Wednesday, 7 November 2018

All Quiet on the Reserve Front

It was a wet, muddy and windy walk round the reserve earlier today after a couple of hours of rain. We've has several rainy days over the last month or so and they've certainly done a good job of making the gardens wetter and the surface of the reserve, it is muddier and greener. There isn't, however, still any surface water showing across the reserve, nothing in the still dry rills and ditches still a few feet below decent levels, but it's not looking as dry as it did this time last year, yet.

All of the cattle were taken off the reserve last Friday, which is earlier than usual, but really good news because as it starts to wetten up on these rainy days it means that they cattle won't churn gate-ways, etc, into boggy and difficult areas to walk through. The grazier has taken both the calves and their mothers back to his stock yards a few miles away and there the calves will be separated from their mothers for weaning. The adult cows have reached the end of their reproductive lives now  and will therefore be fattened up in the yards for a while before being sent for culling and presumably turned into various meat products - tough but all part of the livestock cycle of things. Next Spring we will presumably have a new and younger herd on the reserve, grazing and eventually entertaining the bulls.
It has also been noticeable over the last week, on a smaller farm near the reserve, that the rams have been put out with the ewe sheep. This always takes place around November 5th and it's always easy to spot because the ewes that have been impregnated will each have a coloured mark on their rear end, left by the coloured block that is strapped across the ram's chest.
So, going back to the reserve and without the livestock now, it seems quiet out there walking round. The cattle can be a pain at times but they do add to the sights and the sounds of the place.

The other noticeable feature of the place as vegetation starts to die down for the winter, is the lack of rabbits. They were always a normal part of the reserve and indeed much of Sheppey, but not any more. When I first became a Volunteer Warden there in 1986 and for many years afterwards, every earth bund  salt-working mound and even the flat ground, was inundated with them in their thousands. They conformed to the old-time photographs that we used to see of rabbits in plague proportion and most people who lived in and off of the countryside, carried out rabbit shooting, trapping or ferreting at some stage. Then around twenty years ago a combination of myxomatosis and a new disease that cause them to haemorrhage, began to see their numbers plummet. At first it was seen as a blessing because of the damage that rabbits do to crops and infrastructure and controls by shooting ferreting continued in the same old way. But gradually, as numbers dropped to really low levels, controls became both unnecessary and unattractive to those who enjoyed such sport.
At first some places on Sheppey still hung on to really good numbers of rabbits but now even they have seen a massive drop in numbers and these days the traditional sight of rabbits sitting out in fields or along hedgerows at dusk is becoming rarer. These days as I enjoy my daily walks around the reserve I would estimate the population of rabbits over the whole reserve, to me no more than about fifty rabbits. It's a real shame because rabbits have always been an iconic part of the countryside and more importantly, a vital part of the natural food chain. Without an easy and widespread choice of young rabbits to feed on the likes of birds of prey, foxes, stoats, etc., are forced to become a nuisance by turning to other food items such as ground nesting birds and game birds for example. Hard to believe but we need to leave rabbits alone to replenish their stocks.

Sunday, 28 October 2018


I rarely sleep well and normally wake up and stay awake, from 3.30ish in the morning (sometimes earlier) and then read until getting up at about 5.30.
Lat night, with British Summertime ending, I put all my clocks back an hour in order to be in Winter Time when I woke up, a daft idea but that's what we have to do. Anyway, this morning I woke up with rain lashing against my windows in a very cold and strong NE wind (such rain is a rare event lately and worthy of noting). The clock was showing 3.15 and I groaned, that would of been 4.15 yesterday but we'd gone back an hour, that meant even longer laying in bed this morning and it was still four hours until the paper shops open. OK, it means that it gets light an hour earlier, the dog and I can get down to the reserve earlier but of course it was lashing down with rain this morning so even that was out of the question, it was clearly going to be a long day
The dog was also pacing round the kitchen when I got up at 5.00, which would of been 6.00 yesterday, not able to understand why her breakfast was an hour late, it'll take both of us until we retire tonight to get back into sync. with normal timings again and in the meantime I'll spend all day thinking, "this would of been an hour later yesterday".
So here I am, it's 6.20 as I write this, it's getting light enough outside to see angry black clouds rushing across the sky, dropping icy rain at regular intervals - winter has arrived at the same time as Winter Time, I feel depressed already but glad that I planted my last lot of tulip bulbs yesterday.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

More Books

As I mentioned in my last blog, I had finished reading the latest book about Enid Blyton and I then moved on to a newly published one about E. Nesbit, author of "The Railway Children". I have never read a scrap of her work but was attracted to the book by the bohemian lifestyle that she and her husband led. It was a good and interesting read, as most things about bohemians normally are for me.

