Enjoying the solitude while surveying on the marshes.
At the beginning of March few of us could foresee how rapidly life would change for us all.
Indeed for much of the month my work carried on as normal. Visiting sites, talking about land management and anticipating a great spring of wader surveys with the land looking wetter than ever.
At times this month I have thanked my lucky stars at having a job where social isolation is the norm. In fact I have often felt that in order to do much of my job you have to be someone very good at dealing with your own company as I spend long days on my own on the marshes with only the sheep to talk to.
As the month progressed and the impact of the virus on everyone’s life became apparent I still felt that, in my working world at least, I was immune. Right up until the lock down I was spending days wandering fields with skylarks singing overhead and the waves crashing on the shore of the Thames.
Out there, in the fields, life felt normal and panic buying and worries over the health of loved ones seemed many miles away. I have been extremely grateful for every moment out on site this month.
I have also been very grateful to keep working. Throughout March I have been working with Natural England on a fabulous project undertaking assessments on designated sites across North Kent. Most of the sites have RAMSAR, SPA and SSSI status and my role was to visit sites and update the assessment.
This involved looking at the general condition of the land for wintering and breeding wildfowl and waders, undertaking a search for water vole signs and testing water quality for nitrates and phosphates.
Most of the sites were well known to me through my work on the North Kent Marshes Breeding Wader project but I also had the opportunity to visit one or two totally new sites which was a real treat and gave me an insight into how many areas would be suitable for breeding waders given the right advice and management.
Luckily all the site visits were completed before the lockdown and the last two weeks have been spent indoors busily typing up the results.
Normally being stuck indoors on a laptop as spring progresses outside would drive me mad but, with travel restricted, even this has given me the opportunity to walk the marshes, if only in my mind. At times the sad news of rising death tolls has been forgotten as in my head I spotted snipe in the rushes or warily eyed the cattle in the next field.
With the opportunity for undertaking my normal survey work currently looking remote I will remember those moments this spring and look forward to a time when I can get back out into the fields again
Lodge Hill, an area of woodland and scrubland on the edge of Medway is about to become famous. Famous for what depends on whether it is destroyed to make way for 5000 houses or protected because of it’s SSSI status and the fact that it houses the largest colony of nightingales in the South East.
Medway Council, who have just included it as one of the development options in their local plan, wish for the words Lodge Hill to join the likes of Twyford Down and Newbury bypass as a place where protestors gathered to fight to protect our natural places from being destroyed.
This time though the stakes are higher. If destruction of a SSSI goes ahead for development it will green light a whole raft of other proposals and render the laws which protect our countryside invalid. If Lodge Hill goes ahead then no where is safe.
But Lodge Hill could be famous for another reason. For the place where a local authority refused to bow to the pressure from Westminster to build all over the south east and said, “No. We will drop our support for the development of Lodge Hill and concentrate housing and retail back in town centres.”
If development at Lodge Hill goes ahead it will taint Medway for generations. The area will be associated with protest and dirty politics, the roads will be clogged by cars and we will have destroyed a nightingale colony which should be something of which we are rightly proud and promote as one of the reasons to visit. Is this really the legacy that Medway Council wants?
It is time for us all to stand up and make the name Lodge Hill synonymous with a legacy of which we can be proud.
Voice your protest at the proposed development of Lodge Hill by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Natural England, English Nature and it’s many predecessors was once a organisation you would feel proud to work for. I remember feeling that only those at the top of their game would be likely to get work with them.
Then things changed, whispers within the conservation sector grew that Natural England were increasingly employing people who did not have the character to really make a stand for nature. I attended meetings with Natural England staff where people proposed terrible developments to wildlife rich areas and wondered why I was the only one making a fuss. Now I know. It was the beginning of the end for what was once a highly respected organisation that were the last line of defence against all of those who would seek to destroy our countryside.
In the last few years everyone has known that Natural England is on its knees. It still employs a few people of excellence but they are increasingly demoralised. It’s local offices are a ghost town, it’s work is more often than not farmed out to others.
An article in today’s Guardian sounds the last bell. Natural England’s budget is to be cut, it’s staff reduced further, it’s resolve to take people to court weakened, it willingness to be paid for by developers increased. Now we have an organisation who is happy to turn a blind eye to outrageous contraventions of European law such as the peat bog burning at Walshaw Moor in which they dropped out of a case after the landowner spoke to a government minister. Now we have what the government wants, no one to stand in their way while they plough, burn and build over our SSSI’s and National Parks.
Who is there to stand up for nature now?
Read The Guardian article here.