Monday, 27 December 2010

Sheppey's Three Islands (Part two)

Following on from Part 1 of Sheppey's three islands, let us this time look at the Island of Elmley, although it has to be borne in mind that, just as the Isle of Harty, that despite having a tidal entrance at each end it was never actually seperated as such from the main island, Sheppey.

I apologise firstly, for the map below, which fails to show the mouth of Windmill Creek to the east of Elmley and alongside Spitend. However, looking at the map below, and the left hand side, you will see that Elmley Island begins as a small bay/inlet on the Swale side of the seawall. This inlet is directly opposite Ridham Dock and originally led into a part tidal/part freshwater creek known as The Dray.

The photo below shows The Dray as it is today, a wide fresh water fleet just inside the seawall. At the base of the photo is the top of the current sea wall.

This photo shows the seaward side of the entrance of The Dray, in effect seperated from The Dray by the dam that is the seawall. It is easy to imagine how it must of looked pre. seawall times, when especially on high Spring tides, the sea would have flooded inland along The Dray for some way.

Less than half a mile from The Dray's start above, this is how it currently crosses the Elmley track, as little more than a ditch, with low counterwalls either side. The counterwalls are the give away however, with the sea flooding in on a daily basis, it almost certainly must of been wider than it currently is, on a regular basis.

The Dray continues in this much reduced way for about a mile before eventually widening again as it approaches Southlees Marshes on the Minster side. Whilst it was always tradionally wider in that area, it has been much improved at this point in modern times by the farmer on its northern bank. The Dray here is now maintained in its wide and deep form and well fed with corn because the farmer on the Minster side leases that stretch out to a duck shooting syndicate because of the large numbers of wildfowl that he attracts.
Not far past here The Dray appears to peter out and that is because at the point designated on the map as Newhook Marshes it then became Windmill Creek, at its most inland point. However at this point and after the 1953 floods, that stretch of The Dray/Windmill Creek was used as, and filled in, as a Council Refuse Dump. The dustcarts would come in via Brambledown on the Leysdown Road, travel down via Poors Farm and deposit their loads. I remember when I first started rabbiting on Elmley in the early 1970's that the Dump had just come to the end of its life and was being levelled and grassed over and fenced in.
From there down to The Swale, Windmill Creek was, until 1953, tidal and there was even a small quay or two on the Eastchurch side that small sailing vessels used when delivering/receiving farm produce. There was a quay at Newhook for instance and I can clearly remember seeing it still there and un-used in the early 1970's.
The event that changed Windmill Creek for ever were the floods of 1953. These floods, the result of a high water storm surge pushed down the North Sea by gale force winds, flooded most of Eastern England and Holland with the loss of many lives, livestock and property. The low lying areas of Sheppey were particually badly flooded and Windmill Creek was one way that saw the counterwalls either side over-topped and the marshes flooded. Even in Sheerness, where I was a 6yr old boy, we had flood water part way up the stairs of our house and to the top of our gas cooker in the kitchen and the milkman delivered milk by boat in every street - we took in the milk by lowering a bag down on a rope from the bedroom window. From that event on the seawalls all round Sheppey were raised and at Windmill Creek a dam was built across the entrance, forever joining Harty with Elmley.
It eventually created on the inward side of the old Creek, a wide stretch of fresh water for a mile or so that was particually attractive to wildfowl, etc, and as I found out in the early 1980's, a brilliant source of flounders of all sizes!

That pretty much covers Elmley as an Island except for an historical event that ended on the Elmley side of the new dam. On September 7th 1940, at the height of the Battle of Britain, Flt. Lt. Hugh Berrisford in his Hurricane of 257 Sqd was shot down over the Thames Estuary and crashed into the marshes at Spitend, Elmley. In 1979 the Wealden Aviation Archaeolical Group identified the crash site and as part of a BBC TV programme, excavated the crash site. It was literally alongside the Dam on the Elmley side and because of the soft marshland soil the plane had gone in to a depth of 30ft. The dig however excavated much of the plane, alongside remains of the pilot's body. I can recall going to the site the day after the dig whilst on Spitend rabbiting and breaking open some lumps of mud and discovering part of Berrisford's check shirt, still buttoned up, in one of them
So, that is The Island of Elmley, created by both The Dray and Windmill Creek, from Ridham Dock all the way round to Windmill Creek near to Harty Ferry.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Voluntary Restraint

