As we near the end of the second round of breeding wader surveys, I can finally grab a moment to reflect on a non stop five weeks of spring.
The survey protocol requires everyone undertaking these surveys to do so within the same window of time, roughly 14 days for the first round and 21 for the second. With 14 sites to survey this year, including 3 large new sites in Sussex, this called for some very tight scheduling.
Thankfully the weather has played ball and the surveys have been conducted in mainly early morning sunshine.
As always the results are a mixed bag with some farms punching well above their weight and producing skies full of birds while others could do so much more to secure a future for our wildlife.
After 5 years of working with North Kent farmers I realise that you can’t win them all and persuading some people to make changes is a very long game indeed.
This is something I impress on Martin Hole, who is heading a facilitation fund for the Pevensey Levels. “You can’t win in year one,” I tell him over lunch at his farmhouse. “bide your time and it will get better.”
Having got to know the land at Pevensey over two surveys I believe this is true. The sites have a fantastic open aspect and the birds are coming to investigate. The problem is the fields do not hold water for long enough. Not something that is instantaneously solvable in the increasingly dry South East but not unachievable.
Pevensey is at the very start of a road that we have taken a few steps along in North Kent. Sometimes that road is longer that you would like but when you’ve turned a corner you know it.
This year I have been blessed with sunny mornings, fabulous wildlife sightings and the excitement of seeing new sites with bags of potential but my spring highlight came on the 1st May when I visited three farms outside of Conyer village.
For 5 years me and the farmers have worked at trying to improve the condition of the land for waders; a bit wetter here, a bit shorter there and…nothing. The birds refused to come. I had begun to think there was something fundamentally wrong with the site that I just couldn’t see.
Then, on a windswept day I was literally bought to my knees with joy as lapwings exploded from the grass and plummeted over the fields. A sky full of wader calls was something I thought I might never see at Conyer and now they are back.
A moment like that makes every 5am alarm call worthwhile.