods, another week I spend hours attempting to light a fire with a flint and steel and, eventually, succeeded. This weeks project was shelter building. My oldest friend, Karen and I, took to Willow woods and tried out hand a constructing a shelter amid the bluebells.

With my trusted Ray Mears bushcraft skills book in hand we began by measuring our shelter and constructing a frame.

DSCN4606[1]

measuring the shelter

Gathering the wood poles to construct the walls took a lot longer than we imagined but by now the structure was looking pretty secure. We then weaved ivy, honeysuckle and leaf litter into the walls.

karen checks out the shelter for size

Trying these skills out for real gives a much better appreciation of the time and amount of material needed and how little you would want to abandon such a home and build a new one every night. All crucial insights for my story.

We toasted our new home with a cup of hot chocolate and a swig of mead from my hip flask.

delivering a cup of hot chocolate

delivering a cup of hot chocolate to the door.

“You know what we need to do now?” I said to Karen. “We need to take it all apart and return it to the woods.”

Karen looked horrified at the thought. It had taken hours, it was cosy and a thing of beauty, she wanted everyone to admire it. But, she knew I was right.

So we destroyed our creation, flinging the poles in the brush and scattering the leaf litter all around. When we finished there was nothing to see, like we had never been there, and that was just as it should be.

 

A place for all eternity

kits coty seven

Took a walk on the North Downs Way caught between sunshine and showers through woodlands of wood anemones and early emerging bluebells,  along holloways, past yew groves and sarsen stones. A landscape where the prehistoric ancestors walked close on my heels.

I emerged at sunset at Kits Coty a Neolithic burial chamber set overlooking the Medway valley. Alone on the hill with the resting place of an ancient king I felt that his people had done him proud, it was a fine place to spend eternity.

A Year in the life of an Environmental Consultant – March update.

March 2016 – A World of Water Voles

barry

The month of March has been choca block full of water vole. Work to improve a pump house on a watercourse managed by the Lower Medway Internal Drainage Board involved widening a drainage ditch which survey work had revealed held a small population of water vole. Due to the length of the channel trapping was the only option.

Working with Derek Gow Consultancy, traps were set along the channel and checked morning and evening for 15 days. After 5 days with no water vole signs the site was declared clear and the ditch banks were scraped of vegetation using a destructive bank technique overseen by ecologists.

Josh Bartel check a trap

Josh Bartel sets a trap

setting water vole traps on steep banks involves good balance!

setting water vole traps on steep banks involves good balance!

Legislation involving water voles has recently been reviewed. Where only small sections of bank are to be effected by works then displacement is sometime a better option than trapping. This involves strimming banks to bare earth in order to encourage voles to move to new territories. Until recently their was much uncertainty about the success of this technique and it was used widely and at varying times of years as a cheaper and less invasive option to trapping. Under Natural England’s new guidelines it will be necessary to hold a displacement licence to carry out this technique and work will only be able to take place during the early spring.

The new guidelines provide welcome clarification for a practice which was previously open to interpretation and the emphasis on an overall conservation benefit from the work should hopefully make it harder for developers to destroy quality habitats and replace it with inadequate and overstocked translocation sites. More work needs to be done with follow up monitoring to ensure translocation does not result in a net loss of protected species.

To ensure we are up to date with procedure we finished the month with staff training in water vole handling techniques at Wildwood in Kent.

What’s with the dead bees?

Tonight I took a walk in Ditton Quarry Nature Reserve near Maidstone in Kent and came across about 30 dead bumble bees in one tiny patch of the quarry. Why?

My companion said it made her anxious, “like something was wrong.”

We are all so tuned in to bee deaths nowadays and imagine it is a sign that we are screwing up the planet. We are. But a delve into the Bumblebees Conservation Trusts website suggested a more innocent explanation, an overdose of lime nectar.

Lime trees are abundant in the quarry and it is just possible that the bees went crazy with lime. It seems the bees don’t get the equation right between the energy content of lime and the amount of energy they should use in finding it. Like running from shop to shop trying to find a sugary snack which gives you energy for only a few minutes. The bees just drop from exhaustion, particularly at the end of the flowering season.

Ah, but here’s the snag. Lime trees don’t produce nectar in April, so my friend may well be right to feel anxious and something indeed may be very wrong.

On the marshes – To be published

14 writing by the estuaryAlmost a year since I finished my journey across the North Kent Marshes meeting people living alternative ways of life, I am happy to announce that I have just signed a publishing contract with Little Toller Books.

Little Toller Books are an independent publisher who look for writers who ‘seek inventive ways to reconnect us with the natural world and celebrate the places we live in.’

On the Marshes follows my journey from Gravesham to Whitstable meeting houseboat owners, chalet dwellers and friends of hermits living in the woods. The journey was a way of understanding my own experience of living in a caravan on the marshes for three years, my eviction from my home and the subsequent breakdown in my long term relationship.

I hope the book will help people see the beauty and value of an atmospheric corner of England which is under constant threat and give an insight into why some people follow an alternative route in life.

Many thanks to Little Toller for seeing the books potential, to my agent Joanna Swainson of literary agency Hardman and Swainson for working so hard to get me a deal and mostly to the many wonderful, kind, brave people who took the time to meet me and share their stories with me.

Getting a publishing deal is a huge and longed for step for me but I get the feeling that a new journey is just beginning and their will be a lot of learning to do before the book is finally on the shelves. Like any big and scary change in my life I am dealing with the only way I know how and have begun to write something new.