A Yellow Life.

hare-field-2246752_1920I’m not saying it’s always good. When, for instance, you’re standing in the rain on a ratty bit of grassland, surrounded by industry and it is 6am and this is the 6th, 6am start of the week and you’re trying to spot lapwing through the drizzle. Then it’s not so good.

Sometimes though it catches you. The incredible, unlikely, luck of it all. That of all the people in the world going to work this morning you have somehow managed to score this job.

A job in which you fly across the Sheppey bridge and the Swale is laid out like glass and all the mist is rising from the fields and relishing in the growing warmth of the morning. Puffs of dandelion heads are backlit by the sun and your job, YOUR JOB, is to walk five miles across farmland watching nature go about it’s business.

Watching linnets gather on fence lines, swallow buzz the grass for insects, a yellow wagtail throw itself at a short eared owl and yell, ‘clear off.’

Your job is to hear cuckoos and watch hares calmly lollop towards you eyeing you with a yellow eye. Then, on morning’s such as this, it feels like the world is yellow. And the yellow rape, the yellow reed, the yellow sun  and the yellow eye are all through your lucky yellow life.

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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.

A year in the life of an envrionmental consultant

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Just what does an environmental consultant do all year? Before I set up my own business I wasn’t so sure but, twelve very busy months later and I think I can tell you. We have run community work parties, written river restoration reports and catchment plans, spent many dawn mornings on the marshes surveying waders, searched for water voles, advised on wetland management and completed a major review for the Internal Drainage Board. We now have a few weeks to take a deep breath and prepare for the year ahead.

So, if you ever fancied setting up as a consultant then follow my year ahead and see just how it is done.

September 2015

September is the end of the survey season, time to consolidate all those records and prepare for the autumn ahead.

September has been our busiest month so far. It began by meeting Natural England to talk over plans for farming advisory visits, which we are set to undertake over the next few months. We had spent the spring counting lapwings and redshanks at farms across the North Kent Marshes. In April the fields were full of plummeting and wheeling birds but as spring turned to summer and the grass grew, the numbers of waders fell and the birds failed to breed.

lapwing ruffling feathersBreeding waders need two things, water and short grass, get this equation right and numbers will grow. Following years of catastrophic decline for lapwings and redshanks we need to turn things around and, on the grazing marshes of North Kent, we have a real chance to do that. Over the next few months we will be visiting landowners, walking the fields and coming up with management plans to ensure that, next year, these birds arrive, and stay and successfully breed.

As the month moved on we turned out attention to creating work sheets for the River Stour Internal Drainage Board. These sheets are based on the extensive survey of watercourses we undertook in the summer and tell Rhino Plant, the boards main contractor, how we would like them to cut the ditches. It also highlights where there are opportunities to enhance the channels for wildlife and where there are potential problems in the form of invasive species and high nitrate and phosphate pollution. 20150520-0002

This year marks the end of six years of survey work and we were commissioned by Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership to undertake a review of the River Stour Internal Drainage Board Biodiversity Action Plan. Things have changed significantly since the creation of the original BAP in 2010. Changes in Government policy have swept away national targets for important species which makes commitment to local plans all the more necessary.

Thankfully the Stour IDB is committed to improving biodiversity across the drainage district and we have created a programme of work to be considered by the board which will ensure the continuing health of drainage channels, which form a lifeline for wildlife across the region.

If this work didn’t keep us busy enough we also abseiled into a drainage channel on behalf of Medway Council to search for water vole signs and deconstructed a potential reptile hibernaculum to ensure no common lizards were injured when flood prevention work begins on the channel this autumn. It should be noted that translocating wildlife is work we only undertake if the scheme will have overall benefit for wildlife or improve habitat quality.

clearing vegetation at Whitewall Drain

clearing vegetation at Whitewall Drain

search for water vole signs

search for water vole signs

Clearing a habitat pile.

Clearing a habitat pile.

With so much intensive work taking place we needed to take time out of the office and reconnect with wildlife. Andrew Wilkinson of Kent Wildlife Trust kindly arranged an evening tour of Ham Fen reserve in search of beavers. We enjoyed a beautiful evening on the reserve but sadly the beavers failed to make an appearance. Still it gives us an excuse to return next year.

They were there......somewhere! Beaver chewed log at Ham Fen

They were there……somewhere! Beaver chewed log at Ham Fen.

Want to see more monthly updates and find out about my consultancy? Then visit the website www.caroljdonaldson.co.uk