Dawn this morning found me driving along the Harty Road with both the road and the surrounding fields glistening from a severe overnight frost. The sky was just starting to brighten and turn a light blue and along its horizon were those lovely pre-sunrise colours of pink and yellow.
Just as I went past the Raptor Viewing Mound the sky suddenly became full of wave after wave of geese, mainly Whitefronts and Barnacles, as they came out of the dawn sky and began to whiffle down into the fields either side of Elliots farmhouse. That magical clamouring of around a thousand plus geese calls was stunning and without wishing to get too romantic, the whole scene was like a typical Peter Scott painting coming to life.
Euphoric from such a start to the morning I made my way across the reserve to the seawall, to where the first reddening of the sky from the imminent sun was taking place - it was then that my day fell into depression - strung out along the short stretch of saltings in front of the reserve were 15 KWCA wildfowlers. Yes 15, which is more than I've seen on any one morning this whole shooting season and all despite a call by the shooting associations for a Voluntary Restraint on shooting because of the severe weather.
When severe weather is continuous, the shooting associations, in association with weather stations and government bodies, begin a countdown and on the 15th day of continuous severe weather (in this case Thursday 30th) a statutory ban on the shooting of wildfowl will come into place for to 14 days. In the meantime, from Day 7 a call is put out to all wildfowlers to take into consideration local conditions and where severe to show Voluntary Restrain and refrain if necessary from shooting where birds are seen to be weak or will be disturbed into burning up much needed energy flying around, disturbance relating to nearby waders as much as to wildfowl.

Now the whole of Harty is, and has been for some time, completely frozen up, with no free water and extremley limited feeding possibilities, the neighbouring farmers are in some places are putting out corn to attract ducks for shooting purposes, but I hardly expect that this is feeding most of the several thousand ducks that are currently in the eastern Swale.
I spoke to several of these wildfowlers and quite frankly they showed no remorse whatsoever for the wildlife in the area and didn't feel that they were doing anything wrong, which legally they weren't. But one thing that I do know, is that a lot of responsible KWCA members have actually stopped shooting because of the conditions and will no doubt feel quite let down now by these fellow members.

After that I felt so peed off that I went home.

Thursday, 23 December 2010


Yesterday afternoon (Weds) our four man team finally got round to carrying out the monthly Harrier Roost Count across Harty and Elmley, but first there was time to look at the huge geese flock assembling on the arable fields alongside the Harty Road. The Greylags were part of the local feral flock but on Tuesday large parties of White-fronted and Barnacle Geese had begun arriving and were feeding on snow covered fields of winter corn.
I took the following photo on Tuesday when the flock was half the size and although its not very good, if you double click on it and enlarge it you will be able to scan across the flock.
By yesterday afternoon the flock had built to a total of 1,100 White-fronted Geese, 149 Barnacle Geese, 300 Greylag Geese and 4 Pink-footed Geese and Whitefronts continued to cross the area up until dark. The count of both Whitefronts and Barnacles is exceptional in modern times for Sheppey and in respect of the Whitefronts, harks back around thirty years to when flocks of that size were seen fairly regularly on the Eastchurch marshes.

From there I moved onto the Swale NNR to carry out a count of any harriers going into roost on the reserve as dusk came in. Despite being in the relative shelter of the Tower Hide it became intensley cold as I waited an hour or so for birds to appear in an increasingly bitter N wind. In front of and below the height of the hide is one of the old salt workings mounds on which a few rabbits still live and if you double click the photo below you will see in the centre of it one of the reserve's special mammals - a black rabbit.
In the days when the reserve had a healthy population of rabbits we also had a healthy population of black rabbits and indeed they could be found across a lot of Harty, but not so anymore and this must be one of the last survivors on the reserve. Apparently they are a natural genetic colouration and surprisingly, despite obviously breeding with the normal colour ones, they always turn out as either jet black or brown, never a mixture.

Eventually I had three ring-tailed Hen Harriers move across the reserve but only one dropped into the saltings near Shellness Hamlet, to roost. The other two moved back off of the reserve. What the day's total roost count across Harty was, I don't yet.
The photo below shows one view from the Tower Hide and the bleakness of the landscape.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Snow on The Swale


With our Harrier Roost count cancelled yesterday and this morning's WEBS count suffering the same fate, both because of the severe weather and worries that the Harty Road running across the marshes might be a tad dangerous to navigate, I set off at 10.00 this morning in temps of -4 to investigate. I needed to get out after all day indoors yesterday.
Well as you can see from the photo below the road was indeed snow and ice covered and with a deep ditch to one side doesn't allow much leeway should you get into a slide but it wasn't quite as bad as it looked and I was driving a 4x4.

Rather than drive right down onto the reserve I left my car at Elliots Farm, by the side of the Harty Road, and walked down onto the reserve and made mt way across snow covered fields towards the seawall. The photo below shows the well frozen Delph Fleet alongside the seawall and part of the marsh to the left. In the distance you can just see the Seawall Hide.

As you will see below, on the top of the seawall I took a photo looking towards Shellness and with the saltings to the right - quite a bleak view don't you think.

However whilst I was there we had full sun and blue skies and despite it being a tad cold it was unexpectedly very picturesque. Unlike our mid-Kent cousins however, you can't still go out in woods and hedgerows in this weather and still see the same good numbers of a wide range of birds, the bleakness of the picture reflects how few birds that there were around, apart from out on the sea in the Swale itself. There most of the wildfowl had escaped too and in quite high numbers but on the marsh there were just a few small flocks of Skylarks and some thrushes along the boundary bushes.

As you can see below the snow was deep enough to cover all the grass and the cattle must of been wondering where and when their next meal was going to come from, probably not from the farmer's profits.

The view from the barn, back up the track to the reserve entry gate and with the snow making Midge look less white than she normally does.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

When I Was a Boy - The Old Days

Unfortunately I don't have any photos to illustrate this posting, my Kodak Brownie in those days didn't transfer to PC's that we didn't have anyway.

