Welcome

This site has been created in order to promote and protect the countryside and the wild flora and fauna of the area around Bridge village and the Nailbourne Valley in East Kent. We hope that you find the site enjoyable and informative; but more than this, we hope that it will inspire you to support the conservation of our natural wildlife and landscape heritage for the future.

LOCAL VIEWS
  • Church Meadow, Bridge

    Church Meadow, Bridge

  • The Meadows, Bridge

    The Meadows, Bridge

Yellow birds at the Butts

Yellow birds at the Butts

Valentine's Day 2017 was a beautiful day of warm sunshine, and it was further enhanced by the sight of about twenty, or possibly more, Yellowhammers congregating in a hedge near the old railway bridge at the Butts. Such flocks of Yellowhammers were once a familiar sight on British farmland, but their numbers have declined dramatically in recent decades. What a delight to see them resident here. (Picture Copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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The avian flu poultry alert

The avian flu poultry alert

Following an outbreak of avian flu in parts of Europe and the UK, the British Government's Chief Veterinary Officer has ordered poultry keepers (and anyone else with captive birds) to keep all birds indoors in an effort to keep them separated from wild birds which may have contracted the disease. Members of the public who spot dead swans, ducks or geese or groups of 5 or more dead birds of any species in a countryside location are urged to inform Defra on their helpline number 03459 335577. (Picture Copyright © BridgeNature.org 2015)
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Hope blooms in Snowdrops

Hope blooms in Snowdrops

In sun dappled woodland across the parish of Bridge, Snowdrops, the flowers of hope, are blooming. They may appear to be white (of course that's how they got their name) but look underneath and you will see that the humble Snowdrop is in fact a bright colourful flower, and they aren't just pretty, they contain Galantamine which is now certified medicinally for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. However the flowers themselves should not be eaten and the bulbs are poisonous. (Picture Copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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first spring cellandine

first spring cellandine

The bright yellow flower of the Lesser Cellandine is widely regarded as the Messenger of Spring. In his book ‘The Natural History of Selborne’, Gilbert White states that the Lesser Cellandine flowers from about 21 February, but modern observers suggest it more usually appears at some time in March. This year we recorded our first sighting of a flower on 20 February down by the ford on Mill Lane, Bridge. For our previous article on this flower click 'Read more' below. (Picture Copyright © BridgeNature.org 2016)
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Campaigns for conservation

Valued countryside: fields at Brickfield Farm, Bridge. The historic Bridge Place can be seen in the background. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

BridgeNature.org was conceived in 2012 with the objective of encouraging the appreciation of the wildlife and countryside in our local area. We began with a monthly newsletter, but later moved on to a website with regular articles, environmental information and picture galleries.

This is all very well meaning and, we hope, informative, but it has little value if we are not prepared to stand up and be counted when the very countryside and wildlife which we write about is under threat. So, from the outset, BridgeNature.org has campaigned zealously to protect our countryside with lobbying letters to local bodies like The Kent Downs AONB Management Unit, Kent Wildlife Trust and Natural England, as well as our own Parish Council and Canterbury City Council. We have also spoken on behalf of our countryside, hedgerows, trees and wildlife at public meetings and planning consultations.

So far, the success rate of campaigns which we have initiated or with which we have been associated has been astonishing, but it has been a team effort involving members of public bodies, action groups and of course the support of the public.

1. In 2014 we reported on an application to build a large equestrian arena and accommodation block in a field next to the hop farm in Bourne Park. This would have had a dramatic impact on the local scenery and would have brought heavy traffic into the area. In combination with Bishopsbourne Parish Council and local residents we campaigned to stop the progress of the application. The proposal was refused. Success

2. In 2015 we supported a resident in Union Road, Bridge, who was campaigning to save some of the oldest trees in the village from being felled by a local property developer. Together, and with immense public support, we achieved our aim. Only one tree (a dead one) was cut down. Success

