Friday, 2 March 2012

Spring was here - briefly.

Well as I write this blog mid-morning today its cold, misty and damp and the weather of the last four days seems like a dream already. With rain, sleet and stronger winds forecast for the weekend here it's now looks grotty for the weekender birdwatchers, but despite now being retired, I had my share of such frustrations. But it has been great this last few days and as well as getting in an hour or two of early sunbathing yesterday, I also got out for my first warm bike ride of the year.
The sun also brought out the first flush of primroses in my garden,

and overnight the frogs appeared and set about laying spawn in the pond with great vigour and much wrestling.

Its doubtful that I'll visit the reserve today, its too misty and damp and I'll give my aching feet a rest I think and anyway it gets a tad boring recording the same birds every day.
The farmland around the reserve has been been quite active over the last few weeks, with the ploughing up of the Shellness grazing marshes to the fore. The cultivations have certainly gone some way to improving the soil if nothing else. Huge tonnages of the white gypsum were spread across the fields pre-ploughing to act as a soil conditioner. When I was an apprentice gardener I was taught that gypsum helps prevent clay particles sticking together and therefore creates a more open soil structure, rather than the typical clay that is either water-logged in winter or cracked in the summer. Manure from their huge cattle stockyards at Eastchurch was also spread and then the ground ploughed. It has been suggested that the fields will be sown with maize this year which is normally harvested in the autumn, with the whole plant being shredded during harvesting to be used as cattle feed.

Elsewhere on the farmland there has been much shooting taking place along the hedgerows and in the spinneys as several syndicates use up their options to carry out regular pest controls in the form of pigeon shooting over the rape fields. Until you see the huge size of some of these Woodpigeon flocks and then walk into the rape and see how much the plants have been stripped of leafage, its difficult to understand the justification for these measures. The National Farmers Union claim that annual pigeon damage in East Anglia alone costs farmers up to £53m, with 77per cent of growers suffering losses. Clearly such losses would cut no ice with those that oppose the culling of any pest species but never mind and lets us move on to another piece of reality. Hopefully anytime soon, those same pigeon shooters will turn their attention to the large crow flock that is roaming part of the reserve and the farmland. Currently the flock is averaging around 120+ birds and although it will reduce soon as some birds move away to breed there are always those that don't.
All the indications this year, as a result of the deepening drought, are that Lapwings are going to have a very difficult breeding season on Sheppey at least. All the new rills and scrapes that we dug on the reserve to provide shallow water and muddy fringes teeming with insect life for hungry chicks, are currently dust dry and pretty certain not to improve. Every Lapwing chick that we can hatch and fledge this year will have a vital role to play in a decreasing population and so its hardly rocket science to realise what effect a roving flock of crows will have across the breeding fields. Whole clutches of eggs are stolen and eaten on an hourly/daily basis and its very easy to lose a large part of a breeding season to these birds - so their numbers have to be reduced, simple as that.


  1. A really interesting piece Derek re farming practices and reasoned and considered views re the problems facing the Lapwings. Have you given up on the Crow traps ?

  2. How on earth is my comment timed at 10.18 am ?

  3. Ken,
    Crow traps remain a necessary part of successful pest controls.
    Haven't a clue about the timing of your comment, presumably a Blogspot quirk.