It's almost amusing though, as I sit here in my study on a chilly and snowy Sunday lunchtime, looking across to the Shingle Bank, the Thames Estuary and the distant Essex shoreline of Southend, to ponder on the current hysteria being whipped up by the media about a bit of snow. In my youth we didn't have the equipment to see multi-programmes on TV's or PC's giving us every angle on the snow situation throughout the country, no,all we knew was what was going on in the street outside and up the road, we just got on with what we could see.
For many of us over a certain age it seems almost silly to feel hard done by, molly-coddled as we are in centrally-heated houses with double glazing and cavity wall insulation. I for one, left school in the summer of 1962 and by the end of that year was working as a milk boy, accompanying a milkman on his round. Starting at 05.30 each morning wasn't pleasant at all and the empty milk bottles left outside overnight, were normally frozen to the doorstep. That aside, after leaving the fresh milk it would normally quickly freeze and stick out an inch above the top of the bottle with the foil cap sitting on top. That is because the first three months of 1963 saw one of the worst freeze-ups that we've ever had, with continuous snow and sub-zero temperatures well into March and the sea off of Sheerness freezing up and huge ice-flows and dead birds along the beach. Indoors, the only warm room was the lounge where the only fire was, but upstairs the bedroom windows had ice on the inside almost continuouslly for months on end and we often slept in our clothes to keep warm.

And to come back to current times and the much-hyped latest "Freeze Up", how many people must of noticed as I have, how at a time when power use is at its highest, how in these windless conditions the wind turbines aren't going round and aren't creating Green Power - one of the drawbacks of having Green Energy forced upon us at huge profits to the developers - it just doesn't happen!
And also, how I wonder how all those new species of wildlife that have been seduced into coming here because of so-called Global Warming's mild winters, must be regretting the decision to come here - if they're still alive.

No, to summarise, this current drop of cold weather is pretty lightweight, unless of course it continues in this form for three months.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Sheppey's Three Islands (Part One)

People looking at the map of Sheppey might be surprised to see that it mentions two other Islands, those of Emley Island and the Isle of Harty. That is because some few hundred years ago, before the current seawalls were built, the above two islands were indeed seperated from Sheppey by part-tidal fleets Windmill Creek and The Dray at Elmley and Capel Fleet at Harty.

Let's start at Harty and if you look at the map below you can see most of Capel Fleet as it wriggles its way round the marshes, originally near Shellness in the east and off-map, at Windmill Creek in the west. Capel Fleet was tidal at both ends and for part of its length from each end and it was only the construction of the current seawalls that effectively dammed it's two ends and stopped the daily inward flow of seawater. Before that and for much of length it had on both sides, low counterwalls that would protect the flat marshes from regular flooding from either Spring tides or winter rains. If you walk about three quarters of a mile along the seawall from Shellness towards the Swale NNR you come to a sharp bend in the seawall and here you will be able to see why on the map, that Capel Fleet seems to end almost a mile short of the seawall.

Running away from the seawall and in a straight line across the nature reserve, is a low counterwall (see the photo below) and before the existing seawall was built this counterwall was in effect the old seawall bordering the tidal saltings as Capel Fleet ran inland. This counterwall was originally on both sides of the Fleet but only a few yards remains of the eastern side. What is interesting in the two photos below is the fact that the grazing land to the immediate right of the counterwall was originally saltings, exactly as there still are on the seaward side of the seawall. After the seawall effectively dammed off Capel Fleet from the sea these saltings gradually dried out and grassed over but there is still evidence snaking through the field, of the shallow depressions left of what would of originally been the deep and muddy reel-ways of the saltings. Sadly, all that remains of Capel Fleet for this stretch is a tiny ditch that seperates the nature reserve from the farmland alongside.

So, this stretch of now non-existent Capel Fleet stretches across the nature reserve and across the new RSPB fields until it reaches the track running down from Muswell Manor and here it reaches the first remains of how it used to look and although its wide width is concealed now by wall to wall reed beds, it runs in its original form all the way round to the Raptor viewing Mound on the Harty Road. Between the Raptor Viewing Mound and Capel Corner at the foot of Capel Hill, it peters out again and is little more than a ditch that only re-floodes to its former width in very wet winters. However along this ditch-like stretch it is noticeably bordered on both sides by its original counterwalls and one of them serves two purposes, not only did it serves as a low counterwall to protect the marshes from being flooded by the Fleet, but its top also doubled up as the way across the marsh, it is the Harty Road. This explains why it is in such poor condition these days, it was only intended as a footpath and cart track, it was never built with foundations capable of sustaining the regular passage of huge and heavy farm tractors and lorries as it now has too.
Finally, and sorry about the darkness of the photo, at Capel Corner we see the last stretch of Capel Fleet in the form that it basically continues in all the way round to Windmill Creek and the seawall again. This is the Capel Fleet that most people are familiar with these days and is pretty much how it would of looked along its whole length once apon a time when it was creating the Isle of Harty.
(I will describe how Elmley Island was formed in Part Two)

