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Forest School in winter and building resilience- Kathryn Barton
Although this past year has been very different, due to lockdown, Forest School sessions take place in the woods all year round, enabling children (and adults) to see the changes of the seasons first-hand and close up. Seeing a familiar environment change throughout the year increases understanding of the natural world and brings many learning opportunities, such as why leaves change colour and fall in autumn and how new life appears in spring.
One important aspect of Forest School, particularly in winter, is building resilience. Resilience is a much-discussed term, in school as well as Forest School circles. The definition of resilience in the Cambridge dictionary is, ‘the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened.’ And the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary is, ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.’
This ‘ability to recover’ is an integral part of Forest School ethos. Improving resilience is so important for later life, enabling people to deal with life’s knocks. At Forest School, children are given opportunities to try activities and be challenged. Sometimes things just don’t work and we have to bounce back. As Forest School practitioners, we encourage and help but we aim to get children to problem solve, find alternative solutions and deal with the accompanying emotions and feelings. As adults, we can be open with children when things don’t work for us, showing that it doesn’t need to be seen as failure, but a process by which we can learn; next time we can try a different way.
Greater resilience can help to reduce stress levels. The mental health charity, Mind, suggest techniques for reducing stress by building resilience through looking after mental and physical health, taking breaks and using your support network. Forest School provides all these opportunities, through spending time outdoors in nature, which is shown to improve health, using a learner led approach, enabling children to work at their own pace, and developing a Forest School community, promoting teamwork, helping others and building trust and respect.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, studies from previous quarantines and emerging evidence from the Covid-19 pandemic show significant increases in mental health and wellbeing issues. In the current uncertain times, many children will be feeling the effects of isolation, fear and uncertainty. We need to plan to help children rebuild their resilience, along with social skills and the ability to learn by taking assessed risks, and Forest School is one of the ways in which we can equip our children to deal with the after-effects of multiple lockdowns and changes to our everyday lives.
Floating Pennywort in the winter by Ian Butler
It’s been said that ‘you don’t have to bother about Floating Pennywort in the winter as the frost gets it then it dies’. If only! I’ve been observing this prolific spreader from the Americas and seen it lay low for the winter only to spring back with vigour as soon as it got warmer.
Some Floating Pennywort history
From my kayak I’ve been mapping the occurrence of this plant for several years, feeding back to Andrea our INNS guru at MVCP, but never getting my hands dirty so to speak and removing it. ‘DON’T , absolutely don’t try to remove it yourself! You won’t be able to stop fragments breaking off and you will be responsible for mass outbreaks downstream, you’ll need a boom in place, nets, a health and safety risk assessment …’. Needless to say I left the Pennywort alone but things were about to change in the world of Floating Pennywort removal.
Powerful bodies unite in the fight against Floating Pennywort
Andrea, British Canoeing and the EA, realising the untapped potential of paddlers to help remove the plant, teamed up and devised a code of practice for Floating Pennywort removal by paddlers (canoeist, kayaker or paddle boarder). It was a good PR exercise allowing British Canoeing, the DEFRA Minister for Biosecurity, the EA, volunteers from Maidstone Canoe Club, MVCP and myself all to get together for a good photo shoot. It makes sense too as paddlers have a better sight of floral INNS on the water than anyone from the bank and a paddler can usually easily reach any offending weed on the water. The only downside is that paddlers only have access to 4% of the rivers in England and Wales, perhaps this could help the campaign to gain greater access?
A new dawn in the fight against Floating Pennywort
In Floating Pennywort removal terms the gloves were now off. Paddlers were now able to seek out and remove the Floating Pennywort outbreaks. Some would be just a few strands that could be easily removed and flung into high bushes on the bankside where the plant dries out and is no longer a viable threat. Others would require surgical extraction from the surrounding vegetation or worse still the bank. But occasionally there are mats deemed too big to handle. On the Medway these mats are normally found in backwaters that don’t get regular visits from those with an INNS eye. Traditionally the approach has been to either to treat with glyphosate or get assistance from the EA dredger team and mechanically grab the weed out. There are drawbacks to both approaches. Glyphosate (and its adjutant) kills a lot more than just Floating Pennywort and it is not always totally successful in removal terms. The EA dredger team are often too busy and a wait for their assistance can allow a Floating Pennywort mat to mushroom and risk breakup from motor boat traffic or large debris floating downriver. The EA dredger also requires a boom or paddlers in the water to scoop up the escaping fragments that are generated from the grab.
No Floating Pennywort mat is too big – a new removal technique developed
Last year I developed a net that could be deployed quickly, was portable and could be used by paddlers or people in waders to remove large mats of Floating Pennywort. I used a modified scaffolder’s fall arrest net and incorporated a climbing rope and some weights, the idea being to:
- isolate the Floating Pennywort mat from the bankside vegetation
- curl the edges of the mat in on itself
- surround and constrict the free-floating mat with the net
- tow and haul the mat up onto a convenient angled bank out of the water
- dispose of the Floating Pennywort.
Testing the super-net for large mat Floating Pennywort removal
Unlike many of the Medway’s main INNS flora (Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed, Water Fern, Himalayan and Orange Balsam) the occurrences of Floating Pennywort only start just upstream of Yalding. The official source of origin is from a pond (now separated from the main river) but there is also a tributary just downstream of the pond that this year had a major Floating Pennywort outbreak.
My wife and I had spent a warm day in the summer clearing Floating Pennywort from the mouth of the stream where it joins the Medway. It’s a beautiful backwater with clear, reed-covered edges brimming with aquatic life, so natural and different from the main channel. Whilst out on a recreational paddle late November I pointed my boat up the side stream to find it completely choked further upstream from where no Floating Pennywort had been before? Shock horror! This looks like a job for super-net. I returned the next day to the side-stream in a small kayak armed with super-net, secateurs and a wetsuit and performed a small trial of the net with success.
