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.

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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.

Job Envy

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enjoying a beautiful day on Chislet marshes.

On almost a daily basis people come up to me and say, “I wish I could have your job, I’m so envious.” Mmmm,  I wonder if they would feel the same way today as I fought my way across Chislet Marshes in a torrential downpour trying to conduct a survey of a river? Possibly not.

My waterproof jacket was back in the car, having become drenched by a leaky bottle of iodine spray, the zip on my fleece, pock marked with burn holes, had chosen just this moment to break, water dripped down my neck, my waterproof trousers offered no resistance to the stinging driving rain. I was drenched, more drenched that I ever remember being.

I crawled under a hawthorn bush for cover but it was impossible, the rain came from all directions, bouncing up from the earth, sending the tracks into rivers. My notes were too sodden to read, even the kingfishers had taken shelter under the bridges. I gave up and slopped back to the car, peeling off the ‘waterproofs’ to reveal sodden, heavy layers of clothing underneath and drove home.

My dad on a weekly basis tells me I’m mad to do my job. “You should have worked in a bank,” he tells me. “Then you would have been rich.” I thought about it as I drove back down a spray ridden M2. Would I swap my walk across Chislet Marshes in the rain for a cosy dry job behind a desk? Would I hell.

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.

 

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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 – May

Josh bird watching on Stoke Marshes

Josh Bartel surveys Stoke Marshes near the Isle of Grain.

The peak of the breeding season saw us visiting farms across North Kent to monitor breeding waders. Along with monitoring numbers of lapwing, redshank, oystercatchers, snipe and yellow wagtails, we also recorded the fledgling productivity of lapwing chicks. Detailed notes were made on the sward condition, grazing regime and the amount of water laying on the fields. This information is used to better understand the ideal management for waders on both grassland and arable sites and to inform advice given to landowners to ensure that farms receiving stewardship payments attract breeding birds and that chicks have the best chance of successfully fledging.

The project is a follow on from the work started through the Nature Improvement Area (NIA), and is a partnership between NE and the RSPB.

This month we also worked with the Environment Agency and the River Stour Internal Drainage Board to advise on management of a small river called the Sarre Penn, which runs close to the village of Chislet outside of Canterbury.

Sarre Penn © Copyright Marathon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Sarre Penn © Copyright Marathon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The channel experiences high winter flows and we discussed possible ways of managing this alongside enhancing the channel for wildlife. Options included reconnecting the channel with the floodplain and creating a two tier channel using woody debris to create pools and riffles which will create more diversity and opportunities for aquatic invertebrates.

The next stage is discussing the options with the landowner and undertaking a water vole survey, only then can we make decisions on the best way forward.

Lastly we undertook a bird survey for the Medway Swale Estuary Partnership at Hillyfields Community Park in the centre of Gillingham. We discovered that this remnant of old orchard and open fields is home to 16 species of birds, including coal tit and mistle thrush along with abundant blackcap, chiffchaff and wren.

Hillyfields Orchard © Copyright David Anstiss and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Hillyfields Orchard © Copyright David Anstiss and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

This shows how important our small urban green spaces are for wildlife. Unfortunately many of these sites are currently under threat by developers looking to exploit the current relaxation of planning laws. Our towns and cities will be poorer places if these wildlife rich sites are deemed to be unimportant and swept away.

Back to Work

Barksore marsh ditch JanToday I walked Barksore Marshes, a private area of land on the edge of the Swale in North Kent. I was there to do a survey, to look at grass length and water in preparation for the coming breeding season, when I hoped the land would be full of lapwing.

My head had been full of New Year decorating plans and the sky became a Dulux colour chart of cool greys with twee names like ‘moonshadow’ and ‘pearl dawn’.

I stopped on a bridge over a fleet for a coffee. It was silent, a marshland silence, an enveloping cotton wool cloud of hush, broken occasionally by a crow cawing or a pheasant clucking or knot wing flashing out on the bay with a sound like a wave breaking on shingle.

A snipe flew from the rush. It was silent enough to hear the drip of water from its toes, creating rings, growing and softening across the surface of the fleet.

Skylarks began singing as the sun warmed the land.

“Too early,” I told them. “Wait, wait. It feels like spring but it could still turn.”

