Read our blogs from one of the team.
Overlooked Mammals of Kent – Ross Fryer
Our Apprentice – Ross Fryer – attended a Mammal based educational course – at Romney Marsh Visitor Centre.
Just as iconic and abundant as any other animal group within the UK including insects and birds, Mammals are a massive staple of the UK countryside. With 40 species counted in the UK, 30 of them being found in Kent, Mammals play their role in the ecosystems and include some of the most iconic British wildlife; including the Badger, Red Fox and Hedgehog.
I was very lucky to attend a free educational course at Romney Marsh Visitor Centre, hosted by Jon Bramley and overseen by Romney Marsh warden; Steph. Jon has been in the field of studying, monitoring and tracking, as well as reintroducing small mammals in various locations, in both the UK and Europe.
Upon arriving, we first carried out a small mammal survey, which the small steel box traps had been set up the night before, to have a taste for ourselves how they would monitor the population of small mammals within a habitat. This involved very carefully placing the trap in a large see through bag and emptying the contents, along with the hopefully caught mammal, into it. We would then be able to identify and sex what creature we had managed to catch, shortly releasing it into the undergrowth after. We were very lucky to have caught 3 wood mice altogether out of the 7 traps set up!
Afterwards in the classroom, we learned about the threats UK mammals faced, and conservation efforts to protect and reintroduce them. One of the most tragic stories was the otter and beaver. These two keystone species were once abundant in the UK, however because of human activity, including hunting, loss of habitat and Novel chemicals spread into the water by farmers, population numbers of otter and beaver declined drastically, with beavers being declared officially extinct by the 16th century.
Otters require a whopping 2kg of food a day, with both them and beavers also requiring at least 30km of space for territory. Jon was very fortunate to have worked with Sussex, Otters and Rivers Partnership, and the Kent Beaver Project, to repopulate and reintroduce otters and beavers back into the UK. Efforts were successful and numbers have started to increase again, particularly in Scotland, where food and habitat space is abundant.
Other red listed species of small mammals in the UK include; Hazel Dormice, the Hedgehog and Water Vole. All are threatened by loss of habitat and food resources, pollution and artificial pesticides, and threats from accidentally introduced invasive species such as the American Mink and Grey Squirrel.
Our small mammal species are important to the ecosystem of our British Isles, acting as seed dispersing herbivores including Wood and Field mice, and pest controlling carnivores such as Hedgehogs and Badgers. UK small mammals are normally overlooked in the UK in terms of ecological research and priority due to their difficulty to locate them. However, just like many red listed species such as the Nightingale and Great Crested Newt, if efforts are not done, we could lose them forever.
Conservation organizations and charities alone cannot monitor UK small mammal populations, anyone can help with submitting and tracking sights and records. Organisations such as the Mammal Society and Kent Mammal Group allow online submissions on their websites or through their official smartphone apps, for members of the public to record mammal sightings across the UK. Together with hardworking efforts, no matter how small the action, protecting and saving our overlooked little friends can be possible!
Green Investment – Rosie Lancaster
Rosie was on a work experience placement with MVCP in July and August 2019.
Everyone one is looking for their own way to help the environment but looking to the bigger picture of how can businesses and organisations play their part as well. Natural capita is commonly overlooked or misunderstood which is important to understanding the impact we have on the earth. Natural capita is the world’s stock of natural resources including soil, water, air and all living beings. Natural capita, as with financial capita, can run out and have big consequences such as ecosystem collapse. Environmental policies are trying to reduce the impact we have on the world’s natural capita but within this there are financial risks so sharing the risk can lead to better environmental outcomes. The sharing of risk can occur through the introduction of green bonds and environmental impact bonds.
Gothenburg, Sweden was the first city to issue a green bond in 2013 with eligible projects promoting low carbon usage and increasing climate resilience. Some successful projects included the building of zero-emission electric cars and a 20MWh biogas facility with most projects focusing on reducing the amount of CO2 released from the city.
Environmental impact bonds pay for the success of a project whilst also sharing the risk of the potential failure of a project. These bonds are performance based so the bond pays for the upfront cost, but investors can either make money or lose money depending on the success of the project. Environmental impact bonds are particularly useful as they have specific targets to meet showing success of a project, which may have been lost within other green bond schemes. Environmental impact bonds allow for the funding of larger projects which are normally difficult to finance for example the DC Clean Rivers Project in 2016. This project focused on stormwater runoff as the project aimed to reduce storm runoff through green infrastructure. Storm runoff reduction was then the evaluation standard for the project. If run off reductions were greater than 41.3% DC Water made a payment to investors as an outcome payment of $5.3M. However, if the reduction was less than 18.6% the investors made a risk share payment of $3.3M to DC Water.
Green bonds and environmental impact bonds are showing the understanding of the worth of the environmental and natural capita and beginning to put a value to it. Both these bonds allow for larger projects to be completed which improves the environment and business are involved as well.
Locally within the area Kent County Council offers grant to small businesses to help them become more environmentally friendly. The low carbon plus project offered grants which funded 45% of the cost of the project. This project was then followed on by the low carbon across the south east which organises similar funding whilst also focussing on energy efficient measures. Another initiative by KCC are green guardians who encourage good environmental practice in every department. They focus on energy smart, travel smart and print smart.
