August marks the start of the harvest on the farms. This year’s heavy rains, followed by severe drought has caused problems for many and everyone agrees that, nowadays there is no such thing as normal weather and the seasons are changing. With so much going on it was amazing that farmers took the time to discuss this year’s survey results.
In a year when drought robbed waders of the wet splashy fields that they seek out in order to breed it can feel that we are making little progress and sometimes I feel I go round in circles having the same conversations about cattle supply and thistle control that I have every year. Finding a way through the problems can feel like a confusing dance but then suddenly, something changes and everything falls into place.
This year I am massively excited about the work one of my biggest landowners is doing on their fields to create new scrapes and restore an old rill system which shows up on aerial photos as ghost workings wiggling across the fields. What is more heartening is that they are doing the work at their own expense because the owner, like me, wants to drive round the fields and see a wildlife rich habitat. We are now waiting to hear back from Natural England and the Internal Drainage Board to give us the go ahead.
The work taking place on this site will put us one step closer to the joined up, landscape scale
conservation which is the future for farmland wildlife. This involves not only working with conservation organisations and land owners but others who are involved in managing the land such as the Internal Drainage Board. Wildlife friendly management of hedgerows and ditches is just as important as habitat management of the fields as the links are necessary to provide highways for our wildlife and join the dots.
The month ended with a site meeting with Medway Swale Estuary Partnership who are hoping to work on a funding bid for improvements to Barton Point Country Park near Sheerness on Sheppey. We were there to help ‘flesh out’ the project by providing habitat management advice. The visit also gave me the opportunity to look at potential community consultation work with park users. Community Consultations were where I cut my teeth with conservation work back in 1999 when I helped design the Thames Chase Community Forest in Essex alongside the Forestry Commission.
It was there I learnt the vital importance of including local people in plans and not delivering a top down approach which could alienate communities. Too often people come in from outside of a community and decide what local people will want without asking them.
What was obvious from this visit was that Barton Point Country Park needs an injection of funding and enthusiasm to make it a safer and more interesting place for local people to visit. Ideas discussed included sensory trails, improved interpretation, habitat management and education activities.
Hopefully this initial meeting will lead to a successful funding bid and a new lease of life for the park.