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.


6 thoughts on “A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – May 2018

  1. It all sounds very interesting and worthwhile, setting aside the environmental damge to be caused by the new projects.

    Do you know why farmers gave up on wildflower field margins two years ago? Was there a change in regulations? There’s a place I go to where they manage it for cirl buntings. Management included spring-sown barley and wildflower margins but two years ago the field margins were ploughed up.

    • Hi Philip. I don’t know why but I manage some Stewardship agreements (5-10 years) which involve managing wild flower margins and a range of other Options on farmland. Such margins may be rotational (moved around the farm over a number of years) or may need re-sowing every few years. Otherwise, the agreement may have ended and they decided not to go for the flower option for one reason or another.
      Wild bird crops, Spring sown cereals, uncropped margins and flower rich margins are the Options I would have thought would provide a good year round food supply for Cirl Buntings.

      Carol is now mixing with the higher echelons of society and may we one day see Baroness Donaldson of Elm Park, or Hoo?

  2. Thanks Barry, they are still doing the spring sown cereals but have abandoned the wildflower margins. They leave the stubble over winter and there are quite a few flowers about nearby in the summer which I suppose provides the insect food.
    I was of course touching my forelock deferentially in Carol’s direction as I typed the first comment!

  3. Dear Barry and Phillip, I think we all know that mixing me with societies higher echelons would be explosive. Baroness Sue was actually a down to earth farmers daughter but it was a nice opportunity to show the area to someone with influence.

    I wonder if the loss of field margins could be something to do with the EU cutting back on set aside a few years ago in the hope of lowering food prices. It could also be, as Barry suggests, to do with changing stewardship options or dropping out of stewardship altogether. Some farmers find the red tape involved inflexible and not worth their while.

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