A Year in the life of an Environmental Consultant – April

April 2016 – Up with the lark.

dawn on a farm on Sheppey

April marked the start of this years breeding wader surveys on farms across North Kent.  The survey has now been extended to 12 farms stretching from the Hoo Peninsula, across the Isle of Sheppey to Conyer near Faversham. Throughout the next few months we will walk all the sites  twice, concentrating on areas with potential for birds such as lapwings, redshank, oystercatchers and yellow wagtails and follow up with a survey conducted by vehicle in June in order to look for chicks. A further survey may be carried out in July.  The survey follows on from advisory sessions carried out during the autumn and spring to discuss how to get the best out of each site. Advisory sessions concentrate on getting the grazing and water management right and tackling predation.

This work is part of a long term collaboration between Natural England, The RSPB, Carol J Donaldson Associates and the farmers but, after one season of advisory work  we are beginning to see some results. Overall the land is in better condition for breeding waders and, although there is still lots of room for improvement then we have been delighted by the good will and effort which some farmers have gone to improve things.

The cold weather which began the spring will not have done early breeding birds any favours but we are hopeful that numbers of fledged chicks will be up on last years results.

Dawn starts and long walks dominated this month but we did take time out to work with the Bredhurst Woods Action Group to install barriers to prevent illegal trespass off the byway which runs through the woods. It was a welcome change to spend time in this beautiful bluebell woodland after the exposure of the marshes and the baked potatoes for lunch were very welcome.very neat fire at Bredhurst Wood

volunteers at Bredhurst Woods

The Peculiar People

May you live in interesting times

Essex, my home county. To many the word Essex is a byline for tacky; footballers wives, x factor contestants, white van men and girls with spray tans. What few people know is that Essex has long been a county where radicals dreamt of creating a new utopia, where, hidden away among the creeks and saltmarshes and on isolated islands, traditional ways of living were challenged.

The Peculiar People exhibition, on until the 2nd July at the Focal Point Gallery in Southend on Sea, brings together a collection of art, literature, correspondence and film footage that documents the various communities that sprung up along the Essex coast.

From the plotlands of Dunton, where Eastenders tried to create a home in the country away from the city smogs, to religious groups like the Peculiar People and Othona where people created communities based on sustainability, acceptance and humility to the Hadleigh Farm Colony where William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army dreamt that the ‘submerged tenth’ of the urban population in danger of drug and alcohol abuse or falling into prostitution could return to a more natural way of life, tending the land and receiving free education.

The exhibition was both inspiring and relevant in a world where so many people seem disillusioned with the dominant ideology of our time to make money and buy more stuff. Communities like Othona where people could escape the rat run and regain some sense of what is real and important by living simply and working the land seem like a jolly good idea.

There seems that there was a time in this country when people  still felt that an alternative was possible. Maybe the 100 years before Margaret Thatcher came and squashed out hope and ideology. Now, as we are told that the pursuit of profit is the only God worth serving, we seem stuck on a conveyor belt leading to the destruction of the planet and a loss of our own humanity.

But increasingly it seems that I meet people who just can’t follow this line. Who are falling, or jumping off the conveyor belt and saying ‘there has got to be some alternative to this.’ Maybe in the radical living experiments carried out in Essex we can find some hope that there is an alternative, that just by saying ‘no’ and living differently we can regain some sense of self and some sense of the divine.

As the poster says, we living in interesting times.

http://www.focalpoint.org.uk/exhibitions/current/63/

This is how it is.

scrub removed 3

Scrub removed at Bakersfield – May 2016

Yesterday was a dark day for me. I tried. Anyone who’s ever known me will know that I tried to stop the destruction of the wildlife rich site at the top of my road.

As McCulloch Homes and Bioscan continued to celebrate spring by ripping up scrub from Bakersfield a site filled with breeding birds. I contacted the RSPB and Wildlife Crime Officer. I prowled the site taking photos and video of the destruction and confronted black hearted people claiming to be ecologists.

Mark Thomas, Head of Investigations at the RSPB thought we had a good case. Nightingales and cuckoos, both red listed birds suffering severe declines in this country, were breeding on site, scrub was being pulled up and because birds go to great lengths to hide their nests it was impossible for any ecologists to find them all prior to the digger ripping into them, especially ones from a firm that had concluded that hearing nightingales singing on site in May was not evidence that they were breeding there.