#PlasticFreeJuly– Emily Seccombe
This year I took part in #PlasticFreeJuly, a campaign to raise awareness of the plastic problem by taking on the challenge of avoiding plastic for a month. It was a challenge indeed. I have collated a few highlights and lessons learnt below:
- In an attempt to avoid plastic wrappers, I began baking my own bread and cake. Re-engaging with baking was one of the highlights of #PlasticFreeJuly – the bread was fresh, free from preservatives and it was very satisfying to see it rise. I started making big batches of dough and freezing spare in dough balls, which I’d defrost in smaller batches once or twice a week.
- Clear environmental trade-offs presented themselves as the month went on. Buying plastic-free options may not always be the most environmentally friendly choice. I found that a lot of plastic free fruits were exotic fruits with high airmiles such as pineapple or watermelon. Choosing those instead of organic British apples with a thin plastic wrapper was probably not the most eco-friendly option. Unless you have access to some really good eco shops, making environmental buying decisions involves a lot of weighing up the pros and cons.
- DIY washing powder was also a highlight. My local supermarket didn’t sell any eco-friendly brands of fabric washing powder or liquid so I embraced the DIY-vibes, grated some lavender castor soap and mixed with baking soda and salt. The clothes came out fresh and smelling great, but it wasn’t brilliant at tackling the muddy stains that come as an unavoidable part of working in the environmental sector and commuting by bike. Whilst this is by no means an essential part of going plastic-free, it did make me question the number of ingredients in household products such as washing-up liquid and surface cleaners, and the production processes involved.
- An easy win was introducing plastic-free teabags into the office. We have a compost bin for our food waste, and you can see the old plastic-teabag skeletons coming out in the humus at the bottom of the bin, making it very evident that they don’t break down. We’ve swapped to a non-dyed plastic free teabag so that we can keep putting these in the with our food waste.
- You don’t need to buy lots of plastic-free-aid items to go plastic-free. A lot of articles are cropping up trying to convince you of the 10 essential must-have items in order to go plastic free – metal straws, beeswax food wraps, bamboo cutlery and the like. These are far from essential. I made do with things that were already in my house, although I did already have a collection of cloth bags which are pretty essential.
- My local supermarket was dreadful from a plastic perspective so this challenge prompted me to go to the market stall in town to get loose fresh fruit and veg. Unfortunately, this was rarely open outside of standard work hours. Supermarkets have the power to make this so much easier, if we demand it from them.
- Beware hidden plastic: I bought a bar of vegan chocolate, in a cardboard wrapper which was covered in logos to show how very eco-friendly it was. Underneath the cardboard was a layer of tinfoil and under that was a layer of plastic! Greenwashing (the practice of making your business look more eco-friendly than it really is) is alive and well.
Pursuing a perfect record of plastic free had quickly proved nigh on impossible, but I’ve finished the month with some better habits and an appreciation of our reliance on plastic.
Bees – Robert Horton
Robert was on a work experience placement with MVCP in July 2019.
Bees are a vital part of our ecosystems, and do a lot of work that massively benefits the world we live in. However, as the years roll on, they are falling closer and closer towards the line of extinction, something we cannot let happen. They help the pollination process of many flowers, by picking up seeds and pollen from the flowers and carrying them across to another. This process helps the spread of flowers and helps them grow in new areas and parts of the environment. So, what can you do to help our helpful and handy friend the bees?
The first thing is to get rid of this idea that bees are pests. Yes, they can sting, but unlike wasps a bee will only sting as a last resort. A bee’s sting will hurt you, but will kill the bee itself, and so the bee will only sting if it must. Quite simply, if you don’t annoy it, it won’t sting you!
A very simple thing you can do, that will massively help the bees (particularly in the summer!), is leave a drink for them outside in your garden. If you have any marbles lying around, put them into a bowl and fill it with water so the surface of the water is just above the marbles. If you leave this outside and change the water every 2 or so days, you’ll notice that the bees will fly down and stand on the marbles, to drink from the water.
A final thing that can massively help the bees is to just plant more flowers. Bees love flowers! If your garden is beautifully coloured and contains a wide variety of flora, then bees will be naturally attracted. But it’s about more than looking pretty, it helps the pollination of the plants as the bees just fly between them, collecting up the pollen and the seeds from the plants. A handy guide that shows the best flowers to plant to help bees can be found here.
So, care for the bees. They are at risk of extinction, but they form a vital part of our ecosystem. They need all the help they can get to do the jobs and work that they do, and they need to be protected. The bees need our help, so we need to do all we can to aid them!
The Real Predator in our Oceans– Jenna Allan
Jenna was on a work experience placement with MVCP in July 2019.
In the UK, many of us love a day at the beach. With temperatures reaching 38 degrees just last week, the number of tourists in line for an ice cream will have skyrocketed. Blue skies, warm breeze; it’s the perfect scene. Oh, until we see the coke cans and plastic bottles, gathering at the shoreline…
It’s estimated that one rubbish truck load of plastic litter enters the ocean every minute. Plastic that is currently having a detrimental impact on the health of all marine life: from the tiniest zooplankton to the most stunning green turtles. Results of the necropsies of 29 sperm whales stranded on Northern shores showed that these animals had starved, due to the ingestion of a shocking amount of single use plastic. We hear stories similar to this more and more frequently, however, the general population seems to be doing nothing to combat this impending threat, which is caused by the plastic we discard on a daily basis, and many of us choose to believe that it is an impossible task.