3. In 2015 and 2016 we joined the campaign led by some residents of Lower Hardres and Nackington to stop the development of a huge solar farm between Nackington and Bridge on some of the best agricultural land in Britain. Bridge Parish Council Planning Committee voted to take a neutral stance on the issue, but, as a result of the combined protests of other local authorities, concerned environmental groups and the public, the proposal was twice withdrawn and now appears to have disappeared. Success

Sparrows in a devastated nesting site, Mill Lane, Bridge, 17 July, 2015. The result of inappropriate hedge cutting practices by Canterbury City Council. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

4. In late Summer 2014, 2015 and again in 2016, we made formal complaints to Canterbury City Council and Natural England regarding CCC’s regular policy of cutting the hedge on Mill Lane, Bridge, during the nesting season while a number of birds were clearly nesting there. This has led to the annual devastation of active nesting sites. To date CCC have not changed their policy, claiming that the hedge cutting is to make the road safe! This is nonsense. BridgeNature.org will continue to campaign to prevent this vandalism in our parish and we are now in contact with CCC Councilor Simon Cook who is kindly working with us to resolve this issue. Pending
***UPDATE***
On 5 Jan 2017 we were informed that this issue has now been resolved and the hedge will be cut after 31 August each year in compliance with modern environmental guidelines. We thank Councilor Simon Cook for his efforts in bringing about this change. Success

5. In Spring 2016 we campaigned to save two trees on Bridge Recreation Ground from being hacked back to their stumps in the potentially terminal exercise of pollarding. Two beautiful, healthy mature trees were to be vandalised simply because they were considered to be taking up too much room and causing moss on the tennis courts which were built in a damp location long after the trees were planted. Bridge Parish Council initially approved the pollarding, but, with a BridgeNature.org campaign involving local residents, letters to the Parish Council and the rigorous lobbying of Canterbury City Council Planning Department the Parish Council were persuaded to change their policy. The trees remain under threat, but we are ever vigilant. Success

6. Since conception BridgeNature.org has campaigned to protect the green fields around Bridge from housing development. They lie within our designated Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so housing development on them is generally restricted, but that has not stopped a long list of city councilors, parish councilors, prospective MPs, landowners, confused residents and aspiring property tycoons from trying to build there in order to satisfy their own wants. BridgeNature.org has spoken out vociferously on this issue, and just this month our views were endorsed by a government inspector who ruled that a city council proposal for a housing development of 40 houses cannot go ahead on Brickfield Farm, Bridge, because it would breach planning law and damage our AONB. We thank all those who joined us in this campaign. Success

These successes in protecting our wildlife and countryside have not necessarily been brought about by some innate ability or powerful political authority, they have been achieved by the combined actions of ‘people who care’ standing up to make their voices heard, or, more practically, sitting down to write, sometimes in defiance of local political authority.

The countryside of our AONB and the trees within our Conservation Areas have been protected by law for the good of us all and the future generations who follow because they are rare assets in an increasingly urbanised national landscape. Who would seek to destroy such treasures? Only the ignorant, the arrogant and the selfish; but we have all within our midst! Whatever the ambitions, lack of awareness or political powers of such people, we must make it clear to them that we will not allow them to destroy the things that we hold dear, and the more people who join in that call the louder it will be heard.

As 2016 draws to a close BridgeNature.org thanks all those residents who have supported our campaigns to date and we hope that you will support us in the future.

Brickfields, a farm reprieved

Brickfield Farm, Bridge, May 2015. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Following Canterbury City Council’s recent proposal to include the building of 40 new dwellings at Brickfield Farm, Bridge, on their new District Local Plan, the government inspector who checks such plans has written to the city council telling them that he is refusing permission for that inclusion and the proposal must be removed from the plan. The inspector gave his verdict on the basis that such development would damage The Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty within which Bridge village and much of our surrounding countryside is situated. We include this from the inspector’s letter:

“Brickfield Farm, Bridge (allocation for 40 dwellings). This is one of the sites that the Council has identified to address the 5-year housing land supply position. I am not satisfied that the inclusion of this site has been justified, particularly in terms of its effect on the Kent Downs AONB in which it is located. It could be considered through the emerging Neighbourhood Plan but the MM [Main Modification] proposing its inclusion in the LP [Local Plan] should be removed, as should the proposed change to the PM [Proposals Map].”