Super-net used on the Yalding side-stream
After a little persuasion in adopting the net method Andrea and two Maidstone Canoe club members joined me on a chilly late November day to help save the side-stream. We went in with waders and drysuits and spent the bulk of the time freeing the Floating Pennywort from the banks. We then deployed the net and with Andrea, Geoff and Michael hauling from the bank and me pushing from the water we removed large amounts of Floating Pennywort that day. The very small amount of escaping fragments generated were captured with a fine gauge net placed downstream.
Hampstead Lock Floating Pennywort removal – mid December
Originally this was to be a pontoon-based volunteer operation but as the COVID-19 second wave developed and volunteer availability diminished Andrea asked if I could remove what had developed into a large mat of Floating Pennywort between the bank and pontoons at Hampstead Lock. I spent much time chest deep in waders isolating the Floating Pennywort because we had a classic case of ‘rooting in’ where the Floating Pennywort grows underwater into holes or under ledges in the bank. This often means breaking the strands with the risk of creating rogue fragments. Once isolated I was able to surround the mat with the net and haul it out onto a pontoon and into a bulk bag for disposal at a site nearby.
Floating Pennywort removal 2021
Unfortunately the little side stream at Yalding is not yet weed free. I’ve been back several times recently to inspect. The frosts have had little effect on the remaining weed in the water except for possibly making it more fragile. Major sluice works at Yalding have required the main river to be lowered which gives a rare insight into the banks below. Could lowering the water level in winter to expose the ‘rooted- in’ weed to frosts become a technique for Floating Pennywort removal? The rooted-in Floating Pennywort is probably responsible for the return of the weed to areas that are thought to have been cleared. Despite the works, the recent rain has now returned the side stream to its normal volume so I shall wait and return. You can never get complacent in the world of Floating Pennywort removal. Snooze and you lose. Even in the winter.
Refilldrop- Jo Hill
Back in October of 2020 I was contacted by Chris, one of the co-founders of RefillDrop, and was offered the opportunity to try out some of their products and let them know what we at MVCP thought. RefillDrop are a sustainable refill company based in Kent and are trialling a new way to shop online without plastic waste, by selling all their products in reusable packaging which is collected and reused when delivering future orders. As full supporters of sustainability and reducing plastic waste we were excited to give the products a try for office use. The process is simple, you place an order www.refilldrop.com, where you pay a small deposit for the containers on all the products you ordered. They deliver to your doorstep; you enjoy the products then order replacements when they’re running low. When your new delivery arrives, RefillDrop collect all your empty containers to reuse and your deposits are refunded back to your account.
The items we tried out were:
Loose Leaf Tea: British Brew (100g)
Loose Leaf Tea: Teacaf (100g)
Biodegradable Cling Film
Fill Washing Up Liquid – Ginger (500ml)
Fill Hand Soap – Fig Leaf (500ml)
Fill All Purpose Spray – Honeysuckle (500ml)
Who Gives A Crap Recycled Toilet Paper (3-Ply) Pack of 6
The products were delivered in a strong carboard reusable box, the cleaning products were in glass containers which are easy to clean and the teas were each packaged in a cylindrical tin, all reusable.
The teas were tried out by multiple members of staff, when using cow’s milk the consensus was that the British brew had a smoky flavour similar tasting to Lapsang souchong and it was stronger when compared with the milder Teacaf. I tried both teas using oat milk which may have lessened the smoky taste, but I enjoyed them all the same, id recommend using a loose leaf tea infuser for the teacaf and letting it brew for at least a few minutes before adding the milk.
After some concerns over the clingfilm potentially leaving a residue on food Refilldrop reassured me that the biodegradable clingfilm takes 1-2 years to breakdown, it is designed to last this long so it survives in your cupboard until it’s used. For comparison, normal cling film takes hundreds of years to breakdown! Once trialled the cling film did not leave a residue and appears to feel, work, look and act just like normal clingfilm. If I didn’t already know, I would’ve simply thought I was using clingfilm. Refill drop are also looking into practical reusable alternatives to clingfilm and are open to suggestions.
The washing up liquid is used multiple times a week in our office, it has an obvious smell of Ginger but it doesn’t leave an overpowering lingering scent on cleaned crockery, my colleagues have also said that its good at stain removal unlike many other eco products tried in the past. It is in a well-made glass bottle and little amount goes a long way.
I use the ‘Fill fig hand soap’ as a preference now whenever I am in the office, it feels like a luxury item. It has a good lather and is much kinder to my hands than the previous brands I have ordered it’s also good at removing ingrained dirt after spending the day in the woods. To begin with I wasn’t too keen on the Fig scent, but it has grown on me and I now find it quite refreshing, I would be interested in more soap scents in the Fill range.
The Fill All Purpose Spray in Honey Suckle smells lovely and doesn’t leave a sticky residue, again I’ll use this product at least twice every time I visit the office, it remains my favourite spray and it has out lasted some of the other brands. In covid times it’s great to have a side spray that doesn’t leave a long-lasting chemical smell but is still an effective cleaner.
The Who gives a crap’ toilet roll comes in recyclable packaging, the product itself is soft, great value for money and breaks down well in an eco-flush toilet.
As well as the ‘Fill’ brand Refilldrop also sell ‘Ecover”, ‘Ecoleaf’, ‘Who Gives A Crap’, ‘Faith in Nature’, & ‘Scottish Fine Soaps’. They can deliver to ‘Ashford’, ‘Tenterden’, ‘Maidstone’, ‘Battersea’, ‘Nine Elms’, ‘Hammersmith & Fulham’, ‘Chelsea & Kensington’ and use cardboard packaging where they can.