Monday, 13 December 2010

A Different View of Things

Since my last posting it has been diificult to find something to write about. The reserve remains a mixture of empty ditches and being frozen solid and whilst the high tide roosts of waders at either extremity are still quite huge, the marshland middle part of the reserve remains depressingly quiet birdwise. In fact we seem to have arrived at a rare situation whereby, due to dryness, in the middle of winter a wetland reserve seems to have more passerines than wildfowl or waders.
Once again the only wildfowl present are the ducks congregated in the tiny unfrozen section of the Delph fleet along the seawall, where from unfortunately, they are being shot as they fly over the seawall, by the wildfowlers. That also brings me round to something I also touched on in my last posting, my E-Mail from a guy who supports the Kent Wildfowlers (KWCA). We continued, and still do, to exchange E-Mails on the subject of duck shooting on Harty and it became quite surprising to me as the E-Mails flew to and fro, how much we had in common to a degree, despite currently being from either side of the fence so to speak. There is worse going on than the limited nature of wildfowling.

Now, before you all rise up and scream "oh my god", I haven't been bought out and I will never cede that a wetland nature reserve can share itself with those people trying to kill its wildlife such as at The Swale NNR and Oare nature reserve, but I have through our written conversations seen reason to moderate my views on shooting in some areas. The main reason that we have arrived at the above in my opinion is purely down to the conservation bodies not being assertive enough and the wildfowlers happily exploiting that fact.
One thing that myself and the guy from the KWCA did end up doing as we moderated our opposition to each other's views was to swap experiences gained from close on sixty years being involved in a wide variety of countryside pursuits, something that perhaps many nature reserve wardens are lacking in. Lets face it, in my time I've been a rabbit trapper, eel catcher, even tried wildfowl shooting for one season in the early 1970's and now I'm into wildlife conservation, like my fellow E-Mailer, that's a pretty good education from which to comment from. The one thing that I did eventually agree with this guy on was that, if we are to be totaly honest and lay blame on the wildfowl shooting that is going on out there, then there is actually worse than the wildfowlers. The commercial, for profit, duck shooting that is now being championed by the landowners out there, is having a far more devastating effect on the wildfowl numbers than the few birds being taken by the true wildfowlers.

Now I rather feel that this is currently perhaps 1-0 to his points of view but he knows that I will never relax my opinions on the shooting directly in front of the reserves but I'm happy that our shared lifetimes on the marshes does find us with similar views on how it could or should be.

Now, on a different subject all together, whilst going through my photograph collection I found these two photos. The first is a poor quality view of the old Elmley church and the second is a bit of action at the old Elmley Ferry across to Murston, sadly long gone as a means of access. The was even a time when the children from Kingshill Farm used this ferry to go to school at Murston on the mainland, imagine how many times they got cold and wet and compare it with today's mollycoddled children that have to be driven to school and can't go if there's a few flakes of snow because the school staff see it as an excuse for a day off - out in the snow with their own children!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


While the reserve still remained frozen solid this morning the sight of patches of blue sky and some watery sun made it far more enjoyable to walk round than in yesterday's awful gloom and skin-numbing freezing fog.
Below you will see the "Seawall Hide" which sits facing the reserve just a few yards from the seawall. In a normal, wet winter the field in front of this hide floods up to as much as 70% of its area, attracts many hundreds of wildfowl and waders and is known as "The Flood".
Although you can't see it in the photo, underneath the hide someone has trod a trail the few yards to the edge of the Delph dyke. Just to the left of the hide there is the only area of water left un-frozen on the whole of the reserve.

This photo shows that tiny area of water, about 30 yds in diameter, with it's attendant Mallard, perhaps the reason "someone" hid in the reeds under the hide.

The view in the opposite direction from the "Seawall Hide", looking over the seawall, across the saltings that are shot and out to the Swale.

Nana, my 15 yr old Beagle having one of her now not so frequent visits to her old stomping ground along the seawall.

I had an E-Mail from a guy this morning, who has E-Mailed me before on the subject of my dislike of the wildfowlers. I don't believe that he still shoots anymore himself but he still supports the Kent Wildfowlers and what they do. Whilst there is little chance of us agreeing on the subject, I respect his opinions and the fact that he is bothering to voice them, that's how it should be and we share some interesting opinions.
He took me to task over the current Severe Weather voluntary shooting restraints and a potential ban and the fact that the poor attitudes of those wildfowlers that I had spoken too weren't necessarily those of the majority of the KWCA members. Well I can accept that, there are indeed bad apples in any organisation - we in birdwatching circles have twitchers - but I can only write about what I see and experience.
I know that he, and presumably even birdwatchers, given the deafening silence from the majority, feels irked that I keep hammering away at this legal "sport" but I'll never be able to accept that it should take place on, or against a wetland nature reserve.

