One Wild Winter – Visit a rook roost

rook-roost-1Went into sensory overdrive this evening down at the rook roost at RSPB Northward Hill reserve, one of the locations for BBC’s Winterwatch.

After several days when we all seem to withdraw indoors I revelled in the march across the darkening marshes. In the great rasping sleepy hush of the birds, a single silver star and a tawny calling in late winter hopefulness. The loss of the light, a rosy sunset. A winter wildness far from the overheated fug of living rooms.

See the country’s largest rook roost below

Welcome back the light

katie-and-simon-admire-the-viewWinter is a time of darkness for all of us in the Northern Hemisphere. I know some people find this hard. You go to work in the dark you come home in the dark and in between is a backdrop of grey murk.

Like many things in life you need to embrace the winter dark for what it is, a time to withdraw inside and sort out your housekeeping. This can be a chance to get on with all those indoor projects that are impossible to do when the sun is shining. A chance to enjoy the delights of reading a book by the fire with a glass of cherry brandy or some internal quest to sort out your inner dirty laundry and make the new year a fresh start.

The dark is a blessing but on the winter solstice it is also a joy to turn the corner of the shortest day and welcome back the sun.

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Chilham Castle in the mist.

This year my traditional solstice walk went from the beautiful village of Chilham near Canterbury in Kent up to the downs where mist hung in the valleys before descending to Godmersham Park, once owned by Jane Austin’s brother and which was the inspiration for Pride and Prejudice.

We then headed up again to Blue Downs, through yew groves and along holloways before descending back to Juliberrie Downs and visiting the long barrow, now almost lost in the corner of a field of cabbages.

solstice-walkers

Solstice walkers on a holloway.

The long barrow is very long indeed, 144 feet to be precise but is now almost covered in bramble. Inside a stone hand axe had been deposited and later Roman burials took place there along with the deposit of a hoard of coins. Legend tells that it is the burial place of either a giant or a whole army and its horses.

an-offering-of-bread-and-mead

an offering of bread and mead

Today the spot was empty and the sun set directly in front of us as we welcomed back the light, called for peace to the four directions. (In my case not very loudly as I had lost my voice.) Offered bread and mead and sacrificed something we wanted to leave behind in the old year which we wrote on pieces of paper and burnt and then hung on a nearby beech tree a hope for the new year written on a strip of cloth.

This is a rather ad hoc solstice ceremony but as the sun sets on the grave of a prehistoric ancestor it is hard not to feel the movement of time and a connection with the winters of the past when there was far more to fear in the darkness and far more reason to give thanks for the return of the sun.

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solstice sun from Juliberrie’s grave.

 

The tireless women of Standing Rock

I was inspired by reading about these women’s successful battle against big business and would like to share it with you

idealisticrebel

'Miracles Are Happening': Photos of the Tireless Women of Standing Rock

ALL PHOTOS BY CELINE GUIOUT

‘Miracles Are Happening’: Photos of the Tireless Women of Standing Rock

DEC 7 2016

Thanks to the efforts of Standing Rock protesters, the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline has been diverted. Photographer Celine Guiout went to Standing Rock to shoot the women who made it happen.

Over the weekend, the US Army Corps of Engineers finally delivered some good news to the thousands of protesters camped out at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation: Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline would be halted.

The proposed pipeline would have carried crude oil underneath Lake Oahe, a dammed-up part of Missouri River and the main water source for the reservation. The Sioux tribe has repeatedly expressed concerns that the pipeline could lead to contamination of their water supply and threaten its water and treaty rights.

After months of the stand-off involving protesters (who call themselves…

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Yurt Building

yurt-thingsSpent the weekend on a yurt building course with Canterbury based organisation, Sacred Energy

Amid a lovely coppice woodland we learnt the delights of green woodworking.the joy of peeling bark.jpg

After the tree was felled. I enjoyed the delight of peeling the bark using a sharp, two handled knife that slipped beneath the bark like butter and ripped the strips off with a noise like peeling sellotape. I think peeling bark has got to be up there with the joys of life and would be the ideal therapy for stressed out office workers.

 

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Carl splitting timbers

following this the tree was split into half, quarters and eights. Each division a little more tricky than the last as you had to carefully watch that the split stayed central and compensate for what the tree wanted to do, working the split around knots and little abrasions called by rabbit damage when it was young.

 

Doing the work by hand gives you a real appreciation of these old skills and also helps you see each tree as an individual, worthy of your time and attention. You work with the tree to turn it into something not impose your will upon it as is the way with modern power tools.