*NB: We have added what we believe are the correct explanations of abbreviations in brackets.

This is a wonderful reprieve for Brickfields and a vindication for all those who have campaigned to protect our local countryside, but something even more important has happened here: this inspector’s judgement is a victory for all the National Parks and AONBs across the nation because it acknowledges and verifies the significance of designated areas of protected countryside and recognises that reckless and irresponsible housing development by local authorities must not be allowed to go ahead in protected areas.

While this is excellent news, the new Bridge Neighbourhood Plan still includes plans to build on Brickfield Farm. Our Neighbourhood Plan Committee may say they want small scale incremental development now, but, over the years, this adds up and consumes just as much land as one large development. We currently have 8 dwellings on Brickfields with a proposal for 8 more. Is this the final tally, or when and where will it end? Those of us who have been working for years to prevent building development on the green fields of our AONB (often in the face of sneering disinterest from within the Parish Council) now have the backing of a government inspector with the view that housing development across the fields at Brickfield Farm would constitute unacceptable damage to a designated landscape and a breach of the law which protects it. In the future Brickfield Farm must not be held in limbo, as a building site waiting to be built on, it must be recognised for the valuable farmland that it is: a treasured asset in our sector of the AONB which we are legally and morally obliged to conserve for future generations.

When making his comments, the government inspector was checking Canterbury District Local Plan, he was not examining the (yet to be completed, yet to be adopted) Bridge Neighbourhood Plan and has therefore made no criticism of it; that plan will be examined later, on its own terms. In the meantime BridgeNature.org urges all our residents who care about our local countryside to make it clear to our Parish Council at every opportunity that they should respect the designation of our AONB together with the import and implication of the government inspector’s decision. With hundreds of new affordable homes about to be built at Mountfield Park, just 3 minutes’ travel away from Bridge, we believe further housing development on Brickfields is not acceptable; in the bright new light cast by the government’s inspectorate building more housing on Brickfields would constitute wilful, obdurate vandalism, and any suggestion of it should be removed from the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan.

BridgeNature.org would like to express thanks to all those who have voted, campaigned and written letters against development on Brickfields. Somewhere up in the ether your voices have been heard.

 

The return of the Redwing

One of a flock of about 20 Redwings, Bridge Meadows, 4 December 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

This month we have a small flock of about 20 Redwings apparently living in or near Bridge Meadows.

BridgeNature.org last reported on a Redwing sighting in March 2016 when one bird was spotted in a wheat field near Flint Cottages. The Redwing is, in theory, a relatively common bird in northern continental Europe, Scandinavia, and across the Baltic states to Russia, where it lives out in open countryside. With about 690,000 (1) visiting this country between October and March to enjoy our milder climate, one might assume the bird is a regular sight in Britain too, but most of those birds that come here apparently locate themselves in northern England or Scotland, so we do not believe it is a common bird in this area and we have only made one previous observation here, although other people may have seen them.

With a similar appearance to a thrush, the Redwing is indeed the smallest bird of the thrush family; it can be distinguished by a thick pale stripe above the eye and an orange-red tinge to the flank. This red patch becomes more evident on the underwing in flight.

There are two sub-species of Redwings which can be differentiated: the smaller Scandinavian bird (the more common) which we have in our meadows this month, and the Icelandic bird which is slightly larger. Both visit the UK for Winter and, interestingly, the lone Redwing observed near Flint Cottages back in March was noticeably larger than the current birds, so perhaps it was one of the Icelandic species.

Only about 4-16 pairs of Redwings are thought to breed in the UK each year (2), and they are now an RSPB Red List endangered species in this country.

(1), (2) RSPB figures.

Footprints in the mud

The shape, size and sharp edges of this print suggest it is from a deer. (Ruler measures in centimeters). Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

This week BridgeNature.org received reports of unusual animal footprints on land within the Bridge and Bishopsbourne area, so a field visit was made to try to discover the identity of the animal which made the prints.