What can we do that will really make a difference?
The answer to this question is surprisingly easier than it sounds. For example, to all my coastal friends, join a local beach cleanup event, or even pick up bits of rubbish and plastic whilst you’re walking your dog along the shore. Every straw you take from the beach is one less straw stuck in the windpipe of an innocent seabird.
Even if you don’t live near the sea, and you’re currently commuting to your city job by train or bus. Think about the iced coffee you just purchased from the Starbucks at the station. Are you going to chuck it on the street? Or in the next bin? Or could you check to see if it’s recyclable, and take it home with you to be recycled, reducing and reusing the plastic that will otherwise end up in our oceans. Picking up litter in towns stops it entering rivers, and ending up in the sea.
If you have a spare minute, take a look at this website:
The effects of litter – Robert Horton
Robert was on a work experience placement with MVCP in July 2019.
When walking around local areas of nature and wildlife, one of the most common (and most annoying!) sights you can see is litter just casually discarded amongst the bushes and long grass. But what many people don’t realise is the impact the litter has on the local habitats and wildlife that exist there. It’s easy to say that litter is harmful to local wildlife communities and to the general environment. But what specific effects does it have? And more importantly, what can you do to help?
One of the most obvious impacts the litter has is on the small animals that live in these areas. These pieces of litter are completely alien to them, and they don’t know the difference between these and the ferns and bushes that they eat and feed on. They don’t have insides capable of digesting or swallowing this litter, and it can have severe consequences on their health and wellbeing. Just the other week, whilst on a walk through the Walderslade Woods, I had to pull away a discarded crisp packet when I saw a magpie trying to feast on its silvery innards.
However, a common effect on the plant population is when the litter is discarded on top of flowers and grasses. Plants are vital to our ecosystem. As you may remember from school, plants photosynthesise, producing oxygen for us to breathe and absorbing the carbon dioxide that’s dangerous for our health.
Now, its very easy to just rattle off the effects that litter has on our environment, but what do you do about litter that already exists?
Well the first option is pretty simple. If you see it, pick it up! Anytime you’re enjoying a stroll and you see a piece of litter just resting amongst the bushes or grass, pick it up and put it in the bin. It might seem tedious, and it might not be what you want to be doing when you’re trying to enjoy yourself on a nice warm afternoon, but it’s necessary, and vital to making sure that the areas you walk in stay beautiful.
But there are other ways to be more helpful if you so wish. A short google search (or if in Kent go to this page) will show you a multitude of walks and organised events centred around litter picking and nature clean ups. These events are so important and rely on volunteers like you who want to make a difference. They allow people to get involved in the wooded and grassy areas that surround our communities, and ensure that these wonderful natural spaces stay wonderful and natural!
Re-Wilding. The Knepp Estate – Mark Pritchard
For those of you who haven’t visited yet, and I would urge you to do so, the Knepp Estate in West Sussex https://knepp.co.uk/ is a pioneering project using free ranging grazing animals as engineers of habitat creation. Why then, on our visit last week were my first thoughts of Benny Hill? Certainly, there was no politically incorrect chasing of people around the estate, nor small bald blokes being repeatedly slapped on the head. Rather because it is big. BIG! I mean 3500 Hectares BIG (fans of the Italian Job will understand now). 3500 Hectares, that is 13.5 square miles. We are talking landscape scale here. For those of us working in conservation, landscape scale projects have traditionally meant 100 Ha of restored grassland, 60 ponds, or a few hundred metres of riverbank. But the Knepp estate in the crowded south east takes it to a new level. To quote their website and inspired by Dutch ecologist Frans Vera and the Oostvaardersplassen in Holland;
“Extremely rare species like turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons and purple emperor butterflies are now breeding here; and populations of more common species are rocketing.
The vision of the Knepp Wildland Project is radically different to conventional nature conservation in that it is not driven by specific goals or target species. Instead, its driving principle is to establish a functioning ecosystem where nature is given as much freedom as possible. The aim is to show how a ‘process-led’ approach can be a highly effective, low-cost method of ecological restoration – suitable for failing or abandoned farmland – that can work to support established nature reserves and wildlife sites, helping to provide the webbing that will one day connect them together on a landscape scale.”
Our expert guide, and the term is used advisedly as she truly did have superb identification skills, drove us around in the specially adapted Austrian army all terrain vehicle. The transformation to the ordered, intensively managed and manicured site of less than 20 years ago was stark, with Longhorn cattle roaming freely and allowed to do their own thing at their own pace. Supplemented by Exmoor ponies, Tamworth pigs and wild deer, these graziers come close to replicating the wild processes which would have be prevalent across much of lowland Britain, after the last ice-age retreated but before man had really made his mark. The only missing element perhaps, are the prey species which would have further altered the behaviour of the grazing animals. However, even a site as big as Knepp would have the carrying capacity for perhaps 1.5 lynx, and the public probably aren’t ready for wolves just yet, even though they have recolonised every country in mainland Europe.
Were we inspired then? It is safe to say yes. What are the downsides? Scale, location, finding suitably low-grade agricultural land, willing landowners and possible public perception of neglect for the year-round grazing animals – although their numbers are strictly controlled to match the carrying capacity of the land. Now we are looking out for our own site to try and replicate, at least in part, this experiment in nature conservation and re-wildling. Bring on the beavers!