I hoped so. I hoped that winter would still come and change the country back into one of four seasons instead of a country with a climate that seemed to remain, warm, wet and grey year round.

Talking aloud, talking to birds and insects and sheep. It was the curse of the self employed. I was so often alone on the marshes I forgot what was normal. The aloneness could drive you crazy but not today. Today other people felt the back to work gloom descend. crowded on trains or stuffed into overheated offices but not me.

Today I thanked my ex boss who had trusted me with this gig.   I thanked God for this morning of silence and light on the marshes. I thanked my lucky stars.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

We’re going on a reptile hunt.

Common Lizard, Hambrook Marshes copyright Tim Dawson

Common Lizard, Hambrook Marshes
copyright Tim Dawson

The sun made a rare appearance after, seemingly, weeks of rain on Wednesday and I was tentatively hopeful that our planned reptile hunt across Hambrook Marshes and Bus Company Island in Canterbury might prove successful.

Andrew Wilkinson from Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership explained the need to monitor reptiles at Hambrook to get an idea if their management of the site was successful.

Andrew reptile hunting

Andrew reptile hunting

The big reveal

The big reveal

To begin with, things did not look hopeful. We poked around under a variety of tins, roofing felts and tiles on the steep former railway embankment seeing little more than a slug and a fat spider but then Andrew gave a shout. Unfortunately, by the time the rest of us had scurried over the common lizard had scarpered.

However, down in the meadows we had better luck and a common lizard posed helpfully on a tree stump while it was ‘papped’ by the long lenses of fellow volunteers, Chris and Tim.

'papping' a lizard

‘papping’ a lizard

The sun was warming up as we travelled to Bus Company Island, a hidden reserve tucked away in the meeting between two branches of the River Stour. The site hadn’t been managed for some time and we ploughed through thickets of nettle and bramble working our way around the site. However we struck lucky. Tentatively pulling back the first mat, we saw a field vole run for cover and further along encountered a beautiful young slow worm.

Slow Worm, Bus Company Island  copyright Tim Dawson

Slow Worm, Bus Company Island
copyright Tim Dawson

Tim, who had spent a childhood hunting reptiles in the quarries near his home, was particularly delighted, as he hadn’t seen one in years. However, sometimes nature wants payment for its pleasures as Tim was to find out when we ventured onto the boardwalk above the pond.

As we peered over the edge of the dipping platform we heard a loud crack. Me, Chris and Tim were all thrown sideways as the platform gave way beneath us and Tim vanished feet first into the muddy pond. We all grabbed each other and Jenny, who had sensibly remained on the bank, and hauled ourselves out. Tim emerged, with a boot full of mud and squelched back to his car. Reptile hunts, like bear hunts are never easy.

I love my day job

P1010173As a child I read and re-read a book called Looking at Nature by Elsie Proctor published in 1965. In it a boy (of course a boy, this was the sixties after all) headed off for a day’s field trip. He had with him a fishing net made from bamboo and his mum’s tights, some field glasses, a collecting jar and a flower guide. I wanted to be this boy, heading off for a day of discovering nature but I couldn’t because A) I was a girl and B) It was 1983 and kids didn’t go out into the countryside on their own any more. Instead I would take Looking at Nature into the garden and build pitfall traps to harass the local insects and peel back bark on the long suffering apple tree to see what lay beneath.

Yesterday I set off for work, carrying a fishing net, a pair of binoculars and a wild flower guide. I discovered signs of water vole by the river, I lay in a meadow and worked out what the flowers were. I thought about ways to improve the area for wildlife. I drank a cup of coffee and listened to the swallows gathering overhead and I was being paid to do so.tools of trade

It still seems to me to be a remarkable thing that I got here. That through a mixture of Essex banter and trying really hard I get to fulfil that childhood image of who I would be. How few people get to do that? For most reality strikes, they can’t afford the years of studying, they fail an exam, they have kids and have to earn a crust in a better paid profession. They are crushed by parents or partners and are told to be sensible or maybe their ambitions are just too lofty, we can’t all be pop stars or the PM.

