Driving along the marsh road to the reserve at first light this morning my car was registering an outside temperature of 8 degrees, almost tropical after the severe frost and freezing fog of the last few weeks! Walking back across the reserve later on, with the sun on my back, it felt as though Spring had arrived overnight, which of course it hadn't, but a forecast of milder weather for the next couple of weeks is long overdue.
Next Wednesday 1st February, sees the end of the game shooting season for this winter, while the day before also sees the end of the inland duck shooting season. Since New Year, the farmland game shoots around here seem to have intensified, with sometimes two or three a week, which I suppose is all about making money from the sport. It's of no real consequence to me, they're only shooting and killing artificially reared birds but the habitat that is preserved and maintained for such shooting is of great benefit to all manner of real wildlife. If there is one down side to game shooting it's the fact that licences are now being applied for and amazingly, issued, for some gamekeepers to "control" some raptors that are guilty of harassing and killing some of the millions of these game birds that are artificially reared to be shot.
With those two shooting seasons coming to an end, that won't be an end to the farmland hunting activities though. It is normally followed on Sheppey by one or two visits from the Fox Hunt and Beagle packs. Both hunt illegally in the traditional way, which is ignored by those in authority but it is particularly galling in the case of the Beagle pack which is often chasing and killing hares pregnant with young. There will also of course be pigeon and crow shooting, both officially classed as pest species.
The end of wildfowl shooting inland on the 31st January does not mean the end of the wildfowl shooting season completely though. For the first three weeks of February wildfowlers are still allowed to carry on shooting below the Mean Hide Tide mark. In respect of the reserve that means out on the saltings in front of the reserve just as they have been all winter. For me, that isn't a problem, because as regular readers of this blog will know, I get on very well with the wildfowlers there now, have even become an Associated non-shooting Member of their Association. As far as various types of shooting goes, these are the real tough guys. No sitting round corn-fed inland duck ponds, a few yards from their cars, no being driven from field to field to shoot gamebirds, these guys do it the hard way and often on their own. They will often have to walk long distances along sea walls, then walk out across mudflats or saltings, often in pre-dawn darkness. They will then spend the next few hours standing in deep mud in freezing temperatures, in the optimistic hope that a duck or goose will just happen to fly in their direction.
This winter, as far as the area in front of the reserve goes, the wildfowlers have had a pretty lean season, due mainly to the dryness of the reserve attracting few wildfowl. They're a hardy bunch and I have just one complaint about them, this season seems to have seen an increase in out of range birds being shot at. Even to my inexperienced eyes it has been clear at times that birds up to 100yds or more away have been shot at, which is well outside the effective killing range. This can see some birds carrying around injuries for some length of time before they expire.
It is now looking extremely doubtful that any serious volumes of water are going to rain apon the reserve before the Spring and so we can expect some pretty serious drought conditions to affect us and the wildlife this summer.