The field in question is unfenced, holds no livestock and has been ploughed, so the surface is very rough, but a path across it has been made smooth by the regular passing of walkers and it appears that ramblers of another kind have also used the path leaving their footprints as evidence.

The prints themselves present as a weathered and worn jumble of old and more recent indentations of different sizes and shapes, but essentially two shapes appear prevalent. The first shape is the smaller in size and features what we believe is the print of a cloven hoof, curving in a tight horseshoe shape with a gap at the front. This print has sharp, pointed edges. These features make it typical of a deer. The most obvious candidates to make such prints in this area would be the fallow deer which inhabit Kings Wood near Challock and are known to range across the woodland and open countryside at least as far as the A2 at Barham. Fallow deer are observed regularly in the summer on farmland near the Duck at Pett Bottom and we have received a confirmed report of a small deer of unidentified species in fields between Pett Bottom and Bishopsbourne. Other possible candidates for making the prints may be roe deer which live in the west of Kent and are known to be gradually moving east; but, as yet we have no confirmed sightings of them in this area.

Possible wild boar print? Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

The second type of prints appear bigger suggesting a larger animal of some kind. The foot imprint does not resemble the split horseshoe shape of the others, and the prints are less sharply defined. Are these the prints of large adult fallow deer, a different deer, or something else altogether?

One suggestion which has been put forward to us is that these may be the prints of wild boar. It is a possibility: wild boar do live in Kent and have been sighted in this district (actually in Bekesbourne) within the last six years or so. Wild boar have pig-like trotters which do not leave the sharp horseshoe shaped prints of deer: the impression left by boar is more like two slightly diverging toe shapes with curved edges and a rounded foot shape behind. This could fit with some of the prints in our field, although in soft mud we would expect to see evidence of dew claw prints behind the foot and there is little evidence of them. However, perhaps supporting the possibility of wild boar, two sets of tracks of these heavier footprints lead away from the relatively smooth path and set off over the ploughed field leaving deep, wide indentations in the earth suggestive of heavy creatures with feet covered in thick mud. This does not seem characteristic of deer.

What made these large prints? Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Our mystery remains at least partially unsolved and we retain an open mind as to what creatures may have made all the footprints. In order to provide a possible answer in the future, we would very much welcome news of readers’ sightings of deer or wild boar in our area if and when they occur.

Detail of the prints above. This print from a heavier animal is much larger yet retains a split curve at the front. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

The unfamiliar Mipit

Meadow Pipit, Sheep Dip lane, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Meadow Pipit, Sheep Dip lane, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Silhouetted against the bright sky and a low winter sun, birds sitting on power lines and telephone wires can be virtually impossible to identify with the naked eye, so many visiting species simply go unnoticed. But modern technology can sometimes help, as in the case of the picture above. This bird was photographed this Autumn while perched on a power line near the Nailbourne when the bird was far too far away to be distinguished with the naked eye, and even through a zoom lens; but it was later identified on the computer screen as a Meadow Pipit.

Residents of Bridge may be surprised to know that the Meadow Pipit, which some experts abbreviate to ‘Mipit’, is a resident British bird and numerically one of our most common, but they are an upland species and their distribution is to the north and west of the country, so they are by no means a regular sight in this area. In Winter British numbers are supplemented by migrants from the north: many from Greenland and Iceland find their way to Ireland and the west of England but birds in our area are more likely to be visitors from Scandinavia. They tend to be lowland ground feeders with a preference for marshy or waterside locations where they eat beetles, spiders and a range of flies, particularly the cranefly (daddy long-legs).

Bird-watchers often have difficulty distinguishing the Meadow Pipit from the skylark, but the skylark’s head crest is generally the giveaway. Yet another bird, which looks very similar at a distance, was recorded on the same power line at exactly the same time as the Mipit. This bird sported similar colouring to the Mipit, but the beak was short and stubby while the Mipit’s beak is markedly narrow and pointed. These features were impossible to distinguish on location under a bright winter sun, but having examined the picture of the second bird, we believe it is a corn bunting. Corn buntings and skylarks are both regularly observed in our local meadows and they were featured in our article ‘Somewhere over the railway…’ which can be found here:

http://www.bridgenature.org/?s=corn+bunting

Corn Bunting?, Sheep Dip lane, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Corn Bunting? Sheep Dip lane, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Vermin over the hill

Wild Rabbit, Star Hill, Bridge. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Wild Rabbit, Star Hill, Bridge. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

This week wild rabbits were culled using ferrets to unearth them on Star Hill in Bridge. “Quite right too,” some locals said, “they’re just vermin!”.