Following the splitting we all headed for our shave horses and spent a few hours turning the stakes into rounded poles which will be used to make up the trellis work of the yurt.deeply-into-our-shave-horses

The highlight of the workshop was the chance to steam bend wood. Something even the instructor Mark had never tried with chestnut before. The veneers for the roof circle were easy but the roof beams were a different matter.steam-bending-veneers-for-roof-circle

After an hour in a long steam box we quickly pulled each beam out and bent it round a slightly heath robinson contraption of an oil drum and a piece of Perspex. We all expected to hear splitting and cracking, but no, the plans of wood, each at least half an inch thick, bent easily into shape.

Carl's face says it all..jpg

I look forward to seeing how the yurt takes shape and visiting it once it is finished next year.

 

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Yurt roof timbers bent into shape

 

Update on North Kent Breeding Wader project.

Find out about one of the many exciting projects I am working on in my role as an environmental consultant for Carol J Donaldson Associates.

By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Frank Vassen from Brussels, Belgium [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

At the end of our second year of work on breeding waders for Natural England and the RSPB in North Kent it is time to reflect on what has been achieved so far.

In 2015 we completed a baseline survey of seven farms across North Kent and began the initial process of meeting farmers and finding out how the land under breeding wader stewardship options was managed.

In 2016 we added a further six farms to our survey work and visited all thirteen farms three times in the breeding season to count pairs and fledged chicks. Numbers of pairs rose from 67 to 73 and, most importantly, productivity was up from 0.13 to 0.19. It is definitely a step in the right direction but a long way short of where we want to be with lapwing numbers in North Kent.Wood rill April 2016

Overall, most of the farmland was in much better condition for waders this year, with far improved levels of standing water on the fields. Grass, however, continued to get too long, preventing the all round visibility needed. A warm winter, coupled with supply issues with graziers and a need to increase stocking densities meant that many sites were overly long again by May.

This Autumn our work to improve management was given a boost through the North Kent Capital Grant Scheme. This funding, administered by Kent Wildlife Trust, comes from the building of the Sittingbourne Relief Road and can be used to enhance the habitat of the North Kent Marshes.

Farmers enthusiastically took up this opportunity  and applied for funding to create scrapes, improve water control and manage ditches. If their bids are successful it will have a really positive impact on the land for wading birds and this should reflect in the figures of next years survey.

Throughout the Autumn and Winter we have been busy visiting all the farmers under the HLS scheme, offering tailored advice to each plot of land and feeding back issues to Natural England.

I sense that this personal approach has resulted in a new positivity and determination from many farmers to improve their results. Many farmers genuinely want to manage the land to benefit wildlife as long as it does not conflict with making a living from farming and food production. These two aims can work in harmony.

I very much hope that 2017 will be a breakthrough year for many of the farmers we work with and look forward to being out in the fields again in the spring.

The Twelve Days of Christmas

 

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St Peter’s on the Wall, Bradwell.

Like many people I find the festive season stressful. This year, one look at the hoards of stressed out shoppers almost made me cry off the whole thing.

 

However, Christmas should be enjoyed, whatever your religious beliefs. For all of us in the Northern Hemisphere it is a little patch of light in the dark months. It is a time to think of those we care about and those that need caring about. It is a time to reflect and feel the turning of the year.

So this year Christmas has found me in a myriad of little ways. This is my recipe for 12 things to do over the Christmas period to rediscover your own reason for a winter celebration.

  1. Play a game with your loved ones. (I played gin with my dad…once we remembered how.)
  2. See the geese arrive. (There’s few places better than The Wash for bird spectacle at this time of year.) geese-on-the-wash
  3. Eat roast dinners with friends. (Three and counting.)
  4. Have a kiss under the mistletoe. (Accomplished…never you mind with whom.)
  5. Welcome back the light. (Waiting for the solstice for this one.)winter sunlight North Downs Way
  6. Sing Carols in a beautiful place. (Even if religion is not your thing then these are beautiful songs. I went to the simple Othona advent service at St Peter’s on the Wall in Bradwell.)
  7. Go to a holy place. (Whatever that might mean to you. I visited the underground delight of Royston Cave. A place where two ley lines cross.) wall-of-carving
  8. Give gifts without expecting anything in return. (I made my fabulous mechanic Doug happy.)
  9. Buy yourself a present. ( A new pair of binoculars.)
  10. Embrace your winter layers. (Can you beat the 11 items of clothing I once wore on a cold day?)
  11. Fall in love with winter trees. (what’s not to love?)

    the-tree-mlp

    by MLP

  12. Mmmm. you tell me what this should be.