A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – July 2017

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – July 2017

Another crackingly busy month kicked off with surveying a ditch called Butterfly Cottage Dyke for the Internal Drainage Board.

A blisteringly hot day saw me putting the previous month’s Natural England training to

tubular water dropwort

Tubular Water Dropwort

good use by identifying the many species of rushes and sedges that grown along this botanically rich channel. The waterway supports rare plants such as Tubular Water Dropwort and Hairlike Pondweed. My work involves advising the Drainage Board on how to manage the channel to benefit these and other species and look at ways of improving its value for wildlife.

 
Unfortunately many of our waterways suffer from Nitrate and Phosphate pollution often caused by historically overloading the land with fertilisers. Agrochemicals are big business and firms have lobbied farmers for fifty years to buy them in order to achieve higher yields and cut down on ‘pest’ species. Often land is overburdened with chemicals and much ends up seeping through the soil and fertilising rivers and drainage ditches which then sprout lush growths of plants such as watercress which can impede flow and cause flooding.

the result of high levels of nitrate and phosphate

Excessive weed growth caused by chemical enrichment.

 
Over 8 years of surveying for the board I have also seen a change in land use with formerly grazed fields becoming fallow or cut for silage and more maize being grown. These changes are not good news for wildlife. Ditches alongside grazing marsh are often botanically rich as the action of animals grazing the channel opens up niches for wildlife while maize crops are often bad news next to rivers as after harvesting, the field is left with bare earth which can be washed into rivers in winter storms creating siltation issues which can lead to flooding.

 
Despite years of environmental subsidy schemes for farmers it seems that more needs to be done to tailor advise to farmers and put a healthy and wildlife rich countryside at the centre of farming policy not just tinker at the edges of farms and ignore the real issues.

 
However, the Internal Drainage Board are working to improve watercourses and this Ros and Hillers installing faggotsmonth I returned to Port Rill with volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership to finish installing woody debris in the channel. Fallen dead branches were pinned into place by the volunteers and should help create shallow marginal shelves along the edges of the channel while creating faster flow in the centre, cleaning gravels and creating oxygen rich water. This month we saw fish in this channel for the first time, a real testament to the volunteer’s efforts.

 
A month of river work finished with a survey of Pig Brook, another IDB managed channel which holds one of the last populations of White Clawed Crayfish. This native species is suffering through the spread of Crayfish plague spread from imported signal crayfish as well as pollution and silt covered gravels.

white clawed crayfish
Earlier in the month I had given a talk to the drainage board’s contractors Rhino Plant on the importance of biosecurity and the need to check clean and dry equipment and spray with a specialised Iodine based spray when working on crayfish channels. presentation for Rhino plant
Pig Brook is an attractive channel set in parkland but more could be done to improve the stream for crayfish and connect it with the surrounding floodplain. Next month I hope to work on plans to enhance the river and allow the crayfish to thrive.

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.

A Year in the life of an environmental consultant – March 2017, Getting ready for spring.

glowing gang with litter

Volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership glow with pride at their morning’s work.

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.

parrots feather in wademarsh autumn 2016

invasive parrot’s feather growing on Chislet Marshes

 

“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.

 

volunteers cleaning litter March 2017

volunteers removing litter from the channel.

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.

 

Rare plant found in Kent

Working in conjunction with Kent Botanical Recording Group is helping to conserve some of the rare flora of Kent’s waterways. Read the article below.

sue-and-josh-looking-at-plants

Sue Buckingham of Kent Botanical Recording Group helps with plant i.d. during a survey.

A rare plant has been recorded on Supperton Dyke, a botanically rich channel that forms part of Preston Marshes SSSI. Kent Botanical Recording Group working in partnership with the River Stour Internal Drainage Board surveyed the channel, managed by the board in the summer of 2016 and found a hybrid of carex x prolixa, a type of tufted sedge previously recorded at only a handful of places in Britain.
Carol Donaldson, who has been biodiversity advisor to the River Stour Internal Drainage Board since 2010 set up the partnership and uses the information gathered to tailor management, such as weed cutting and de-silting to each individual watercourse.
“Many rare plants are under recorded,” says Carol. “The IDB can help recording groups gain access to areas that would otherwise be out of reach. Working with the Kent Botanical Recording Group expands knowledge of Kent’s flora and helps the Drainage Board to manage the channels with the needs of these species in mind as well as protecting against flooding.”
Other scarce plants found in IDB channels during surveys last year include tubular water dropwort, hairlike pondweed and small pondweed, which was only the fifth record for this species in Kent.

A year in the life of an environmental consultant – August 2016

August 2016 – Messing about with our rivers

surveying

The sun shone throughout August as we continued with our work to re-survey rivers and drainage channels for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. Repeating a survey we originally done six years ago shows the changes in land use and how this impacts on our waterways.

The loss of many grazing meadows is particularly a cause for concern as grazing allows a rich diversity of plant life to flourish and creates a tangled fringe of vegetation which provides a microclimate for insects. cattle grazing ditch

We have found that some of the meadows which were originally grazed by cattle have now become unused. Development companies have bought up land on the edge of towns and villages and leave these fields ungrazed while they attempt to get planning permission.

With the cessation of grazing, plants such as tubular water dropwort have become outcompeted by more rigorous species such as common reed and banks become dominated by thistles. In other fields a change from grazing to arable has resulted in more fertiliser use, which has caused nitrate levels to rise in ditches leading to an acceleration in weed growth.