Bird-life on the reserve was fairly limited but I did scrape up the following as I walked round the marsh.
2 Heron - 1 White-fronted Goose - 80 Greylag Geese - 30 Mallard - 1 Marsh Harrier -1 ring-tailed Hen Harrier - 1 Sparrowhawk - 2 Kestrel - 20 Lapwing - 1 Barn Owl - 70 Skylark - 30 Mipits - 20 Linnet

Saturday, 4 December 2010


When I went to bed last night the outside temerature was -6 and yet when I got up at 06.00 it had risen to +3 and not only that, it had rained hard for a while. As a result the road outside my house was visible again and ice free and the snow in the garden had reduced in height. +3 a week ago at 06.00 would of seemed bloody cold, this morning it felt balmy, and so after three days stuck indoors sheltering from the cold, which I hate, I was off to the reserve with Midge.
I was a bit nervous about the one car wide Harty Road that winds its way across the marsh, not so much because of the ice on it but the fact that on one side there is a very deep ditch and one uncontrolled slide would be curtains, but even there the ice was becoming slushy and so I reached the reserve surprisingly easily. There I was once again surprised at how much green grass was showing through the snow, quite clearly a combination of the rain and less snow at that end of Sheppey had produced results.
After setting off round one of the reserve tracks that you can see below, the first bird that I heard and then briefly saw, was a Lapland Bunting, a great start.

I then made my way across the marsh below and headed for the Delph fleet alongside the seawall and as I reached the crossing that crosses that and headed up onto the seawall, I flushed the first Woodcock for the reserve this winter - great stuff, I wasn't expecting all this, and in the conditions, two birds even!

On stepping on to the top of the seawall I had hoped that saltings in front of me would be devoid of wildfowlers - frozen conditions, lack of food and birds in poor condition - but of course wildfowlers don't have compassion like the rest of us and there were five of them strung out along there - hopefully freezing their bits off.
Now for those of you that don't know about these things, in severe weather, from an appointed day and taking advise each day from a chain of weather stations countrywide, the days begin to tick towards Day 13 of continous freezing weather, when the Government will then sign a document to ban the shooting of wildfowl from DAY 15 and for fourteen days after.
Today should of been DAY 7, when wildfowlers were asked to show voluntary restraint ahead of the ban, but as they will, because we had a slight thaw today, the DAY number remained at DAY 6 pending the weather tomorrow. From past experience out there, and talking to a couple of the guys there this morning, no one bothers with voluntary restraints and the only thing that will stop them shooting poorly wildfowl is a compulsary ban after DAY 15 - one day someone will wake up to these pratts and their attitude towards wildlife.
Anyway, another sermon on nature reserves being inhabited by wildfowlers is over and I then went back onto the marsh as you can see below. Here I witnessed one of those spectacular wildlife events, I watched a Merlin pursuing a Mipit across the saltings. Round and round and up and down the two went and every time that I thought the Merlin was just about to snatch the Mipit, the smaller bird jinked enough to be missed. Eventually the lucky Mipit dropped like a stone into a reed bed and the Merlin gave up and flew off - great stuff.

Apart from an odd Skylark and a couple of Mallard that was pretty much all the birds about out there early this morning but, to be honest, a Lapland Bunting, Woodcock and Merlin were good enough for me.

One last photo shows my poor, neglected bird feeders in the garden. They've been like that almost all the time through the cold weather, I think that birds round here must be better fed elsewhere and so I don't get bird feeder photos like Warren -I'm sure he's got loads of stuffed birds and puts them on the feeders - I keep looking at his photos to see if I can recognise the same bird in the same pose.

Thursday, 2 December 2010


With around 18" of snow here on Sheppey today I haven't bothered to go out and so what could I write about. Well, as you may know from previous blogs, I have in my past researched and written up the complete history of aviation here on Sheppey. Today I will give you a tiny and much abridged flavour of the beginning of the Second World War at Eastchurch. (Sorry about a line of rubbish by one photo, which I couldn't correct)

There had been an airfield there since 1910 and an RAF one since 1918, when the RAF was formed. Prior to 1940 Eastchurch had merely seen a succession of various training schools but by mid-1940 and the imminent threat of attack by the Germans these Schools had been sent away and after just one day under the command of Fighter Command, Eastchurch had been transferred to No.16 Group - Coastal Command and in came a squadron of Blenheim bombers and two squadrons of Fairey Battle light-bombers, for cross-channel operations.
Jumping forward now to the 13th August 1940, this was the day that Germany made its first proper attack on England. After taking off from French airfields at 05.10 that morning several German bomber squadrons joined up and headed across the Channel. Almost immediately attempts were made to recall them due to bad weather but this was not totaly successful and so 74 Dornier bombers continued towards Kent without their fighter escort. To avoid detection one Gruppe skirted round the Kent coast and came in from the Thames Estuary and headed in towards Eastchurch at 10,000 feet. At 06.45 they were attacked by Spitfires of 74 Squadron, with little success and the Gruppe split up with one party heading to Sheerness Docks and the other to Eastchurch.
The Station Commander at Eastchurch was woken up by a phone call from the Royal Observer Corps at Bromley saying " we think that there may be some bandits bound for you" and no sooner had he pulled on his boots when the bombs came raining down from 9,000 feet. At 07.00 two vics of fifteen Dorniers had begun bombing the airfield from south to east and also strafing the airfield with machine guns and by 07.20 it was all over, with more than one hundred high explosive bombs dropped.
As people began emerging from hangars, sleeping quarters and shelters there was a scene of shocked carnage and this was to be repeated several times over the next few weeks with even worse effects.

