It is the last day of April and the country is being deluged with rain. Six weeks worth is due to fall in one day, the Met office tells me.
However, we have also seen some beautiful spring weather this month. The season seems to have accelerated with blossom and bluebells coming all at once.
At the beginning of April I spent two days with volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership overseeing the creation of new berms at Port Rill, a drainage channel managed by the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. The weather could not have been more of a contrast, the first day we spent in hot sunshine, the second in icy winds but whatever the temperature the volunteers did an excellent job at installing woody debris.
The work done by the volunteers last spring is beginning to show results with parts of the channel re-naturalising, creating meanders and fast flowing sections. Years of silt are being scoured away to reveal underlying gravels. New wetland plants have established themselves on the berms and there were plenty of frogs enjoying the re-energised channel when we visited.
The second half of the month was crammed with breeding wader surveys and I saw many beautiful sunrises over the marshes.
Over the autumn, North Kent farmers have been busy creating new scrapes and rills and altering drainage systems. The winter rains have filled these new features and the result is more waders than ever before breeding on North Kent farms.
As figures stand at the moment we have an extra 15 pairs of lapwing breeding on the farms than this time last year. That is surely something to celebrate and pulls me out of bed each morning when that 5am alarm goes off.
These great results are a real testimony to the benefits of giving tailored advice and building long term relationships with landowners. The farmers I work with really want to see more birds on the land but have to make a decent living at the same time.
Good subsidies for creating wildlife rich landscapes backed up by strong legal powers for those that damage the environment are all important if we are to create healthy farmland and river systems which benefit both wildlife and people.
I’m watching the birds but who’s watching me?
Another day, another bird survey but this morning it felt different. Yesterday, while undertaking a survey on a remote site with no public access, I had been watched through a telescope by a local birder. He took photos of me with a long lens and posted them on Twitter in the misguided belief I was doing my job incorrectly.
Of course I was upset by his attempt to discredit me but more than that I felt invaded. It made me feel vulnerable in a way that the isolation and the herds of cows and the occasional meeting with a shepherd or a gamekeeper never does.
People often ask me if I feel scared being in the countryside early in the morning on my own and I say truthfully that I never do. It is because to me the solitude is sanctuary and the occasional lone man I meet stops to have a friendly chat.
Now I feel watched, spied upon by a man with angry thoughts running through his head. I worry about the photos he took knowing that, a few minutes before he took the photo he had posted on twitter, I had pulled down my trousers and had a wee in the long grass. Did he take a photo of that too?
I sympathise with the desire to collect evidence to right some perceived wrong. I once took photos of an ecologist collecting dead lizards from a site after the bulldozers had been on but I took the photos openly and presented them to the local wildlife crime officer not posted them on social media for the person to be publicly tried without jury.
This morning out on another site at 6am I felt different. I wondered where he was, this man with his camera. Hiding behind a bush? Papping me from the windows of the Sheerness train? Watching me from a parked car? I crossed my legs when nature called and walked on, my solitude and privacy gone.
Many thanks to Inspiral London for inviting me to take part in their night walking event on the Hoo Peninsula. Enjoyed talking to an interesting and very politically aware audience on the LV21
Not normally a fan of pictures of people’s lunches but couldn’t resist showing you this photo of my foraged and bagged lunch. Sea beet and eggs courtesy of one of my marshland farmers.
For all of you not getting up at 5am to do dawn bird surveys here is a photo to show you what you’re missing.
Saturday 21st April, LV21, Gravesend 4.30pm – 6.30pm.
When I was asked to take part in a festival of night walking across the Hoo Peninsula I had to say yes. I loved walking the RSPB reserve at Northward Hill in the evening and never felt afraid but many people would not feel safe walking after dark.
This festival allows you to explore some great venues along the Thames coast after hours. Highlights for me include Friday evening’s magic lantern tour of Rosherville Pleasure Gardens and Saturday evening’s all night walk across the marshes, only to be attempted by the hardy, well fuelled and adequately shod, I should think.
The festival is being run by Inspiral London whose main aim is to encourage walkers to explore London after dark and hopefully it will attract people to visit the North Kent Marshes for the first time and experience it’s beauty.
I will be giving a talk on the LV21 light house ship on Saturday evening and more than likely joining the walk afterwards.
For tickets and to find out more visit the website. https://inspirallondon.com/2018-inspiral-night-walking-festival/
I’m sure that everyone in Britain is feeling that, this year, winter has gone on too long.
After the snow has come an endless series of cold, wet, grey days.
Last year I prayed for a rain as wet fields are generally good news for our breeding waders, providing soft mud into which the birds can probe for insects. Now, along with everyone else, I wish for spring, full bodied, bloody, roaring spring to arrive.
In March I visited more farms as part of my pre survey season checks for the North Kent Breeding Wader Project. Visiting the farms early in the spring gives an indication of how well the land is likely to do for breeding birds and provides an opportunity to give the farmers any last minute advice to tweak the management before the birds settle down.
Despite the cold wind, lapwings and redshank are already setting up territories on the best sites and overall farmland managed for waders in North Kent is looking in better condition than it has in years with plenty of standing water on the fields and new scrapes and rills. Even farmers who I thought were immune to change have been in with the diggers and reversed drainage schemes in order to create wet areas in their grassland fields. While others are clearly proud of having the birds on their land and don’t want to see them disturbed.
March also saw the completion of our work for Brooks Ecological Services at Langenhoe solar farm. Throughout the winter months we have been undertaking Webs counts but on our last visit wintering waders and wildfowl were no where to be seen. Instead the site was heady with the sound of skylarks singing and hares raced towards the field edge at my approach.
Spring has felt a long time coming but now it is well and truly here.