A Day in the Life of an Environmental Consultant Oct 20

Hope is on the horizon for new projects beginning this autumn.

It seems we are barely out of one lockdown then we are heading into another. It has been a year when it has been hard for all business’s to plan ahead but human beings are a pretty resilient species and planning for better times is exactly what I have been doing.

This year’s farm advisory visits are now almost completed and, despite a lack of surveys and the problems cause by the long dry spell, all the farmers I work with remain committed to creating better wetlands for wildlife. Some have even been busy applying for Natural England consent for ambitious projects on the ground to create new wetland features such as scrapes and rills.

The RSPB showed their continued belief in the North Kent Marshes Breeding Wader project by putting together a Green Recovery Fund bid which, if successful, would see an expansion of the project to include new staff, trainee positions and capital works.

Since 2015 I have run the project with just me at the helm backed up by excellent advice both from the RSPB and Natural England, so it is only natural that I find the proposed changes a little scary but I am delighted that the success of the project might allow someone else to get a shot at a career in wildlife conservation at a difficult time for any young person to get employment.

Success in the Green Recovery Fund will give more young people the chance of a career in conservation.

I am also excited about the possibility of working with more farmers and have the funding available to create really exciting work on the ground to help some of our beleaguered farmland birds.

Another exciting possibility, which I have spent the last few months working towards, is to further my work with the Upper and Lower Medway Internal Drainage Board. After years of working as Biodiversity Advisor to the River Stour IDB I would dearly love the opportunity to use my experience to benefit a whole new area. I get the chance to present my ideas to the boards in November.

Also in November I was hoping to work on a new marshland film with Nick Fallowfield Cooper, part of the team at Fallon’s Angler. The potential film might have to be put on hold for the lockdown but when life resumes I hope to be able to read parts of my book, On the Marshes, as a backdrop to Nick’s images as he follows a rare carp called Wildie through the waterways of the Hoo Peninsula.

Yvette Austin reports for BBC South East news on opposition to the development of Conyer brickworks, a haven for nightingale and turtle dove

Conyer Brickworks, a former industrial site, has become a haven for some of our fastest declining wildlife, including nightingale and turtle dove. It has also provided a sanctuary for local people during the recent coronavirus lockdown. Now it is threatened with destruction to build just 24 luxury homes for the wealthy few.

Yvette Austin reports for BBC South East news on how this is allowed to happen and I make a case for the value of Brownfield sites.

You can comment on the application by searching for application no. 18/506460 at https://pa.midkent.gov.uk/online-applications

Comments will be registered right up to the date of the planning committee.

please help us to stop this development!

A day in the life of an environmental consultant – July/August 2019

A day in the life of an environmental consultant – July/August 2019

wader footprints

More waders than ever before bred on North Kent Farms this year.

July and August are quieter times for much of our wildlife in Britain. The frenzy of the breeding season is over and many birds hide away in order to moult while others, such as the cuckoo, leave our shores for another year.

For me, the breeding season finally ended mid July, later than ever before. It was a long season but while there are still unfledged birds then I will continue to go out and survey in order to get a result that adequately portrays the situation on each individual farm.

Sometimes, I will freely admit, that accuracy is difficult. By July, vegetation, such as rush, has grown long and trying to spot cryptically coloured balls of fluff requires patience, knowledge and more than a dash of good fortune.

Still, finally the 4×4 (minus an aerial and a number place, both casualties of rough off road driving) was returned, the results were analysed and the maps of breeding pairs delivered to the RSPB.

why I need off road tyres

The 4×4 suffered a little this spring

With one eye on the plans for wetland restoration work, I then turned my attention to water vole surveys. On a blistering hot day I donned my neoprene waders and assistant, Matthew Hawkins and I, headed to the Isle of Grain to survey a rill on behalf of Kent Wildfowlers Association, Wild spaces project.

Matt surveying channel

Matt Hawkins surveys a channel on a blistering hot day.

Water voles and their burrows are protected by law. While it is possible to displace water vole under particular circumstances it is often better for the animal and cheaper for the client to find an alternative solution.

Signs indicated that water vole were using the rill and that a healthy population existed in nearby burrow systems. Therefore it was decided to leave the banks of this particular feature untouched and instead focus restoration works on other parts of the site. Hopefully a win win situation for water voles and birds on the reserve.

July also saw me undertaking voluntary swift surveys for the UK Swift Inventory. This RSPB initiative aims to record the locations of breeding swifts in order to help planning officers protect their nests if the sites is developed.

Next month my attentions will turn back to the farmland as I begin my autumn visits to discuss how our waders did this summer with the farmers.

To enable me to visit more farms, the RSPB have launched a fundraising campaign which will directly fund the North Kent Marshes Breeding Wader Project which I have run for 5 years. Farming advice works. I know it. Six times as many lapwing chicks now survive to fledge on farmland in North Kent than when I started. You can’t argue with that.

