One of my worse fears has been realised. I have injured myself at the start of the breeding season and have been unable to work.
Like many other people I came out of lockdown determined to get back on with life and shed those extra pounds put on during a winter of relative inactivity. For the last few weeks I have been out doing dawn surveys, walking miles across lumpy farm ground, leaping farm gates and assisting the occasional stuck sheep back onto its feet. Doing the equivalent of an army assault course before breakfast is all in a days work but maybe I hit the ground running too hard as I woke up last week in severe pain and seem to have done something to my back which makes walking, sitting, standing and even breathing painful.
However, in some ways I am lucky to have done this now as this year I have lots of support with doing wader surveys thanks to the staff and volunteers who are part of the BTO Breeding Waders of Wet Meadows Survey The purpose of this survey is to assess the importance of both existing and new lowland wet grassland and also other breeding wader habitats in England (as provided by agri-environment schemes) for declining breeding birds such as Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank and Snipe.
Already the survey is proving invaluable, helping to identify sites with potential for waders and making first contacts with landowners. It will help me understand where targeted farm advice could have the greatest impact and which farmers are keen to be involved.
Also, thankfully I had completed the first round of breeding wader surveys done before injury struck. With little rain and a strong, cold wind for most of the last few months, many farms have lost water once again but others have faired better. Many farms retain good numbers of lapwing pairs and Mockett’s Farm on Sheppey substantially increased numbers of lapwing following their hard work to create new scrapes and rills in the autumn.
This year I am also looking at 5 large new sites. Numbers of waders are currently low on these sites but this is to be expected. Surveys on these sites this year are all about finding out what is currently visiting the land in the spring before giving advice to the farmers to improve the situation. These new sites are full of massive potential and host skylarks, corn buntings and linnets but in order to get them to work for wetland birds then we will need to create plans to retain water on site into the spring.
I am currently creating a wetland design for one site on the Isle of Grain. To do this I examine old satellite photos dating back to 1945 and identify where the fields naturally hold water. I then come up with a plan of deepening the natural features, creating bunds at points that they lose water to the surrounding ditches and suggest water management structures are installed.
Of course to make these plans a reality takes money. That is why I am working with the RSPB on their Green Recovery Fund bid. Three of my farmers hope to benefit from this fund and so far the project has reached the second stage. I must say I am quite glad that I am not the one tasked with writing the 10,000 word report which is needed for the next stage of the funding application.
Spring is marching on and I am determined not to miss the party. Here’s hoping that the ice packs and osteopath visits allow me to get back out in the field before too long.