- Nature Notes
For those newly joined, welcome and thanks! We hope you enjoy keeping in touch through our newsletter which we send monthly from Sept to June.
Please keep an eye on the website, our twitter feed and the board in the car park for more updates.
Autumn & Winter opening hours: 8 a.m. To 5 p.m.
We are closed on Tuesdays.
Late closing for Friends will be the first Thursday of each month (2nd March, 6th April, 4th May, 1st June, 6th July, 3rd August, 7th September, 5th October).
Spring Clean - Saturday 8th April. Meet in the car park at 10 am on Saturday 8th April for the annual sea wall litter sweep. Tea and biscuits to follow around midday.
Thank you very much to Barry whom has very generously devoted time to help with the Friends admin. We are now sending a reminder for subs renewals and have a concise handout booklet for visitors to take as they wish at the entry gate.
Late opening, as mentioned last month, has restarted this year with a good number staying late last Thursday. Future dates are the first Thursday of each month: 6th April, 4th May, 1st June, 6th July, 3rd August, 7th September, 5th October.
2017 stickers now available for collection or send a SAE to us - Kingshill Farm, Elmley, Kent, ME12 3RW.
Social Media and Day Visitors
We usually try to avoid being entangled in very time-consuming and often negative social media exchanges but on this occasion we though it a good opportunity to clarify our position on several points. As Friends of Elmley you will know that your annual subs are collected by the Elmley Nature Reserve CIC a not-for-profit and are only spent on visitor facilities and associated admin costs. We continue to invest significantly in day-visitor facilities and welcome a broad range of visitors in addition to our Friends. If interested or unsure you may like to read the piece that follows which clarifies several points for some day visitors:
Response to a group conversation on Facebook's Kent Birding: "Thank you to you all for taking the time to comment and share your opinions. We normally don’t engage with these social media discussions, as many of you know our office door and email account is open for conversations. However it is important at this stage that we do respond. I will try to respond to the main points discussed below.
Access and entry charge:
As an National Nature Reserve, one of the tenets is public access in some form. However this does not need to be 6 days a week from 8am to 5pm. We choose to open our family home during these times because we strongly believe in providing public access.
As a National Nature Reserve we are entitled to charge, and do have support from Natural England in this. When the RSPB left we decided to request a contribution on an honesty basis. It is stated clearly on the website that this is for entrance. All funds raised are held by a not-for-profit company – The Elmley Nature Reserve Community Interest Company – and all go directly towards supporting the visitor facilities. We have spent a huge amount of money and effort in improving the facilities - a new disabled access visitor loo (with heating and hot water) will be going in by end of March, in addition to the Swale viewing screen, perching posts on the way to the hides, new scrapes next to the road for better birding from the car, improvements to the hides.
The facilities do include the entrance road, firstly as it costs us a huge amount in time and materials to maintain it to its standard which are needed by the c.15,000 visitors to Elmley.
However this is also to try and encourage longer and more careful visits rather than visitors rushing up and down the track to spot an owl which causes the majority of disturbance to the wildlife and difficulties for us as wardens.
Sadly, only around 20% of visitors contribute. This means that we do not collect sufficient funds through the Elmley Nature Reserve Community Interest Company to maintain the visitor facilities as we do and in fact it is heavily subsidized by us. This is also sadly unfair on those visitors which do pay and the Friends of Elmley.
We are very aware that collection and information could be better managed (please remember we are a small team and working hard). All comments and suggestions here have been taken on board. But there are many visitors that know and choose still not to pay. To counter any confusion and ensure that we can properly maintain the visitor facilities we will have to move to an entry charge system in the future (which would provide concessions). This does have the support of Natural England.
If you do still feel strongly about the entry, please do instead visit Swale NNR which we also manage, along with three hides accessible 24/7 (but no expensive entry road!) and there is no entry charge.
There have been some comments that we are not ‘birder friendly’. This is not of course not true but it is worth us taking a few lines to explain our approach. As many of you know we are entirely unique in that since the early ‘90s we are the only National Nature Reserve that is owned and managed by a farming family. This is something that we are very proud of. As we are not managed in the same way as other organisations we do not run the Nature Reserve along the same traditions as other nature reserves. It is perhaps this difference in our appearance that feels unfamiliar to some. However, as with every other nature reserve, and wildlife organisation, our primary focus is conservation. We therefore have taken the position that we do not advertise rarities or sightings, as experience has unfortunately shown us this creates disturbance (seen even today as the SEOs were put up from their roost yet again). Our conservation work still continues strongly with exceptional results, those special sightings are there but we just don’t use them to promote our reserve. Instead our approach is to welcome all visitors. As has been discussed by other comments we have put great effort into making the reserve more accessible for reduced mobility visitors. And yes it is not perfect but we do try! However, accessibility to all also means bringing in a new type of visitor. I am very pleased that at Elmley we now welcome a much wider type of visitor, many of whom have never visited a nature reserve, seen a hare, owl or even a lapwing, but are converted to wildlife through their visits (whether that is as a day visitor, a wedding guest or a shepherd’s hut guest). This for me is what we need to be doing in conservation, to get new people enthused and caring about wildlife. Every visitor is very welcome at Elmley, birder or non-birder, as long as they follow our simple house rules – primarily to stay in their car on the entrance track, and not walk on the sea wall.