Below is a photo of three Armourers at the airfield during June 1940 and before it all kicked off.

Two of the above guys - Richard Moss and a friend - having a snack in front of the camouflaged hangars in June 1940

The same hangars after the raid

Some of the airmen's quarters after the raid.

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More of the airman's quarters

The body of a shot down Dornier's crew member being recovered from the mudflats off I believe Herne Bay/Seasalter.

Monday, 29 November 2010


Despite it being a fairly sunny early morning on the reserve it was frozen solid and offering few birds and so I took some photos with the intention of writing a historical item but the photos were poor and so I've scanned some photos on from much warmer and enjoyable times.
Below is a pleasant summer's day view along the seawall, back towards Shellness Hamlet. The seawall had just been mown, hence its yellow colour.

The saltings below Harty Church, covered in purple Sea Lavender and looking across to Oare nature reserve.

Lucy, my previous Jack Russell, having a closer look at the Sea Lavender.

The seawall fleet - "The Delph" - with a couple of Coots coming into view.

A female Pochard and duckling trying to keerp up, in "The Delph".

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Numbingly cold

As is my habit at weekends, immediately there was the faintest glimmer of light to the east this morning, I left home for the reserve, well, after that is, di-icing my way into the car and waiting for the windscreen to clear of frost.
Once again I also had to de-ice the lock on the gate before I could get onto the reserve and by the time I parked at the barn and begun walking across to the seawall it was part light. The frost across both the marsh and the saltings was quite severe and its whiteness on the saltings served to make two wildfowlers sitting out there, easily stand out in their dark clothing. As much as I detest them being there I had to admire their hardiness this morning, I was numb despite walking about, to sit out there with feet in cold mud and not move for 2-3 hours, must of been excruiatingly cold to the point of hyperthermia. One stood up as I passed him on the seawall and the photo below, grainy because it was still part dark, should if you double click and enlarge it, show him as a dark shape and where he is he is only 100 yds from the seawall and the Seawall Hide.

A bit further along the seawall and the light began to increase and the sky pinken as the sun came closer to the horizon. This photo looks across the frozen saltings towards the mainland and Seasalter in the distance. Amazingly, although it was too small to show up in the photo, a Lapland Bunting crossed the sky in front of me as I took it.

Having checked out the wildfowlers and seen no birds at all except the Lap. Bunting, I came off the seawall and through the gate below and got back on to the reserve marshland.

Once through the gate, I began making my way along the raised bund that runs from the front of the reserve to its rear. Once upon a time, before the current seawall was built, this bund was the seawall on one side of Capel Fleet as it made its way inland from the sea (I'll describe that another day). At the end of this bund is the rear reserve boundary, followed by the fields being restored by the RSPB to grazing marsh. If you enlarge the photo you can also see Leysdown in the distance. Bird-life really was at a premium this morning and with what little water that there is on the reserve, now frozen, it looks likely to remain that way. That said, as I walked along the bund towards the RSPB fields, the slightly different cackle of some geese could be heard and crossing the RSPB fields towards me were 34 Barnacle Geese, they made for a very picturesque sight in the frost and the gloom.

Getting to the reserve boundary, it was which way to go time and I plumbed for ignoring the usual reserve route and carried on across the RSPB fields to the farm track. At first these fields appeared as deserted as the reserve but gradually I found a few birds moving about - some Wrens, a Fieldfare, another Lapland Bunting, 16 Skylark, a Water Rail calling from a ditch reed bed, and lastly, dare I say it, a fine fox.
After that there was little else to do but follow the farm track back past frozen winter corn and Brewers Farm in the distance and down to the barn and my car. Briefly as I walked along the track, the sun came out but as I looked behind me I could see that mist was literally following me as I went. By the time I had got back to the car visiblity had all but gone and this was the case all the way along the Harty Road, where at the top of Capel Hill I bumped into Chris Gibbard and a few bird watcher friends who unfortunately had arrived at the same time as the mist.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

A Cold Afternoon

An icy and cold N wind blows up my drive, straight, or so it seems, from the North Pole. Leaves from the trees across the road blow in circles on the lawn and people in big coats scurry down the hill outside, their necks sunk deep into the collars of their coats.
I went to the reserve for a couple of hours earlier today and despite the cold it didn't seem that bad, but then I'm better in the early hours of the morning when I'm fresh to the day and more able to withstand the extremes of the weather. As the day wears on the cold gradually eats in to me and I retire indoors. to the conservatory and its warmth. Ships still plod up and down the estuary out to sea, and the two bird tables in the drive are crowded with sparrows and collared Doves. The tall hawthorn hedge that runs up the drive alongside the bird tables, shelters many sparrows and as soon as I replenish the tables out they pop. It makes the hedge like some giant cuckoo clock as in and out pop the sparrows to the tables.

