August has given me the opportunity to explore a little known corner of the Kent countryside.
Luddenham Marshes feels in many ways like it has escaped many of the ills of the 21st century. Tucked away from the frantic housing expansion of Sittingbourne and Faversham, this is an area of twisting lanes, orchards, old manor houses and historic churches.
It has been a privilege to be allowed to explore the marshes beyond the hamlets, although at times my work here has felt like an elaborate game designed to test my map reading skills.
My job has been to discover and report back on the condition of sluice structures in the area. These are concrete plinths with a slot in which wooden boards are fitted to hold back water in the ditches. Sluices are a time honoured way of raising and lowering water levels on the marshes so the water can meet the needs of the farmers for crop irrigation or to be used as wet fences to stop cattle straying.
Over the years these sluice structures can fall into disrepair or be removed, while new ones may be created to accommodate changing needs.
During August I set out across the marshes with a map dotted with crosses, indicating where the sluices were supposed to be. In order to find them I sometimes had to clamber across many tall gates (56 on one farm alone!) negotiate passage with herds of cattle (speak softly and carry a large stick) and navigate across miles of fields and ditches before scrambling through thickets of wetland plants to reach my goal. Along the way I enjoyed sightings of ravens, kingfishers and swallows departing our coasts.
Farmers across this area have been accommodating and helpful. Many are keen to work together to manipulate water in order to restore wetland for breeding waders. Following discussions with farmers I had a masterclass in wetland design creation from RSPB Senior Project Manager Mark Smart who won the Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation in 2018. His ideas have now been fed back to farmers in advance of further discussion next month.
This work has been funded by the Upper and Lower Medway Internal Drainage Board who, it is hoped, will be at the forefront of plans to restore this wetland and bring back the wildlife that would have thrived here in the past.