Like many people all over the world the beginning of June saw a rude awakening back into the world of work.
After months of suspended animation, when the biggest land management decision I had to make was whether to dead head the garden roses, I suddenly had a large 4×4 outside my house and a full list of surveys to undertake to see what had been happening to waders on the farms I work with in North Kent during my absence.
When I had left the farms in February the situation had never looked more promising. Super wet fields following the winter’s heavy rain fall and pairs of lapwing already vying for the choice spots. However, the spring, saw virtually no rain in the South East of England and, consequently, the essential wet, splashy fields and muddy margins had dried up.
It may be that the optimum conditions of the early spring allowed birds to breed and fledge chick early on. Sadly we will never know. The lockdown suspended all farm visits. What was certain was that, by June, some of the farms that have previously recorded bumper crops of wader chicks were ominously quiet.
All was not lost. One of my smallest landowners had record numbers of fledged lapwing on his land, enjoying the magic recipe of old, insect rich grass and wet flushes and another farm near Conyer recorded it’s first confirmed breeding of redshank for many years.
However, what this year has taught us is the vital importance of holding winter rainfall on wet grassland into the spring months. Currently many farms look text book perfect in February but lose all their water by April just when wading birds need it. Therefore I am delighted that two of the farmers I work with are currently applying for consent from Natural England to restore old wetland features like scrapes and rills on their land and create earth bunds that would stop rain water draining away into the ditch network. This is effectively reversing years of land drainage on the marshes and the fact that the farmers are willing to pay for the work themselves shows the new enthusiasm for environmentally friendly farming practices and the commitment of landowners to reverse the fortunes of wetland species.
July began by taking part in a feature on BBC South East News about the pointless destruction of Conyer Brickworks to make way for 24 luxury houses. The brickworks are one of the best places in Kent to hear nightingales and turtle doves (among our fastest declining species). It is unbelievable that destruction of a wildlife oasis could be allowed for such an ostentatious and wasteful project but our planning system is in a sad state with inappropriate developments blossoming like warts all over the place and local authorities powerless to stand in the way of the governments desire to build new houses instead of capping prices in inner cities and making use of empty properties.
Also this month we began work with the Lower Medway Internal Drainage Board. With 8 years experience of designing and delivering surveys for the Stour IDB and planning and delivering river restoration projects we were ideally placed to conduct some ditch surveys and advise on a interesting restoration project on a channel which had become clogged with mares tale and suffered from an infestation of the non native invasive species Crassula Helmsii or Australian Stonecrop.
Hopefully this will be the start of a new partnership with the IDB but, for now, it was great to have the opportunity to revive old skills and visit new land.