A Year in the life of an environmental consultant – March 2017, Getting ready for spring.

glowing gang with litter

Volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership glow with pride at their morning’s work.

It’s been an incredibly busy month as we prepare for the start of the survey season. The month began with a survey of channels on Chislet marshes for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. We spent a day plotting the extent of the invasive species parrot’s feather which has unfortunately found its way into the ditch system. If left untreated the plant will shade out our native flora, clog structures and block sunlight from the water which will de-oxygenate it and lead to a loss in aquatic invertebrates.

parrots feather in wademarsh autumn 2016

invasive parrot’s feather growing on Chislet Marshes

 

“This is a particularly difficult situation,” said Carol. “The plant has spread rapidly and colonised a large area of the marshes. It is entwined with marginal vegetation along ditches which are a water vole stronghold. The challenge is to find a way of removing the plant while acting sensitively towards other species.”

 

To deal with this challenge Carol has sought advice from the Environment Agency and Andrea Griffiths, Senior Partnership Officer at Medway Valley Countryside Partnership, who has extensive experience at dealing with invasive species.

 

“Partnership working is really useful for issues such as this as we can all draw on each other’s experience to achieve a good result.”

 

The plant was quite possibly unintentionally introduced to the waterways by a member of the public, who may have been tipping excess frog spawn from a garden pond. Unfortunately this has resulted in years of expensive work for others.

 

On a brighter note we are delighted with the progress of many of the farms we visited this month as part of our advisory work on breeding waders.

 

Farmers have really taken on board the advice given in the autumn and have performed miracles in making grassland wet in what has been a very dry year. Topping and improved grazing regimes has resulted in much better sward conditions and many farmers have signed up to the funding available from the North Kent Capital Grant Scheme, administered by Kent Wildlife Trust.

 

Now we are all keeping our fingers crossed for good weather conditions this spring so the hard work can produce tangible results in the form of more wader chicks successfully fledged in North Kent.

 

volunteers cleaning litter March 2017

volunteers removing litter from the channel.

Lastly we were delighted to work once again with volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership in order to improve a small, urban stream in Canterbury, managed by the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. This rather sad little channel was full of litter, carelessly thrown by passing motorists and had become dark and shady in some sections and overly managed by neighbouring business’s in others.

 

Over two days the volunteers cleared around forty bags of litter from the channel, cut back overhanging trees and planted 100 colourful wetland plants outside the Mercedes Garage on Sturry Road. Many thanks to Mercedes for providing drinks and sweets. Serco for removing the litter but mostly to the excellent volunteers who it is always a joy to work with.

 

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The Dark Side

surveying

Many people want a job in wildlife conservation but not all will work to protect what they love.

Like many people when I am angry about something which I care passionately about my views can become polarised. My opinions can be black and white about ‘them’ and ‘us.’ So when I see the continuous destruction of our countryside in the current rush of development there are only two types of Environmental Consultant, those on the light side and those on the dark. Those whose love and knowledge of wildlife is used to protect species and enhance the natural world and those who use their knowledge to aid companies who wish to cover our planet in concrete. I have often spoken of people who work for consultancies whose main work involves aiding development companies to remove wildlife and destroy habitat as soulless.

This spring, however, I have a man volunteering with me who works for one of the consultancy firms I see as being on the dark side. This man has a love of wildlife, he is a better birdwatcher than me and spends much of his free time surveying wildlife for free, should I really condemn him because he wants to work full time with wildlife and there aren’t enough jobs on the light side to go round? Like so many issues it is harder to shoot down the ‘enemy’ when you meet them and talk to them.

The problem is too many people are coming out of countryside management courses and off apprentice schemes and find that the only job available is ‘dark side’ consultancy work. Maybe some of these people begin thinking that what they are doing is ok. I myself have translocated species but only when the project will have an overall benefit for wildlife. Much of the work done by consultancies has no benefit for wildlife and is ill thought out and not followed through.

If development companies were forced to provide adequate compensatory habitat for that destroyed and pay for it’s long term management then maybe I would be more in favour of translocation. Maybe if developers were made to do this then they would be more willing to renovate some of our existing empty buildings and former industrial sites instead of building new ones on wildlife rich habitat. Instead companies move species to inappropriate locations already packed to the rafters with other translocated creatures and do no follow up monitoring to understand whether their work has been a success.

But could I personally do more to help people like my volunteer by taking on staff of my own? I potentially could if there didn’t seem to be so many barriers in the way of doing so. If the Government didn’t penalise small business’s wishing to offer people paid experience by making the whole business of taking someone on such a nightmare of legal constraints, tax issues and insurances. Giving people the sort of work a small business can manage seems to be frankly illegal and way, way too complicated to bother with.

My volunteer wishes to move on from doing work for developers. He wants to work for one of the good guys and I could give him the experience he needs to do so but, while the laws regarding small business’s are so top heavy and restrictive, he will have to continue to do so in his spare time for free and, like many others, will be tempted to stay in the dark.

Happiness is…..a job you enjoy

untitled-14

photo MLP

It was one of those days when she knew how lucky she was to do what she did. To walk out on her own schedule with no one to answer to. To slip along the muddy path through the bleached stubble field, daisy ringed with the flowers of scented mayweed and feel the breeze wipe the worries clean and marvel at the scimitar winged flight of a kestrel.

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 – October 2015

A Year in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – October 2015

The latest update on my work as an environmental consultant.

For more information visit my website www.caroljdonaldson.co.uk

October 2015 – A pause in a busy year.

After the rush of September, then October was a time to take stock of our first year and prepare for the future.

We continued working with Medway Council and contractor, Ovendens to talk through the plans for Whitewall Drain, a freshwater channel which flows under a road and tunnel complex into the River Medway.

Bank slippage had caused damage to the headwall and a broken tidal flap beneath the road was allowing salt water to enter the drain at high tide.

tidal flow emerging from pipe

tidal flow emerging from pipe

This was causing damage to the biodiversity of the channel, as brackish water will kill freshwater fish and invertebrates and a build up of silt was reducing the capacity of the channel and could lead to flooding.

Ovendens plan to install Penstock structures, which will allow the channel flow to be controlled and should benefit the environment.

The quiet month gave time to review our first year in business and think about how we can continue to grow and improve the services we offer.

funding cuts over the last few years have prevented some local authorities and environmental charities from hiring full time staff. In addition many existing staff are now on short term or part time contracts. Although this may allow greater flexibilty it also makes staff retention difficult.

As a consequence landowners may deal with many different faces over a few years and this lack of continuity means that good relationships are not established.

Clients are now coming to us as a way to ensure that landowners will get to work with someone well qualified who they can get to know.

This is the case with our new role, which will see us working with landowners across North Kent on behalf of Natural England and the RSPB, delivering advice on managing land for breeding waders.

establishing good relationships with landowners is crucial in improving habitat for wildlife.

establishing good relationships with landowners is crucial in improving habitat for wildlife.

This flagship project seeks to turn the numbers of waders breeding on private land around from the current low and emulate the huge success of reserves in the area, which saw record numbers of lapwing this year.

While this trend of taking on fewer staff provides consultancies with opportunities it is not a sign of a healthy environmental job sector.

It is also a sad fact that, while more people than ever are coming out of college with qualifications in countryside management, entry level jobs are increasingly filled by volunteers or interns.

At Carol J Donaldson Associates we believe in helping young people get their crucial first paid steps in the industry and try to support young people in gaining essential experience. This is something we hope to offer more of as our client base grows.