Mr Brooks and the bally Barn owls

Mr Brooks and the bally Barn owls

Mr Brooks finally gets his barn owlI first met Mr Brooks on the second day of my new job with the Kentish Stour Partnership way back in 2009. He instructed me as I teetered on top of a ladder in his cattle barn trying to put a number disk on the side of his barn owl box which would allow us to monitor it’s progress.

“Do you know one end of a drill from another?” he called in his upper class voice. “Next time bring a man.”  I felt suitably slighted.

mr-books-and-i-strike-a-deal-with-katie-the-dog.jpg

Mr Brooks and I strike a deal.

A few weeks later he wanted a second box put up. I agreed this was a good idea but there would be a charge for installing the box. Mr Brooks was aghast. “I don’t deal in money,” he said “We barter.” Ah, now he was talking my language.  A box, I told him, would cost him either a bottle of whisky, a goose for Christmas or a brace of trout from his trout pond. Once I got off the phone I was told off by my boss who suggested that, as we sat next to Trading Standards, this was not the way we should be doing business.

 

 

 

I  returned to his land with a box and three men but went up the ladder myself to install it. Mr Brooks, true to his word, appeared in full fly fishing gear and tried for those trout but with no luck.

Years passed, the barn owls refused to take up residence. Instead stock doves moved in,

no I won't ring it's bally neck

A beautiful stock dove.

filling the box with their twiggy nests. Me and the professional ringers would extract the birds. “Don’t ring their bally legs, ring their bally necks.” Mr Brooks called in the background. We refused.

Then, yesterday, I returned. We climbed the ladder expecting to find the twiggy nests once again but, no. Instead we found a barn owl and three fair sized chicks. Mr Brooks, now in his eighties, has his barn owls at last and I, for one, couldn’t be happier for him.  I am still waiting for the trout.  Mr brooks investigates his bird

 

Sheppey Shorelines

Sheppey shorelinesThink Sheppey is nothing but ranks of caravans and slot machines? Think Again. The Isle of Sheppey is one of the undiscovered beauties of Kent, stuffed with rare wildlife and beautiful skyscapes. Move over Whitstable, Sheppey is coming.

Discover the island for yourself with this festival of talks, walks, rock pooling and beach cleans run by the marvellous Medway and Swale Estuary Partnership. Find out more at

https://guardiansofthedeep.org/gotd-events/

 

 

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – May 2018

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – May 2018

cows and avocetWhat a month. We are now in full swing with the breeding season and I am out almost every day at the crack of dawn on the marshes undertaking breeding wader surveys.

However, at the beginning of the month, I took a morning’s walk across the Hoo Peninsula with Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer who contacted me after reading my Guardian article about the marshes close to Higham village which are soon to be damaged to make way for the Lower Thames Crossing.

 
Aware of my work with farmers in North Kent, the Baroness, who chairs the All Party Group on Agroecology, wanted to discuss the upcoming Agricultural Bill and find out what I think is needed in order to engage farmers in managing the countryside for the benefit of wildlife. Simpler Stewardship agreements, coupled with one to one advisory sessions would be top of my list.

Sue and I took a beautiful morning’s walk taking in Lodge Hill SSSI which Medway Council wish to sacrifice to property developers. The highlight for us both was definitely hearing a nightingale in the woods at the RSPB’s Northward Hill Reserve.

 
We have now completed two rounds of surveys on 13 farms across North Kent and numbers of pairs of lapwing are up from 58 pairs in 2017 to 72.5 pairs in 2018. Almost all the farms I work on have seen a rise in numbers and it looks a much better year for redshank, oystercatcher and yellow wagtail as well.

oyster catcher eggs phil barling

oystercatcher eggs. photo taken by farmer.

The methodology we use to undertake the survey is the O’Brian and Smith Lowland Farmland Breeding Wader Monitoring Protocol which is used on all the RSPB reserves. This involves walking into the fields which can cause a temporary disturbance. Alan Johnson RSPB South East Conservation Manager says the following:

 
“Managing wet grassland for breeding waders requires good hydrological, grazing and predator management. To be successful, all of these aspects of management need to be done to a high standard and tweaks often need to be made from season to season. Breeding waders are highly responsive to management changes and big population increases can be the result if you get it right. Surveying breeding waders in spring helps land managers to understand what changes need to be made and also how successful those changes are in future years. In the past, survey data has been critical to understanding the issues on the RSPB’s reserves in North Kent, where management changes resulted in high quality wet grassland with high densities of highly productive lapwing and redshank. Now we are using data to inform changes in the wider farmed landscape. These benefits are balanced against the risk of disturbing birds at a sensitive time of year by carrying out the surveys, which involve surveyors walking through fields. The survey methodology tries to minimise these risks, but ultimately the cost/benefit analysis strongly favours the continuation of surveys on wet grassland”.

 
Without this survey data it would be difficult to show farmers the benefits improved management is having to bird numbers. Hard for Natural England to judge where it’s money is best spent and hard for us to know how numbers of wading birds are faring in North Kent overall.

 
As well as increased numbers of target species, the work the farmers are doing has also resulted in an increase in avocet and ringed plover as well as visits from some exotic guests such as these two beautiful spoonbill which turned up on Sheppey on a sunny evening in late May. spoonbill at Attwoods June 2018

This is the second year these birds have arrived on the same site and, although not a breeding pair, it is an indication of how our wildlife is naturally changing as new species colonise from the continent. I, for one, intend to have the farmland of North Kent ready to welcome them.