My ambitions were humbler; to spend time in nature and help wildlife. I achieve the first, I try to achieve the second. I still have faith that I do, in some way, achieve the second, despite the crushing forces that oppose this aim. I hope my records from the meadow might contribute to its safety from development. I hope my ideas to improve the river might be taken on board and make things better for the water voles and fish. I know that there are other considerations that might get in the way of the good I want to do, boring things that I don’t care about but others do.

But I also know that I am doing what I can, that I stuck to my guns. I know the childhood me would be so thrilled that I had made it and, whatever new ambitions come into my life, I know I am not willing to give up the day job just yet.

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Show some appreciation

 

 

By Bombman356 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.

By Bombman356 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.

Oh the irony, on the very day I get my Buglife membership pack, intent on supporting a charity who are fighting to protect our most prescious ‘brownfield’ sites from development, I step on a wasp nest while doing a survey of a river channel.

I had probably been standing on the wasp nest for a good twenty minutes before I realised what I had done, intent as I was on trying to indentify an unusual dragonfly. The wasps clearly felt that they had been patient long enough and this huge dark shadow wasn’t about to move so they began to crawl up into my trouser legs. Even then I didn’t become aware of them until they began to also swarm around my head and sting.

I did what any self respecting person would do. I ran. flinging my trousers off with abandon, despite the busy road nearby. Several wasps flew away. I put my trousers back on, only to find more wasps still in there, wedged between the folds in the material. Off the trousers came again and this time I put them on inside out to be sure.

Decidedly shaken, I limped back across the field but thought better of trying to retrieve my bag and binoculars, which were now covered with a mass of angry bodies. I trudged back across to my car, the shock having subsided, my leg now felt as if it had been stabbed multiple times with a poison dart (which indeed it had) and shooting pains were skedaddling along its length. There was nothing to do but wait, suck up the pain and sit tight until the wasps calmed down and I could go back for my stuff.

I poured a hot drink from my thermos and opened my Buglife magazine, only to be faced with a picture of a wasp. “Aggressive and can sting multiple times,” I read. They weren’t kidding but actually I had got off pretty lightly, amazed, when I checked, to find only two stings, the jabs I had felt after that I could only imagine had been inflicted by the wasps jaws. As my leg reddened and the pain increased I had to give the wasps the respect they were due, for a small creature they can pack quite a punch. hornet-11514_1280

Dawn on the marshes

20150416-0003I did not jump out of bed with joy as my alarm clock rang at 5.30am. It is not the best time of the morning for me. I bumbled around the kitchen, knocking things over and shouting, “shut up,” at the alarm clock when it decided to ring all over again. But the moment I left the house I knew I was pleased I had made the effort.

It was pre-dawn, so few people see this time of the morning, less and less people I suspect, now that milkmen, early morning post, and paperboys are a thing of the past. I have signed up to one of the few jobs that require an early start, breeding bird surveys. All round the country at this time of year, other people are crawling out of bed, making flasks of coffee and dragging out clipboards filled with obscure maps of fields which they need to navigate their way through.

Possibly due to the early start the navigating proved a little tricky. Having received specific instructions from a helpful farmer I still took a wrong turn and drove my intrepid Nissan Micra down a sheep track onto the marshes. Just as I was struggling into my wellies, a vision appeared through the mist. A rather handsome, open shirted man on a tractor who turned to be the farmers son. Considering the hour and that I was clearly in the wrong place, he was very charming and directed me back out of his sheep fields and to the right spot. 20150416-0002

By the time I reached the first field, the sun was just rising above the trees and a thick mist lay across the meadow. Avocets took to the air, twenty beautiful, delicate birds with neatly held pointed toes, piping overhead. Lapwings could be seen, whooping and descending across the scrapes, plummeting earthwards calling their liquid fluting song. Redshank strutted between tussocks of grass, oystercatchers stared out across mirror calm pools in companionable silence.20150416-0005

 

 

I have been commissioned to conduct surveys on farmland across the North Kent Marshes all summer. I had been told that I wasn’t expected to find much. I had been warned that the early starts were painful, that the farmers might be wary, but I also knew that here was an incentive to get out to see beautiful sunrises in places I would never normally get permission to go. I have done many boring and difficult jobs in my time. I know when I am lucky.

By 8am my days work was over and I was back home cooking up a big batch of pancakes and looking forward to tomorrows early start.