Anyway, that has now gone to my bulging bookshelves and I have now started the third of those that I bought, the one shown below. Billy Connolly in my book, is the funniest comedian that I've ever seen and I look forward to many good laughs while reading it.

The weather so far this week has been quite beautiful. Clear, starry nights lit by a large full moon, chilly starts and then sunny and fairly warm afternoons. The two ends of the days have also been spectacular. Every morning I've been on the reserve as a huge, fiery-orange sun has risen above the horizon and then early evenings has seen a repeat as the sun has set surrounded by skies in all manner of pink, orange and yellow colours. I have spent all week de-weeding my rose borders, by hand in some places, and yet there is still a lot more to catch up on and I have ordered another load of tulips to plant among the roses.
With the chilly nights this week it was apparent that my two tortoises had slowed down considerably and so they were weighed and then put into their hibernation box in the garage. It'll be the end of February/early March before I see them again.
The reserve remains very quiet bird-wise, the result of a third consecutive dry Autumn but I did record a Jay this week. Surprisingly, Jays are a very uncommon bird here on Sheppey, I've only seen 3-4 in my whole 71 years living here. We don't have the large areas of woodland that they favour, especially oaks, it's mostly marshland. 

Friday, 19 October 2018

Enid Blyton

Throughout my whole 71 years of life, two sets of books have always dominated. The Wind in the Willows and the Famous Five series. I have read most of the books about Kenneth Graham and Enid Blyton, have several editions of the Wind in the Willows and all twenty one of the Famous Five books, all in their original covers.
Even to this day, when I'm feeling depressed or nostalgic, I simply pick up one of those books to read and they're like a comfort blanket. They give me the same simple escape from life that they did all those years ago as someone suffering an unhappy childhood.
This week I took receipt of the latest book about Enid Blyton's life and read it over two days and nights.

 It is not as detailed as the one below, which I bought some years ago but in it's final chapters does detail the degree to which both she and her books became black-listed in later life.

It may also come as a surprise to a lot of people to find that, despite being the favourite "auntie" to millions of children worldwide, always finding time for them if she met them, replying to every letter that they sent, that in her private life, Enid virtually ignored her own two daughters as they grew up. She could be a quite a nasty person at times.
Anyway, to get back to the good bits, she was adored by children worldwide, and in her prime was writing c.8,000 words a day and publishing dozens of books, magazines and articles a year, all for children of various ages. However, in the mid 1950's adults got involved - all of a sudden they branded her books as sexist, racist and just about everything else-ist. Teaching establishments that had used her books and methods as educational tools and libraries for years, gradually removed her books from their shelves. Despite the fact that for donkeys years her books had encouraged children to read, to form clubs, to collect money for charities, all of a sudden adults found her a bad influence on their children.
And even today, this denying children the escapism that they get from such simple books and films is still going on, putting adults thoughts into tiny children's minds. In my paper today, I read of how one actress is telling her little girls that the scene in Snow White where the handsome prince kisses Snow White while she is asleep is "weird" and has warned her daughters about the male character's behaviour. One Japanese person went even further and accused Snow White of perpetuating "quasi-compulsive obscene acts on an unconscious partner". So it now seems that Walt Disney, that mainstay of childhood pleasure and dreams, is going to be picked apart by adults and denied to their children.
What a sad world we live in.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018


There is an LP that has been one of the features on the shelves in my study for countless years, I bought it around 1964. It was Bob Dylan's second album and was released in 1963 and the album cover, below, has become an iconic feature of those early 1960's folk years for a lot of people. It shows the young Bob Dylan and his then girlfriend Suze Rotolo walking down a frozen Greenwich Village street in early 1963, posing for a series of photographs.
I've lost count of the times my eyes have been drawn to that album cover over the years, especially now in old age, and been taken back to those same years of my youth.

Taking me back to times like this, in late 1966 or early 1967. I was 19 and my girlfriend, who later became my first wife, was several years younger.