Unless you're very hardy and enjoy the perverse pleasure of such extremely cold days, this time of the year, unless you have to work outside, is best spent in the warmth indoors mulling over the various memories of the year about to depart and the one soon to be apon us. Today I was thinking about books and their influence on me over the years.
Apart from the delightful little "Observers" books, and I still have my original ones on birds and their eggs, and "The Wind in the Willows", one that struck a chord with me very early on was entitled " The Strange One" by Fred Bodsworth.

Being published in 1959, I read it shortly after whilst in my very early teens. It was a love story about a Scottish naturalist who had emigrated to Canada and took a summer job ringing Canada Geese and while there he fell in love with a Cree Indian girl. Not only that, while watching the Canada Geese they came upon a Barnacle Goose in the flock that had been blown across the Atlantic from its normal Scottish wintering grounds and had mated with a Canada Goose. The two very powerful love stories became entwined and had a lasting effect on a teenage boy and I still have the book.
Not long after I also read "The Eye of the Wind" by Peter Scott, which charted his life story from birth until the time it was published in 1961. I so much wanted to live a similar life and remember so admiring him for eventually giving up the shooting of geese after being unable to capture one he'd shot and wounded one day, feeling so guilty that he'd had to leave it so.

What else, well there have been very many that have influenced me along the way but I suppose one series that even to this day, still do, despite their simplicity, are Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" books. I have all twenty one of them and even to this day still read them occasionally and allow myself to be sucked back into that blissful and simple time of my childhood in the 1950's.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


My little bungalow faces across some lower roof-tops and marshes to the wide open seas of the Thames and Medway Estuaries and the North Sea beyond.
Today under sometimes dark and threatening skies the wind hinted at possible snow showers, straight off the cold North Sea. I sat there indoors and watched distant ships making their way into the Thames, bright against the Essex shoreline and mused about the time of year.

For me, November is a halfway month. Halfway between the warmth and sunshine hours of summer that linger into October's autumn and the cold and dark of winter that reaches its pinnacle in February. As though to disguise that fact it often cloaks itself in fogs and mists as though to hide the door that leads into winter until, one day you wake up and find that you are already there.

Behind me the wintery sun sits low in the sky at the top of the garden, barely touching into the garden at all. This same sun all summer long would sit high in the sky and warm all the nooks and crannies it could find, now it simply skims the fence tops, a fleeting glimpse on a short winter's day. These are too cold to go out days, reflection days, when perhaps with a warming drink you think back to hot summer days and nights.
For me, I never cease to be thrilled at going to bed at 10.00 on a summer's night and having the last pink rays of daylight still part lighting the bedroom and knowing that in just six hour time it will be daylight again.

While I sit there and muse the sky gets darker and the cold creeps in, darkness begins at 3.30, and as always I inevitably end up recalling events from the Wind in the Willows - Ratty and Mole were travelling home across country on a cold winter's late afternoon:

"Then a gust of bitter wind took them in the back of the neck, a small sting of frozen sleet on the skin woke them as from a dream, and they knew their toes to be cold and their legs tired, and their own home distant a weary way.
Once beyond the village, where the cottages ceased abruptly, on either side of the road they could smell through the darkness the friendly fields again; and they braced themselves for the last long stretch, the home stretch, the stretch that we know is bound to end, some time, in the rattle of the door-latch, the sudden firelight, and the sight of familiar things greeting us as long-absent travellers from far oversea."

I'm sure that we've all experienced that at some time.

November comes
and November goes,
With the last red berries
and the first white snow.

With night coming early,
and dawn coming late,
and ice in the bucket
and frost by the gate.

The fires burn
and the kettles sing,
and earth sinks to rest
until next spring............(Clyde Watson)

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Badger Days

The author on The Swale NNR with Midge (courtesy of P. Sosbe)

I stirred from having "five minutes" in the conservatory yesterday afternoon and was amazed to see a Grey Wagtail walking round the edge of my garden pond. I doubt that more than a handful of Grey Wagtails are seen on Sheppey each year and so it was a real coupe to get one in the garden.
At this time of the year any sensible person of a certain age who is able too, will have "five minutes" in the afternoon. A similar thing was recorded in the Wind in the Willows when the Badger went "missing" in his study while being visited by the other animals one winter's day, as follows.....
"The explanation of course, was thoroughly understood by every one present. The fact is, as already set forth, when you live a life of intense activity for six months in the year, and of comparative or actual somnolence for the other six, during the latter period you cannot be continually pleading sleepiness when there are people about or things to be done. The excuse gets monotonous. The animals well knew the Badger having eaten a hearty breakfast, had retired to his study and settled himself in an arm chair with his legs up on another and a red cotton handkerchief over his face, and was being "busy" in the usual way at this time of the year" - how delightfully sensible!

We have had a couple of beautiful days this week, with one being recorded in my last blog and yesterday saw some exceptional warmth in the sun for a couple of hours in the morning. With all my normal winter gear on ended up having to carry my coat over my shoulders and was still hot with a roll neck and lined trousers on, but it was enjoyable non the less. For the second day this week I put the big pump on and coaxed a bit more water in to the scrape in The Flood. I say coaxed because the water comes from the surrounding ditches which remain very low, but at this time of the year having a large, flooded scrape tends to be of better use for attracting the birds than full ditches and its had not to believe that the ditches won't soon be re-filled, won't they?

