A Day in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – June 2017

A Day in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – June 2017

The dry conditions over the spring meant that it was not expected to be a bumper year for lapwing figures on the North Kent Marshes
but I am delighted to say that numbers of fledged birds have doubled on the farms I survey.
While not every farm saw success, then those that managed to hold water on the land into late May and June and have kept the vegetation short have seen a turnaround in their figures. The results show, that following the correct management regime, coupled with predator control can really make a difference.
lapwing chick at Keith StuddsHighlights for me were finding 13 fledged chicks, a flock of black tailed godwit and a spoonbill on one site early in the morning and having to return for an unheard of 5th visit to another site as more birds still seem to be born there every day.

Also this month I have worked on behalf of Natural England who are undertaking survey work as part of the preparations for the England Coastal Path. While I am in favour of raising awareness of the beauty and importance of our countryside I have concerns about increased access in sites where previously wildlife has been undisturbed.
So far it seems that the path is set to avoid particularly sensitive bird nesting areas in North Kent and I have been delighted to be undertaking marsh harrier surveys on Sheppey. Sitting on a hill for hours watching marsh harriers drift across the landscape and interact is so therapeutic it should be offered on the NHS as a remedy for stress.
The surveys, which are looking to identify nesting sites, will help inform the route of the path around this section of coastline.

At the end of the month I joined Natural England staff again for a training session onNE training course ditch surveys and wetland plant i.d. I have been undertaking ditch surveys for the River Stour IDB for 7 years so it was interesting to see how another organisation carries out the work and a useful refresher on plant i.d. before I go out to survey ditches next month.

His Imperial Purpleness



I, Rosenzweig [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday I felt like I had stumbled into a convention of 19th century vicars when I joined a purple emperor butterfly safari at Knepp Valley.


This fantastic project is rewilding a 1400 hectare arable and dairy farm, allowing free roaming deer, pigs and longhorn cattle to graze the land and natural process’s to take over the former wheat fields.

This has allowed birds like nightingales and turtle doves to thrive in the newly created areas of scrub and sallow trees to colonise the wetter areas which provides the food plant for purple emperor caterpillars.

purple emperor egg

a purple emperor butterfly egg

The other wildlife to colonise has been a group of madly enthusiastic butterfly hunters and their foot followers.

On a blistering hot Sunday, I joined them, striding out in the footsteps of Matthew Oates bedecked in a purple t-shirt and sun hat bound with a purple scarf and Neil Hulme in moleskin trousers and walking stick. They were helped by Harry, an enthusiastic student in a kilt and green wellies. Only in the rarefied world of lepidopterists would these outfits be seen as perfectly normal.

We passed fields of thistles and spotted purple hairstreaks, smalls coppers and marbled whites but the real quarry was His and Her Imperial Majesties, the purple emperor. A huge butterfly, which is rarely scene as it lives on the tops of oak trees and only descends to feed on dog poo, and fetid fish.

looking for PE

In search of Their Imperial Majesties

As we reached a stand of shady oaks I became lost in a world of the hopelessly nerdish as we all gazed skywards in hope that this elusive butterfly would grace up with it’s presence.

Matthew Oates and gang seemed like courtiers waiting for ‘Herself’ to make an appearance and regaling us with tales of aerial action they had previously witnessed. However like all good huntsman when the much venerated creature finally appeared, tantalisingly sailing overhead before hiding in the foliage, they pelted it with missiles. Sticks, and lumps of mud were flung into the tree by Neil in an attempt to make the butterfly attack.

male purple emperor

A purple emperor prepares to attack

Purple emperors, it turns out, are among the world’s most aggressive creatures. Launching floaty winged attacks at anything within reach and can’t resist flapping after any target that comes their way.

The barrage of items failed to get the creature to move however. There was talk of trying out catapults and drones but clearly it was a little too hot for such antics and we moved on.