It’s been a great experience liaising with RefillDrop and trying out their products which we loved, the customer service has been brilliant they have promptly answered any queries on sourcing and sustainability of product ingredients which is very reassuring.
I’d definitely recommend using RefillDrop for anyone considering switching to a new and sustainable way of getting eco friendly products that last a long time, the items were delivered to us on the 28th October and we still have plenty left! Their fantastic range is definitely worth checking out for stocking fillers.
Tree Planting and Aftercare – Jake O’Neill
Today, in celebration of National Tree week, we want to talk about tree planting and the aftercare needed to sustain a successful and biodiverse woodland.
Once you have a sapling that you want to plant, it is always best to wait until the months when trees are dormant before planting, as it’s less likely to get damaged. Tree planting season runs between November and March, so plan accordingly!
When choosing an area to plant a tree, you will want to clear any overgrown plants within a 2-3m area so that it won’t have to compete for resources and light. You’ll also need to be wary of any neighbouring landowners who may be affected by the positioning of the tree, because it may start off small, but some native species of tree, namely the oak, can grow upwards of 40m tall!
Pit planting is the most recommended way to plant a tree, which starts with using a spade to cut out a section of turf, flipping it over and cutting it into smaller pieces. You’ll then want to dig a pit that’s deeper and wider then the roots of the sapling, place the sapling into the hole to check the depth and then fill in the dirt around the tree whilst holding it upright. Using biodegradable cardboard tree guards is recommended if you decide you want to use them to protect the sapling during its early stages of growth, we recommend using guards such as ‘green guard’ (see image below).
The most important aftercare that you can do in the first 1-3 years of tree growth is clearing any weeds away from a 1m area around the sapling to allow it to flourish. After three years, pruning can be a very useful way of controlling the shape that your tree grows into. It involves the cutting of extending branches and foliage to encourage the tree to grow upwards, rather then outwards. Be sure not to damage the tree’s bark when pruning as this can lead to disease and decay.
A longer-term form of aftercare involves using coppicing as a woodland management method. This involves cutting down a tree at the base of its trunk to encourage new growth in a woodland. Coppicing allows more light to reach the floor through the removal of tree canopy, which helps ground flora to flourish. Coppicing can increase the overall biodiversity of your woodland, and can be done every 7-10 years, depending on the size and species.
Managing Woodlands for Dormice- Mark Pritchard
If you go down to the woods today…………………. you might see someone with a chainsaw. Or indeed a group of volunteers with hand tools, chopping, cutting, and clearing vegetation. It is very unlikely that these will be a bunch of middle-aged environmental vandals, rather they will carrying-out active woodland management for the benefit of the woodland and its protected species. So, you may well ask, why do we do this, wouldn’t it be better to let nature take its course?
Our ancient woodlands in Kent no longer contain the large beasts they one would have. The “Mega-fauna”, the wild cattle, bison and the carnivores which hunted those animals are long gone. Exterminated by us. Thus, a vital element of a healthy woodland ecosystem has been lost. So, to maintain a modicum of an ecologically balanced system we need to intervene and take the role of the mega-fauna ourselves. Hence woodland management to protect and enhance the habitat for the very things we value most, diverse, abundant, and healthy flora and fauna.
Now, for centuries this management has been done to get products from the woods themselves, but a very beneficial side effect has been to help maintain a vibrant mosaic of woodland canopy, shrub layers and ground flora open to the sky. This has in turn supported a rich woodland fauna of insects, butterflies and small mammals, the dormouse being, perhaps, the most iconic and highly cherished.
So, there is method in our apparent madness. This comprehensive guide on ‘Managing Woodlands for Dormice’ speaks volumes and provides excellent advice as to how best to go about it.
Mark Pritchard (Licensed dormouse surveyor)
Forest School and Trees- Kathryn Barton
Trees are integral to Forest School. A group of children playing and learning in woodland is a joyous sight and woodland provides so many great opportunities for both. For example, children love climbing trees, learning how to climb safely by judging the health and strength of branches, having three points of contact with the tree, and climbing to a safe height. They improve their confidence, flexibility and dexterity and learn to respect nature, whilst challenging themselves and seeing their environment from a different perspective.
Trees provide natural materials for many Forest School activities; sticks for play, shelter building, craft resources, firewood, sticks for cooking and materials for natural art. Learning to identify species is important so that the right ones can be used for the right jobs and hazardous materials are avoided. Children are taught to harvest resources in a sustainable way, only taking what is needed and respecting flora and fauna and their habitats.
And woodland is a fascinating habitat, home to a huge variety of wildlife species, from bugs to birds to mammals, so there are always new things to discover and explore. Last week we found a newt during one of the sessions and it was lovely to see the children’s interest in a species that was unfamiliar. There is also the wonderful world of fungi, which illustrates the interconnectedness of nature and the importance of biodiversity, with species dependant on each other to thrive.
Forest School aims to foster a love of trees and woodland through spending time in this environment and gaining greater understanding. In our busy and risk averse age children and young people have fewer opportunities to spend time outdoors in nature, now widely acknowledged to be a great way to improve health – both physical and mental. Forest School is starting to address this need, providing opportunities for re-engagement with nature through fun, absorbing and adventurous woodland activities.
My Love of Trees – Andrea Griffiths
It is no secret to anyone who knows me that, quite simply, I love trees. Trees make me feel moments of rare calm and they allow me to get as peaceful as my monkey mind is likely to get. I’ve been known to drive over 20 miles simply to give my favourite tree a hug (not very environmentally friendly I confess, but it has been known). I even named my daughter after a tree.