We often hear the term ‘vermin’ cast casually and disparagingly at certain animals, which are regarded with disdain, while others are treated with favour. So, what exactly is the definition of vermin, and what does it mean in consequential terms?

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines vermin as “Mammals and birds injurious to game, crops etc., e.g. foxes, weasels, rats, mice, moles, owls; noxious insects e.g. fleas, bugs, lice; parasitic worms or insects; (fig) vile persons”. It’s a very vague definition, which seems open to the inclusion of any creature which eats the crops in our fields, kills game birds before they can be shot in sport, or irritates us in some other way.

Across Britain that small OED list of so-called vermin has, at one time or another, been stretched to include: magpies, seagulls, crows, rooks, stoats, kingfishers, house sparrows, rabbits, deer, red squirrels, grey squirrels, pigeons, snakes, woodpigeons, kites, buzzards, frogs, eagles, geese, wild cats, domestic cats caught poaching, collared doves, ducks, jackdaws, rooks, jays, curlews, pole cats, lapwings, oystercatchers, choughs, dippers, water voles, hedgehogs, wolves, hawks, otters, bullfinches, hares, green woodpeckers, badgers and many other animals which today we would call wildlife.

A few of these creatures, like the wolf, the flea and the adder were obvious candidates for extermination in the survival instincts of our ancient ancestors, but many of the names on the list come from the Preservation of Grain Act of 1532, which ordered the public to take part in a mass killing of rural wildlife for the sake of preserving farm produce. Some animals, like woodpigeons, rats and rabbits clearly were legitimate threats to farm crops, but many others like lapwings, water voles and hedgehogs were killed simply because of ignorance about their lifestyles. In some cases the law was used as a cover for killing animals for superstitious reasons rather than for any real threat they posed to agriculture, and millions of other creatures were killed under the law because they were good to eat rather than because they caused any nuisance.

Masquerading as the eradication of vermin, this killing frenzy went on across Britain for many decades until, in the mid 18th century, it was stopped because of general alarm at the massive devastation done to our wildlife and countryside. By then, it was too late for some animals, and to this day their numbers have never recovered. However, a century later, with the burgeoning popularity of ‘country sports’ like hunting, shooting, fishing, badger baiting and hare coursing, the mass killing of so-called vermin had escalated again, and by the mid 19th century it was once more being conducted on an enormous scale until a series of animal protection acts were brought in to reduce the slaughter.

Young fox, Bekesbourne. Contrary to popular assumption foxes are not legally defined as vermin: if they cause a nuisance they can be shot or lethally injected by a vet, but cruel treatment to a fox constitutes a serious criminal offence. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Young fox, Bekesbourne. Contrary to popular assumption foxes are not legally defined as vermin: if they cause a nuisance they can be shot or lethally injected by a vet, but cruel treatment to a fox constitutes a serious criminal offence. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

In British law there is no legal definition of vermin: it is not written in stone. Today, many of the animals which were once persecuted are now treasured and encouraged for the biodiversity they bring to our countryside. Even now this considered approach has its detractors. A lot of rural folk still have a list of vermin held firmly in mind and they seem to take a certain relish in having these creatures killed, but, before casually condoning the slaughter, everyone should know the answer to this question: how did these animals get onto their list of vermin? Was it because they pose a genuine threat to farming and social welfare; or because they spoil the fun of ‘country sports’; or because killing them is the fun of country sports; or because of tradition, confusion, ignorance and superstition?