Those times seem an awful long way away now and I guess after 51 years, they most definitely are. But how simple life was then, no latest communication technology to crave after, no need to save wages, listening to the latest music releases by standing in a booth in your local record shop. Only the responsibility and financial restraints of marriage changed everything. This week for my Autumn reading pleasure in the coming weeks, I have bought three newly published books - "The Real Enid Blyton" by Nadia Cohern. I have read many books about Enid Blyton (she was not such a nice person) and have all 21 of the Famous Five books, and anything to do with her takes me back to my childhood in the 1950's and how her books allowed me to escape from an unhappy childhood.
 "Made in Scotland - My Grand Adventures in a Wee Country" by Billy Connolly - easily the funniest comedian Britain has ever produced, I could watch him all night.
"The Extraordinary  Life of  E Nesbit" by Elizabeth Galvin. I've never read any of her well known books but was drawn to this book by the fact that she lived a bohemian life-style and I have quite a collection of books now about people that have lived that kind of life-style, such as the Bloomsbury Group. I can so easily identify with that way of life in the 1920's/30's and would love to have lived it - the best I could do was the 1960's, when we indulged in some drugs, lots of drinking and group sex - I miss it.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Johnny Kingdom R.I.P.

It was sad to see that Johnny Kingdom was killed recently when a digger overturned while he was working on his farmland in his beloved Devon. He was 79, lived most of his life on and around Exmoor and was one of those countryside characters still steeped in all the old ways that you rarely see or hear about these days.
Throughout his life Johnny was a farm labourer, poacher, quarryman, lumberjack and gravedigger and in his latter years, an excellent maker of wildlife documentaries that were shown on BBC2. In one hand he probably had more knowledge of the countryside, it's wildlife and weather, than all the presenters on the awful BBC Countryfile put together. He came from the mould that made the likes of Jack Hargreaves, Olly Kite, Phil Drabble and several others, people that didn't need a script, fancy clothing and make-up to present a wildlife programme.
I had a lot of time for him because he spoke of a countryside and it's ways that I can identify with and have dabbled with throughout my life.

Saturday, 1 September 2018


Yesterday, Friday 31st August, after sleeping poorly as usual, I got up at 04.30 and was on the reserve at first light 05.30. The day was forecast to be sunny and warm and indeed it did turn out that way, very warm and sunny to be exact. However, when I arrived at the reserve, grey clouds were drifting across the sky, a light mist was rising from the ditches, it was a chilly 9 degrees and the dew in some of the hollows hinted at possible frost.
A few small parties of duck flew along the sea wall fleet, flying just above the mist they turned, flew back a few yards and then quickly dropped into the fleet. Further across the reserve the sounds of geese calling caused me to look through the binoculars at what were a small gaggle of Greylag Geese rising up from their overnight roost in the middle of the marsh. In the reed beds along the sea wall fleet one or two Reed Warblers still called but most have already left for their winter quarters in Africa, they arrived late this year and most have left early. Those that did arrive were in much lower numbers than previous years and as a result the breeding records showed over 50% less pairs than the last couple of years.
It was one of those early morning visits that was totally serene and perfectly silent and I meant to enjoy the quietness and solitude of both the reserve and Harty in general yesterday, because today meant I have to share it for the next six months with the wildfowlers. The wildfowl shooting season always begins at midnight on the 1st September and the silence of dawn and dusk will now regularly be broken by the sounds of gunshots. I have no problem with true wildfowling, it's one of the hardiest forms of shooting and requires a lot of stamina and skill, I just begrudge, perhaps selfishly, having to lose my little bit of early morning serenity, not have it all to myself.
So, after yesterday morning's early start, I was back on the reserve this morning at 05.15 to see how many wildfowlers were seeing in the start of the season, only trouble is, as you can see below, seeing wasn't exactly an option. It was only 7 degrees, there were clear, light blue skies beginning to show above the marsh, but also a mist that obscured forward vision up to height of about 20 feet. I heard a couple of shots be fired the other side of the sea wall so knew that somebody was there but couldn't see who fired them.

 Eventually the sun began to appear above the eastern horizon and was pretty much the only indication of where the land and the sky met.

 Few wildfowl were moving flying about and that was obvious by the fact that I only heard two more shots for the rest of the time I was there and as the sun began to rise into the sky, the mist briefly thickened again. Below is the top of the sea wall, to the right is the bird watching hide on the landward side and to the left are the salting where the wildfowlers were.

 Gradually the sun began to increase in power and colour and the whole marsh begun to look very picturesque. I was also able to eventually see and talk to the seven wildfowlers as they packed up for the morning. They were disappointed at the lack of first day shooting but like me, simply enjoyed being there to experience such a lovely sight.

All along the sea wall, on what seemed like every clump of grass, thousands of cobwebs had been highlighted by the damp and the mist.

As I walked back across the marsh to return home, it was 7.00 but the mist was still as thick and the cattle begun to appear as they made their way past me. It had been a lovely September morning.