I strongly advocate a wander in woodland to anyone who wants to improve and maintain their mental health. I certainly need a daily dose of woodland. Trees and woodlands generally give us a moment to breathe and a chance to connect with nature in an otherwise, crazy and disconnected, world. They make practising mindfulness slightly easier, as one can concentrate on the sound of the wind in the leaves and the creaking of branches. Of course, we need trees for our survival, so…. it’s no wonder many of us feel calmer and strangely supported under their branches.
I find trees beautiful. From the white flaky bark of a silver birch and the twisting spiral of an aging hornbeam to watching the leaves of poplars and willow’s gently swaying in a breeze.
Trees can be enjoyed all year round. In spring there is blossom and catkins to admire and in summer one can shelter under a vast oak or chestnut canopy and watch the light dance through the leaves. In autumn you can enjoy the changing of the colours, maples glowing red, crisp leaves underfoot and there are chestnuts to collect. In winter, bare branches show hidden secrets like abandoned nests and mistletoe balls! Of course, in winter too there are still splashes of green from our evergreens and who can resist stopping to admire holly berries in mid-November?
Trees of course are important parts of a wider ecosystem so taking time to admire them also allows you to catch a glimpse of a scampering tree creeper, to ponder the many species of fungi growing at their bases or watch squabbling squirrels.
There is something calming about the age of many trees too. Imagining what many old trees must have ‘seen’ and lived through is strangely reassuring. Take our native Yew (Taxus baccata) for example. As highlighted by Thomas Packenham in his lovely book ‘A meeting with remarkable trees’, the Yew strives for immortality. Many yews are so old, as far as we know, they may be the oldest living things in Europe. The oldest is possibly the Fortingall Yew in Perthshire which vastly outdates the church it resides next to and possibly the nearby druid stones too. Whilst no-one knows its age for certain, records from the 1700s state that it then had a girth of 52ft! Still, many of our oldest trees have nothing compared to the Bristlecone Pines in California, which are thought to be over 4000 years old!
It pains me that, given their majestic age and importance, many are cut down if in the way. Saplings are planted left, right and centre of course to demonstrate a commitment to climate change but they are often left in poor condition and are no match for the ecosystem services once given by their now removed and forgotten ancestors.
Trees are terrific, we should protect them and enjoy them. They aid our own survival, in more ways than one and therefore they give us hope and inspiration. As Martin Luther said, ‘even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Ivy- Derek Whitehead
There are still a host of insects flying around at this time of year, all needing to find a food source and they get nectar and pollen from the flowers that are still in bloom. These can be varieties of thistles, umbellifers, verbena, and asters. In our garden at home we have feverfew, nasturtiums, sedum, and honeysuckle still in productivity but the flower that is most abundant is of course, Ivy.
Ivy Hedera helix is an evergreen climbing plant that can reach a height of thirty meters. It has two main forms – juvenile and mature, and it is the mature ivy plants that produce flowers. The adult plants flower from September to November and these flowers turn into fat rich berries which ripen from November to January.
In the UK, there are 17 species of birds and over 140 different insects that feed on ivy’s flowers or berries during these lean months. These insects include peacock, red admiral, and small tortoiseshell butterflies – all of which can over winter as an adult ready to emerge in the spring. Also, ivy is important for other pollinator insects that include the rare the golden hoverfly.
There is a misconception that ivy is a parasite, but this is untrue as Ivy sets down its’ own roots so does not ‘tap’ resources directly from a ‘host’ tree. It will climb up into a tree’s canopy and will compete for sunlight reducing the trees’ ability to photosynthesize. Ivy can act as a sail and ivy clad trees do fall over during high winds and bad weather, but these specimens are invariably diseased anyway. So yes, like other plants, ivy competes with the trees, but it is not parasitic.
As well as the late season provision of pollen, nectar and berries, ivy provides shelter all year round for a myriad of wildlife species. This is not just the obvious such as nesting stations and roosts but also hosting beneficial insects such as ladybugs and wasps that keep the aphid populations at bay. Ivy can also form woodland carpets protecting creatures and the soil underneath from frost and cold weather.
Ivy has always been very symbolic in British culture; not only was it partnered with holly in a well-known Christmas carol, but it is also a symbol of fertility. In the past priests would present a newly married couple with an ivy wreath and it is still custom to include ivy in a brides’ bouquet. So, take time this season to admire these overlooked yellowy-green umbel flowers and watch them turn into clusters of black berries ready to be picked off by the blackbirds, thrushes, and pigeons. Ivy is great for wildlife and provides an interest throughout the year.
National Mammal Week October 2020
In recognition of National Mammal week, a short piece on deer. Deer remain the last of the UK’s original mega-fauna following the colonisation of these islands by man after the last ice-age. They still play an important role in the ecology of the woodlands and more open habitats. This is especially true in the south of England where they are now more numerous that at any time since the days of Henry VIII.
Fallow and red deer
As the leaves come off the trees, the autumn is absolutely the right time to see and hear deer during their rut. If you are lucky enough to hear the bellowing roar of a stag or see their proud head of antlers, then neither will be a sound or sight you will readily forget.
Our native species of red and roe are supplemented by a several naturalised/non-native species such as muntjac, fallow, sika, and Chinese Water deer. What is missing, however, is any of their natural predators such as lynx or wolves which, in more ecologically balanced times, would have provided a natural check and balance on deer numbers. Consequently, deer populations are now artificially controlled by shooting, to prevent an unchecked increase in numbers causing widespread damage to the remaining ancient woodland habitats which some of them now occupy. (See image 1 below)
Hunting has, of course, long been associated with large estates such as The Lowy of Tonbridge which was set aside after the Norman Conquest for the lordly ‘sport’ of hunting, (and to provide food of course).