Whatever our views on wildlife there is one creature which, over the centuries, has caused far more destruction and nuisance in our countryside than all the others put together: and we all know who it is…

*This article takes some general references from ‘Man and the Natural World: changing attitudes in England 1500-1800’, a seminal work by the author Keith Thomas; but we do not suggest any views or opinions expressed herein are necessarily shared by that author.

Of brilliance and tragedy

Kingfisher at the Old Sheep Dip, Bishopsbourne, 1 Nov 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Kingfisher at the Old Sheep Dip, Bishopsbourne, 1 Nov 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Why is the Kingfisher so called? You may wonder how this diminutive bird earned his regal title. He does not have the majestic posture of the heron, or the fearsome aura of the osprey, but stand quietly on the bridge on Sheep Dip Lane for a few moments, watch a Kingfisher exercising his skills in the Old Sheep Dip, and you too may agree that this extraordinary little bird really is the sovereign of his craft.

This year, once again, we have at least one pair of Kingfishers living on our bourne and delighting all those who get a glimpse of them. They are mesmerising birds to watch: their colours in flight are brilliant and their skill is incredible, even though everything they do appears to be done at great speed. They arrive in a flash of electric blue darting low across the water, then perch on a prominent rock or branch overlooking a stretch of slow moving water watching for fish and small swimming creatures. When prey is sighted, they will plunge in a curving dive to enter the water, sometimes several feet away from their vantage point, and rarely seem to fail to make a catch. This is in part because of their the ability to switch instantly between two forms of vision: in the air their vision is monocular, but under water it is binocular, meaning they can instantly correct for the refraction of light in water to retain sight of their prey.

When a fish is caught the Kingfisher will return it to the perch, ensure it is dead, clasp it more aerodynamically in the beak, then, with great urgency it will fly off to feed the young in the nest. This will be a burrow two to three feet long, somewhere along the riverbank. There may be up to six chicks waiting eagerly for food, and with each of them needing perhaps a dozen small fish a day, the parent birds have a busy time keeping them fed.

As a species the Kingfisher is a master predator whose future seems secure; as individuals, from day one their lives are full of hazards. If they survive in the nest, free of predators and fluctuating river levels long enough to start fishing for themselves, they may drown at the first attempt, or they may be driven from their home before they learn sufficient survival skills. Many youngsters die within the first couple of weeks of leaving the nest. Then, with the onset of winter and freezing temperatures, ponds ice over and fish hide deeper, food is harder to find and many Kingfishers simply die of starvation or exposure. Only a quarter of all our Kingfishers, including the young, are thought to live from one breeding season into the next (1). That proportion appears to be enough to keep the species in continuity, for now, but we must treasure these crown jewels of the riverbank and do what we can to ensure our lives do not restrict theirs.

In Britain the appalling children’s ‘sport’ of throwing stones at Kingfishers thrived, with official encouragement, for centuries, but today these iconic little birds are specifically listed for special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and extra penalties apply to anyone who harms them or disturbs a nest.

(1) RSPB figure.

Winter’s little refugee

Shore Lark (male), White Cliffs near Dover, 6 Nov 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Shore Lark (male), White Cliffs near Dover, 6 Nov 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

This week we report the sighting of a rare bird near Dover. The Kent coastline is not normally within our area of inclusion, but the section of The White Cliffs where the bird was observed is within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which we campaign to protect, and the sighting is of such significance that we believe it should be noted, both for public record and for general interest.

The bird in question is the Shore Lark, a distinctive little bird, of a similar size to a sparrow, which visits Britain in very small numbers from Northern Europe and Scandinavia to pass Winter here. In its northern home the bird lives in large flocks, but, since the entire Winter population of Shore Larks in Britain is thought to be about 75 up to perhaps 300 birds, a large flock of Shore Larks would be an incredibly rare sight indeed.

It is extremely rare for the Shore Lark to attempt to breed in this country so it is considered to be a visiting bird only. On arrival they confine themselves to the east coast of England, with a particular focus on East Anglia, that being an obvious landing point from a southbound North Sea crossing. As their name suggests they stay close to the shore, or nearby open farmland, where they potter about, in constant motion, feeding from the ground. The Shore Lark we observed was resting on its own.