I don’t want to tread water with this project I want to do more and I can only do that if there is funding to send me out to more land and more farms. I really believe that this work can make a fundamental difference for our birds.

If you would like to donate to the project then please contact Bonnie Metherell at the RSPB Bonnie.Metherell@rspb.org.uk or call 01273 763626

Help save out swifts

A single swift would make for a very sad summer. They are one of those birds that form a backdrop to our lives but spend theirs so far above our heads that we wouldn’t notice they were in trouble until they were gone.

Our Swifts are in trouble. Their numbers have dropped by 53% in the last twenty years and in many places in the UK the summer skies are silent.

One of the main problems is the loss of nesting sites. Swifts are sociable and loyal. They mate for life and the pair meet each year at the same location to nest. Once there, they gather together nesting material from the air and create a nest in the cavity by sticking together the feathers, straw and paper with salvia.

I love this image. I love the fact that if I brush my hair outside and stray hairs go floating up towards the clouds they may end up making a nest for young swifts. I love the idea of swifts travelling the world and meeting up at the same hole in a old building down the road from me.

Problem is, in this age of house renovations they may return to find their historic nesting site is no more. Developments, particularly of old churches, pubs and houses, means that there are less and less places for swifts to nest. Yes, there are swift nest boxes but it’s not easy to attract swifts to use them. Yes, we most certainly should be making all new developments swift friendly by installing swift bricks below the eaves but we can also do more to protect those places the swifts know and love.

A stroll along my street over the last few days has revealed that swifts are living in all manner of old houses, probably unbeknown to their occupants. Inside these tiny crevices in the brickwork young swifts are practicing press ups on their wing tips to help strengthen the muscles. I wouldn’t want to see them evicted.

Look out over the next few weeks for tell tale signs. Swifts screaming low over roof tips. swifts vanishing into walls, droppings down the outside of buildings with holes in the brickwork or crevices under the eaves. Report your sightings on the RSPB swift survey.

This survey is easy to fill in and makes planners and developers aware of swift hotspots and hopefully protect them.

I for one am delighted to discover that my road still provides a home for these amazing birds, let’s work together to keep them in our summer skies.

A day in the life of an environmental consultant – June 2019

chick at Keith Studds spring 2019Just what is going on this year with our waders?

As I write this, it is the beginning of July. I should be reflecting on the end of another season of wader surveys on the North Kent Marshes. Yet out in the fields things are a long way from over. Day old chicks wander around, many weeks from being safely fledged and birds appear to still be on eggs.

 

surveying on pevensey levels taking a break

I contemplate what’s happening with our waders while taking a coffee break on the Pevensey Levels.

Pevensey Levels at the start of the month. My third visit found 18 fledged young on Horse Eye and Down, a very good level of productivity. This shows what can be achieved in this area if more fields held water in shallow scrapes throughout the breeding season. I am looking forward to going back to Pevensey this autumn to talk to farmers about the results and how we can replicate this in other parts of the levels.

So why are things so late in North Kent? This is a question I put to Dr Jen Smart, Principal Conservation Scientist for the RSPB, when she came to visit along with the RSPB’s Coastal and Wetlands ecology team. It appears that the chicks we are seeing now, are probably second broods, with first broods succumbing to the lack of insect food in wet mud caused by the dry spring or possibly from predation.

Strangely I never saw any signs of early chicks so potentially broods could have been lost at the egg stage. Dr Smart told me that second broods are often weaker and have less chance to survive, so I am keeping my fingers crossed and continuing to survey the sites for signs of fledged birds throughout July.

The Coastal and Wetland team were visiting to find out the recipe for success for farming advice, as it appears, North Kent is one of the few places that waders are increasing outside of reserves. I was happy to give them my ideas on what works and what doesn’t along with Sheppey farmer Keith Studd.

more enlightenment from Graham white

Graham White, RSPB Head of Reserves Ecology learns my secret recipe for successful farming advice.

Keith and I both highlighted recent loss of good will from farmers towards countryside stewardship schemes. Hardly surprising as some farmers are waiting years for late payments and are being penalised by the Rural Payment Agency for doing the very things that their agreements encourage them to do. Lack of communication, faceless officials, mind boggling paperwork and at times shear arrogance is creating a situation where some farmers feel inclined to cut their losses and drop out of environmental schemes altogether.

The future for our wildlife cannot lie in reserves but in cohesive landscapes where conservation bodies and farmers are working together. We need a well funded, farmer friendly scheme which encourages a good take up and gives people targeted face to face advice.

RSPB ecology field trip at North Quarry

The RSPB Coastal and Wetland team discuss plans for a quarry near Cliffe. 

With this is mind it was fantastic to see the exciting plans for landscape scale conservation on the Hoo Peninsula and Isle of Sheppey. Here there is the potential for great swatches of countryside to being managed for the benefit of wildlife. There are some great opportunities to work with farmers, aggregate companies, the RSPB and the drainage board to create a cohesive network of dynamic wetlands. As part of this we visited a number of quarries and heard about the plans to create reedbeds and lagoons for wonderful species such as black necked grebe.

