Happiness is…finding a woolly bear in my garden

woolly bear caterpillar

Woolly bears were everywhere when I was a little girl. They were the ‘go to’ caterpillar for the pre pubescent naturalist wishing to imprison them in a jar and watch them turn into chrysalis and then become the beautiful black and orange garden tiger moth. As children we lived with tales of the terrible rash which would erupt on our limbs if we touched them but touch them of course we did.Then they became rare then they seemed to disappear from our ever more tidy gardens.

Luckily, with all this rain, my garden is a jungle and the woolly bear can roam at will. This one was tucking into an evening meal of jasmine.

 

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A Year in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – May

Josh bird watching on Stoke Marshes

Josh Bartel surveys Stoke Marshes near the Isle of Grain.

The peak of the breeding season saw us visiting farms across North Kent to monitor breeding waders. Along with monitoring numbers of lapwing, redshank, oystercatchers, snipe and yellow wagtails, we also recorded the fledgling productivity of lapwing chicks. Detailed notes were made on the sward condition, grazing regime and the amount of water laying on the fields. This information is used to better understand the ideal management for waders on both grassland and arable sites and to inform advice given to landowners to ensure that farms receiving stewardship payments attract breeding birds and that chicks have the best chance of successfully fledging.

The project is a follow on from the work started through the Nature Improvement Area (NIA), and is a partnership between NE and the RSPB.

This month we also worked with the Environment Agency and the River Stour Internal Drainage Board to advise on management of a small river called the Sarre Penn, which runs close to the village of Chislet outside of Canterbury.

Sarre Penn © Copyright Marathon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Sarre Penn © Copyright Marathon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The channel experiences high winter flows and we discussed possible ways of managing this alongside enhancing the channel for wildlife. Options included reconnecting the channel with the floodplain and creating a two tier channel using woody debris to create pools and riffles which will create more diversity and opportunities for aquatic invertebrates.

The next stage is discussing the options with the landowner and undertaking a water vole survey, only then can we make decisions on the best way forward.

Lastly we undertook a bird survey for the Medway Swale Estuary Partnership at Hillyfields Community Park in the centre of Gillingham. We discovered that this remnant of old orchard and open fields is home to 16 species of birds, including coal tit and mistle thrush along with abundant blackcap, chiffchaff and wren.

Hillyfields Orchard © Copyright David Anstiss and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Hillyfields Orchard © Copyright David Anstiss and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

This shows how important our small urban green spaces are for wildlife. Unfortunately many of these sites are currently under threat by developers looking to exploit the current relaxation of planning laws. Our towns and cities will be poorer places if these wildlife rich sites are deemed to be unimportant and swept away.

In the skies above Rome.

330px-ChapmanSwiftsByKatSam

Chapman Swifts by Kat Sam

Before the rain the air above Rome was full of swifts, flying to feed their chicks under the eaves of city centre apartments. diving between buildings, feeding on the aerial plankton of insects which floated high above the traffic. ‘Why don’t we have the swifts in London?’ I thought. ‘We have old buildings too, why aren’t we living with streets full of swifts?’

Maybe the difference is in our attitudes to life. The Italians, I am told, take a more relaxed view, not forever worrying about tomorrow, not financially planning for a future which could not arrive. They live for the day, they enjoy the pleasures of life, good food, family. Maybe this relaxed attitude extends to building renovations, maybe that crack in the fascia or slipped roof tile will just be fixed tomorrow, so the birds find a home here which is denied to them in our more fastidious society.

Maybe the difference also is that Rome seemed to be full of people living in the city, ordinary people with ordinary apartments where as London is nowadays only the preserve of the super rich. The super rich can afford all those building renovations which ordinary people put off until tomorrow.

So Rome is a city in which life is on the streets where as London seems increasingly to be a city devoid of its citizens both human and avian.

Spring is over

rainbow and sheep

It started with a sunrise and it ended with a rainbow. After approximately 30 dawn starts I finished this seasons breeding wader survey today.

As I crawled out of bed at 4.30am this morning I admit I thought, ‘Thank God, last time.’ The sky was loaded with rain, the early morning drivers aggressive and insane, it started raining the moment I entered the site and I was faced with the task of weaving my way across 22 fields intersected with a maze of dykes and populated by overly confident cows.

I stood waist high in the grass in the rain and still I was happy to be out. To see spring unfurl, to spot burnet moths sheltering in the grass and the carmine flowers of grass vetchling. To hear the curlews calling out on the mudflats of the Thames, to marvel at the glow of an egret against a sky so low and leaden you could feel the weight above .

This evening I visited my last site, a series of meadows down by Capel Fleet on the isle of Sheppey, the rain returned but so did the sun and a rainbow appeared above the sheep. These damp and insect rich fields were a joy of bobbing banana coloured yellow wagtails. Oystercatchers fluted my arrival, marsh harriers twirled in mid air dropping their yellow legs to snatch at unwary birds. A rush of young starlings overhead signalled the change of season.

Spring is over, the wading birds I watch have, for the main, either succeeded or failed in the yearly quest to raise young. The lapwings have fledged and tomorrow I can sleep in.

Loyalty is not always a good thing.

nightingale

nightingale copyright Petra Karstedt https://www.flickr.com/photos/insecta62/

Last night on BBC’s Springwatch I learnt why loyalty is not always such a good thing. A nightingale, it turns out, flies from Africa in the spring back to exactly the same bush in England it left from the previous year. No wonder nightingales in our country are doing so badly.

The nightingale currently breeding in the scrub at Bakersfield at the end of my road will be one of the losers next spring. He will fly back to his favourite spot to find that it has been turned into a building site. So, I fear, will many others.

In the current rush to throw up as many houses as possible, in the current rush to sweep away planning restrictions, in the current rush to destroy all brownfield sites many of our countries nightingales will lose their territories.

In this country we have tree preservation orders, protection for trees which are special. Why can’t we have the same thing for the places that are so important for one of our most iconic birds? Why can’t we have nightingale territory preservation orders? Extra protection for the trees which are important to them.

It will never happen of course because we fail to see beyond our anthropocentric world view. Tree preservation orders protect trees which are important to us because they are beautiful to our eye or important for our history. Our first national parks protected landscapes considered to be attractive by the people choosing them.

But what’s good for wildlife is not always what is good for our eye. Scrub is often not beautiful, wet grassland is not beautiful, brownfield is not beautiful. If only we could shift our thinking to protect not just the pretty but the pretty damn important then our countries wildlife and in turn our own lives, would be richer for it.