European Eels -life cycles and threats – Ross Fryer
The European eel (anguilla anguilla) is a marine animal which has a wide catchment from Scandinavia, most of Europe to North Africa.
Researched by a Dutch biologist Johannes Smidt, the Eel’s life cycle begins in the Sargasso Ocean where their eggs rise towards the ocean surface and hatch into small leaf shaped larvae. After being carried by currents spanning 6000km (which can sometimes which span two years!) they arrive in Europe and develop into Glass Eels, and then Dark Elvers for camouflage as they travel upstream. During this period, they will travel upstream and even crawl across land surfaces to find nesting habitat, in which they grow into large Yellow Eels. This phase can last for 14 years, but some females can stay for 20 years. The final phase occurs when the eel becomes a Silver Eel and begins migrating back to the Sargasso, in which it changes its body chemistry, pupil size for better sight and smaller stomach size for energy saving. They return to the Sargasso to spawn new eggs and die.
Eels act as a very important part of river ecology, predating smaller invertebrates and acting as sources of food for larger fish and birds. However, since the 1980s the number of this animal has started to decline, dropping their status to “Critically Endangered”. But why has this happened?
- Human structures such as dams may prevent or kill off small Elvers migrating upstream, as well as preventing mature Silver Eels from heading back to the ocean.
- Anguillicoloides crassus – an invasive parasite which affects the swim bladders of adult eels, cause their buoyancy to be thrown off balance, affecting their ability to swim.
- Global warming causing the ocean temperatures to rise, or changing of currents, massively affects the breeding cycle, preventing larvae from reaching their destination.
Since 2013, Medway Valley Countryside Partnership has been carrying out population surveys of the Eels travelling through the River Medway, in partnership with the ZSL (Zoological Society of London); who have been doing surveying since 2005. This includes weekly surveys carried out at 13 different sites, including her at Allington Lock (base of the Medway Partnership). With the help of volunteers, done through the months of May to October, we monitor the number of eels by setting up the trap from Monday to Friday. Set up with a hessian netting against the current of the river, Dark Elvers harmlessly swim through it into a bespoke trap, which allows us to release and monitor the number caught and size of individual eels.
In 2013 when the trapping began, we managed to capture an impressive 12802, however this number has plummeted to a total 130 in 2018. Eels surveys are vital to keeping track of their population, and with the help of volunteers, this job can be done more effectively, while allowing the public to safely interact with this critically endangered animal.
Wildlife Friendly Gardens – Megan Mitchell
Megan was on a work experience placement with MVCP in July 2019.
Many gardens are kept neat and tidy, making them look perfect. Which is how we like it! However, this type of gardening isn’t good for nature or biodiversity. There are many easy ways to increase the biodiversity in your garden but at the same time keep it looking tidy.
One way to help would be to keep an area of the lawn uncut. By letting the grass grow, you will be encouraging more bugs and insects to live in your garden which means that there will be a larger food source for birds. Within this area of uncut grass, let the weeds grow as many insects, like caterpillars and beetles, eat them and live on them.
Another way to encourage biodiversity in your garden would be to create leaf, log and rock piles. Leaf and log piles attract hedgehogs, amphibians and insects to feed on and use as shelter, this then attracts birds, mammals and reptiles as their food source has increased. Rock piles provide shelter for reptiles. The piles of rock, leaves and logs don’t have to be big but the bigger they are the more biodiversity will increase.
When planting flowers and plants make sure they are of native origin, this means that they will flower and seed at the right time for the insects that eat and pollinate them. Also, by planting a range of different plants they will flower and seed at different times which will mean the insects and pollinators will have a longer time period in which they live in your garden.
By putting in small ponds or water features you will be encouraging amphibians and invertebrates to come and live in your garden and even encourage animals like frogs to lay their eggs in your pond. The increase in amphibians and invertebrates will attract more birds to your garden as well.
Lastly, by planting tress and hedges, you will be providing birds and mammals, like hedgehogs, shelter and a source of food as they will also attract different insects.
In order to make your garden more sustainable and ultimately better for nature and the environment, save rainwater instead of using tap water, use the rainwater in the water features and when watering the plants, it is more natural and the animals will prefer it. Another way to be more sustainable is to compost, this will encourage decomposers and will give your garden a natural fertiliser so you won’t have to use chemical fertiliser to help your plants grow. In the end your garden will be more colourful and full of life!
Notes from a barn Owl surveyor – Mark Pritchard
“I was in a valley in springtime in a very secluded corner, I heard an owl and a nightingale holding a great debate. Their argument was fierce, passionate, and vehement, sometimes sotto voce, sometimes loud; and each of them swelled with rage against the other and let out all her anger, and said the very worst she could think of about the other’s character, and especially they argued vehemently against each other’s song”.
I was indeed in a secluded valley last week and heard an owl and a nightingale, although can’t lay claim the mellifluous verse above, which has been shamelessly copied from the original C12 middle English (see image below).
It would be good, or course, to report that nothing else had changed in the countryside in the ensuing 800 years. Looking back to a time when bears and wolves still roamed the weald, unless we build a land-bridge across the channel that would seem an unlikely prospect, but at least some owls and nightingales are going about their business. It is reckoned that the UK population of barn owls is currently around 3000 pairs but would only be 1000 were it not for conservation action providing suitable accommodation in the shape of nest boxes.