Image 2 below is from a middle ages and is a depiction of a hunt and shows just how ‘un-sporting’ the practice became as the prey items were driven to their demise in nets hanging from the boundary lines of hornbeam. Indeed, the ancient landscape features of boundary marking hornbeam trees at Dene Park near Tonbridge, (part of the above Lowy of Tonbridge, can still be seen along its northern edge, originally planted to keep the deer in and the peasants out! Dene Park is open to the public year-round and now is a great time to get out and see the landscape in all its autumn glory.
End to an 18 Month Apprenticeship
October 2020- Ross Fryer
Since the beginning of April in 2019, I have been carrying out my apprenticeship with Medway Valley Countryside Partnership, assisting with the team in our main ongoing tasks and projects, such as working with our regular volunteer groups and our yearly Invasive Non-Native Control Programme. From my short 18 months here at MVCP, my overall skills and knowledge have developed, and I can confidently say that I have grown as a person over my apprenticeship.
I have been very fortunate to experience and assist with several amazing wildlife and conservation based activities and jobs, including helping with and running my own events working with a range of different people, carrying out surveys such as the European Eel and Butterfly/Bee transects, and doing a range of conservation based tasks including coppicing and brush cutting.
The staff have been very helpful and accommodating and I have felt like a fully contributing member of the team while here. Their knowledge and experience have been great guidance, and I was very happy to share my own knowledge to assist with tasks and problems as well. I have also had several opportunities to work and meet other conservation organizations, partnerships, and projects, including Old Chalk New Downs who work in preserving chalk grassland habitat, and other organisations in our partnership including North West Kent Countryside Partnership and Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership.
Experience and knowledge are not the only main benefits from carrying out my apprenticeship but having the opportunity to train and receive the various licenses which are essential for specialist countryside work. My chainsaw and brushcutter licenses have been used for coppicing and tree felling to help tidy and benefit and range of different habitats, my pesticide license for tackling the invasive species such as Giant Hogweed and Japanese Knotweed, and my trailer license for moving our tools and heavy machinery to and from site as part of our regular volunteer group.
Overall I would strongly recommend an apprentice experience with Medway Valley or any other conservation organisation. Not only is it a really rewarding experience which provides many opportunities to build your skill set and confidence, but if like me you are passionate about the environment and things we can do to preserve and help it then there is no better opportunity.
National Insect Week June 2020
Beetles – Jo Hill
Coleoptera can be considered the most species rich order on the planet. It is the largest order of insects in the world consisting of beetles (including weevils) and is estimated to have over 350,000 species globally whilst there are only 5,416 known species of mammal. Many species in the order Coleoptera have not changed in millions of years since the time of dinosaurs. In Britain we are blessed with over 4,000 species of beetle in a diverse range of sizes, from the humble Ptiliidae beetles measuring 1mm or less almost hidden to the naked eye, to the proud Stag beetle measuring up to 7.5cm.
Nearly all beetles have mouths built for biting with strong mandibles and forewings which are typically altered into hard wing cases known as elytra that protect their hindwings and abdomen. As an insect beetle diets and behaviour vary; some are carnivorous, hunting and feeding on other insects while others feed on plants or decaying remains of animals, plants and even dung.
A typical life cycle for a beetle has four stages; egg, larva, pupa and adult, some may have extended stages of each. For instance the Stag beetle Lucanus cervus can spend between 3 & 7 years of their life underground as larva. Members of the coleoptera family demonstrate some incredible defensive behaviours; when disturbed the bombardier beetle (Brachinus crepitans) will fire hot noxious spray from the tip of its abdomen and the bloody-nosed beetle (Timarcha tenebricosa) will release a drop of red blood from its nose when disturbed which tastes foul to predators.
Throughout history beetles have been deemed as sacred creatures in many cultures and looking at the iridescent colouring on some it is easy to see why. Scarab beetles were one of the most popular images of ancient Egypt believed to be a symbol of the sun God Ra and here in the UK the British folklore belief was that Stag beetles had the ability to summon thunder and lightning storms and medieval peasants believed the beetles flew around with hot coals in their jaws to set fire to buildings, beware the beetle!!
Beetles play a very complex role in our ecosystem. They are vitally important to ensuring a healthy balance is maintained by; controlling pest species, being a food source to other animals and recycling nutrients in both flora and fauna. They are natures greatest cleaning service. The common Sexton beetle (Nicrophorus vespilloides) feed off and bury dead and decaying animals and dung beetles move and bury dung preventing it building-up in our countryside and decreasing the breeding of parasitic flies which can harm mammals.
Globally insects are declining at a terrifying rate 8 times faster than mammals, birds and reptiles, 41% of insect species are threatened with extinction and it is estimated that 50% of our insect species have been lost since 1970. Their biggest threats being habitat loss, pesticides and climate change. Therefore, it is our duty to protect insects for the sake of every species on the planet. They are vital to all food webs and their decline is having catastrophic effect.
How you can slow their decline:
- Leave fallen/ dead wood to rot, provided it isn’t a public safety issue this can be turned into a log pile laid lengthways or turned upright as a log pyramid
- Make your garden friendly for all wildlife- Build a bug home in your garden and plant wildlife friendly plants – see advice from our previous blogs
- If you have a pond make an escape route for beetles and other animals- include shallow edges and log or stone piles close to the edge and keep your water butts covered.
- Stop using chemicals in your garden – unless for INNS control with a permit
- Stop using weed matting- this is a massive obstacle for beetles after emerging from their larval stage they need to reach the surface clearly in order to survive.
- Let your lawns and gardens be wild- lawns mown every 4 weeks have greater insect diversity than those mown every 1-2 weeks, a lot of beetles emerge between late April and July so it is important to keeping mowing to a minimum at that time. Leave an area of your garden wild and undisturbed it will provide safety where animals can nest and shelter.
