Nature Notes, a working weekend at the Othona Community.

For my latest video diary I head over to Bradwell on Sea in Essex to spend a weekend with the Othona Community. I discovered this place a few years ago and it has become an important place in my life that always leaves me feeling restored.

 

A work of art that money just can’t buy!

box builders (2)Great and much needed day out yesterday with my beloved volunteers. Working with a crack crew of Simon Houstoun and Richard Yarwood,  I helped build a rather marvellous kindling box from the tatty remains of old apple bins. It had the kind of patina that money just can’t by, complete with bent nails and bits of dry rot. We thought about selling it in Whitstable high street as a reclaimed retro artwork but decided to gift it to the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership instead. pride in our kindling box.JPG

In the bleak midwinter.

winter sunset and bonfireIt hasn’t been the best of weeks. I managed to cut my head open by dropping a vacuum cleaner on top of me on Monday which resulted in blood pouring down my face in a scene reminiscent of the film Carrie.

On Tuesday I found out that my plans for expanding my farming advice to encompass the whole of North Kent had been stopped  in their tracks due to lack of funds and on Wednesday I found myself in the unlikely position of cheering on a Tory prime minister as some seriously nasty wolves circled her.

However, today, once again, the world and all it’s worries was put in its proper place as I headed out to the woods with my gang for a day of coppicing hazel trees, creating a bonfire and having a winter feast. It sets the world right, it puts all fears in their place, it reminds you of what is true and real in the chaos.

It is the alchemy of the woods and the work, a bonfire and the company of people who make you feel you belong that takes a bleak midwinter day and makes it shine golden.

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – April 2018

A day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – April 2018

It is the last day of April and the country is being deluged with rain. Six weeks worth is due to fall in one day, the Met office tells me.

However, we have also seen some beautiful spring weather this month. The season seems to have accelerated with blossom and bluebells coming all at once.

At the beginning of April I spent two days with volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership overseeing the creation of new berms at Port Rill, a drainage channel managed by the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. The weather could not have been more of a contrast, the first day we spent in hot sunshine, the second in icy winds but whatever the temperature the volunteers did an excellent job at installing woody debris.

channel renaturalisingThe work done by the volunteers last spring is beginning to show results with parts of the channel re-naturalising, creating meanders and fast flowing sections. Years of silt are being scoured away to reveal underlying gravels. New wetland plants have established themselves on the berms and there were plenty of frogs enjoying the re-energised channel when we visited.

The second half of the month was crammed with breeding wader surveys and I saw many beautiful sunrises over the marshes.

Over the autumn, North Kent farmers have been busy creating new scrapes and rills and altering drainage systems. The winter rains have filled these new features and the result is more waders than ever before breeding on North Kent farms.

As figures stand at the moment we have an extra 15 pairs of lapwing breeding on the farms than this time last year. That is surely something to celebrate and pulls me out of bed each morning when that 5am alarm goes off.

These great results are a real testimony to the benefits of giving tailored advice and building long term relationships with landowners. The farmers I work with really want to see more birds on the land but have to make a decent living at the same time.

Good subsidies for creating wildlife rich landscapes backed up by strong legal powers for those that damage the environment are all important if we are to create healthy farmland and river systems which benefit both wildlife and people.

The joys of Spring

fireside chatter simon houstoun

The gang stop for tea; photo Simon Houstoun

I’ve spent the last month in the sub tropics of Florida and have returned to England to find that Arctic temperatures are the order of the day. On a day of icy winds and multiple layers I was back out with my lovely volunteer gang, enjoying the watery light across the downs, the woolly tails of catkins on the hazel trees and the great tits sing songing in the hedgerows.

I have been out in all weathers with this gang of scrub cutters and hazel coppicers and a day out with friends in the countryside is a sure way of sloughing away any late winter despond.

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.