In Britain the Shore Lark is specifically listed for special protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and extra penalties apply to anyone who harms them or disturbs a nest, if sighted.

The presence of this little Winter refugee in our AONB gives us cause to remember that the countryside is not ours alone in which to do as we please: so many diverse species rely on it for survival. Another reason too to remember why special areas of our countryside should be protected in perpetuity.

A visit from the Shovelers

Male Shoveler duck, Bourne Park, 31 Oct 2016. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Male Shoveler duck, Bourne Park, 31 Oct 2016. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

This week we have seen the arrival of some Shoveler ducks (at least two males, possibly two pairs) on the lake at Bourne Park. The Shoveler is about the same size as the mallard, and while the male is quite different in appearance from the male mallard, with large areas of white, patches of brown and a very dark green head, the female is a less spectacular mottled brown, which makes it harder to distinguish at distance from a female mallard. However, the most distinctive feature of both male and female Shovelers, if you can get close enough to observe it, is the large wide bill which it sweeps from side to side on the surface of the water or wet marsh mud looking for food. The edge of the bill has comb-like structures on it which allow the bird to effectively filter water and mud for the small edible creatures which it lives on.

Female Shoveler duck, Bourne Park, 17 Nov 2016. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Female Shoveler duck, Bourne Park, 17 Nov 2016. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

During the Summer the Shoveler is a fairly common water bird in the South East of England and up the North Sea coast to the Humber Estuary, but it is rare in other parts of the country. In Winter many other Shovelers fly south from Scandinavia to substantially boost the numbers here.

We have not recorded Shovelers on the lake at Bourne Park before. Those that we did see were very shy of humanity and kept their distance.

The Sussex in Kent

Sussex cattle, Bourne Park, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Their 'mahogany red' colour glows in the evening sunlight. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Sussex cattle, Bourne Park, Bishopsbourne, October 2016. Their ‘mahogany red’ colour glows in the evening sunlight. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

If, in the last six months or more, you have taken a stroll along Bourne Park Road heading from Bridge towards Bishopsbourne, you may have noticed some reddish coloured cattle in a field off to the right between the road and the Nailbourne. These are Sussex cattle, one of the most famous and reputable breeds of cattle in the world: their colour is described historically as mahogany red.

The Sussex originated on the Weald of Sussex, Surrey and Kent and it is directly descended from a breed of cattle which roamed in Anderida, the huge forest which stretched over those counties before and at the time of the Norman conquest in 1066. These cattle were of course a source of food, but through the centuries as they were farmed and bred they became notable also as a draught breed for ploughing and pulling carts and they were used extensively for that purpose. Today we may think of the horse as the primary working animal of our ancient past, but this is not so, for centuries it was the ox, and the ox of choice would, without doubt, have been a Sussex. On the Weald, the steep terrain meant that the use of oxen as the main draught animal continued much longer than in some other parts of the country. In his travelogue ‘A Tour of Great Britain’ written in 1724, Daniel Defoe tells us of an old lady on the Weald being driven to church in a carriage hauled by six Sussex oxen.

Sussex cattle, showing characteristic colour and shape with higher rear end than shoulders and a white switch to the tail. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Sussex cattle, showing characteristic colour and shape with higher rear end than shoulders and a white switch to the tail. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

We do not think of the Kent and Sussex Weald as a forest area today because the woodland was felled in the early 18th century to provide timber for iron manufacturing during the industrial revolution. Sussex oxen were used as draught animals working in the forest and, to give an idea of the numbers of animals involved, Defoe, who was travelling through the area at the time, records teams of 22 Sussex oxen pulling each lumber cart.

The escarpments of the Weald meant that, once the forest had gone, large tracts of the land were not suitable for ploughing, so much of it was left as pasture. The Sussex continued to be prominent, primarily for beef production, although records show that in some parts of the Weald they were still used to haul ploughs right into the early 20th century.

In the last few days the Sussex cattle have been moved out of the field off Bourne Park Road; we do not know where they have gone to, although being beef cattle, we do know their ultimate fate.