Communication: It is a question of time, as we have explained, the visitor facilities are not for profit - we do not take any payment or salary for the many hours that we spend on visitor communication and administration. We have a fantastic team of dedicated volunteers and we are are very lucky to recently have two new brilliant volunteers with far better excel and admin expertise than us to help with the administration of the Friends of Elmley group. Also, it may not be quite so apparent from this chain of comments (though a big thank you to those who have been supportive on here) but the feedback and conversations we have with most of our visitors both in person or by email is hugely positive about our work and our changes.
Family home: As a separate, but very important point I do ask that all visitors remember that Elmley is our family home and also home to some of our team. Whilst the vast majority of our visitors are friendly, polite and a pleasure to welcome, there are an unfortunately regular occurrences when we, or our staff members, are spoken to rudely whilst we are going about our business , and even more sadly our hard working volunteer wardens have also been spoken to aggressively and abusively. Everyone is entitled to a different opinion but whatever your thoughts on how we operate the Nature Reserve please do remember that you are visiting our home and I would ask that we are treated with respect.
If you are still reading after this very lengthy post, I do hope this has answered some questions I would prefer not to continue discussion on here but if you would like to discuss anything further please do get in contact and we would be very happy to chat (details on the website). And most importantly I would like to say a public thank you to everyone who supports our work both on here and in other ways, both the Friends of Elmley and other visitors."
A change in the season is upon us. The marsh is alive with 'pee-wit', blackthorn is blooming on the margins and the harriers are sky-dancing over the reedbeds. All very welcome sights after a long dry winter, which is still evident with much of the marsh remaining rock hard - extraordinary for March! Rain does seem to be more forthcoming this month so lets hope for dry days and lots of wet nights!
Sheppey is awash with Short-Eared Owls this winter and there are some brilliant shots on Flickr of those here. Do please help everyone enjoy them for as long as they stay by asking folks to stay in their cars and avoid chasing them to and fro, especially next to their roosts. Thank you to everyone already helping warden along the entry road too!
Litter pick - the recent gales have blown a huge amount of plastic and other rubbish off the Swale and onto the marsh. If you would like to help clean up the sea walls and adjacent reed beds and ditches do join us - 10:00 on Saturday 8th April. We will meet in the car park and finish with tea and biscuits! Here's a look at 2015's efforts.
Spring management work on the marsh - As the lapwing and redshank begin to pair up and establish territories you will notice the livestock have left for lambing and calving and that we have started our Spring work. To that end a quad will be running a daily route around the marsh, both at Elmley and the Swale NNR. This Spring management work will ensure that conditions are a good as we can possibly make them for the breeding birds, their eggs and later their chicks. Rest assured that the quads stick to a single route which avoids any nests (which we mark) and time on the marsh is kept to an absolute minimum. If you are asked by new visitors what the team are doing do please let them know that it is annual work which produces over 350 fledged lapwing and more redshank each year. If anyone is interested in specific information do get in touch or ask when you visit.
New loos - We are expecting the new visitor toilets to be delivered next week and so we will aim to have them fitted and tested by the end of the month. The new toilets will have two ladies, a disabled and a gents toilets all will insulation and hot water. They will sit adjacent to the information boards at the end of the car park. More to follow in next months newsletter.
February continued to herald the impending arrival of spring, a lot of the common buzzards have gone off to find a mate somewhere, but have been replaced by many more Marsh Harriers, one morning we counted fifteen in the space of ten minutes, between Straymarsh and Kingshill, three amorous pairs, one lone female desperately seeking a mate,and a fantastic display of eight immature birds strafing the cover crop trying to drive out I suspect a pheasant. The highlight of the month was the extremely confiding Bittern to the delight of the assembled photographers, who no doubt were chasing the Short Eared Owls which have arrived at their usual daytime hunting grounds bang on time at the beginning of March. I have myself taken some two hundred shots of that rather showy Ruff with the white head, he has come all the way from Arnhem in Holland (Rod from the Swale Waders Group is checking it out now) It has a metal ring with the number 1571422, which unfortunately goes right round his leg. hence so many shots Common Snipe are skulking along the edges of the rills quite close to the road. Curlew flocks are also building.
(Image: Marsh harriers, Richard P, many thanks)
(Greater) Canada Goose
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Short Eared Owl
Great White Egret
Hen Harrier (m)
Migrants - see the board
High Tide Times