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.
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.
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.