Read our monthly blogs from one of the team.
Magnificent Meadows – Mary Tate
With the end of the Magnificent Meadows Project in sight, the last events being delivered and the hay being baled, it is a good opportunity to look back at the success of the project over the last three years.
The Save our Magnificent Meadow project started in 2014 with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project was unique in its delivery in that it was National covering nine landscape areas across the UK including England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The ambitions aims of the project, which was led by Wildflower Charity Plantlife, were to target just under 6,000 hectares of wildflower meadows and grasslands to create restore and maintain their cover, to raise awareness and give people the opportunity to discover and explore meadows in their local area has not only been achieved but exceeded by the National project making it an important case study and example for similar projects in the future.
In Kent we have been working across Maidstone, Tonbridge and Malling. We have worked with 60 landowners, trained over 70 volunteers and run 18 family events worked with 10 schools and created/helped to restore 10 hectares of wildflower meadow in the area.
The most unexpected outcome of the project was the sheer national coverage the project provided for the Partnership. We have been invited to conferences and site visits all over the UK and have spoken at National conferences about the great work the project has been doing with Volunteers throughout the area. It is brilliant to be acknowledged for our part in this fantastic project.
But this really is just the start of the project. There is a clear appetite for this type of project in the area and we are hoping to continue the great work with more funding in the future. Look out for our forthcoming video which will summarise the project with features for every site it has covered from Scotland to Wiltshire to Kent (featuring our very own National Meadows Day celebrations!)
Don’t forget that National Meadows Day will continue to be celebrated every first Saturday of July from now on so look out for an event near you next year to even better out on an event of your own to join in the celebration.
If you would like to know more about the project please get in touch with Mary the Save our Magnificent Meadows Officer.
Notes from a Barn Owl Surveyor – Mark Pritchard
Barn owls remain a favourite with the public, a crepuscular ghostly apparition, quartering meadows and fields in search of prey. Although not that easily seen they are the only owl species to be found on every continent (except Antarctica) so how are they doing in our patch? At MVCP we have a long-standing relationship with this lovely bird, having erected a series of nest boxes from Tonbridge to Maidstone and beyond some 15 years ago following the course of the river Medway.
This of course begs the question why do we survey, is it just curiosity or is there a point to it all? Well, surveying is in part natural curiosity, that particularly British gene which likes to collect and collate. However, without on-going monitoring we simply don’t know how well any species is doing. Not only is it emblematic of our Kentish landscape but it is a good indicator species as to the health, or otherwise, of the wider landscape. If the barn owl isn’t present then the grassland habitats on which it relies are not producing enough prey items (mainly voles and shrews but the occasional bird and frog too). It’s absence may also reflect changing land use practices as old decrepit barns become transformed into homes, and an insufficient number of large mature trees exist to supply nest sites.
The owl itself opens up conversations with land-owners as it can be a good pest-controller. Plus by allowing the longer grassland required to sustain the vole population later into the growing season, this also allows wild flower meadows to develop and persist, offering forage for much needed beneficial insects such as pollinating bumblebees, as well as myriad other species of butterflies and birds.
So how are they doing? Well as it happens quite well, and much of this is down to providing nest sites for them to breed in. Without nest box schemes Colin Shawyer, the barn owl guru, estimates that the UK would have only about 1000 pairs but the BTO now says is is substantially in excess of 4000 pairs, although no one knows for sure.
Barn owls are an open ground species so a box on a large tree over-looking their favoured long grassland habitat, or on a pole erected along a field-margin can both do well. Our preliminary checks this season indicate it will be a reasonable year, with owlets found in 40% of sites monitored and the best brood size 5 at a reliably good site in Yalding.
Natural Flood Management – Louise Smith
Since Storm Angus in November, things in Kent have been dry, really dry with the exception of a few rainy days here and there; there has barely been the need for a waterproof!
So with all this dry weather and a reassuring lack of flood risk it’s fair to say that for most people thinking about and planning for floods is very far from their minds. However, with more unpredictable weather patterns and increasingly short lived heavy downpours falling on that lovely dry ground the chances of flooding are ever more likely. Which is why I’m busy working on natural flood management measures across Kent to protect individual properties and communities.
In November 2016 the Government announced £15 million of investment towards Natural Flood Management (NFM) across the UK. Approaching NFM in this way and using it alongside traditional engineered flood defensives can only be a good thing for protecting communities and helping to enhance and protect the natural environment.
NFM alone won’t be able to protect against severe flood events but they can be used to reduce the cost and scale of traditional measures and hard engineering. There are also additional benefits from using NFM, creation of wetlands, tree planting, wet grassland and remeandering rivers, increases or even creates habitat, helps to protect species and generally supports a more rich and diverse environment. Plus NFM is cheaper to maintain and if done properly is more sustainable!
NFM can also be used to help reduce the risk of drought; tree cover and wetlands can help to replenish the aquifers and groundwater. Improved soil management to reduce run-off in heavy rain also increases absorption which can help during drier periods.
Working with nature rather than constantly trying to cajole and control the environment is far easier has greater success and offers many more benefits for people and wildlife.