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A Day in the life of an Environmental Consultant – July 22

Philip Barling and I

Here in Kent we had a month of extremes as we experienced both record temperatures and the driest July since records began.

Many wetland landscapes had dried out earlier in the year leaving behind rock hard ground, no good for lapwings and other wetland wildlife who rely on wet muddy pools and the insect numbers these attract in order to survive. Despite this, farms in North Kent recorded a rise in both pairs and numbers of fledged chicks. 53 pairs of lapwing fledged 26 chicks this year. We are still a long way from where we need to be as fledged chicks are distributed across too few farms. Lack of water control, difficulties with accessing suitable grazing animals at the times of year when they are needed and predation are still limiting numbers of pairs and chick survival rates.

There was good news for redshank and yellow wagtails though as both birds tripled the number of fledged chicks from a low point in 2021.

I am now working alongside Natural England and the RSPB to undertake wetland restoration work across a number of farms in North Kent this autumn.

Redshank nest

I was very sad, toward the middle of the month, to hear of the death of Philip Barling, a farmer I had worked with for many years. Mr Barling was a real marshland character, strong minded and opinionated with a real love of nature. Mr Barling had a closeness to the land that is harder to come by in these days of big farms and big machinery. He could find me a redshank nest in long grass, a skill that far surpassed mine. We bonded over arguing about lapwing management and wrestling wet sheep out of ditches. I will miss seeing him at the breakfast table after the morning survey.

As the breeding wader season came to a close I swapped my head into river restoration mode as I set about surveying rivers for the Upper Medway Internal Drainage Board. The survey involves walking 30km of IDB managed channel, taking water samples to look at levels of nitrate and phosphate, looking for fish, aquatic insects, water voles and determining floristic diversity of bank and marginal plants. This information helps determine the health of the river and how it should be managed to improve it’s biodiversity. I also suggest ideas to enhance both the river channels themselves and the surrounding land.

Many rivers are suffering drought conditions this year.

Some of the rivers I am looking at this year are in urban areas which have seen years of flash flooding. It is hard to visualise how this is possible when I am looking at a tiny trickle of water or a dry channel set between high banks but residents were eager to show me pictures of water gushing along their streets and sandbags piled against their doors.

Natural flood management can help alleviate these flood extremes by tree planting, creating wet woodlands, restoring meanders, creating ponds and water storage areas and slowing the flow of water in channels by installing woody damns which release water slowly downstream.

However, Much of the problem is due to hard surfaces and building on flood plains. It is hard to understand the short term thinking that is allowing even more housing, industrial estates and car parks to be built in the flood plain, further exacerbating the situation.

Working with the drainage board is a fabulous opportunity though to help alleviate many of the other problems our rivers face such as pollution, low flows and invasive species. I am thoroughly enjoying the chance to explore our waterways and help to design a more beautiful future for them.

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