We have a long-standing programme of installation, maintenance and monitoring boxes in the Medway Valley, and nothing seems to get the juices of a landowner flowing like the prospect of their very ‘own’ owl. This project has led to many discussions with landowners about more sensitive grassland management, less vigorous cutting and grazing regimes and the obvious knock on benefits for flora, insects and other wildlife. It has been very pleasing to see new sites with breeding owls for the first time this year in the grounds of Leeds castle, and at Bow meadows where the owners have relaxed grazing pressure to the evident benefit of the vole population on which barn owls rely. We will continue to seek out new sites to link the chain of boxes from Tonbridge to Leeds and beyond and make the barn owl an emblematic species. Watch this space.
For this year, some feisty residents of a box at Court Lodge, Yalding are shown. These were by far the most advanced in age of all the 29 owlets we recorded this year being perhaps 5-6 weeks old. Others were barely scraps of skin, and won’t fledge now until August.
So, whilst this project alone is not going to save the planet, it is surely a good example of the dictum attributed to Scots town planner and social activist Patrick Geddes;
“Think global, act local”. As the owls would say, Hoots mon.
May 2019 (INNS Week!)
Invasive Plant Management – ‘Show Me the Money’! – Andrea Griffiths
As you’ll know, MVCP are project managers for the Medway Catchment Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) Project, currently known as the Past Plants, Future Flora project.
May is always a difficult month in the interesting world of INNS management. It’s a hectic giant hogweed control month and we feel the pressure. Chasing landowners for consent, planning the schedule, borrowing boats, rallying volunteers, driving local awareness raising, praying for dry weather and answering concerned questions about what, when and where whilst still juggling the other day jobs.
I’m not a Tom Cruise fan (except for ‘Rainman’ – obviously), but he springs to mind via a quote from the movie Jerry Maguire. Jerry is talking about the difficulties of being a sports agent but I’m going to steal his quote, change ‘me’ to ‘us’ and pretend he’s talking about INNS management when he say’s ‘You don’t know what it’s like to be [us] out here for you. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, ok?’. Well, that basically covers May on an INNS project. Keeping with my Tom Cruise theme, INNS management sometimes does feels like a ‘Mission Impossible’.
Having said all that, it’s also very rewarding. Giant hogweed is a very invasive species. Each flower head potentially releases 50,000 seeds and these seeds, transferred along the waterbodies where they eventually catch on riverbanks, can remain viable in the soil, waiting to germinate (and cause havoc) for up to 7 years. However, we are seeing results from our hard work and lots of landowners have recently commented on the impressive reduction in giant hogweed.
This reduction means our riverbanks are less likely to erode and thus there’ll be less siltation and a reduced flood risk. Invasive reduction results in increased opportunity for other plant species and potentially more plant diversity along our riparian areas, to the benefit of all. Giant hogweed is also very dangerous, so its decrease means safer recreation and therefore enhanced local wellbeing.
Unfortunately, this year we have another challenge to add to the may-hem. Money!!
Whilst we continue to have supportive partners, funding cuts have really hit home this year and for the first time in my 10 years of managing the INNS project, our match funding is at a level where we have had to make the decision to call time! Of course, loath to see a reserve in the now apparent benefits of a decade of hard work, we’ve still completed giant hogweed control work on the rivers Medway, Teise and Beult. But to do so has taken some financial risk and we’ll be unable to do any more this year. As such, some smaller tributaries will be without giant hogweed control this year and Japanese knotweed work is (currently) unlikely to take place.
So (rather bizarrely) back to Tom aka Jerry Maguire, or, more specifically his client in the movie, Rod Tidwell who frequently shouts ’Show me the Money’! Though unfortunately not as fit, I’m currently the Rod Tidwell equivalent of an INNS officer! We’re working hard to find new sources of funding, so fingers crossed we’ll be shown the money and be able to continue forward with the successes seen in this project.
Hedgehog Week – Jo Hill
The hedgehog has been voted Britain’s favourite mammal, and its easy to see why! A total of 101 mammals can be found in and around the UK but it can be argued none so unique as Erinaceus europaeus. This nocturnal mammal can grow up to 24cm and be covered in up to 7,000 spines. They can also travel up to 3km in one night! A very long way for such a small creature.
Although the European Hedgehog is listed as a least concern species globally by the IUCN it is suffering dramatic decline in the UK. It is predicted that the population has declined by two-thirds since 1995 to 522,000 a decrease of 66% in 20 years.
They are facing many threats including habitat loss through urban sprawl, increased traffic and the growing use of pesticides and insecticides in arable farming having detrimental impact on hedgehogs and their food sources.
The climate crisis we are facing affects us all big and small! The erratic weather conditions we have been experiencing affect all hibernating animals, predominantly in a negative way. Hedgehogs emerge from hibernation confused during wetter warmer winters and forage for food which simple isn’t available yet resulting in a vast loss of their energy which cannot be replaced.
It is predicted that if the species is not protected then it could disappear from Great Britain entirely by 2025. What can you do about it? . . . . . Nothing too strenuous, try to care for your garden or green space in a way sympathetic to the wildlife:
- Create 13cm square access holes in the bottom of your fence so that hedgehogs can roam and escape predators.
