Birds, Beasts and Hovercrafts.

looking suspicious at Mr C

It is easy to be suspicious about Hovercraft owners but we must work together to protect our wildlife.

Where better to be on a scorching day than out enjoying the coastal scenery of the Swale?

However, concern is growing about the increasing numbers of fast powered watercraft using the water and the affect this is having on our wildlife.

300,000 birds use the estuaries of North Kent during migration and their  survival is entirely dependent on stocking up during daylight hours on the protein rich crustaceans within the river mud. Flushing these birds for a few minutes might not seem much for an individual racing down the river but over time this, along with dogs off leads, has had an impact on the numbers of birds that survive.

It is easy to label everyone spinning along the water as a menace and think the best way to deal with them is to ban the lot but this is unfeasible and impossible to police. Therefore it is better to work with other people who wish to enjoy the beauty of the estuary and find ways to minimise the disturbance.

It was with this intention that I set out on a hovercraft last weekend with Carl Cristina of The Hovercraft Guild of Great Britain. My aim was to see the estuary from the perspective of the hovercraft users and witness first hand the impact it has on wildlife. Carol with Die Another Day

Tucked into my seat like a regal princess we were soon flying along the Swale. The roar of the fan softened by earphones. The hovercrafts undoubtedly have an impact on wildlife, flocks of black tailed godwits took flight at our approach but surprisingly, birds a little further away stayed put. It seemed it was not so much the noise which bothered them, amazingly this disappears a short distance from the craft, but the proximity.

bt godwit being flushed

finding ways to reduce flushing birds is vital for the survival of species.

I pointed out to Carl that the hovercrafts were using the most sensitive area of the river from a wildlife point of view. The point where land becomes water, the soft muddy edge where the birds find the easiest meal. He explained that this was because, if the craft stalled in deeper water, they were harder to get started again. A procedure, which is known in the trade as, “getting over the hump.”

Carl later demonstrated the technique needed to get over the hump but admitted that many hovercraft owners didn’t know how to do it. Further training might therefore be needed.

Carl demonstrates getting over the hump

Carl demonstrates ‘getting over the hump.’

Chatting to the other hovercraft users it was also clear that there was a lack of knowledge about the special nature of the estuary and it’s international importance for wildlife. “They’re all just seagulls, aren’t they?” was one comment.

Hearteningly there was also a desire to learn more. Understand where the most sensitive areas were and when they were best avoided. Several solutions were suggested including colourful markers and waterproof maps.

Following stops at the Harty Ferry Inn for lunch and Leysdown-on-Sea for ice cream we headed back. Carl trying a variety of techniques to see how riding in different ways affected the birds and avoiding a colony of seals hauled out on the sands. At only a short distance, birds stayed put, alert, but not flying off.

There is no doubting the cleverness of the hovercraft and the fun of getting out onto the river and being whipped by salt spray. I am no killjoy when it comes to speed and an adrenalin buzz but it is essential that we all live in harmony with the wildlife we are lucky to live surrounded by and I am hoping this trip is the first step in finding practical solutions which help us all to enjoy the coast benignly.

 

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Merry in England.

 

view back to Faversham

Looking back to Iron Wharf from Faversham Creek

Today I cycled out from Faversham and fell back in love with my country.

 

I sometimes forget how lovely England still is when I spend so much time seeing and bike at Goodnestonedespairing at the destruction of our countryside. At times it seems that we have become one big building site and ugliness both physical and ideological threatens to engulf us.

Today however I remembered all the good things as I weaved past the lively market and down to the boatyards of Iron Wharf where people clambered over their weekend projects with renewed enthusiasm because the sun was out and the days were getting longer. I then crossed a ever more rickety bridge over a creek and spun across Nagden Marshes.

Spring was everywhere, butterflies courting, birds singing, blackthorn spangled in lacey blossom.

20170311-0004Spring in England is a blessing which you can enjoy all the more after the gloom of a long winter and, even these days, when winter is not what it was, then I can revel in the first sun on bare skin. I fully subscribe to Robert Browning’s philosophy in his poem ‘O to be in England.’ and never wish to live full time in a country where the summer is endless. Like many things in life the joy of pleasure returning is all the sweeter when you’ve come through the dark days.

Away from the banks of Faversham Creek  I swung down inside Goodnestone churchquiet lanes, passing farm workers, horseshows and stopped at St Bartholomew’s Church in Goodnestone run by the Churches Conservation Trust and stepped inside to discover it’s simplicity and cool whitewash. On, past quirkily named pubs and first pints of shandy back to town. The world had gone all John Betjeman and I was thankful for it.

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.