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.

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A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – October 2018

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – October 2018

Redshank

Redshank will only survive on farmland if we get our agricultural subsidy system right. 

At the beginning of October responsibility for Countryside Stewardship payments was transferred from Natural England to the Rural Payments Agency, in a move which sadly further undermines Natural England’s viability.

The recent ‘People’s Manifesto for Wildlife’ branded Natural England, ‘unfit for purpose,’ a sad indictment of an organisation, which was once seen within the industry, as a bastion of expertise and good judgment.

 
Many of the remaining staff still have that expertise but much of their power and any independent thought has been stripped away. The loss of Countryside Stewardship administration is seen as punishment for late payments to farmers but as Natural England have been subject to funding and staff cuts then it’s hardly surprising that mistakes and delays have occurred. Natural England are unfortunately being used as a political football in the debate about the future of our agriculture subsidies.

 
The Agricultural Bill, making its way through parliament, is central to decisions over where our public money goes. What should we pay farmers to do? Should we subsidise them to grow food or should the market pay for this? Should supermarkets be forced to pay a fair price to farmers and, if so, are we prepared to pay higher prices for our food? Should we reward farmers for providing ‘public goods,’ the things which benefit us all; good soils, clean air and water, biodiversity and countryside access?

 
Away from Westminster and out on the fields it is a time of frustration and confusion. No one knows at this moment quite who’s in charge and where the money’s coming from. Farmers and, for that matter, self employed consultants, tend to be self sufficient and flexible types and therefore we will look for ways around these problems. Many farmers in North Kent are more than willing to make changes to their land to benefit wildlife and I aim to harness this enthusiasm by planning a programme of rill and scrape restoration on farms across the area.

re-profiling rill 2017

Funding is needed to restore our wetlands.

Creating new wetland areas is the next step which will allow more birds to successfully breed on our farmland and ultimately mean that the money we currently pay farmers to manage their land for wildlife is not wasted. Without this extra work then many of our farms, currently receiving breeding wader stewardship payments, will never reach their potential. If grants are currently not available from the government then we will just have to look for outside sources of funding.

 
In the meantime work continues to move ahead with plans to work with hovercraft and jet ski users to reduce disturbance to breeding and wintering birds on the Medway and Swale estuary. The project has received support from Birdwise North Kent and the RSPB and we are now firming up a project proposal prior to seeking funding.

 

Thames litter pick 1 pickers
Finally this month I also joined Belinda Lamb, Medway Swale Estuary Partnership Guardians of the Deep officer and RSPB volunteer, David Saunders on a litter pick on the Thames foreshore. The amount of plastic bottles on the beach was particularly shocking and a deposit return scheme can’t come soon enough. However the ultimate solution lies in using less plastic products in the first place.

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – August 2018.

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – August 2018.

 

 

Carl demonstrates getting over the humpThe 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 looking at Mr Oylers

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.

Birds, Beasts and Hovercrafts.

looking suspicious at Mr C

It is easy to be suspicious about Hovercraft owners but we must work together to protect our wildlife.

Where better to be on a scorching day than out enjoying the coastal scenery of the Swale?

However, concern is growing about the increasing numbers of fast powered watercraft using the water and the affect this is having on our wildlife.

300,000 birds use the estuaries of North Kent during migration and their  survival is entirely dependent on stocking up during daylight hours on the protein rich crustaceans within the river mud. Flushing these birds for a few minutes might not seem much for an individual racing down the river but over time this, along with dogs off leads, has had an impact on the numbers of birds that survive.

It is easy to label everyone spinning along the water as a menace and think the best way to deal with them is to ban the lot but this is unfeasible and impossible to police. Therefore it is better to work with other people who wish to enjoy the beauty of the estuary and find ways to minimise the disturbance.

It was with this intention that I set out on a hovercraft last weekend with Carl Cristina of The Hovercraft Guild of Great Britain. My aim was to see the estuary from the perspective of the hovercraft users and witness first hand the impact it has on wildlife. Carol with Die Another Day

Tucked into my seat like a regal princess we were soon flying along the Swale. The roar of the fan softened by earphones. The hovercrafts undoubtedly have an impact on wildlife, flocks of black tailed godwits took flight at our approach but surprisingly, birds a little further away stayed put. It seemed it was not so much the noise which bothered them, amazingly this disappears a short distance from the craft, but the proximity.

bt godwit being flushed

finding ways to reduce flushing birds is vital for the survival of species.

I pointed out to Carl that the hovercrafts were using the most sensitive area of the river from a wildlife point of view. The point where land becomes water, the soft muddy edge where the birds find the easiest meal. He explained that this was because, if the craft stalled in deeper water, they were harder to get started again. A procedure, which is known in the trade as, “getting over the hump.”

Carl later demonstrated the technique needed to get over the hump but admitted that many hovercraft owners didn’t know how to do it. Further training might therefore be needed.

Carl demonstrates getting over the hump

Carl demonstrates ‘getting over the hump.’

Chatting to the other hovercraft users it was also clear that there was a lack of knowledge about the special nature of the estuary and it’s international importance for wildlife. “They’re all just seagulls, aren’t they?” was one comment.

Hearteningly there was also a desire to learn more. Understand where the most sensitive areas were and when they were best avoided. Several solutions were suggested including colourful markers and waterproof maps.

Following stops at the Harty Ferry Inn for lunch and Leysdown-on-Sea for ice cream we headed back. Carl trying a variety of techniques to see how riding in different ways affected the birds and avoiding a colony of seals hauled out on the sands. At only a short distance, birds stayed put, alert, but not flying off.

There is no doubting the cleverness of the hovercraft and the fun of getting out onto the river and being whipped by salt spray. I am no killjoy when it comes to speed and an adrenalin buzz but it is essential that we all live in harmony with the wildlife we are lucky to live surrounded by and I am hoping this trip is the first step in finding practical solutions which help us all to enjoy the coast benignly.