Exciting times hopefully lie ahead.

 

A Day in the Life of an Environmental Consultant- February 2019

A Day in the Life of an Environmental Consultant- February 2019

Making the wetlands wetter.

May 2007 aerial photo

Images like this from Google Earth help identify where to create new scrapes for wetland birds.

Despite, or more likely because of, a lack of rain over this winter and the beautiful but crazy heatwave at the end of February I am focussing my attention this year on plans to make the wet grassland of North Kent much wetter.

The Southeast struggles for sufficient rainfall and following the super dry summer of 2018 there is even more pressure on our rivers and wetlands as more water is abstracted from the natural environment for food production and the needs of the every increasing number of households.

Therefore we need to be able to preserve as much rainfall as we can on the marshes so they are wet enough in the spring to encourage waders to breed.

With this in mind I have spent the last month creating a series of wetland restoration plans alongside the farmers I work with. Google Earth has proved invaluable giving me a spy in the sky ability to whizz backwards in time across the land and see low lying spots where water naturally sits. By creating new rills and scrapes in these spots we can ensure that the fields stay wetter for longer into the spring and provide the conditions that lapwing and redshank need in order to successfully rear chicks.

Once farmers have approved the plans then the next step will be to get all the legal agreements in place to create a ‘ready to go’ project to present to outside funders.

It is a lot of work but is vital if we are to return waders to our marshes. To help I have taken on a student from Hadlow College. Matthew is in the first year of a Countryside Management degree with hopes of being an ecologist. I am delighted to welcome him to the team and help with his studies.

I am also delighted that the RSPB is looking to extend the work in North Kent for another 6 years and offer advice to even more farms. The Greater Thames Estuary is one of the priority areas in the RSPB’s Futurescapes project. Only by restoring large areas of land can we ensure a future for the UK’s wilWith this in mind I have begun reaching out to new landowners and was delighted to visit Kent Wildfowlers Cooling Marsh Reserve a few weeks ago.

This area is ideal for breeding waders as it lies adjacent to a large bay on the Thames which was created by managed realignment. The site is extremely open and flat but, like many other sites, struggles to hold water.

wet rills on area of marsh not shot Feb 2019

More wet rills are needed in places like Cooling Marsh

After walking the land with John Nottage and Ray Lucas from Kent Wildfowlers we sat around a pot bellied stove with dogs at our feet in a little hand built club house by the river and discussed ways we could help retain water on the marshes and improve the land for waders.

Many of the farmers I work with shoot and I don’t find this conflicts with managing the land for wading birds at all. I am very much hoping to get out to visit more Wildfowlers reserves and meet with more landowners next month.

 

 

 

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.

A better countryside is possible

fledged lapwing chick barksore

The bottom line. More fledged waders from farmland.

Head over to the RSPB website to read my guest blog on my work with farmers in North Kent. The site describes me as a RSPB volunteer farm advisor which isn’t quite true as I work independently of the RSPB as a paid consultant but the support and advise I receive from the RSPB is fundamental in making the project a success.

Read the blog here

http://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/getinvolved/b/south-east/archive/2018/07/05/a-better-countryside-is-possible-but-a-strong-watchdog-is-needed-to-protect-it.aspx

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant- September

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant- September

September and the weed cutting season for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board is well under way.

The banks and weed are cut every summer as part of the general maintenance programme and one of my key jobs is advising on the best cut to maintain the wildlife interest of the channel and work with the contractors Rhino Plant to advise on particular areas of importance such as management for white clawed crayfish.weedcutter and parrots feather

This month I worked with the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership volunteers to tackle an invasive plant, Parrot’s feather, which has colonised ditches on Chislet marshes.

A small amount of this pond plant found its way into a roadside ditch and has spread quickly. Removing the plant needs to be sensitively managed so as not to cause disturbance or damage to other wildlife. Therefore spraying and vigorous weed cutting is not an option as both these methods would leave ditch edges bare of cover for other species.

Instead the River Stour IDB has approved a programme of mechanical weedcutting followed up by hand pulling of parrot’s feather from the margins. KSCP volunteers have already spent two days wading in the channel or paddling in boats as dragonflies buzz overhead.

An eagle eye is needed to spot the tiniest fragment of plant and a boom net has been installed to catch plants floating downstream. Despite their best attempts all involved know it will take many years of work to combat this plant.

installing net at Wademarsh

Towards the middle of the month I attended an excellent course in wet grassland management run by the RSPB at their Otmoor reserve. Over two days I learnt about the precise needs of different waders and came away with lots of ideas to take out to farmers this autumn.

Simple changes such as rotovating foot drains can make a big difference and hopefully, by implementing these measures, we can continue to improve the fortunes of birds such as lapwings on the north Kent marshes.
Now all we need is a wet winter to top up the ditches and flood the grassland fields ready for the following spring.