A Yellow Life.

hare-field-2246752_1920I’m not saying it’s always good. When, for instance, you’re standing in the rain on a ratty bit of grassland, surrounded by industry and it is 6am and this is the 6th, 6am start of the week and you’re trying to spot lapwing through the drizzle. Then it’s not so good.

Sometimes though it catches you. The incredible, unlikely, luck of it all. That of all the people in the world going to work this morning you have somehow managed to score this job.

A job in which you fly across the Sheppey bridge and the Swale is laid out like glass and all the mist is rising from the fields and relishing in the growing warmth of the morning. Puffs of dandelion heads are backlit by the sun and your job, YOUR JOB, is to walk five miles across farmland watching nature go about it’s business.

Watching linnets gather on fence lines, swallow buzz the grass for insects, a yellow wagtail throw itself at a short eared owl and yell, ‘clear off.’

Your job is to hear cuckoos and watch hares calmly lollop towards you eyeing you with a yellow eye. Then, on morning’s such as this, it feels like the world is yellow. And the yellow rape, the yellow reed, the yellow sun  and the yellow eye are all through your lucky yellow life.

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Lamb is off the menu

Lamb is off the menu

This morning, Sunday morning, I stood on the marshes and became a vegetarian. I had given up meat for Lent as I give up something every year. One year I gave up conflict, another alcohol, another unrequited lust and this year it was meat, but Lent was over and I could go back on the bacon sarnies if I chose.

It was 7am. I had already been up for two hours doing a bird survey, a bacon sarnie seemed like a good idea but then I watched a group of ten sheep playing, not lambs mind you, but adult sheep. Up and down the salt mounds they went, bucking and head butting, having fun amidst the peace of a Sunday morning  beneath the skylarks. They were a gang, mates, friends and soon, I feared, they would be herded into a truck with their mates, driven along a motorway, corralled into a yard full of fear and shot in the head.

I am not a sentimentalist. Working out in the country you see distressing scenes all the time. Things suffer, things die, things get eaten, nature is hard. But I am a thinking animal. I know friendship and fun and larks when I see it and I knew on this Sunday morning that lamb was off the menu.

Spring is over

rainbow and sheep

It started with a sunrise and it ended with a rainbow. After approximately 30 dawn starts I finished this seasons breeding wader survey today.

As I crawled out of bed at 4.30am this morning I admit I thought, ‘Thank God, last time.’ The sky was loaded with rain, the early morning drivers aggressive and insane, it started raining the moment I entered the site and I was faced with the task of weaving my way across 22 fields intersected with a maze of dykes and populated by overly confident cows.

I stood waist high in the grass in the rain and still I was happy to be out. To see spring unfurl, to spot burnet moths sheltering in the grass and the carmine flowers of grass vetchling. To hear the curlews calling out on the mudflats of the Thames, to marvel at the glow of an egret against a sky so low and leaden you could feel the weight above .

This evening I visited my last site, a series of meadows down by Capel Fleet on the isle of Sheppey, the rain returned but so did the sun and a rainbow appeared above the sheep. These damp and insect rich fields were a joy of bobbing banana coloured yellow wagtails. Oystercatchers fluted my arrival, marsh harriers twirled in mid air dropping their yellow legs to snatch at unwary birds. A rush of young starlings overhead signalled the change of season.

Spring is over, the wading birds I watch have, for the main, either succeeded or failed in the yearly quest to raise young. The lapwings have fledged and tomorrow I can sleep in.

Dawn on the Isle of Sheep

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In the midst of six days of 4.30am wake up calls as I head out for the first round of breeding wader surveys on the marshes of Sheppey, the isle of sheep. The early start means I am like a bear with a sore head by midday but, believe me, I never for one moment doubt how lucky I am that this is my day job. Marsh harriers, plummeting lapwing, beautiful sunrises and on Monday my first swallow of the year, flying across Capel Fleet.

A Year in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – Update

It has a been a busy few months. So busy in fact that I have only now found the time to write updates on my work as an environmental consultant. For more information please visit my website http://www.caroljdonaldson.co.uk

December 2015 – The weather’s all wrong but the work carries on.

Water vole surveys do not normally take place in December but, with the weather in Kent staying in double figures, water voles were active all month.

This allowed us to survey a section of Bells Drain for the Lower Medway Internal Drainage Board to see if water vole were present and look at options for displacing them when work takes place next year to widen this section of channel.

Ecological assistant, Matt Mordaunt braves the chill on Sheppey marshes

Ecological assistant, Matt Mordaunt braves the chill on Sheppey marshes

Despite the unseasonably mild weather, wading in a channel on marshland close to the Swale Estuary, still proved bitterly cold as Matt Mordaunt, ecological assistant discovered. Raw winds battered across the grassland restoration site and we were grateful for the hospitality of the RSPB warden who provided hot cups of tea.

searching for water vole sign

searching for water vole sign

Water vole were evident in low numbers along the channel and plans will now be drawn up to apply for a Natural England licence to move them, hopefully to a vacant channel on Sheppey.

The rest of this month was busy with visits to farmers across the North Kent Marshes. Working for Natural England, we are sharing the results of this years breeding wader surveys with farmers receiving Higher Level Stewardship options and discussing the best ways to manage their land to encourage more lapwing and redshank to breed.

We have been delighted with the positive and flexible attitude of all the landowners involved in this scheme and will continue to work with them throughout the coming year to get the mix of water and grass just right for these birds.

Wet splashes such as this will be perfect for lapwings in the spring

Wet splashes such as this will be perfect for lapwings in the spring

Working with landowners is of vital importance if we are not to become a country where wildlife only survives on reserves. Much of our wildlife needs large spaces and interconnected habitats in order to maintain viable populations.

Farmers get a poor press when it comes to wildlife and there is still plenty of room for improvement, particularly when it comes to chemical use, but many landowners are discretely doing some wonderful work for wildlife and take genuine joy in seeing creatures return to their land that they remember being abundant in their youth.

November 2015  – Always more to learn

participants in Medway Swale Estuary Partnership Soil and Water workshop.

participants in Medway Swale Estuary Partnership’s Soil and Water workshop.

November began with attending a Soil and Water workshop organised by Medway and Swale Estuary Partnership. Working in ecology involves continuous learning as land use and farming practices change and this workshop gave startling figures on the costs to the farming industry of the loss of soil and chemicals into our waterways.

This new knowledge was put to good use a few days later when we presented a review of six years of survey work to the River Stour (Kent) Internal Drainage Board Annual General Meeting. Members and staff praised the review which included suggestions for ways to continue the excellent commitment the board has shown to improving biodiversity into the future.

peeling off the work area in layers.

peeling off the work area in layers.

More work took place at Whitewall Drain a channel leading off of the River Medway. following the removal of vegetation and potential hibernacula for reptiles and a search for water vole, the site was stripped of vegetation in layers overseen by an ecologist. A dam was put in place to isolate the work site from the rest of the channel and fencing was erected to protect water vole burrows.

Ovendens could then begin the work of installing new penstock structures, which will help control flooding. Investigations are also under way to fix a broken tidal flap, which is allowing tidal water to enter the freshwater channel. finished headwall

Infrastructure projects such as this always look raw to begin with but, once vegetated the structure will soon blend into the channel. During a follow up visit it appeared that the wildlife had already got used to the changes, as grey wagtails and kingfisher were spotted using the structure to hunt from.