- Be tidy and remove netting and litter from your garden, hedgehogs are curious and love to investigate which may result in them getting tangled in netting, stuck in a can or covered in oil, grease or anything they shouldn’t.
- Avoid using slug pellets, pesticides and insecticides: many of these contain chemicals which are extremely poisonous to hedgehogs, use alternatives such as wildlife friendly organic pellets or microscopic nematodes. Slugs are a great food source for hedgehogs, boosting hedgehog numbers in your garden will help control the slugs.
- Make a hedgehog house: hedgehogs need a place which is warm, dry and safe from predators. There are multiple guides online demonstrating how to make an inexpensive hedgehog box.
- Make ponds safe by creating sloped edging or a log ladder to allow safe entry and exit, to prevent hedgehogs drowning.
- Check areas of long grass and scrub before strimming or mowing.
- Leave out fresh water in a shallow bowl with tinned dog or cat food, hedgehogs are omnivorous but never give bread or milk as it can cause them to have upset stomachs.
- Grow native plants in your garden and plant a hedge if you have space, this will provide the hedgehogs with safe passage, shelter and will boost the insect population.
- Leave some areas wild, avoid strimming or de-scrubbing the entire garden, create dead wood piles and compost areas.
- Dismantle and check bonfires before you burn them or light them very soon after they have been built.
I live in a rural area of Kent surrounded by arable fields and last year had the pleasure of having 3 hedgehogs frequent my garden, with the knowledge of their decline and its causes in mind I feel very grateful to have had to opportunity to watch and listen to these fascinating noisy little creatures and have all my fingers and toes crossed that I will get to see them again this year.
The Ash Project – Emily Seccombe
Over the last couple of years, MVCP have worked with The Ash Project, which aimed to raise awareness of Ash trees and Ash dieback, a disease that is causing serious decline. The project celebrated the Ash tree using a creative, cultural approach – combining the worlds of art and conservation.
We were pleased to be part of the project by delivering Ash workshops, passing on traditional skills in woodwork and coppicing. A video has been produced to highlight the project’s diverse and creative achievements. We were delighted to see that it featured scenes from our wood workshops.
We share the project’s hope that bringing more attention to the cultural value of trees will help to support future conservation work and change the fate of fantastic species such as Ash. You can read more about the project on their website, including where to find the Ash-inspired sculptures made by artists Ackroyd & Harvey.
My First Year with Medway Valley Countryside Partnership – Jo Hill
When I joined the Medway Valley Countryside Partnership in February 2018, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the role, but from the partnership’s reputation I knew it would be varied and interesting, and it has most definitely lived up to that.
One of the first major projects that I assisted on was the Invasive non-native plant control programme. My involvement has been mostly admin related and liaising with landowners, however I have also been out onto sites to GPS track the locations and spread of the Giant Hogweed.
I have also had the opportunity to work on an assortment of projects and run a few of the partnerships ‘TAG’ days, working outdoors with a team of volunteers and seeing first-hand their passion for the countryside and how hard they work to protect and restore it even in rain, sleet and shine! My initiation involved wadding through a knee-deep pond full of weeds in the rain.
The summer of 2018 was extremely busy for me: I helped run the events which included guided walks, adventure trails, bug hunts, pond dipping and general fun days and picnics. This was a great experience engaging with the public and promoting environmental conservation.
I also worked in partnership with the Kent Orchards for Everyone project. I carried out 7 education workshops in October 2018, highlighting the ecological importance of orchards and their inhabitants to over 200 children from different primary schools in the local areas. For another element of the project I spent a few scorching days in the very peaceful Macey’s Meadow orchard and Plaxtol orchard collecting and bagging approx. 800 leaves to be sent off for DNA analysis, with the aim of mapping the variety of trees in the orchard.
As part of my position here I have the opportunity to undertake some training, so I chose to take my level 3 forest school instructor training with Kent High Weald partnership’s Bedgebury Bright Sparks, increasing my outdoor skills and gaining an understanding of the value of nature to children. I aim to be fully qualified by September 2019 after which I will be leading Forest School sessions for the partnership.
I have improved my surveying and monitoring skills since joining the team by assisting with the barn owl monitoring scheme, dormouse monitoring and the Eel monitoring project, which I am eager to be involved in during this coming year.
Overall, I have really enjoyed my first year working for Medway valley Countryside Partnership, it’s been great to explore my new stomping ground of Maidstone, Tonbridge and Malling. 2018 allowed me to build upon my skill set and further developed my confidence when leading public activities & events.
It has been wonderful to work with such dedicated and knowledgeable people, who I’d like to say thank you to for welcoming me into the team and making me feel at home even when I decorated the office at Christmas as garishly as I could. I am looking forward to seeing what 2019 has to offer.
Dandelion – Derek Whitehead
It is often neglected as a weed, defiled by gardeners and generally thought of as an undesirable – I think the beauty of the dandelion is overlooked. The dandelion can seemingly grow in smallest amounts of soil and is definitely a generalist. It arrives in abundance in early spring providing a valuable nectar source for a range of pollinators. The name dandelion comes from the French ‘dent de lion’ or lion’s tooth.
Francis Rose describes the genus taraxacum as having hundreds of microspecies too complex to separate in the Wild Flower Key, as if they would command a book of their own. The dandelion has a composite flower head made of many small flowers. The basal rosette, is common in many flowers and may well stop them from being trampled under heavy foot. The substantial tap root not only makes it more secure in the ground but also harder to dig out – frustrating gardeners even more. And the seed dispersal strategy is an absolute wonder – especially for children making a wish.
