It was a frosty start as I left for the reserve this morning and only just getting light but the sun was up by 7.15 and it was soon a glorious sunny morning with clear blue skies. Travelling along the Harty Road is a tad distressing at the moment as it means driving past the bodies of two dead Mute Swans that have unfortunately collided in flight with the overhead power lines. For many years a length of these power lines have had plastic warning balls hanging from them but the swans' current flight line is taking them over a section without these warning balls. The photo below, taken in poor light yesterday, shows the birds. I have E-mailed the photo to both Natural England and the RSPB and asked if they can request the power company to extend the warning devices.
Despite the fact that it was still only half light when I arrived on top of the reserve seawall, the only three wildfowlers there were already packing up and so we stood on the seawall and had a lengthy chat. Seems that although there is still the one day left tomorrow of the shooting season these guys will not be returning now until September 1st when it all begins again. The absence of wildfowl this winter has meant that their shooting season has been pretty much a non-event and definitely their effect on the reserve has been virtually nil.
We stood and discussed the reserve in general and while we did so remarked on both the absence of birds in general and how dry it remains. Obviously the two are linked and the dryness is a major concern, here we are just coming to the end of the winter and the reserve has no more water on it than it had at the end of last summer. Local water companies are calling for drought orders, reservoirs are two thirds empty and we haven't even started the dry and hot weather of the spring and summer yet. Its going to be quite grim and birds such as Lapwings, that depend on wetlands for their breeding success, are going to struggle badly in this area.
And to carry on the depressing Lapwing theme, look at the two photos below, which were taken from the seawall early this morning. Regular visitors to Shellness and the reserve will recognise these fields as the grazing fields that stretch between the reserve and Shellness car park and all the way back along the track to Muswell Manor. For the last ten years or so they have provided perfect habitat for all manner of wildlife, the Rough-legged Buzzards hunted across them this winter and large numbers of Brent Geese used them. More importantly they provided vital breeding habitat for the hard-pressed Lapwing, but now they are currently being ploughed up!
I don't know exactly why the farmer is ploughing them up, he has always been happy to receive subsidies for maintaining them as such vital habitat. However it has been suggested to me that a new edict is on the agricultural horizon that will insist that all grass pasture that has been around longer than five years will have to permanently remain that way. Clearly many farmers will not want to lose the option to be in control of what they do with their land and so there is a rush to plough up such grassland. This hasn't been confirmed as the reason for what's happening at Shellness and I stand to be corrected but one thing that can't be denied is that the preservation of vital Lapwing habitat on Sheppey has taken a backward step.