Guest Blogger: Alice McCourt, Warden Intern

It has been a busy spring/summer season again this year, with lots of highlights from our breeding birds. After much frustration, we have finally been able to confirm the first breeding record of Cattle Egret for Kent in the woodland at Northward Hill! It has been a very exciting find, and we are grateful for all the hard work by Murray Orchard and Terry Paternoster to survey our Heron and Egret populations. Nightingales also seem to be having a bumper year, with the Thames Estuary ringing group reporting that they have ringed almost 100 new individuals this year across the Hoo peninsula. Unfortunately, our waders haven’t been as successful this year in comparison to previous years, though we do set ourselves very high standards! This is largely due to us struggling to maintain water levels in the dry weather, though predation has also been an issue at some of our sites. 

Away from birds, we have been pleased to see that our White-Letter Hairstreak butterflies continue to be present in our woodland, and we have had a few reported sightings of White Admirals too. As White Admirals are a UK priority species, and are experiencing dramatic declines, it is encouraging to hear that they are beginning to make use of our habitat. Sadly, however, there has been a regional decline in bumblebee numbers as a result of the hot summer last year. That decline has been apparent in our rare Shrill Carder and Brown-Banded Carder populations on site, though we are still seeing them out and about. As some of you may know, we have been working on a project in partnership with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to create more forage and nesting habitat for our rare bees, so it is great to see them benefiting from the new habitat! 

A shrill carder (Bombus sylvarum) feeding on Russian comfrey. 
Photograph by Alice McCourt.

Throughout spring, we have been carrying out a lot of maintenance to our anti-predator fences. Now that the breeding season is wrapping up, we are going to begin the momentous task of moving one of our electrified wires on the fence at Shorne Marshes. As the fence is over 3.5km long, this task could potentially take weeks, but it will allow the fence to work more effectively in future. We have also begun work on path clearance, with paths at Higham and Northward Hill having now been cleared. Work on the footpaths at Cliffe Pools will probably start at the end of August/beginning of September, once we have completed our repairs to the Shorne Marshes fence. This autumn will also bring some work to improve our hay meadow habitats, with re-seeding being carried out to hopefully introduce some new wildflower species.

We have had numerous wonderful visitor events carried out throughout spring and summer too. Dave Saunders from the Medway Local Group has run his annual Nightingale Walk events at both Cliffe Pools and Northward Hill, with over 100 attendees across the six walks. The Thames Estuary ringing group, lead by Roger Kiddie, have continued to provide ringing events, which is a great opportunity for local people and children to get close to our wonderful species. These have been continuously fully-booked, and the next session with good availability isn’t until November! The Medway Local Group will also be welcoming visitors onto the reserve for their Family Fun-Day on the 28th of August, and have lots of fun activities planned for the day!

In our final bit of news, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that Dave Saunders, along with some of the reserve team, featured in an article in the latest issue of Nature’s Home Magazine. Dave has been leading on a plastic clean-up initiative on the sea-wall at Cliffe Pools, and has now carried out five sessions across the last 18 months, which has lead to over 5 tonnes of waste being removed from the South Thames foreshore. This has been a huge undertaking, and we must give big thanks to Dave and the 200+ volunteers involved for all their hard work. 

As we move into Autumn/Winter, we are looking forward to getting stuck back into our winter habitat management programme!