The estate was split up into areas with names like ‘thug alley’ and ‘muggers pond.’ sites of famous butterfly battles. The gang talked with joy of seeing butterflies ‘de-tit’ trees, a practice in which they drive off gangs of birds who dare to try to perch in their territory.close up female purple emperor

After a super lunch of local produce and organic cider. We set out again. As the temperature rose so did the amount of butterflies. bat winged emperors, floated among the tree tops, landing on perches seemingly unaware that they were creatures with few defences and a better survival strategy might be to hide. Instead the emperors launch attacks on dragonflies, other butterflies and chaffinches, but mainly they battled with each other.

Matthew, Neil and Harry seemed to never tire of a good battle. ‘fight, fight, fight,’ they yelled from the ground. Reliving their school boy days. Cheery at every good sucker punch of a butterfly wing clipped round an antennae.

Purple emblazoned, kilt wearing, walking stick pointing obsessives of the first order. I marvelled at their enthusiasm. For them every butterfly was a first, every day was a joy, every sighting a little well of happiness. I could not possibly imagine these men stepping foot off the estate and into the modern world. It would eat them alive. But here, in the world of the Knepp Estate, every day was lived in a purple haze.

Purple Emperor Butterfly Safari’s cost £60 for a full day with lunch. Find out more at





On the Marshes review

9 Kingsnorth powerstation

Another interesting review of my book, On the Marshes. I love the fact that it’s inspiring people to want to visit the area and interesting to see which parts of the book they choose to talk about. This reviewer enjoys the scene in which I get trapped on an island in October with a rising tide and have to be rescued by a lifeboat. I was a little preoccupied to take a picture at that moment so here is a shot of the river from Darnet Island on a quieter day.

Caught by the River review

6 Phil Hann, Dave Thorpe and me

Some ‘weekend hovercraft enthusiasts’ who helped me on my journey across the marshes.

After a 14 hour stint of bird surveying on Sheppey it was nice to come home this evening and read this great review of my book by the fabulous Caught by the River. It is interesting how my walk and encounters are seen by someone else and I am delighted the reviewer wants to trace my footsteps.

A day in the life of an environmental consultant – May 2017

Carol instructing on frappingMay continued to be packed with breeding wader surveys on 13 farms across North Kent.
This year it seems that some of the farmers had really cracked it when it comes to water and grass management.
In what has been an exceptionally dry spring some farmers have managed to hold water onto their land and this, along with grazing meant that we saw birds breeding on sites where they hadn’t been in twenty years. Even sites which are located amid industry and powerlines can produce results if the management is right and the site of lapwings swooping amid a backdrop of supermarkets and car plants on Sheppey filled me with joy.

a tree with high potential as a bat roost

A tree with high potential as a bat roost

Josh and I also attended an excellent course on Bats and Aboriculture run by the Bats Conservation Trust in Richmond Park . Over two days we learnt about the law regarding tree work and bat roosts, how to identify bat signs and use an endoscope. Josh, a qualified aboriculturalist, and I hope to use this work Autumn to identify potential bat roosts and advise land owners on correct management.
In the middle of the month I spent a day out on Chislet Marshes with Rhino plantJW and Jamie removing parrot's feather controlling parrot’s feather on behalf of the River Stour IDB. This invasive plant has colonised an extensive area of ditch on the marshes and will take many years to control. Due to the extensive water vole population management it is important to not remove too much marginal vegetation and, following extensive survey work and advice, it was felt that the best approach was a strong weed cut in the autumn with booms placed in the channel to prevent fragments floating downstream followed up with hand weed pulling on the margins throughout the spring and autumn.
A bird survey of the channel identified areas where it was safe for the guys to work and John Waller and team worked hard to remove each small fragment of the plant. Later this year I will be working with the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership volunteers to continue this work.
Peter and clive with bermLastly the KSCP volunteers did some excellent work at Port Rill where the IDB have undertaken enhancement work installing woody debris in the channel. This work was completed in the winter and the improvements have been excellent. A previously sluggish and silty channel has begun to assume a more natural profile with meanders and riffles forming and the wide berms are becoming colonised by a diverse range of plants. The volunteer team worked to install faggots and smaller woody debris to the existing berms to create more micro habitats of benefit to fish and aquatic invertebrates.