July and August are quieter times for much of our wildlife in Britain. The frenzy of the breeding season is over and many birds hide away in order to moult while others, such as the cuckoo, leave our shores for another year.
For me, the breeding season finally ended mid July, later than ever before. It was a long season but while there are still unfledged birds then I will continue to go out and survey in order to get a result that adequately portrays the situation on each individual farm.
Sometimes, I will freely admit, that accuracy is difficult. By July, vegetation, such as rush, has grown long and trying to spot cryptically coloured balls of fluff requires patience, knowledge and more than a dash of good fortune.
Still, finally the 4×4 (minus an aerial and a number place, both casualties of rough off road driving) was returned, the results were analysed and the maps of breeding pairs delivered to the RSPB.
With one eye on the plans for wetland restoration work I then turned my attention to water vole surveys. On a blistering hot day I donned my neoprene waders and assistant, Matthew Hawkins and I, headed to the Isle of Grain to survey a rill on behalf of Kent Wildfowlers Association, Wild spaces project.
Water voles and their burrows are protected by law. While it is possible to displace water vole under particular circumstances, it is often better for the animal and cheaper for the client to find an alternative solution.
Signs indicated that water vole were using the rill and that a healthy population existed in nearby burrow systems. Therefore it was decided to leave the banks of this particular feature untouched and instead focus restoration works on other parts of the site. Hopefully a win win situation for water voles and birds on the reserve.
July also saw me undertaking voluntary swift surveys for the UK Swift Inventory. This RSPB initiative aims to record the locations of breeding swifts in order to help planning officers protect their nests if the site is developed.
Undertaking surveys is simply a matter of looking up and keeping a sharp eye out for signs of swift activity. Doing this work not only helps these iconic summer birds but also gives you a new appreciation of your neighbourhood. The most ordinary houses can suddenly become important when you see a swift dive into a tiny gap in the brickwork.
As the swifts gathered on the coast to depart I took part in the Sheppey Shorelines festival run by Medway Swale Estuary Partnership and led a guided walk around Elmley Marshes Nature Reserve. My route followed part of the walk I took when writing my book, On the Marshes, and revealed some of the history and wildlife of this less well known part of the National Nature Reserve.
Next month my attentions will turn back to the farmland as I begin my autumn visits to discuss how our waders did this summer with the farmers.
To enable me to visit more farms, the RSPB have launched a fundraising campaign which will directly fund the North Kent Marshes Breeding Wader Project, which I have run for 5 years. Farming advice works. I know it. Six times as many lapwing chicks now survive to fledge on farmland in North Kent than when I started. You can’t argue with that.
I don’t want to tread water with this project I want to do more and I can only do that if there is funding to send me out to more land and more farms. I really believe that this work can make a fundamental difference for our birds.
If you would like to donate to the project then please contact Bonnie Metherell at the RSPB Bonnie.Metherell@rspb.org.uk or call 01273 763626