Throughout the coming months we hope to work with landowners to look at ways of reducing run off and improving rivers for wildlife.

Cutting a river channel by hand

Cutting a river channel by hand

This month we have also been working with Rhino Plant, the River Stour Internal Drainage Board’s contractor as they begin the annual weed cutting of channels. Where access for machines is too difficult the rivers are cut by hand with scythes. The guys involved in this work have to have plenty of strength and stamina to undertake the physical demands of cutting and hauling the weed onto the banks.

Our work involves advising on Biosecurity to avoid the spread of crayfish plague which can be transferred from introduced signal crayfish to our native white clawed crayfish with devastating affect. We encourage contractors to check clean and dry their equipment and spray with a iodine solution to prevent disease spread.

white clawed crayfish

white clawed crayfish

We also look at ways of using the weedcut to create meanders and improve the flow of rivers, creating diversity in the channel which allows aquatic insects to thrive and fish to spawn.

Restoring the health and vitality of our rivers will prevent flooding and provide clean water as well as allowing people in towns to enjoy a therapeutic slice of the natural world.

 

A Year in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – July 2016

July 2016 – Working in partnership

Carol and Sue Buckingham examine divided sedge

Carol and Sue Buckingham examine divided sedge

July began with an excellent day of survey work alongside County Recorder, Sue Buckingham on the Ash Levels, to the East of Canterbury in Kent. The Ash Level Feed Dyke is one of the most botanically rich drainage dykes managed by the River Stour Internal Drainage Board and therefore it is important to get management right to ensure that rare plants can flourish. Carol Donaldson surveyed the watercourse in 2010 and was keen to return to see how changes in management had affected the channel. Sue’s expert knowledge helped to identify a range of uncommon plants such as divided sedge, rootless duckweed and tubular water dropwort.

tubular water dropwort

Carol and Sue Buckingham examine divided sedge

Carol J Donaldson Associates have worked hard to forge links with other conservation organisations and submit all records to the British Trust for Ornithology and Kent and Medway Biological Record Centre. “Working with Sue Buckingham and Kent Field Club is good for everyone.” said Carol. “The Internal Drainage Board benefit from specialist recording skills and the recorders get contact with landowners and access to areas of land away from public rights of way.” This mutually beneficial partnership allowed Kent Field Club to survey another IDB channel in July and discover several plants of tufted sedge (Carex elata) which had not previously been recorded in this area.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

bird ringer and kestrel copyright Ralph Connolly

Another mutually beneficial partnership has been formed with Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership. We volunteered our time in July to help with the barn owl ringing programme , visiting some of the many boxes installed by the partnership across East Kent. The day provided an insight into the life and death game sometimes played out unseen. We were amazed to discover two barn owls feeding on the remains of recently predated kestrel chicks. It was an extraordinary example of the food chain in action. Adult kestrels are feisty birds and the predated chicks were almost full grown. We can only speculate that this was a chance encounter where two barn owls had investigated the box and happened upon the chicks while the parent was away hunting.

presentation for Rhino Plant

Finally this month we conducted a training day for Rhino Plant operators on behalf of the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. The day was designed to give the operators who manage the drainage channels an insight into the survey work conducted on the marshes and an understanding of why decisions are made to change the way the ditches are cut and de-silted. It was an opportunity for both sides to learn about each others roles in maintaining the channels and work together towards getting a good balance between the needs of drainage and the needs of wildlife

A Year in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – June 2016

June 2016 – And the rain just kept on falling

surveying birds on Stoke Marshes during a break in the weather

surveying birds on Stoke Marshes during a break in the weather

In June it felt as if the rain would never stop as we battled to complete this year’s breeding wader survey, dodging showers and driving vehicles across sodden marshland fields.

The weather has hampered efforts to create ideal conditions for birds such as lapwing. A warm winter saw grass continue to grow and landowners struggle to create the short sward with tussocks that encourages birds to breed, This coupled with a cold early spring and rain late in the breeding season has meant that it has been a difficult year for wet grassland birds. Despite all of this, numbers of fledged birds were up on last year and it was fantastic to see that many farmers with breeding wader environmental stewardship options had taken on board the advice given during the autumn and that overall land was in better condition.

Rills such as this one near Conyer provide good habitat for breeding waders

Rills such as this one near Conyer provide good habitat for breeding waders

A new North Kent Marshes Capital Grants Scheme, administered by Kent Wildlife Trust, is a welcome investment and should help farmers have better control of water and the opportunity to create new scrapes and rills which will encourage more birds to breed. The RSPB, who oversee this work in partnership with Natural England, are pleased with the progress that has been made so far and we all look forward to seeing numbers of fledged chicks increase next season.

In June we were delighted to receive the news that the River Stour (Kent) Internal Drainage Board had voted to continued to work with Carol J Donaldson Associates and implement a plan of future work which we proposed to the board last year. This expanded programme will see us continue to survey drainage ditches across the catchment and advise on management but additionally will allow us to work with farmers to tackle problems such as diffuse pollution and soil run off as well as work alongside IDB staff to create a programme of enhancements to channels which will improve their value for wildlife and reduce flood risk.

We will also be working closely with the Environment Agency on joint initiatives to manage and enhance main river channels. To begin this work we undertook a water vole survey on the Sarre Penn, a small channel near Chislet outside of Canterbury. Following new guidelines issued by Natural England for water vole displacement we will return to this channel later in the year to conduct a second survey before deciding on appropriate enhancements.

water vole surveys are best conducted from within the channel.

water vole surveys are best conducted from within the channel.