Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Missing Things

A disappointing change in the weather was apparent today, cooler, a blustery wind and some heavy showers - not to my liking at all, much better the heat and dryness of the last few days. Time to be inside and write about several missing things.

I was talking to a good friend the other day who mostly wanders about on the marshes below Eastchurch Prison. One of the things that we discussed was the apparent absence this year of Marsh/Edible frogs across the marshes. I managed some photos of both in the Spring but since then I've had few sightings and even more noticeable has been the absence as we walk round, of the clamouring calls of the frogs. Normally at this time of the year, especially when its hot and humid as it has been recently, one would start calling and there would then be a massive ripple effect of calls right across the marsh as all the others joined in to answer. This year so far it has been noticeably quiet and we could only come up with the suggestion that the prolonged intense cold of last winter possibly killed many off whilst in hibernation.
Staying on the subject of Marsh/Edible frogs, and I'm talking about normal years now, something that has always puzzled me is the fact that I've never seen spawn of these frogs in any of the ditches. As anybody with both common frogs and a garden pond will be familiar with, every spring the pond is full of large clumps of spawn, so why do I not see the same on the marsh - do they do something different?

The scarcity of eels was another point of discussion, they are almost at the point of being classified as an endangered species now. In the 1970's-early 80's both of us used to either rod fish the ditches or spend every week of the summer fyke-netting across Sheppey's marshes and big numbers of eels were always guaranteed. Out of curiosity a couple of years ago I dug out my little lightweight rod, secured some garden worms and tried my luck in some perfect looking ditches in mid-summer. Four two-hour sessions produced a total catch of just two eels, which I returned to the water, but numerous Rudd. It was a really depressing experience and echoed the plight of that once common bird the House Sparrow - who'd of ever thought it. In all probability the excessive catching of returning elvers by the millions has had a lot to do with it.
By the way, most of Sheppey's fleets and ditches are full of Rudd and have been for around 30-40 years - how they originally got there is anybodies guess, just like the goldfish that one often comes acroos as well.

My pet subject on scarce things, as anybody who reads these posts regularly will know, is rabbits. The trouble with trying to convince people that this is indeed a fact, or at least on Harty it is, is that people go out for a drive and see say ten rabbits and class that as loads of rabbits. The trouble is that that number these days doesn't multiple all the way across the marsh like they used too, they are probably just one small isolated pocket of rabbits. Yes, there will always be some examples of big numbers, but in general, when you walk large areas like I do on a daily basis, its then that you realise just how few you are seeing. Land management staff can be guilty of the same tunnel vision and still talk at times as though rabbits are eating their way through the countryside in numbers like they were in Victorian times.
I have video footage taken on the Swale NNR around 15 years ago which shows around 400 rabbits on just one salt-working mound alone and the mound was stripped bare of any vegetation, it was just dry soil. Multiplied through the reserve we used to have thousands of them and they were a real problem but nowadays you couldn't total anywhere near 400 rabbits on the whole reserve and all the mounds and banks are overgrown. Obviously good news for some people, especially farmers, but I miss seeing them in good numbers and their shortage is missed as part of the local food chain by other wildlife. And why have they reduced so much, well disease is the biggest factor. They were always reduced each summer by myxymatosis but normally each autumn the survivors would quickly re-breed and recover their numbers but around the time that I took the video footage a new virus appeared on the scene. I can't recall the name of this one but it has been quite lethal and had a devastating effect on the rabbit numbers and isn't just seasonal as the myxy was. It has left large areas almost rabbit free and even where they are in small numbers, over exuberant culling by people who should know better, has reduced them still further.
Will I be believed? I doubt it, people still historically see the rabbit as a pest in the countryside and still to be found in the thousands, and many land managers will say that just one rabbit left is one too many!

Those of us who are members of the Kent Ornithological Society will have received our free copy of the 2009 Kent Bird Report this week. This booklet is an excellent and well written record, with photographs, of Kent bird news and most records of sightings and breeding. It is produced by an extremley hard working team of volunteers who in publishing this 2009 Report have through hard work brought the Reports as up-to date as they can be.
Reading through the Report I was surprised to find one recurring comment however, and this has nothing to do with the writers - a lack of breeding reports for Stodmarsh. There are breeding records for most other sites/patches but none, not even estimates, for one of the largest and most visited reserves in Kent. How can this be?
Quite clearly Natural England as the reserve's managers have failed to play their part but I'm also surprised that the regular local team of watchers there, that have even created blogs for the area, haven't managed any counts.

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