Swimming at Stake

Great blog by Angenita on her project to explore the blackwater estuary by swimming, kayak and sail and her research on the left over remains of the Nuclear Power Station Bradwell A.

Swimming the nuclear

Cave of Swimmers at Wadi Sura in the Gilf Kebir plateau of the Sahara desert.

In pre history our ancestors painted these swimmers on a cave wall, in an environment of lakes and rivers. A watery blue/green landscape. 8000 years and a climate U turn later, this Cave of Swimmers is situated in the Gilf Kebir plateau in the Sahara Desert. In a dry ocre and sand coloured landscape.

I feel a kinship with these little figures. Their bodies, supported by the uplift of water, able to move nimbly. Experiencing a freedom only sensed in water. They are kicking their legs like amphibians. Creatures of both water and land who, with a frog’s eye perspective and a vanishing point so, so far away, experience the world as immeasurable, joyful and endless. They are having fun.

Georges Seurat Bathers at Asnieres 1889

One hundred and thirty two years ago Seurat painted…

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Give me back the night

No flash needed when the lights are this bright.

Tonight I was shocked to look out of my bedroom window and see the street glowing as if it were daylight. New LED lights have been installed in my road and now the night has gone. I feel robbed of something I can’t quite articulate. Something I feel is intrinsically important for me as a species, to feel the light dim and night arrive.

I know some will feel safer walking down a brightly lit street but numerous reports show that bright white lighting on urban streets does not reduce crime. It does however reduce insect numbers. Medway Council claim the LED lights are environmentally friendly as they use less energy and create less light pollution but studies have shown they also reduce insect numbers in rural country lanes. Bright white LED lighting are also thought to effect human health, disturbing sleep patterns, causing headaches and eyestrain.

My feeling of connection to the darkness, seasons drawing in, the turning of the earth has been lost beneath this palid glow. I want my night back. More and more I feel our town centres are removing us from nature. All the little scrubby places where blackbirds sang have been ripped up for urban sprawl, the roads which petered out into grassy verges have been taken over by hard surfaces, hedges and front lawns have been tarmaced over. night has vanished.

Frankly, I hate it. I want nature, even in the middle of a town, I want grass and hedges and scrub and wild flowers and brambles with blackberries hanging out over the road and hops working their way up the lamp posts. I want back the darkness I once had when I first lived here, a darkness in which nightingales sang.

The destruction of my town’s connection with the countryside and nature makes me very sad. It makes me want to move.

#Save Swanscombe Marshes

Swanscombe Marshes is a protected landscape on the Thames Estuary. One of the last little pieces of wildness left in an area taken over by industrial estates and ring roads. For the local people it is an oasis to escape the traffic fumes and bleakness of the surrounding roads. Somewhere they can stroll along a little known piece of the Thames, unwind and enjoy some of the amazing wildlife that inhabits these former cement workings.

This morning I took part in a rally at Swanscombe to show support to the Save Swanscombe campaign fought by wildlife charities Buglife, Kent Wildlife Trust and the RSPB, along with local communities who want to protect this nationally important site from plans by London Resort to build a theme park.

It was my first visit to the marshes and I was impressed by this landscape of wetlands, where lapwing breed, scrubland, home to nightingales and meadows full of man orchids. The site is also home to some of our rarest invertebrates, such as the marvellously named distinguished jumping spider, a critically endangered species which survives in only one other place in the country.

Of course the environmental consultants in league with the developers will tell you that all of these species can easily be shifted somewhere more convenient. This is not true. Mitigation schemes are very often poorly planned, and unsuccessful. However, the loss of Swanscombe Marshes would be a tragedy, not just for wildlife, but for the local community. This place could be a fabulous educational rescource for local schools and an opportunity to encourage a wider variety of people to connect with nature. The views along the Thames would be an attraction in themselves.

London Resorts are trying to convince local communities that this ‘Disneyland on Thames’ would create local jobs and it probably would. Poorly paid, short term jobs that no one can build a life upon. I am not fooled by these arguements, I have heard them once before.

This is a battle close to my heart because I well remember spokespeople from Euro Disney coming to my college when I was 16 and explaining that we would all get jobs in the film industry if we supported the building of another Disney on Thames at Rainham Marshes in Essex. Thankfully this development was defeated and the marshes, now managed by the RSPB, are a wonderful education resource for the deprived communities that live in the area. I wish the people who live alongside this gem of a site the same success.

Please take the time to visit Swanscome Marshes located in Botany Way outside Northfleet. The site is situated behind the Kent Wildlife Trust Baty Marsh and has footpaths, including a lovely riverside stroll. Also please take time to sign the petition against this development and help spread the word.

All aboard the Norfolk Wherry

All aboard the Norfolk Wherry

I had a fantastic time sailing a Norfolk Wherry earlier this year as part of a trip organised by The Wherry Yacht Charter Charitable Trust and Natural Britain.

This weekend the article about it appeared in the Guardian’s inaugural Saturday Magazine.


A Year in the life of an Environmental Consultant – August 2021

Luddenham Marshes: beautiful grassland, ripe for wetland restoration with good prospects for breeding lapwing.

August has given me the opportunity to explore a little known corner of the Kent countryside.

Luddenham Marshes feels in many ways like it has escaped many of the ills of the 21st century. Tucked away from the frantic housing expansion of Sittingbourne and Faversham, this is an area of twisting lanes, orchards, old manor houses and historic churches.

It has been a privilege to be allowed to explore the marshes beyond the hamlets, although at times my work here has felt like an elaborate game designed to test my map reading skills.

My job has been to discover and report back on the condition of sluice structures in the area. These are concrete plinths with a slot in which wooden boards are fitted to hold back water in the ditches. Sluices are a time honoured way of raising and lowering water levels on the marshes so the water can meet the needs of the farmers for crop irrigation or to be used as wet fences to stop cattle straying.

Over the years these sluice structures can fall into disrepair or be removed, while new ones may be created to accommodate changing needs.

Finding sluices can be a little tricky.

During August I set out across the marshes with a map dotted with crosses, indicating where the sluices were supposed to be. In order to find them I sometimes had to clamber across many tall gates (56 on one farm alone!) negotiate passage with herds of cattle (speak softly and carry a large stick) and navigate across miles of fields and ditches before scrambling through thickets of wetland plants to reach my goal. Along the way I enjoyed sightings of ravens, kingfishers and swallows departing our coasts.

Farmers across this area have been accommodating and helpful. Many are keen to work together to manipulate water in order to restore wetland for breeding waders. Following discussions with farmers I had a masterclass in wetland design creation from RSPB Senior Project Manager Mark Smart who won the Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation in 2018. His ideas have now been fed back to farmers in advance of further discussion next month.

Wetland restoration plans will help store winter rains to create improved habitat for waders.

This work has been funded by the Upper and Lower Medway Internal Drainage Board who, it is hoped, will be at the forefront of plans to restore this wetland and bring back the wildlife that would have thrived here in the past.