- Show an interest – if you have or are caring for children encourage them to learn about beetles, we need all generations to fall in love with these incredible insects, and join us on one of our bug hunting events.
- If you see beetles don’t disturb them just let them continue on their way (unless they are in immediate danger
- Take care when digging- if you happen to dig up larvae carefully return it to where you found it and find somewhere else to dig
- When you see it record it – as insect species are suffering great decline it is important that their locations are known so they can be protected, record your sightings and send them to record centres and organisations; https://www.brc.ac.uk/ & https://www.ispotnature.org/
No Mow May
Many of us are lucky enough to have back gardens be it a few acres or a more modest few sq. metres. Some of us like to keep them as wild as we can and others prefer a much more pristine look, but this May we are asking you not to mow your lawn to give the shorter grass plants a chance to emerge and flower.
With recent evidence suggesting a 50% decline in insect species since 1970, insects need us now more than ever and ‘when it comes to providing vital nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects, every flower counts’ (Plantlife).
It is estimated that 97% of Britain’s meadows have been eradicated since the 1930s and the decline continues to this day. Daisies, clover, selfheal and dandelions are some of the most common species found in the garden and are so often overlooked but are provide vital life support for insects as they are rich in nectar.
On average us Brits tend to mow the lawn once every two weeks this time of year however research has found that ‘The highest production of flowers and nectar sugar was on lawns cut once every four weeks. Although it is extremely tempting to tidy the garden and mow the lawn during this lockdown, we strongly urge you not to and just wait a while, because this month is ‘No Mow May’.
No Mow May is a campaign originally suggested by Plantlife and strongly supported across many countryside and conservation organisations with incredible results. The principle is simple leave the mower in the shed and let the grass grow throughout May.
So, sit back and watch the flowers grow, create a buffet for the bees, support the pollinators and reconnect with nature at this ever-stressful time. Here’s a picture of our MVCP office garden you can see the abundance of flowers and grasses present now and the garden will remained unmown throughout May.
More Than Trees
The subject of climate has moved up the political agenda and only the most die-hard of ‘deniers’ do not support the claim that more carbon levels needs to be reduced. Carbon can be taken out of the atmosphere and sequestered by carbon capture with the creation, restoration and improvement of different habitats. Now that the UK will now not be bound to the Common Agricultural Policy once the exit from the EU is complete a better system can be put in place. Let’s hope that the government planned Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) will be better for nature and for farming!
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has announced a very ambitious plan for the next twenty five years. Although this is a ten pronged approach to improving things such as; water and air quality, improving environmental services and natural beauty, and reducing hazards and waste. There is also the drive for ‘creating or restoring 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site network, focusing on priority habitats as part of a wider set of land management changes providing extensive benefits’.
In a report written by my colleague Emily Seccombe for Maidstone Borough Council it was calculated that to play its part in this DEFRA plan the Borough of Maidstone needs to improve or create approximately 32 hectares of habitat per year. This work has already started with improvements happening on MBC sites at Senacre Wood and Allington Open Space two name just two areas. I know about these two because they have been part of my project work over the last year.
The ‘Co-ordination for Information on the Environment’ has classified all UK land mass into four categories; Farmland 56.7%, Natural 34.9%, Green Urban 2.5% and Built On 5.9%, but the UK is only about 60% efficient in food security. This issue needs to be addressed but if the area farmed increased but simultaneously de-intensified this could hopefully create a more sympathetic patchwork of habitat for wildlife. Work is required to encourage the support of ‘catchment sensitive farming’ and part of that support is us the consumer choosing products sourced from such farms.
There are signs of habitat improvement or creation, such as: –
- The rewilding at the Knepp Estate in Sussex has provided many success stories including increased numbers of nightingales, turtle doves and purple emperor butterflies.
- Although an estimated 150,000 miles of hedgerow have disappeared in the UK in the last eighty years or so; different organisations are planning and planting increased mileage of hedgerows.
- The reintroduction of the short haired bumblebee on the Kent and Sussex coast by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust which was the result of partnership working with local landowners.
There are of course, many more great projects going on!
I love a mature tree and openly encourage tree hugging; in our kitchen is a photograph of my wife and I hugging a Californian redwood – we were in the gardens of a Sanoma Valley Vineyard. Trees need to mature for twenty or thirty years before they start to sequester decent levels of carbon. Current understanding leads us to believe that wetlands, fenland and even coastal sea grass habitats are equally as good for carbon capture.
It seems to me that suggested mitigation against ‘climate change’ has been simplified to converting to electric cars, flying a little less and tree planting, but this isn’t enough! So if you have a say in any local organisation which suggests habitat improvement – try to remind them that whilst every improvement project should, quite rightly, be celebrated. Carbon sequestration is about increasing hedgerows, creating new ponds, softening aquatic edges, increasing coastal salt-marshes and much more. If as a community, country, global entity we are going to get on top of carbon particle levels in the atmosphere, we have to plant more than trees!
Mark Pritchard – MVCP Manager
Spoiler alert, this blog is dry. Dry as a welsh village on a Sunday in the 1990s, dry as Jack Dee’s wit, dry as a witch’s……*
Natural capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this natural capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called Ecosystem Services, which make human life possible. (Natural Capital Scotland Ltd 2017).
What, I hear you ask are Ecosystems services? Well, the until now unrecognised and unvalued benefits which the natural environment provides us with; clean air, clean water, carbon & nitrogen capture, a healthy environment in which to enjoy the beauty of nature, flood mitigation, pollination. I could go on.
The Government made a bold commitment, outlined in its 2011 White Paper, which states the aim to be “the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than that in which we found it” (H.M. Government 2011).
To achieve this, the environment we have – our Natural Capital – needs to be looked after better than ever before. This is a challenge given the degree of development outlined locally and nationwide and with the inevitable habitat fragmentation and degradation which follows suit.
