Gus and I set out to walk across the Hoo Peninsula in Episode 5 following the trail of William Hogarth and friend’s peregrination. We slip slide across Upnor beach before I offer to whip Gus with some nettles!
The last part of my travelogue across North Kent following in the footsteps of William Hogarth and pals is published this week on Longshore Drift and I am soon to feature on Sky Arts, Tate Britain Great British Walks series walking part of the route with presenter Gus Casley-Hayford but if you would like a copy of the book there is only one place to get it and that is from Medway Swale Estuary Partnership.
If you would like one, please send a cheque made payable to Medway Council (with MSEP account on the reverse) for £6 (inc p&p) to the following address: 3 Lock Cottages, Lock Lane, Sandling, Maidstone, Kent ME14 3AU.
It’s been an incredibly busy month as we prepare for the start of the survey season. The month began with a survey of channels on Chislet marshes for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. We spent a day plotting the extent of the invasive species parrot’s feather which has unfortunately found its way into the ditch system. If left untreated the plant will shade out our native flora, clog structures and block sunlight from the water which will de-oxygenate it and lead to a loss in aquatic invertebrates.
“This is a particularly difficult situation,” said Carol. “The plant has spread rapidly and colonised a large area of the marshes. It is entwined with marginal vegetation along ditches which are a water vole stronghold. The challenge is to find a way of removing the plant while acting sensitively towards other species.”
To deal with this challenge Carol has sought advice from the Environment Agency and Andrea Griffiths, Senior Partnership Officer at Medway Valley Countryside Partnership, who has extensive experience at dealing with invasive species.
“Partnership working is really useful for issues such as this as we can all draw on each other’s experience to achieve a good result.”
The plant was quite possibly unintentionally introduced to the waterways by a member of the public, who may have been tipping excess frog spawn from a garden pond. Unfortunately this has resulted in years of expensive work for others.
On a brighter note we are delighted with the progress of many of the farms we visited this month as part of our advisory work on breeding waders.
Farmers have really taken on board the advice given in the autumn and have performed miracles in making grassland wet in what has been a very dry year. Topping and improved grazing regimes has resulted in much better sward conditions and many farmers have signed up to the funding available from the North Kent Capital Grant Scheme, administered by Kent Wildlife Trust.
Now we are all keeping our fingers crossed for good weather conditions this spring so the hard work can produce tangible results in the form of more wader chicks successfully fledged in North Kent.
Lastly we were delighted to work once again with volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership in order to improve a small, urban stream in Canterbury, managed by the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. This rather sad little channel was full of litter, carelessly thrown by passing motorists and had become dark and shady in some sections and overly managed by neighbouring business’s in others.
Over two days the volunteers cleared around forty bags of litter from the channel, cut back overhanging trees and planted 100 colourful wetland plants outside the Mercedes Garage on Sturry Road. Many thanks to Mercedes for providing drinks and sweets. Serco for removing the litter but mostly to the excellent volunteers who it is always a joy to work with.
Take a look at the new film to promote my forthcoming book, On the Marshes produced by Luke Gardener.
Why is it that whenever I take someone out to the North Kent Marshes to impress upon them the beauty and importance of the landscape it pours of rain? A few years ago I took my agent, Joanna Swainson and her partner out to show them this place I wanted to write about and the weather was dismal, the farm looked a mess and the meal in the local pub was so salty it was inedible. Despite this unpromising start she saw the potential and took me and my book on.
Today it happens again. I take out the guy who is going to be shooting the promotional video to accompany the publication of my book, ‘On The Marshes’ to the RSPB’s Northward Hill reserve. He has read my descriptions of a world apart, a landscape of value, a place which is special and should be protected and is inspired. Today, however, the reserve, is bleak and flat and grey, the farmyard, a muddy hole, the birds…out there…somewhere. Still, Luke, the filmmaker is keen. He can see it, that this place is different, it has a feeling all of its own that casts a spell even on a dreary early spring day.
We will, come back, when the sun is out, the skies, majestic and the birds singing. I want people to see the marshes as I see it. Not as a place to dump airports and car parks and ‘garden’ cities but as a rare gem which needs to be kept untouched as a place of sanctuary for us all.
Went into sensory overdrive this evening down at the rook roost at RSPB Northward Hill reserve, one of the locations for BBC’s Winterwatch.
After several days when we all seem to withdraw indoors I revelled in the march across the darkening marshes. In the great rasping sleepy hush of the birds, a single silver star and a tawny calling in late winter hopefulness. The loss of the light, a rosy sunset. A winter wildness far from the overheated fug of living rooms.
See the country’s largest rook roost below
Find out about one of the many exciting projects I am working on in my role as an environmental consultant for Carol J Donaldson Associates.
At the end of our second year of work on breeding waders for Natural England and the RSPB in North Kent it is time to reflect on what has been achieved so far.
In 2015 we completed a baseline survey of seven farms across North Kent and began the initial process of meeting farmers and finding out how the land under breeding wader stewardship options was managed.
In 2016 we added a further six farms to our survey work and visited all thirteen farms three times in the breeding season to count pairs and fledged chicks. Numbers of pairs rose from 67 to 73 and, most importantly, productivity was up from 0.13 to 0.19. It is definitely a step in the right direction but a long way short of where we want to be with lapwing numbers in North Kent.
Overall, most of the farmland was in much better condition for waders this year, with far improved levels of standing water on the fields. Grass, however, continued to get too long, preventing the all round visibility needed. A warm winter, coupled with supply issues with graziers and a need to increase stocking densities meant that many sites were overly long again by May.
This Autumn our work to improve management was given a boost through the North Kent Capital Grant Scheme. This funding, administered by Kent Wildlife Trust, comes from the building of the Sittingbourne Relief Road and can be used to enhance the habitat of the North Kent Marshes.
Farmers enthusiastically took up this opportunity and applied for funding to create scrapes, improve water control and manage ditches. If their bids are successful it will have a really positive impact on the land for wading birds and this should reflect in the figures of next years survey.
Throughout the Autumn and Winter we have been busy visiting all the farmers under the HLS scheme, offering tailored advice to each plot of land and feeding back issues to Natural England.
I sense that this personal approach has resulted in a new positivity and determination from many farmers to improve their results. Many farmers genuinely want to manage the land to benefit wildlife as long as it does not conflict with making a living from farming and food production. These two aims can work in harmony.
I very much hope that 2017 will be a breakthrough year for many of the farmers we work with and look forward to being out in the fields again in the spring.