The whole of the dandelion is edible, and it is claimed that any health benefits are not lost when cooked. So, dandelions can be used in casseroles as well as salads, the flowers can be fried in batter to make fritters and the root can be ground into a coffee-like drink. I am sure I have drunk dandelion wine before and dandelions were used to flavour ‘Ale’ before hops were introduced by Flemish weavers in the 14th century.
Wildlife organisations quite rightly champion the rarer and more exciting species such as the Avocet or Adonis Blue, and we all enjoy the thrill of spotting something that would score highly on the ‘Chris Packham one-to-ten scale’. This spring though, don’t despair at the sight of the humble dandelion but give it a second look and at least leave it to dispense its bounty before it is picked and discarded.
Sandwich Year at Medway Valley – Reece Evans
I never actually planned on taking a sandwich year before heading to university; on UCAS I signed up for a three year undergraduate bachelor’s degree like many others. A sandwich year was kind of unknown and not really discussed at sixth form while studying A levels. Only once at university was the benefits and details explained.
So….. What is a sandwich year?
A sandwich year also called a placement year changes your course from three to four years, this extra year normally taken between the second and third year from university, gives students an opportunity to gain work experience within their industry of study. Bournemouth University give all students regardless of subject an opportunity to do a placement year; and very much encouraged. After receiving lectures about the importance and benefits of taking one and learning the statistics such as;
“The 31% of entry-level positions were expected to be filled by graduates who had already worked within the industry” and the advantages it has on my C.V for future employment, these reasons didn’t really persuade me. After all once taking a placement year you become a year behind everyone else including friends, housemates and course mates if they haven’t chosen to take one ; watching them graduate while you are just starting your third year. Then also questioning whether you want to go home for a whole year once already living away for 2 years. Other queries came to mind; actually finding one and then asking myself what would I like want to do for the placement year; who would I work for and doing what? This question was the reason I took a placement year; what job would I want once graduated from university? Having no actual experience within the environment industry which job role would I like or be able to do?
Finding Medway Valley Countryside Partnership.
I knew I wanted to work within conservation and benefiting my local area. After some research I came across the countryside partnership. Once reading their diverse range of projects from rivers, meadows to invasive species and also running events open to the public; I knew this was the best place to gain experience. Once finding this non for profit organisation and being so closer to my local area I wanted nothing else. The placement year lectures started in my first year in order to give us time to decide, needed an answer by the end of the second year, so I planned in advance That following summer I emailed Medway Valley looking for summer work experience, unfortunately they were already accommodating two students at that time and were full. After this short contact it became clear that the organisations were very popular and in demand, making me want it even more. The end of summer I emailed in advanced requesting to gain experience with them for my sandwich year starting the following September. By this time I still haven’t officially signed up for the sandwich year and had it in the mindset that if couldn’t be at Medway Valley I wouldn’t take one, thankfully it didn’t come to that and Medway Valley got in contact with offering me the position!
My time at Medway Valley has now come to end and ironically has become the best thing about going the university. After all where else can you get the opportunity to hold a wild Dormouse or Barn Owl? Gain the knowledge to conduct wildlife surveys for Water Voles, wild flowers and Invasive plants. When do you get the chance to stand in a watery ditch for two days trying to get a pump to extract water that doesn’t actually work? I am truly saddened to be leaving Medway Valley; it has been full of fun, experiences, knowledge and a great introduction into the life on environmental conservationists which cannot be learnt in a lecture hall.
I would to say a huge thank you to the team at Medway Valley Countryside Partnership for being understanding, friendly and helpful not to mention for putting up with me.
Wildlife Gardening – Derek Whitehead
I was becoming a ‘wildlife gardener’ more by laziness than actual desire and have always been more comfortable with a slightly untidy garden than a well-manicured lawn. My conversion from factory employee to countryside worker has increased my awareness of environments and the benefits of wildlife gardening is appreciated by the family. Even our teenage son – who is anchored to his computer, comments when the goldfinches are taking the seed from last seasons’ teasel stands.
I would describe our garden as a small, semi-urban with a northerly aspect, which doesn’t bode well for productivity. We do though, live near to the river Medway and a local park, which act as good corridors for our local area. We have recorded twenty-one different species of bird into the garden and we get a variety of mammals and replies as well. We contribute to the annual surveys of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and The Butterfly Conservation Big Butterfly Count.
We have less than 50 square metres of open garden, twenty square metres of decking and a driveway. This houses one pond, two bird boxes, two compost bins, two water butts, three bug homes, a summer bat roost, a hedgehog box, a wormery and a selection of bird feeders and feeding stations which varies through the year. We are starting to get near capacity but believe there is room for more, especially if different bird species are targeted. A relation of ours has been putting ceramic teapots in their hedgerow to act as nests for robins, the spout makes a great drainage hole.
We have learnt over the years what does and doesn’t grow and of course don’t use any chemical additives. We have found that native flora takes over when the more horticultural species disappear. We suffer the odd failure and this years’ crop of ‘sloes’ went mouldy, probably caused by over watering. We harvest the bath water to supplement during times of little rain and perhaps I threw a little too much around the Blackthorn bush?
