December began with a tour of the RSPB reserve at Rainham Marshes in Essex alongside members of the Green Recovery bid team.
We were there to learn more about solar pumps and other water control structures due to be installed on farms in the next year. It was really useful to see these structures in the flesh, so to speak, and learn about what they can and, just as importantly, can’t be expected to do in order for me to better advise the farmers I work with.
Early in the month I also attended the inaugural meeting of farmers with land alongside the Swale to discuss creating a farmer cluster. This well attended meeting was hosted by the Elmley Conservation Trust and saw farmers of grassland, orchards and arable land come together to discuss the work they had already begun to help wildlife and how sharing knowledge and pooling resources could enable them to achieve more.
It was fabulous to see the enthusiasm in the room. Farmers working together across large landscapes, can achieve so much more than relatively small reserves could ever do. Farmers also trust farmers and if they generate ideas for positive habitat management and restoration schemes together there is likely to be a far greater sense of ownerships than if ideas are imposed upon them by conservation organisations Still there was also consensus that farm advisors have the knowledge and contacts to ensure the right things happen on the ground and, can be, the glue that binds such clusters together.
This meeting was really just testing the water to see if their was enthusiasm for a more formal cluster but it felt like a very positive start.
The rest of the month I was back walking the marshes at Conyer with volunteer, Jo Good, who, as a former Natural England advisor, has been a massive help to bounce ideas off for wetland restoration. We enjoyed glorious bright winter weather and, after all the help and expert advice I have had from both farmers and RSPB staff in the last few months, I felt much more confident that the wetland designs I have come up with will make a difference.
Just before Christmas I received a fantastic gift from Natural England who consented a fabulous wetland restoration scheme that I have been working on alongside the RSPB on the Hoo Peninsula. I can’t wait to see this plan come to fruition in the new year.