This afternoon we have our monthly Harrier roost count to carry out across Harty by the usual team. We had to postpone it last Sunday due to the heavy rain and so no "five minutes" today, by 3.30 I shall be positioned in the Tower Hide in the damp and chill looking for Harriers as the dusk falls. Hopefully I won't have the disturbing factor of nearby duck shooting.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Frost and Mist and all things Ice

Double click on the photoes to bring them up in better detail.

Earlier today on the reserve was one of those superbly scenic times that you would almost pay to experience. A hard frost, clear blue skies, not a breath of wind and a great yellow sun that was just beginning to create the hint of mist across the marshes. On my way there I stopped on Capel Hill and took the photo above which looks down to Capel Corner, Capel Fleet and the flatness of the Harty Marshes. The sun was just appearing above the horizon to the east.
Apart from the obvious visual delights of such a morning there is the clarity of sound, bird calls are magnified and carry for so much further. All along the mudflats of The Swale the "barking" of many hundreds of Brent Geese could be heard really clearly and these were echoed by the farmyard gabbling of the Greylag Geese flock, back in the same place as yesterday. I could even quite clearly here a train as it sped through the countryside a few miles away on the mainland, bound for East Kent no doubt.

As I made my way through the cattle herd they briefly stopped to watch me go by before returning to their grazing, they must have well coated teeth to be able to take a mouthful of frost with each mouthful of grass - no microwaves out there to warm things up!
Having said that, by 9.00 the sun had become surprisingly warm and was steadily melting the frost on the south facing banks of the mounds and ditches, leaving that delightful two-tone effect of green and white.

Sunday's rain hadn't made much difference to the ditch levels but there was a small increase and so I decided to put the static pump on and begin to put a little water onto the field known as "The Flood", because it does become our main flood area in the winter. I illustrated this in its dry state in a previous blog and now began to wetten it down ready to receive further rains. In the foreground of the photo below you can see the water bubbling up from the underground pipe.
Whilst standing there watching the water (water fascinates me - the legacy of being a Cancerian I suppose) I watched several small flocks of Skylarks fly in and begin feeding in the weedy areas around the water. Eventually there was a flock of some 40 birds and then, right on cue, a Snipe zoomed in and began working its way across the shallow water - triffic!

Close by to the pump shed is the Tower Hide, seen below, so I wandered over to that for a look round while I was pumping. Its a tad old now but easily gives the best views across not only across the reserve but the surrounding farmland, across the Swale to the mainland and out to Shellness Point. One regular feature of using this hide is the ability to sit there with the flaps open and have a harrier glide by, literally within a couple of feet of you. I remember one time when a Hobby, not realising that I was inside, used the roof as a perch and at regular intervals stooped down past the open flaps to snatch dragonflies from the air.
Even better, back in the late 1980's, I was sitting in there when in the field immediately in front of it, I realised that I was looking at an Oriental Collared Pratincole and a Black-winged Pratincole, both together!
All special memories and a couple of years ago I also added Collared Pratincole to the reserve list, all three whilst doing my ordinary daily patrols, who needs to rush up and down the country!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Toe Tingling

After raining all day yesterday it promptly froze overnight making even getting a frozen car door open difficult. This was also the case when I arrived at the reserve, I had to spray de-icer into the entry gate lock before I could get the key to turn.
The sun hadn't yet appeared from behind some low cloud and the scene above greeted me as I stepped through the 5-bar gate and onto the marsh. (Double click the photo to enlarge it and it looks almost lunar like)
Further round the reserve, just as the sun started to appear, it began to light up the tiny Harty Church, across a frozen field of rape. It sits all on its own alongside a farmhouse and barn and has great views down onto The Swale below.

Enlarge the photo below and you see part of the Greylag Geese flock that are pretty much resident on the reserve, peak counts total around 400 birds. Generally they leave the reserve pre-dawn and go out to the neighbouring farmland for an hour or two before returning in several noisy and spectacular skeins, to spend most of the day roosting in this same spot. Just behind them you can see a couple of small bushes on top of the seawall, behind which the wildfowlers wait and hope to shoot a few. In the summer when several pairs have bred, they form large creches of goslings that sometimes have just a couple of adults looking after them.

Later as I walked back across the reserve it is plain to see that the sun had done a good job of thawing the frost and this photo shows one of several old Salt Workings mounds that there are on the otherwise flat marsh. I have never been able to find out exactly what function that these mounds had in the process of producing the salt. Obviously a few centuries ago, before the seawall was built, these grazing fields would of been little more than saltings that were regularly covered by high tides.
I imagine that once salt water was trapped after one of these tides then it was simply a matter of letting it evaporate in order to leave behind its salt content as you see in various salt pans when abroad. Possibly these mounds are the spoil from creating these flooded pans, although there is no evidence these days around the mounds of any such depressions nearby. On maps of Sheppey there are numerous of these "salt workings" marked across the marshes and in more recent times they have also served as livestock saviours on the odd occasion that the sea has breached the seawall and flooded the marshes.