With financial capital, when we spend too much, we can run up a debt which may result in bankruptcy. With Natural Capital, if we keep drawing down from natural stocks without allowing or facilitating recovery, we ‘run the risk of local, regional or even global ecosystem collapse’. (Natural Capital Scotland Ltd 2017)
MVCP’s ethos aligns itself perfectly to a Natural Capital approach. As an organisation which works to protect and enhance local green spaces and the environment, we are already aware of Natural Capital and the Ecosystem Services concepts and we already regularly engage in Service Level and Collaborative Agreements to look after local green spaces and thus, natural assets.
These terms, Natural Capital, Net Gain, Ecosystem Services, are new buzz words in government and soon to be in public parlance in the way that the climate emergency has now finally become. So, it is not that we need to realign ourselves to this terminology model, rather we re-brand our existing deliveries and re-shape the outline of proposed projects to highlight the (already) direct outcomes from much of our work, that of protecting and restoring Natural Capital.
So how do we do this? How can we encourage others to do so, and what can you as an individual do? There is a great saying ‘Think Global Act Local’. The origin of this phrase has been attributed as far back as 1915 to a Scottish town planner, Patrick Geddes, although the first actual use may have been in the early 1970s when Friends of the Earth was founded. However, the sentiment can be applied at all scales, from the tiniest window box, to the biggest landscape scale restoration scheme.
We at MVCP will classify both Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services as outcomes and deliverables in all our projects from this point on. Sorry slipping into management consultant mode for a moment again…………… (skip to the end if you wish).
The Natural Capital Committee highlight the following organisation chart in reference to project planning a specific Natural Capital project:
‘The steps in sequence’. (Natural Capital Committee 2017)
Taking the above outline and incorporating it into project planning for the future, we can see the need for a specific vision associated with proposed and future projects. This figure highlights the requirement for better baseline studies and an ongoing attempt to map current status and to continue to build on the evidence base and, as outlined by the Natural Capital Committee (2017) Step 4 is ‘where spatial data, environmental and economic modelling and valuation, and environmental management come together to form the basis for a plan’.
Again, assuming we are writing Natural Capital benefits into future proposed projects, we can use this figure to better shape project proposals for potential funders.
…………….and we are back in the room.
So where might you fit in? Micro habitats such as window boxes can provide year round nectar sources for our pollinators, fantastic wildlife friendly open garden projects provide the next scale up, from there it is but a short leap to parish meadows and more sympathetic management of public open spaces, leading us to the goal of landscape scale restoration schemes like that of the Knepp estate (see a previous blog).
And who will pay for all of this? Coming soon………. Environmental Investment Bonds.
Natural Capital Scotland Ltd (2017) What is Natural Capital? (Online) https://naturalcapitalforum.com/about/ Retrieved 28th Jan 2018
H.M. Government (2011) The Natural Choice: Securing the value of nature (Natural Environment White Paper), CM 8082, The Stationery Office, London: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-natural-choice-securing-thevalue-of-nature
*Got me reading about witches in Kent, an interesting article here https://www.kent-life.co.uk/people/halloween-special-the-witches-of-kent-1-1640580
A Material World
Emily Richardson- Student Placement with MVCP
Fast fashion describes the rapid production and sales of “trendy” clothes that became increasingly popular in the 2000s. They’re produced quickly and inexpensively, therefore appealing to the mass-market. Shopping on fast fashion websites is so easy; we don’t even consider where our clothes are coming from or the negative environmental consequences of our purchases.
Water pollution: 20% of industrial water pollution comes from textiles treatment and dying. Most textiles factories dump untreated toxic wastewaters, containing substances such as lead, mercury and arsenic, directly into rivers. Not only is this extremely harmful and often fatal for aquatic life, but also has a widespread affect when the contamination reaches the sea and spreads around the globe.
Water consumption: It takes about 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt. That’s enough water for one person to drink at least 8 cups per day for 3.5 years. This is an immense problem as water is often a scarce resource in the low-income countries in which cotton is most frequently grown. Consequently, it’s overuse has significant ecological implications, including the desertification of large areas of land.
Microfibres: Washing clothes releases 500,000 tons of non-bio degradable microfibers into the ocean each year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. These microfibres are ingested by small aquatic organisms and bioaccumulate in the food chain, sometimes reaching fatal levels in the apex predators.
Waste accumulation: 85% of all textiles go into landfill each year; what is more frustrating is that 95% of these textiles could be recycled. Clearly, clothing has become disposable. Synthetic fibres, such as polyester, are non-biodegradable and can take up to 200 years to decompose, yet are still used in 72% of our clothing. Producing polyester releases 2 to 3 times more carbon emissions than cotton.
Greenhouse gas emissions: The fashion industry is responsible for 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually, 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions. That’s more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. Energy, most commonly generated from fossil fuels, is used during the production, manufacturing and transportation of garments, creating a colossal carbon footprint for each individual item of clothing.
Rainforest destruction: 70 million trees are cut down each year to make our clothes. These areas of endangered and ancient forests are replaced by plantations of trees used to make wood-based fabrics such as rayon, viscose and modal. This loss of forests is threatening the ecosystem and contributes greatly to soil degradation which in turn contributes to global warming as degraded soil has a reduced ability to absorbed carbon dioxide.
Feeling guilty? Here’s what you can do:
- Buy clothes from the sustainable ranges in shops, recycled clothing or even better, garments from charity shops. H & m gives you £5 off your next purchase if you bring a bag of unwanted clothes for them to recycle. It currently recycles or sustainably sources 57% of its fibres with a goal to reach 100% by 2030. Levis’ water<less collection uses up to 96% less water to manufacture garments.