The local Wildlife Trust run a Wild About Gardens Award scheme, which we have entered for the last six years. We have twice received the top award of Gold and the results for this year has yet to be announced, although the judge who visited this year thought our daughter should win a prize for her enthusiasm. So, I recommend cutting the grass a few less times a year, allowing some borders to over grow and generally be a little bit lazier about your gardening – you know it makes sense.
Magnificent Meadows – Mary Tate
With the end of the Magnificent Meadows Project in sight, the last events being delivered and the hay being baled, it is a good opportunity to look back at the success of the project over the last three years.
The Save our Magnificent Meadow project started in 2014 with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project was unique in its delivery in that it was National covering nine landscape areas across the UK including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The ambitions aims of the project, which was led by Wildflower Charity Plantlife, were to target just under 6,000 hectares of wildflower meadows and grasslands to create restore and maintain their cover, to raise awareness and give people the opportunity to discover and explore meadows in their local area has not only been achieved but exceeded by the National project making it an important case study and example for similar projects in the future.
In Kent we have been working across Maidstone, Tonbridge and Malling. We have worked with 60 landowners, trained over 70 volunteers and run 18 family events worked with 10 schools and created/helped to restore 10 hectares of wildflower meadow in the area.
The most unexpected outcome of the project was the sheer national coverage the project provided for the Partnership. We have been invited to conferences and site visits all over the UK and have spoken at National conferences about the great work the project has been doing with Volunteers throughout the area. It is brilliant to be acknowledged for our part in this fantastic project.
But this really is just the start of the project. There is a clear appetite for this type of project in the area and we are hoping to continue the great work with more funding in the future. Look out for our forthcoming video which will summarise the project with features for every site it has covered from Scotland to Wiltshire to Kent (featuring our very own National Meadows Day celebrations!)
Don’t forget that National Meadows Day will continue to be celebrated every first Saturday of July from now on so look out for an event near you next year to even better out on an event of your own to join in the celebration.
Notes from a barn owl surveyor – Mark Pritchard
Barn owls remain a favourite with the public, a crepuscular ghostly apparition, quartering meadows and fields in search of prey. Although not that easily seen they are the only owl species to be found on every continent (except Antarctica) so how are they doing in our patch? At MVCP we have a long-standing relationship with this lovely bird, having erected a series of nest boxes from Tonbridge to Maidstone and beyond some 15 years ago following the course of the river Medway.
This of course begs the question why do we survey, is it just curiosity or is there a point to it all? Well, surveying is in part natural curiosity, that particularly British gene which likes to collect and collate. However, without on-going monitoring we simply don’t know how well any species is doing. Not only is it emblematic of our Kentish landscape but it is a good indicator species as to the health, or otherwise, of the wider landscape. If the barn owl isn’t present then the grassland habitats on which it relies are not producing enough prey items (mainly voles and shrews but the occasional bird and frog too). It’s absence may also reflect changing land use practices as old decrepit barns become transformed into homes, and an insufficient number of large mature trees exist to supply nest sites.
The owl itself opens up conversations with land-owners as it can be a good pest-controller. Plus by allowing the longer grassland required to sustain the vole population later into the growing season, this also allows wild flower meadows to develop and persist, offering forage for much needed beneficial insects such as pollinating bumblebees, as well as myriad other species of butterflies and birds.
So how are they doing? Well as it happens quite well, and much of this is down to providing nest sites for them to breed in. Without nest box schemes Colin Shawyer, the barn owl guru, estimates that the UK would have only about 1000 pairs but the BTO now says is is substantially in excess of 4000 pairs, although no one knows for sure.
Barn owls are an open ground species so a box on a large tree over-looking their favoured long grassland habitat, or on a pole erected along a field-margin can both do well. Our preliminary checks this season indicate it will be a reasonable year, with owlets found in 40% of sites monitored and the best brood size 5 at a reliably good site in Yalding.
Natural Flood Management – Louise Smith
Since Storm Angus in November, things in Kent have been dry, really dry with the exception of a few rainy days here and there; there has barely been the need for a waterproof!
So with all this dry weather and a reassuring lack of flood risk it’s fair to say that for most people thinking about and planning for floods is very far from their minds. However, with more unpredictable weather patterns and increasingly short lived heavy downpours falling on that lovely dry ground the chances of flooding are ever more likely. Which is why I’m busy working on natural flood management measures across Kent to protect individual properties and communities.
In November 2016 the Government announced £15 million of investment towards Natural Flood Management (NFM) across the UK. Approaching NFM in this way and using it alongside traditional engineered flood defensives can only be a good thing for protecting communities and helping to enhance and protect the natural environment.
NFM alone won’t be able to protect against severe flood events but they can be used to reduce the cost and scale of traditional measures and hard engineering. There are also additional benefits from using NFM, creation of wetlands, tree planting, wet grassland and remeandering rivers, increases or even creates habitat, helps to protect species and generally supports a more rich and diverse environment. Plus NFM is cheaper to maintain and if done properly is more sustainable!
NFM can also be used to help reduce the risk of drought; tree cover and wetlands can help to replenish the aquifers and groundwater. Improved soil management to reduce run-off in heavy rain also increases absorption which can help during drier periods.
Working with nature rather than constantly trying to cajole and control the environment is far easier has greater success and offers many more benefits for people and wildlife.