Some visitors to the Swale NNR will park outside Harty Church and walk down to the reserve from there. But what of the buildings that you park alongside.
The church itself dates back in its reasonably current form to around 1089, with one or two additions since then. Alongside it until a few weeks ago stood the empty and derelict Harty schoolhouse, home in recent years to mainly owls and other assorted wildlife. It had been built in c.1872 to educate the children living on the numerous farms and cottages scattered across Harty, and there quite a few of them. The line of small cottages close by, with the enviable view across the Swale, were also housing for farm labourers and they are still inhabited today, although their condition is less than desirable.
By following the track down to the seawall alongside the Swale, one of the first things that becomes noticeable are some old hulks out on the edge of the saltings. These are all that is now left of two old sailing barges, the "Lizard" and the "New World", both of them once carriers of the cement that was made at factories along the Medway and at Elmley in the Swale. The "Lizard" was built in 1891 in Rochester and the "New World" in 1877 in Sittingbourne. As was the common practise at the time, as barges came to the end of their working life many were "hulked" by simply abandoning them on the mudflats along the Swale and Medway, and several others can be seen further into the Swale.
When I was working for the old Kent River Authority in the 1960's, maintaining Sheppey's seawalls and ditches, what is now the Swale NNR looked pretty much as it does now, the only difference being that the surrounding farmland, now much converted to arable, also looked the same and extended that habitat over a far greater area. The area was also, due to its remoteness, much less visited by the public and somewhat unprotected from poaching, shooting and all manner of disturbances unwelcome today, except of course wildfowling. But for all that it was a cracking place that retained an air of mystery and a feeling of secrets yet to be discovered, and I loved it.
Fortunately the Nature Conservancy Council, Natural England's predecessors, with much draining and leveling of the majority of the Harty marshes going on at the time, began in 1974 the process of buying the numerous parcels of land that have now become the reserve. In doing that they have retained a part of Sheppey's traditional North Kent marshes heritage. It was surprising how many owners there were to such a relatively small area of 165 hectares but eventually in around 1976 the reserve began being declared and came into being. The only piece to today which is still leased is the Shellness shellspit and first three quarters of a mile of saltings and these are leased from the owners of the Shellness Hamlet.