May was a month in which I got by with a little help from my friends and volunteers.
The weather continued to be cold and miserable and, I have to confess, at times, I felt the same as I was unable to survey due to a back injury. However, I managed to galvanise a small army of volunteer survey workers who, between them completed 2nd surveys on all the farms. Many thanks to Jo Good, Trevor Hatton and John Young for volunteering.
Mark Henderson of the RSPB also undertook surveys on my behalf this year. Mark surveyed across North Kent as part of the BTO’s Breeding Waders of Wet Meadows project. He has discovered some real gems hidden away where waders are currently breeding and farmers are keen to do more. I very much hope to get out and meet some of these farmers in the coming months and see if I can offer any advice to sustain and boost numbers of birds.
Lapwings continue to perplex me as, this year, they seem to be settling down in fields they have previously shown no interest in. Every year I survey I come back with yet more questions that no one seems to be able to answer, we just can’t know what’s going on in their heads or what they see, that we don’t. The upshot of this is that I have good numbers of breeding birds on farms that have previously struggled to see success but ‘nul pois’ on land where the farmers have really tried to pull out all the stops and attract the birds in. It is a mystery.
Towards the end of the month my back was healed enough to head over for a week of camping on Darnet Island with artist Stephen Turner. Stephen and I were there in order to write and create as part of the Estuary 2021 festival and spending the week in this out of the way posting on the Medway River gave me the opportunity to witness two aspects of nature that I would otherwise have missed.
One was an infestation of brown tailed moth caterpillars. Millions of these crawlers inhabited every inch of the island, even crossing a gangplank to make home in the moated fort on the island. They had eaten every piece of greenery from the hawthorn and blackthorn bushes leaving just dry twigs. Cuckoo’s are one of the few birds to specialise in eating these hairy caterpillars, but strangely the cuckoos were occupying the nearby island of Hoo where the greenery was still in tact and presumably more host birds were breeding in the scrub. Numbers of these caterpillars, which cause a nasty rash on some people, are growing, possibly due to warmer weather and there appears little we can do to stop them.
Another distressing cause of global warming is increasing high tides in the Medway. I witnessed the harrowing sight of thousands of gulls on Bishop’s Ness island loosing eggs and chicks as the water rose and inundated the saltmarsh, increased erosion of the islands is also taking place due to the wake of speedboats. Every speed boat I saw heading out to sea was moving way too fast and I could witness the islands, home to internationally important numbers of breeding birds, literally being washed away.
I am not one for attributing human emotions to wildlife but it is hard to listen to the calls of thousands of seabirds rising on mass from the saltmarsh without feeling you are hearing the sound of panic and despair.