Nature Notes Vlog

New Year’s resolutions have started early and I have created my first Nature Notes vlog. Follow me on a tour of St Mary’s Church, Lower Higham. It was here I began and ended my book On the Marshes. I plan to do many more of these tours in the next few months so keep your eyes peeled.

A Good Read – Inglorious, Conflict in the uplands – Mark Avery

Inglorious
I am conflicted and sometimes, I feel, hypocritical when it comes to shooting.

 
As a wildlife lover I cannot conceive of every wishing to kill a living creature for fun and yet all year I talk to farmers about ‘predator control,’ two sanitised words which equate to killing foxes.

 
Foxes are beautiful creatures but there is no getting away from the fact that they cause major problems to beleaguered ground nesting birds such as lapwing and, unless you can afford to erect a big fence around your land, shooting foxes is the only way that waders can currently survive on the small pieces of habitat suitable for their needs.

 
After reading Mark Avery’s book I am also convinced that there is also no getting away from the fact that hen harriers cause major problems for red grouse .The difference is that, unlike foxes, hen harriers are protected and threatened with extinction as a breeding species in England due to the activities of game keepers on grouse moors. While red grouse are living at such densities on shooting estates that they are developing such gruesome sounding illnesses as bulgy eye!

 
Mark Avery feels that hen harriers and grouse shooting cannot survive together and numerous scientific reports support this. One has to go and in his book Inglorious, Conflict in the Uplands, Mark persuasively argues for the banning of driven grouse shooting.

 
Far from being full of dry facts and tub thumping rhetoric this book is very readable due to Mark’s conversational style and, while the man seems well able to hold his own in debate, he actually comes across as reasonable and balanced. This is not a vendetta against land owners or a call to end all sport shooting in this country rather a laying out of the argument against once form of shooting.

 
Like many other people in this country I thought about sport shooting as a rather quaint, antiquated activity practiced by toffs that probably doesn’t do that much harm to the countryside as a whole and provides a source of free range meat possibly preferable to the lives and deaths of factory farmed animals. However after reading Inglorious I feel much better informed and much less likely to eat grouse.

 
Grouse shooting relies on big ‘bags’ of grouse to be killed by wealthy punters. Many of whom nowadays are as likely to be city bankers with more money than sense than country squires. In order to create this mass population of grouse the shooting estates burn off tracts of moorland in order to encourage the growth of young heather, which the grouse eat. The burning of moorland destroys blanket bogs, a rare habitat, which the UK is especially blessed with, having 13% of the world’s total. The burning also destroys peatland which in England alone sends the same amount of carbon into the air annually as 140,000 cars! It also contributes to downstream flooding which has devastated livelihoods in places like Hebden Bridge. If all of that wasn’t bad enough we are paying for this environmental damage twice over as the grouse moors receive government money to manage the land for wildlife.

 
It is farcical and could only be supported by a government whose ministers often went to the same schools and probably are involved in the same funny handshake societies as the grouse moor owners.

 
The evidence also stacks up that gamekeepers are killing hen harriers. The shootings industry would have you believe that illegal persecution is down to the activities of just a ‘few bad apples.’ But the industry seems to have done little to remove those bad apples as hen harrier numbers are still pitifully low.

 
Mark Avery suggests that there should be around 2000 more pairs of hen harrier in the UK than there currently is. This year only 9 nests in England fledged chicks. The government feels this is a remarkable success.

 
Given the option I would rather have hen harriers than grouse shooters in my country and if the two can’t live with each other then I am quite happy to live with the latter’s extinction.

 

Mark doesn’t want you to just read his book and walk away he wants you to take up arms for his cause and the book ends with a variety of suggestions for action you could take to help. Good for him. It is hard to close the book and do nothing. For my part I donated to an anti wildlife crime campaign, made a note in my diary to attend a Hen Harrier Day event (11-12th August) and set off to the coast to witness one of these beautiful birds while I still can.

Move over Kirstie Allsopp.

Christmas gifts.What can be better than a homemade Christmas present? So the chutney is so lemony it makes your ears squeak. The elixir is overly potent and my friend swears she will kill me if I give her husband any more feathers but I know the recipients of these gifts will enjoy a little of the countryside being bought into their homes during this season of confinement, especially when the gifts are wrapped in my potato printed homemade wrapping paper.

potato printed wrapping paper

potato printed wrapping paper

Hurrah, Kirstie Allsopp, see my festive delights and weep.

In the bleak midwinter.

winter sunset and bonfireIt hasn’t been the best of weeks. I managed to cut my head open by dropping a vacuum cleaner on top of me on Monday which resulted in blood pouring down my face in a scene reminiscent of the film Carrie.

On Tuesday I found out that my plans for expanding my farming advice to encompass the whole of North Kent had been stopped  in their tracks due to lack of funds and on Wednesday I found myself in the unlikely position of cheering on a Tory prime minister as some seriously nasty wolves circled her.

However, today, once again, the world and all it’s worries was put in its proper place as I headed out to the woods with my gang for a day of coppicing hazel trees, creating a bonfire and having a winter feast. It sets the world right, it puts all fears in their place, it reminds you of what is true and real in the chaos.

It is the alchemy of the woods and the work, a bonfire and the company of people who make you feel you belong that takes a bleak midwinter day and makes it shine golden.

A Day in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – November 2018

A Day in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – November 2018

A visit to the estuary brings the opportunity to enjoy fabulous wildlife but what impact does our presence have on the creatures that live there?

Kent Ornithological Societies AGM was held at the beginning of November and I was invited to speak about my work with farmers in North Kent.

My talk seemed well received and I certainly enjoyed hearing about the other speakers hard work and some of the innovative solutions being used to protect and enhance land for wildlife. Mark Avery gave the Key Note speech on driven grouse shooting and hen harriers and rolled his sleeves up to do battle with hecklers during the Q&A.

The rest of the month has been full of meetings as I gave my annual report to Natural England and discussed issues around Brexit which could potentially impact on meat prices which may have a knock on effect on wetland grassland. If farmers pull out of cattle then there may be less animals around to graze which will result in grassland becoming too long to attract lapwings to breed.

Cattle are an important component in managing land for breeding waders.

The role of conservationists is not to despair at the problems, I feel, but to find a way around the problems. There is always a way but we might have to spend the next few years working out new and possibly better ways of getting the job done.

Mid month I also attended a meeting of the new North Kent Marshes Internal Drainage Board to discuss water level management. The meeting was well attended by local landowners and provided an opportunity to talk to new farmers about the potential to undertake breeding wader surveys and advice on their land. Hopefully this will result in increasing my work with farmers next year.

Towards the end of the month I also met up with the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust to discuss closer collaboration on farming advice so we don’t double up on advice and can share expertise.

The result of all these meetings is that I now have a busy few months ahead as I work with farmers to design wetland restoration schemes and get all the necessary permissions in place before seeking outside funding to deliver the work.

Away from all of this I have continued to research the impact of personal watercraft on birds and marine mammals by reading research from around the world. It is interesting to see how coastal development is impacting on wildlife and prudent to learn how other countries have researched and dealt with the issue. This research has helped in drafting a two stage plan of survey and practical action which I will present to the Medway and Swale Estuary Partnership forum next month.

Seals can be easily disturbed if water craft get too close.