Happiness is…A walk in the woods in spring.

spring in Earley woodEnjoyed a wander in Earley Wood near Petham with my gang of volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership this week.

gang wander in Earley wood

Herb Paris Earley Wood

Herb Paris

early purple orchids, wood anenomes and bluebells Earley wood

Early purple orchids, wood anemones and bluebells

jumble of twayblades Earley Wood

a jumble of twayblades

Lamb is off the menu

Lamb is off the menu

This morning, Sunday morning, I stood on the marshes and became a vegetarian. I had given up meat for Lent as I give up something every year. One year I gave up conflict, another alcohol, another unrequited lust and this year it was meat, but Lent was over and I could go back on the bacon sarnies if I chose.

It was 7am. I had already been up for two hours doing a bird survey, a bacon sarnie seemed like a good idea but then I watched a group of ten sheep playing, not lambs mind you, but adult sheep. Up and down the salt mounds they went, bucking and head butting, having fun amidst the peace of a Sunday morning  beneath the skylarks. They were a gang, mates, friends and soon, I feared, they would be herded into a truck with their mates, driven along a motorway, corralled into a yard full of fear and shot in the head.

I am not a sentimentalist. Working out in the country you see distressing scenes all the time. Things suffer, things die, things get eaten, nature is hard. But I am a thinking animal. I know friendship and fun and larks when I see it and I knew on this Sunday morning that lamb was off the menu.

What’s on your doorstep?

cycling outside Sittingbourne

Green lanes outside of Sittingbourne

Bank Holiday weekend and everyone hits the road and spends the weekend stuck in a jam on the motorway. Instead I decided to discover the delights a little closer to home and caught the train to Sittingbourne with my bike.

Sittingbourne is not an obvious tourist destination but a short cycle from town is Milton Regis, an ancient settlement with a high street of beautifully preserved buildings and the fabulous medieval Milton Court Hall. Here, at Easter, the local judge would preside over cases seated in a high chair in the upper storey. The hall is open every Saturday from April to September. Don’t forget to ask the friendly volunteers to show you the tiny town gaol with its unfortunate resident.

Milton court

Milton Court

My old OS map drew me across the railway and the M2 towards two hamlets called Upper Toes and Nether Toes. Who wouldn’t want to visit such places? Unfortunately the modern maps seems to have done away with these names and grouped the places together under Howt Green.

Luckily apple orchards and quiet country lanes still exist just outside Sittingbourne. With the ever encroaching threat of housing the get out and enjoy them while you still can.

Milton church gravestoneI finished my trip with a visit to the beautiful Holy Trinity Church, one of the oldest in Kent. Built on a site of pagan worship the churchyard is a gem of ancient headstones, including one from the 1600’s of a boy who was killed on Guy Fawkes night by an exploding rocket.

Why spend Easter stuck in a car, polluting our countryside with exhaust fumes only to arrive hot and bothered in a crowded location? Instead step back in time, catch a train, dust of your bike and discover the things right on your doorstep.

 

A Year in the life of an environmental consultant – March 2017, Getting ready for spring.

glowing gang with litter

Volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership glow with pride at their morning’s work.

It’s been an incredibly busy month as we prepare for the start of the survey season. The month began with a survey of channels on Chislet marshes for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. We spent a day plotting the extent of the invasive species parrot’s feather which has unfortunately found its way into the ditch system. If left untreated the plant will shade out our native flora, clog structures and block sunlight from the water which will de-oxygenate it and lead to a loss in aquatic invertebrates.

parrots feather in wademarsh autumn 2016

invasive parrot’s feather growing on Chislet Marshes

 

“This is a particularly difficult situation,” said Carol. “The plant has spread rapidly and colonised a large area of the marshes. It is entwined with marginal vegetation along ditches which are a water vole stronghold. The challenge is to find a way of removing the plant while acting sensitively towards other species.”

 

To deal with this challenge Carol has sought advice from the Environment Agency and Andrea Griffiths, Senior Partnership Officer at Medway Valley Countryside Partnership, who has extensive experience at dealing with invasive species.

 

“Partnership working is really useful for issues such as this as we can all draw on each other’s experience to achieve a good result.”

 

The plant was quite possibly unintentionally introduced to the waterways by a member of the public, who may have been tipping excess frog spawn from a garden pond. Unfortunately this has resulted in years of expensive work for others.

 

On a brighter note we are delighted with the progress of many of the farms we visited this month as part of our advisory work on breeding waders.

 

Farmers have really taken on board the advice given in the autumn and have performed miracles in making grassland wet in what has been a very dry year. Topping and improved grazing regimes has resulted in much better sward conditions and many farmers have signed up to the funding available from the North Kent Capital Grant Scheme, administered by Kent Wildlife Trust.

 

Now we are all keeping our fingers crossed for good weather conditions this spring so the hard work can produce tangible results in the form of more wader chicks successfully fledged in North Kent.

 

volunteers cleaning litter March 2017

volunteers removing litter from the channel.

Lastly we were delighted to work once again with volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership in order to improve a small, urban stream in Canterbury, managed by the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. This rather sad little channel was full of litter, carelessly thrown by passing motorists and had become dark and shady in some sections and overly managed by neighbouring business’s in others.

 

Over two days the volunteers cleared around forty bags of litter from the channel, cut back overhanging trees and planted 100 colourful wetland plants outside the Mercedes Garage on Sturry Road. Many thanks to Mercedes for providing drinks and sweets. Serco for removing the litter but mostly to the excellent volunteers who it is always a joy to work with.

 

Ten things to do before your book launch.

 

1st annual gardening garden party

Raise an army to help with your book launch. (sample army only, not for hire)

You’ve been writing that book for just about ever and lo and behold, against all the odds, you have found yourself a publisher. Your book is going to be out there on the shelves and the launch has been planned like a military operation. The nerves are kicking in and if one more person tells you to, “just enjoy it.” you’re going to scream. Follow my ten point plan to make sure you survive your big night and make it one you remember for all the right reasons.

 

  1. Firm up the details of your launch with the venue, publishers and your agent.
  2. Raise an army of helpers to lay out glasses, put up road signage and greet guests.
  3. Visit the venue with a friend to practice your speech and readings. Make sure your guests can hear you from everywhere in the room
  4. Buy a dress, get a haircut, do what it takes to feel confident that you look your best on the night.
  5. Designate a driver so you can enjoy your own hospitality and a photographer so you can remember the event if you’ve enjoyed the hospitality a little too much.
  6. Go Pilates, meditate, wander in the flowers, drink cider by the river. Get into your zone in whatever way does it for you. ( I did all four)

    32 towards St Cuthberts Island

    Get into the zone, just don’t forget the cider and the designated driver.

  7. Try to get some early nights and no doubt fail as everyone suddenly wants to spend time with you.
  8. Bathe in the good wishes of friends (they really are excited for you.)
  9. Get sage advice, a pep talk and a hug from a friend you love and trust to calm your nerves.
  10. Go out, smile and yes, enjoy it. After all, you have earned it.