It’s not over til it’s over. Get out there and do something to change things
We desperately need more conservationists who are independent thinkers. Who ‘do’ rather than witlessly ‘discuss’. Those individuals, who find ways around obstacles with a devilish glee, set examples of lives which are truly worthwhile. Lives for and on behalf of nature’
Half way through reading the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife, something I recommend that everyone who cares about nature and the countryside here or abroad does. I have found my new mantra for living in these words by Derek Gow an ecologist who I have had the pleasure of working with. Well said Derek.
When I was a little girl I sat on the swing in my parents garden and composed a letter to Margaret Thatcher. In it I laid out my solutions to end the Falklands War and stop unemployment.
I had worked out that these were the major issues of the day from watching the 6 O’clock News, which was almost a religious ritual in my parents house as we were forced to maintain absolute silence during it. In return for my advice, I wished Mrs Thatcher to give me the British Isles, which I would then turn into a nature reserve.
I don’t think I had worked out the finer details of my scheme or where the population would go but I was sure these things could be cleared up over a debate or two. I wrote my letter and my dad suggested I post it to Chequers, as it was the summer holidays and he thought that was where she would be. Unsurprisingly, Mrs Thatcher never replied.
Today, thirty something years later, I am at it again. Writing to a member of the House of Lords who I met earlier in the year to ask for a meeting with Michael Gove so I can discuss reform of Environmental Stewardship and the Agricultural Bill.
This time I have formulated my ideas based on years of working with farmers and stewardship in North Kent and am not asking to be given the country in return…. or maybe I am. Agricultural land makes up about 77% of the British Isles and if that 77% worked not only to grow food but to contribute to clean water, healthy soils, public access and increased biodiversity then maybe I could get the countrywide nature reserve I desired all those years ago.
Still, I am laughing at myself, as I send it, at my belief that I have the answer and those in power should listen. I am still, in many ways, that little girl on the swing and I still stand back and cheer her on.
Loch of the Big Women
I venture to the Loch of the Big Women and take a look at a grisly piece of Scottish history in The Guardian
September is the traditional month to gather the harvest and prepare for the winter. Farmers throughout Kent are busy picking apples and preparing livestock for market. They have also taken the time to discuss the other crop produced on their land this year, a bumper crop of lapwing chicks.
This year, numbers of fledged lapwing chicks rose from 39 in 2017 to 55. This figure is actually an under estimate as the wet spring caused a flush of grass in June which made it fiendishly hard to spot chicks and thereby get an accurate count. Pairs of lapwing are easier to accurately record and this year rose from 59 in 2017 to 155 and, for the first time, almost every single farm in the North Kent Breeding wader scheme recorded some lapwing activity.
Other species also benefit with redshank having an excellent year and 27 fledged yellow wagtail chicks recorded, 10 on one farm alone! Along with our two fledged black winged stilt chicks, the first ever to fledge off of a reserve in Britain, it shows that we are heading in the right direction and that stewardship payments coupled with tailored advice is the best recipe to reverse the decline in farmland wildlife.
After 4 years of working with the farming community I firmly believe that we cannot just hand over stewardship money and expect farmers to know how to do the work, some will, many won’t. We need people back on the ground who get to know the land in all seasons and build relationships with farmers so they can tailor advice to individual circumstances. We need people who can enthuse others to do the work and find solutions to obstacles preventing the land reaching its potential. We also need a stewardship system that is flexible and based in reality.
This season, for instance, our main problem is an invasion of sea club rush which is beginning to cover scrapes reducing the amount of bare earth and short vegetation which in turn will impact on breeding pairs and chick success.
Rush issues on a farm in North Kent.
Stewardship agreements tell farmers they need to manage the rush every year but many farms lack the equipment needed to manage it mechanically or chemically. Endless red tape also makes the situation worse, putting farmers in a difficult position where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. While regulation is a good thing to prevent damage to species and habitats it needs to be flexible to support landowners who are trying to do the right thing and manage their land for the benefit of wildlife.
What is needed is a separate fund of money to pay for yearly work on farmland, a pool of equipment such as weed wipers and rotary ditchers that can be lent out to farmers and a common sense approach to legislation.
In my experience farmers are more than willing to do the work but we need to give the right kind of practical support to enable them to do it.
Join me and writer Peggy Riley for a glass of prosecco and a chat at Harbour Books in Whitstable this Thursday.
The seasons are a changing. The light is more golden, more intense, the dew is wet on the grass in the mornings, cobwebs shimmer on the marshes and lapwing flocks are gathering.
Autumn always signifies a time for new beginnings. The ‘Back to School’ feeling that haunted my summers settles upon me and I feel it is a time of new pencil cases, new exercise books, new projects.
Last month we began planning a new project to look at disturbance to wildlife on the Medway and Swale Estuary caused by personal watercraft, namely hovercrafts and jet skis. At the invitation of Carl Cristina, from the Hovercraft Guild of Great Britain, I took a trip out on the Swale to see the issue of disturbance first hand and understand the perspective of the hovercraft users. Only by talking to the people involved is it possible to begin planning ways of reducing the problem.
Personal watercraft, along with dogs off of leads, are having an impact on the 300,000 birds using the estuary every year. Flushing birds from feeding and breeding areas, if only for a few minutes, lessens the chances of survival. Talking to hovercraft users however revealed a number of practical measures we could take to better inform users and provide training to help people avoid sensitive zones as well as raising awareness of the importance of the estuary for wildlife.
We have now submitted a project proposal to Medway Swale Estuary Partnership and spoken to Medway Council with the intention of seeking funding to implement these changes.
Last month we also met with wildlife photographer Robert Canis to discuss a potential article for BBC Wildlife Magazine about the work of the farmers of North Kent to improve the fortune of lapwings.
Nicole Khan of the RSPB inspect farmland.
Lapwings were also very much on the agenda at a meeting with Nicole Khan of the RSPB when we discussed the increase in breeding pairs on farmland in North Kent and talked about plans for more practical projects which we plan to discuss when we begin our yearly round of farm visits next month.
Elmley village, Isle of Sheppey. Photo MLP
Thanks to The New European for voting On the Marshes one of the Five Great Books about the English Countryside.
Read the review here: