A day in the life of an environmental consultant – July/August 2019

A day in the life of an environmental consultant – July/August 2019

wader footprints

More waders than ever before bred on North Kent Farms this year.

July and August are quieter times for much of our wildlife in Britain. The frenzy of the breeding season is over and many birds hide away in order to moult while others, such as the cuckoo, leave our shores for another year.

For me, the breeding season finally ended mid July, later than ever before. It was a long season but while there are still unfledged birds then I will continue to go out and survey in order to get a result that adequately portrays the situation on each individual farm.

Sometimes, I will freely admit, that accuracy is difficult. By July, vegetation, such as rush, has grown long and trying to spot cryptically coloured balls of fluff requires patience, knowledge and more than a dash of good fortune.

Still, finally the 4×4 (minus an aerial and a number place, both casualties of rough off road driving) was returned, the results were analysed and the maps of breeding pairs delivered to the RSPB.

why I need off road tyres

The 4×4 suffered a little this spring

With one eye on the plans for wetland restoration work, I then turned my attention to water vole surveys. On a blistering hot day I donned my neoprene waders and assistant, Matthew Hawkins and I, headed to the Isle of Grain to survey a rill on behalf of Kent Wildfowlers Association, Wild spaces project.

Matt surveying channel

Matt Hawkins surveys a channel on a blistering hot day.

Water voles and their burrows are protected by law. While it is possible to displace water vole under particular circumstances it is often better for the animal and cheaper for the client to find an alternative solution.

Signs indicated that water vole were using the rill and that a healthy population existed in nearby burrow systems. Therefore it was decided to leave the banks of this particular feature untouched and instead focus restoration works on other parts of the site. Hopefully a win win situation for water voles and birds on the reserve.

July also saw me undertaking voluntary swift surveys for the UK Swift Inventory. This RSPB initiative aims to record the locations of breeding swifts in order to help planning officers protect their nests if the sites is developed.

Next month my attentions will turn back to the farmland as I begin my autumn visits to discuss how our waders did this summer with the farmers.

To enable me to visit more farms, the RSPB have launched a fundraising campaign which will directly fund the North Kent Marshes Breeding Wader Project which I have run for 5 years. Farming advice works. I know it. Six times as many lapwing chicks now survive to fledge on farmland in North Kent than when I started. You can’t argue with that.

I don’t want to tread water with this project I want to do more and I can only do that if there is funding to send me out to more land and more farms. I really believe that this work can make a fundamental difference for our birds.

If you would like to donate to the project then please contact Bonnie Metherell at the RSPB Bonnie.Metherell@rspb.org.uk or call 01273 763626

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All aboard the good ship Doris

All aboard the good ship Doris

paddling my coracleGreat day out on Monday with the Kent Association of Pole Lathers and Green Woodworkers building a coracle in the woods near Iden Green.

Two were under construction, one with steam bended wood and covered with canvas and the other made from willow and tar covered cloth (left to dry for several days so it didn’t contaminate the water). I got stuck in with the willow vessel, which we called Doris.

By the time I arrived the outline of the coracle was already taking shape. Long willow poles were laid out in a circle and woven together at the bottom. We then set about bending each pole over and slotting it down among the weaving.

making a coracle

If only I had been allowed in the scouts I would have known all about timber hitch and clove hitch knots, but alas, I had a short-lived career as a brownie, which ended up with me rowing with my pack leader as I thought I could do the job better!

Still, with the gangs help I was soon lashing poles together with the others.

willow gangA quick try for size and then we added the calico. I was a bit sceptical at this point as to Doris’s seaworthiness as daylight could  clearly be seen through the cloth and the other boat covered in canvas looked a bit more robust

coracle sailingBut, oh me of little faith, Doris floated beautifully, well she let in a little water, but not enough to put me off taking her for a paddle around a rather large pond. First I simply spun in circles but then, with ample instruction from the bank, I got the hang of things a little and managed to stay afloat and head in a straight line.

The APT&GW make the most amazingly beautiful things out of wood and you could join them. Projects take place all through the year and it costs very little to get involved.

Frankly, as I headed home through the Kent lanes I felt that this is what life should be about. Having a grand fun day in the woods with the nicest people and creating something you never thought you could.

Join me at Elmley Marshes Nature Reserve

6 triumph over the daddies

I celebrate all things Sheppey at Elmley Marshes this Saturday.

There is still time to book onto Saturday’s walk at Elmley Marshes which is stunning at any season. Please book your place and I will attempt to thrill and delight you with some wildlife sightings!

Sheppey Shorelines Festival

On the Marshes Walk,
August 10th 2019,
10.00am – 12.00pm,
Elmley Nature Reserve

The walk is free but the Elmley Conservation Trust request a £5 parking charge.
Booking Essential – email msep@medway.gov.uk to book a place.

Help save out swifts

A single swift would make for a very sad summer. They are one of those birds that form a backdrop to our lives but spend theirs so far above our heads that we wouldn’t notice they were in trouble until they were gone.

Our Swifts are in trouble. Their numbers have dropped by 53% in the last twenty years and in many places in the UK the summer skies are silent.

One of the main problems is the loss of nesting sites. Swifts are sociable and loyal. They mate for life and the pair meet each year at the same location to nest. Once there, they gather together nesting material from the air and create a nest in the cavity by sticking together the feathers, straw and paper with salvia.

I love this image. I love the fact that if I brush my hair outside and stray hairs go floating up towards the clouds they may end up making a nest for young swifts. I love the idea of swifts travelling the world and meeting up at the same hole in a old building down the road from me.

Problem is, in this age of house renovations they may return to find their historic nesting site is no more. Developments, particularly of old churches, pubs and houses, means that there are less and less places for swifts to nest. Yes, there are swift nest boxes but it’s not easy to attract swifts to use them. Yes, we most certainly should be making all new developments swift friendly by installing swift bricks below the eaves but we can also do more to protect those places the swifts know and love.

A stroll along my street over the last few days has revealed that swifts are living in all manner of old houses, probably unbeknown to their occupants. Inside these tiny crevices in the brickwork young swifts are practicing press ups on their wing tips to help strengthen the muscles. I wouldn’t want to see them evicted.

Look out over the next few weeks for tell tale signs. Swifts screaming low over roof tips. swifts vanishing into walls, droppings down the outside of buildings with holes in the brickwork or crevices under the eaves. Report your sightings on the RSPB swift survey.

This survey is easy to fill in and makes planners and developers aware of swift hotspots and hopefully protect them.

I for one am delighted to discover that my road still provides a home for these amazing birds, let’s work together to keep them in our summer skies.

On the Marshes walk

14 collapsed and dans dock

The hair’s gone crazy but the scenery’s atmospheric at Dan’s Dock on the Isle of Sheppey.

On the Marshes Walk,
August 10th 2019,
10.00am – 12.00pm,
Elmley Nature Reserve
As part of the Sheppey Shorelines Festival I am taking a morning stroll around this lesser known part of the Elmley Nature Reserve. Join me as I relive my daddy-long-leg horror on Elmley Hill and tell you a little about the history and wildlife of this lesser known corner of Sheppey.
The walk is free but the Elmley Conservation Trust request a £5 parking charge.
Booking Essential – email msep@medway.gov.uk to book a place.