The majority of the reserve has had it's annual vegetation "topping" over the last couple of weeks, in some fields it's pretty much negligible but in others, as above, it is quite noticeable. It is a necessary exercise each year in order to reduce the overpowering growth of club rush in some fields such as The Flood, vegetation that renders those areas as unattractive to the type of birds that the reserve is trying to attract and be seen. It is also vital to catch thistles just as they begin to flower and by doing so prevent millions of seed heads being blown across the grazing meadows and neighbouring farm land.
I know some of the less informed naturalists out there see the cutting of thistles just as they are flowering and becoming attractive to all manner of butterflies and insects, as some kind of travesty but it is something that has always been part of farmland management for hundreds of years. There's nothing worse for a landowner than to see huge clouds of thistle down blowing off a neighbour's land and spreading the seed all across his hay meadows.
Despite the fact that we had a mild winter, early spring and so far, dry and sunny summer, it has been a disappointing summer so far on the reserve for butterflies and dragonflies. After last year's large numbers of both species and the mild winter, we had reckoned on another bumper year but it just hasn't happened so far. Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies appeared in good numbers in the spring but so far haven't re-appeared at all, the Meadow Brown and Skippers are in small numbers and I have seen few Small Heaths and no Gatekeepers. Dragonflies are the same, with very few being seen along the ditches and waterways on the reserve and it's all a bit hard to understand, perhaps the long periods of wet, waterlogged or flooded weather last winter had something to do with it.
That aside, birds this year on the reserve appear to be having a superb breeding season, many more broods of ducklings have been recorded than in recent years, around 25-30 pairs of Skylarks have bred but by far the biggest success story this year is Lapwings and Redshanks.
Five co-ordinated breeding counts of Lapwings and Redshanks take place each year on the whole of the Elmley NNR, (including the ex-RSPB site) and The Swale NNR and combined totals from these sites recorded 513 pairs of Lapwings fledging 550 chicks. With a productivity of 1.07 chicks per pair this could see the area achieve top spot in Lapwing productivity in lowland wet grassland in the whole of the country and huge credit must go to the Elmley Conservation Trust management for creating the habitat that has achieved this.
With the autumn migration now seemingly underway already, noticeable by the large numbers of hirundines already moving south and passage waders such as Wood and Green Sandpipers now appearing at places such as the Oare floods, the Swale Wader Group carried out the first of their annual autumn/winter ringing sessions on the Swale NNR last week. Unfortunately, due to the dry conditions, few birds were caught but one re-trapped Redshank was of interest. The bird was first rung as a juvenile at Shellness on the 31st July 2000, re-trapped at Harty on the 12th August 2011 and now re-trapped again. At 14 years of age it is the 6th oldest Redshank re-trap, with the oldest being over 16 years old.
Lastly, I was left exasperated again last week after reading the account of one blogger's visit to Sevenoaks wildfowl reserve. While there he was surprised to see a large Mink coming towards him along one of the tracks, whereupon it quickly disappeared into the undergrowth. Questioning it being allowed to be there at the Visitor Centre he was advised that they only trap Mink outside the breeding season, a procedure that I have mentioned before that is also carried out at the Oare nature reserve. Mink are one of the worst wildlife killers that you can have on a wetland nature reserve and can decimate breeding bird populations. Culling them for two thirds of a year but then allowing them to breed and increase in numbers for the other third is plain barmy but is so typical of the weird views of some conservationist these days. It's a bit like going to war but only firing blanks at the enemy in case you hurt them!