Last Saturday, 1st September, I arrived on the seawall of the reserve just as a rather splendid dawn was breaking over Shellness Hamlet, as you can see above. Darkness was turning to half-light, Curlews were calling out on the mudflats, a few Swallows zipped by into the gloom, excitedly leaving England behind and all was September calm.
I arrived that early in order to monitor the first morning of the new wildfowling season, which in the reserve's case, takes place on and over the saltings in front of the reserve. The first few mornings can often see up to twenty odd Kent Wildfowling and Conservation Association (KWCA) members strung out along the saltings and tucked down in the muddy, tidal gullies that dissect the saltings. Some may be regular members simply anxious to be out and about again, some may be new members completely new to the sport. At first on Saturday I thought that none had turned up as I scanned the saltings in the half light for the tell-tale heads sticking above the level of the vegetation, but eventually I spotted just three guys. That's one of the lowest first-morning turn outs that I've seen but I guess some may of done their homework and realising that both water and wildfowl on the reserve were in very short supply, had not bothered, or gone somewhere else.
From what I've seen and heard since, somewhere else could of been in front of the Oare nature reserve, just across the Swale. Here apparently, there were around twelve KWCA members shooting successfully in the morning, with others returning in the evening, and several Greylag Geese and some duck were witnessed being shot there by birdwatchers during the morning session.
Now, here's where I struggle with what side of the line that my feet should be placed in respect of wildfowling. Regular readers of my blog will know that in recent times I have shown some degree of support for the wildfowlers and what, in the overall picture of things, that they achieve for conservation. I believe that the ever-increasing portfolio of shooting areas under their ownership/management helps enormously in preserving vital habitat that others cannot themselves afford to buy, and that generally, their shooting has a minimal affect on wildfowl stocks. Unfortunately however, I think that in respect of Oare they're both getting it wrong and missing an opportunity to prove their conservation crudentials.
At Oare the wildfowlers are allowed to stand and shoot from the base of the seawall which brings them into extremely close contact with the rest of the visiting public using the footpath on top of the seawall, at the same time highlighting at very close range, the killing of wildfowl to many who are opposed to it. Talking to a daily birdwatcher at Oare after the weekend, who fortunately does not have the extreme views regarding wildfowling that many birdwatchers have, it appears that people such as a twice-daily group of lady dog walkers have already been forced to re-schedule their walks there because both they and their dogs get traumatised by shotguns being discharged close by. That really shouldn't be happening.
I'm not familiar with most of their shooting sites but imagine that Oare must be one of the worst for bringing the wildfowlers and the public into such close contact and given that they have been extending their portfolio by buying land in Cambs., Essex and Sussex I do wonder if they could be more relaxed in respect of Oare. An Association that purports to, and actually does, do a lot for the conservation of wildfowl stocks, does little to prove that fact to its detractors when its members stand within yards of a nature reserve and attempt to kill the wildfowl that the reserve is trying to attract and protect.
I was talking about the problem to a chum the other day, who has been a lifelong wildfowler and who ironically spends a lot of time at Oare photographing the birds and other wildlife. But while he can understand and sympathise with the views of the public there he like most of the wildfowlers, still uses the argument that the wildfowlers were there first, long before it was a nature reserve. Fair enough and the Kent Trust would of been aware of that fact when they started up the reserve but I still feel that by continuing to take such a rigid stance at a site where it is possibly unique for both the KWCA and the public to be so closely intergrated, that the KWCA are missing a golden opportunity to raise their profile as conservationists. I doubt, despite having an ever expanding shooting portfolio, that they would everone give up the shooting rights there, but just reducing the amount of shooting available there would help enormously. Its all food for thought.
P.S. Since posting this blog I have been advised that allegedly, on returning to their cars in the reserve car park Saturday morning, a few of the wildfowlers found that their cars had been vandalised. If this is true, it is hardly going to encourage any kind of softening of their attitude towards their shooting there to be made, some people do have rather blinkered views on how to go about things.
On an entirely different subject, I noticed this morning that the two RSPB fields below Muswell Manor at Leysdown, have now been cut for hay and that work is going on in a third field alongside. With much spilt wild seed laying in those fields now, lets hope that we get a repeat there again this winter, of the record flocks of Lapland Buntings that we had last winter.