It seems that hardly a drop of rain has fallen for months this spring which is not good news for our wetland wildlife.
Dry fields do not entice lapwing down to breed and as I toured farmland in early spring, I was not hopeful for the season that lay ahead. Out on the Hoo Peninsula farmer, Alex Bates, surveyed his dry fields in dismay while I urged him not to despair and to keep in mind that everything was about to get better. By Autumn Alex should be working to transform his land, creating bunds and installing tap valves to make the most of any winter rainfall and ensuring it stays on the land in newly created rills and scrapes. Other farmers on the peninsula are planning to create reservoirs which they will use to re-wet the marshes in the early spring if they begin to dry out.
Broken sluices are also one of the reasons that water is lost. I visited once such sluice on the Conyer marshes with Clerk to the Lower Medway Internal Drainage Board, Priscilla Haselhurst. The sluice’s headwall had collapsed causing the culvert pipe to break and water to leak away. This meant that water in the ditch couldn’t be held at high enough levels to flood the surrounding grassland. Dry grassland equals no waders which could jeopardize the farmer’s stewardship payment. Priscilla feels that the old drop board sluice should be replaced with a tilting weir which will allow finer water control. The Lower Medway Board have agreed to fund the sluice and hopefully other water control on the surrounding land in the form of solar pumps and tap valves. Sometimes when you are walking across dry, empty fields you have to hold the vision of the future in your head to keep you from despair and I am dreaming of wet fields full of lapwing around Conyer village before too long.
Once place where I didn’t have to use my imagination in the last few months was at St Mary’s Marsh on the Hoo Peninsula. Here the fields were full of plummeting lapwing and the wide open expanse of the marshes alongside the Thames have the potential to hold many more pairs. I am really excited to be working alongside the new tenant farmers to create a management regime and ideally improve water control to really make this site sing with wildlife in the coming years.
Despite my fears of a freefall in lapwing numbers on farmland in North Kent due to the dry spring, the start of the survey season, which began in mid April, has given me cause for hope. Every site I have been to visit so far has held fairly good numbers of lapwing and there is always room for surprises such as this lovely spoonbill feeding on shallow pools created on farmland managed by the Burden Bros a few years ago.
Faith, hope and optimism is still high in my camp this spring.