- Avoid non-biodegradable materials such as nylon, polyester and materials treated with toxic chemicals such as viscose. Instead, invest in fabrics such as linen and organic cotton that use less water in production.
- Go for quality over quantity, only buy items you will get lots of wear out of.
- Don’t buy an outfit for a special occasion. Don’t be afraid to wear something more than once.
- Look after your clothes so that they last longer.
- Wash clothes only when necessary, wait until there’s enough clothing to make it worth doing a wash
- Repair old clothes instead of replacing them
- Once you are finished with an item of clothing, don’t throw it away. You can sell clothes on Depop and eBay, give them to friends and family, or reuse them with a different purpose. Take old clothes to clothes banks or donate to charity shops.
Clothing should be an investment, not disposable. What the battle against fast-fashion really boils down to is a new attitude towards clothing, or, ironically, an old attitude, as this 21st century “throw-away” culture was previously unheard of. We must be selectively intentional in our clothing purchases.
Forest School Fun
By Kathryn Barton
Many children and young people spend very little time outdoors in natural green spaces and Forest School can kickstart a life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors, forging a connection with nature and a love of wildlife. It’s a very effective learning process for children who find a classroom environment challenging.
Medway Valley Countryside Partnership is expanding Forest School delivery, with more opportunities for children and young people to re-connect with nature and wildlife. Primary students from local schools will be attending Forest School sessions in woodland at Yalding Fen, a beautiful natural area with a range of habitats to explore. Schools are taking advantage of generous funding from the Congelow Trust, providing them with a programme of free introductory sessions.
Forest School is a great way to learn, with exciting opportunities to develop new skills in a safe, controlled, outdoor environment, bringing classroom subjects to life. Children, young people and adults (nobody is too old for Forest School) try out a range of practical activities supervised by qualified, experienced practitioners, whilst encouraged to make informed decisions about dealing with new situations and handling risks. True Forest School is a long-term process, with regular sessions, where learners lead their own learning.
Research supports the extensive benefits of Forest School for children and young people, including:
• Increased confidence and self-esteem, transferred to other aspects of students’ lives
• Improvements in emotional, psychological and physical health and well-being
• Improved team working and social skills
• Improved independent learning and creativity, enhancing classroom learning
• Greater passion and enthusiasm for engaging and learning new skills
• Improved communication and interactive abilities
• Improvements in problem-solving skills
• Greater environmental awareness and responsible attitudes towards green spaces, nature and wildlife
Forest School is, above all, fun; one of the main reasons why it is such a great learning process. Students learn to make and light fires, build natural shelters, put up tarpaulin shelters and use hand tools. Learners have opportunities to try out crafts, create art, complete challenges and cook on the fire. They also learn about the natural world, finding out how to identify trees, plants and woodland creatures, and there is always time for free play, exploration and discovery.
Progressive education theorists emphasise the need to place the student at the centre of their own learning and for children and young adults to explore the world for themselves with the correct support. This is precisely the ethos of Forest School. Many schools and organisations are using Forest School to reconnect with nature through activities, enhancing the emotional and mental health of children and young people.
‘Brown paper packages tied up with strings, these are a few of my favourite things’… By Jo Hill
Christmas is a time of friendship, family, joy and giving. . . however did you know that there are 3 million tonnes of extra waste produced at Christmas time?
Christmas decorations, lights, food and gift packaging along with unwanted gifts, and Christmas cards all end up in the bin. In 2018 the UK discarded 125,000 tons of plastic food packaging over the festive period, and as a country we used 227,000 miles of wrapping paper along with 40 million rolls of plastic cello tape the majority of which ended up in landfill, all that waste is predicted to increase by 30% in 2019.
Don’t like those figures? Here’s what you can do:
• Instead of wrapping paper, use recyclable brown paper, free newspaper or gift bags that can be reused or how about making cloth bags as part of their present? remember glossy, metallic or glitter paper cannot be recycled.
• Use string or ribbon that can be reused instead of cello tape
• Instead of throwing away unwanted Christmas cards just cut them up and re use them as gift tags or make a Christmas collage, these are great activities for children and can be added to your wall decorations.
• If you do need to buy new cards please look for FSC assured, recycled and NO glitter
• Plan and prepare your meals in advance to avoid waste and if you do happen to have leftovers then you can freeze or donate them
• Avoid plastic packaging and glitter
• Make your own gifts for people and play to your talents, can you Cook? Bake? Draw? Paint? Or even knit, sew or crochet. I believe everyone has creative side and Christmas the perfect time of year to let it shine.
• When buying toys think wooden not plastic, wooden toys are making a comeback and it’s easy to see why, they’re strong, beautiful and built to last.
• If you have a real Christmas tree this year then instead of throwing it into garden waste when it has dropped all its needles you could cut it into pieces and create a habitat pile, turn the branches into stakes for the garden or replant it.
• Support your high street by shopping locally and through small businesses, this will give you more control over packaging and transportation.
• Make your own decorations, look online for wreath and natural decoration ideas and videos
• If you have an artificial Christmas tree, plastic baubles or tinsel then try to make them last for as long as you can until the pieces start falling off and then use natural decorations to replace them.
• If you’re not using it switch it off, save some money on energy bills at this expensive time of year and turn off electrical decorations and tree lights when not in use, we all love a festive glow, but we all love the planet more.
Give the gift of memories not materials this Christmas, can you remember every single present you received at Christmas as a child? most of us can’t. The toy industry is a huge contributor of plastic waste, and billions of gifts every year go un-played with or returned to the shops before the new year. Instead of buying mountains of toys for your children consider swapping out the Roboblox or hatchimals for a family trip or membership to a local wildlife reserve or make a donation to a conservation charity.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for 2020, Let’s make memories not more mess on our beautiful planet.
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.