However, we hadn’t factored in the attitude of the police. I was phoned by a wildlife crime officer from Kent police who informed me that Bioscan were a thoroughly respectable firm full of very decent chaps and maybe I should talk to the man overseeing this work and attempt to understand it from his point of view . That, unless I could actually find a nest  of massacred blue tits, he was not prepared to act.

In my mind there are two types of ecologists. Those in the light and those in the dark. Bioscan and their ilk are in the dark. They learn their ecology, they go on their training courses to get their licences and then they sell their souls for developers money. I do not converse with the dark side.

And so no one will be prosecuted for destroying Bakersfield. I cannot produce that nest of decapitated baby birds. I cannot prove their actions were illegal but even if these firms can persuade others that their actions are legal that doesn’t make it moral, that doesn’t make it right.

A nightingale sang and then was destroyed.

Last night I sat in my garden with a friend. We built a fire, watched a shooting star fall overhead and listened to a nightingale sing. It made me unbelievably sad. These moments are what makes life precious and we are destroying them.

The scrub that the nightingale sang in is being ripped up to make way for a inappropriate and unnecessary housing development. Houses sit empty all over this country and we are destroying the places that bring beauty and joy into our lives to make way for developments which only enrich the lives of the, already rich men who champion them.

I will no longer step out of my door in the morning and hear cuckoos. I will no longer sit in my garden at 1am and hear a nightingale sing and this destruction erodes the very things that make life worth living.

I am supposed to follow the party line that the wants of humans have far more value than the needs of the other creatures that live on the planet. I just can’t subscribe to this point of view. Humans are two a penny, nightingales are rare and getting ever rarer as they make way for profit and I care passionately about this and cannot rouse myself to care if people don’t have a mortgage.

This morning I tidy the remains of the fire away and take some comfort in the fact that the blue tits eggs have successfully hatched in my nest box. I can do this. I can make homes for blue tits but all I can do for the nightingale is rage, rage against its destruction.

Listen to a nightingale sing here.

 

Nightingale site destroyed.

250px-Nachtigall_(Luscinia_megarhynchos)-2

As I sit here nightingales and cuckoos are singing at the end of my road in a little patch of scrubby and chalky delight known as Bakersfield. At the same time a digger is ripping the scrub up overseen by an ecologist from a firm called Bioscan.

The ecologist should know better. He does know better. He knows this is wrong.

“Why do you do it?” I ask him when I stop to challenge them over why work has begun on a site when I have a letter from Medway Council’s housing department telling me their will be another public appeal.

“I can’t afford to work for the RSPB,” he says. “They don’t pay enough and, besides my boss has done a nightingale survey.”

Even the digger driver is saddened to see the site go. “This was my playground when I was a lad. Before long all this countryside will go to housing and Rainham will be attached to Sittingbourne. And what about the traffic? It’s going to be gridlock when this development starts.”

“But what can we do?” they both say.

What can we do? What can we do while the blind pursuit of profit for a few is put ahead of the desires of local residents or the wildlife that inhabit this precious site?

What can I do? I wish someone would let me know.

A good read – Neil Ansell, Deer Island

untitled (13)

 

Just finished reading Deer Island and loved its simplicity and sadness. I have a habit of meeting and gravitating towards people such as those Neil describes. People who have lived in squats, who have lived rough, who have given up on planning life as life has a habit of scattering plans to dust.

Neil tells a story I understand; drifting between helping the homeless and being homeless, of falling into chaos and finding years of your life swept in a whirlpool vaster than the Gulf of Corrywreckan he visits. I liked the way he chose to tell this story, not as some Eastenders melodrama, wailing, ‘me and my poor life.’ but, instead with an undercurrent of responsibility for his own choices.

This is not nature writing but an account of a tumultuous life which drove him to seek, if only for a brief time, solitude on a remote Scottish island, to maybe close a chapter and find some resolution within himself to the sadness of seeing people he had come to care about die of poverty, squalor and addiction.

This is not nature writing but at times the exquisite simplicity of it made me want to cry. Neil’s account of finding two otter cub skeletons in a cave was told with a sparseness that made it truly moving.

You are left wondering what happened to this man after he left his island. The books final line says he has never been good at keeping hold of things, which makes you feel he is still searching for his answer.

Neil Ansell says, ‘security is an illusion. Everything you have can be snatched away in an instant.’ Lord, I know this to be true but, despite its truth, I found myself hoping that he finds some security.