Recently, a new exhibition opened at The Beaney Museum in Canterbury, the lovely cathedral city of note in Kent, England. In the corner of Kent Wildlife Connected In Time, devoted to the past, present and hopeful future of Kent’s natural world, is a video presentation put together by myself and Lizzie Talbot of Natural England, featuring photography by yours truly.
Since 2017 I’ve been taking photographs as a volunteer for Natural England at two of their nature reserves in Kent – Wye National Nature Reserve and Hamstreet Woods National Nature Reserve.
My photographic work is fixed point surveying, returning to the same locations time after time to take similar photos in similar directions so as to get a view of how conservation is progressing on the reserves. Photos from some of these points are included in the presentation, together with some shots of wildlife taken over the years exploring the reserve.
The exhibition is a positive look at Kent’s wildlife, runs until the middle of March and I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area, particularly with youngsters! Why not visit Wye NNR shortly thereafter?
And now, more details for those who want more and aren’t afraid to read!
The initial surveys were conducted between 1989 and 1991, shot on a mix of slide and negative 35mm film. Handy back then, but not so much now. Unfortunately for me, the surveys between then and 2002 were lost due to a reserve manager having an enthusiastic clear out of a cupboard at some point. Any surveys done since are pretty much lost too, possibly for similar reasons. This isn’t unusual. Archiving photos is hardly a reserve manager’s job description and indeed a recent meeting revealed a similar issue over in Sussex where surveying has also resumed for the first time in decades.
Having resumed Kent surveys digitally, I’ve been cataloguing the photos together with some of the original scans and even 2002 digital shots! So far, I’ve mostly concentrated on Wye but hope to catch up with Hamstreet Woods in 2022. It’s revealed quite a change in some areas, with others looking startlingly similar. This might sound uninteresting, but much of the work at Wye is stopping the encroachment of scrub, particularly rampant blackthorn, on to patches of wild orchids. If things haven’t changed much in 30 years, that’s actually good news for those orchids as the scrub management is working!
A major challenge at Wye was the amount of fields, numbered as compartments on a map in the 90s, has halved, with fences being removed and confusingly added or moved since. Maps from that time, and indeed the descriptions of what I was looking at and where to photograph, were very different in some areas. With the scans of the slides taking a while to be completed, I spent many a weekend just stood on a hillside confused, looking at papers and spinning round. As a consequence I’ve redrawn the map of the site, superimposing the photo points where they actually are and writing an associated document with OS grid references for each one, accurate to 5metres. Another document on how to do fixed point surveying is also in the works!
Considering there are 49 points at Wye, 9 at the neighbouring Winchcombe site and around 35 at Hamstreet Woods, it has taken 4 years to go round the reserves twice. Admittedly a pandemic came along, but still, it’s far harder work than I anticipated, but it gave me something to do that will hopefully benefit the natural world and it makes use of my photographic interests. A bonus is it also gives me access to the entirety of the reserves, resulting in me seeing and photographing wonderful sights. There’s a stretch of wild garlic that would kill a vampire at 100 paces!
Just as reserves managed by charities rely on volunteers to get work done, so do the ones managed by Natural England. They’re a long arm of the government, looking after vast swathes of land including some that’s owned by others and confusingly owning land looked after by others too. Controversially this means they’re involved in looking after reserves where driven game shooting is still hosted. That said, most likely to make ones blood simmer is their association with issuing gun licenses for culling. I don’t condone the badger culls or indeed driven game shooting and believe the nature reserves don’t get the funding they could, especially considering the state our natural world is in.