The Lowlands of Kent
The tree-lined headgerows by Jill Tardivel
by Nick Tardivel
The dates for the BBS are amongst the first into the diary each year. It has become a fixture and, though I sometimes wonder why I do it, I always enjoy the early morning walk – along the lanes and through woodland, on a south-facing slope near Canterbury in Kent. I had not realised that I had been doing this survey for 20 years until receiving a thank-you this year from the BTO!
Apart from occasional grazing by horses, the square is largely arable farmland within further arable farmland. The area is not devoid of character as there are tree-lined hedgerows and woodlands that frame the scene and provide habitats for birds.
The survey route is relatively easy as it follows two north–south lanes running parallel through the square. Whilst one of these is right on the line required (200m from the west edge of the square), the other runs along the outer edge of the square. To get from one lane to the other there is access through mixed woodland and, with permission to use a farmer’s field, the route runs along the edge of the woodland for two transect sections before joining the lane. The most difficult part is negotiating the fence to get in to the road. The fence seems to become more of a barrier each year! Maybe that’s an age thing?
The species recorded vary a little each year but there is always a core of regulars. The Wrens, Blackbirds, Chaffinches and Song Thrushes (still some about), and a Green Woodpecker or two are always there. Woodpigeons are almost too numerous to count. I pass only one house en route and the House Sparrows, which I recorded here, disappeared after 1999 and I no longer see this species. I have not seen Mistle Thrush since 2005.
The highlights are the species which occur in small numbers or intermittently. There were five singing Nightingales one year in the 1990s before a decline until none were recorded for several years. After recent coppicing in the wood they have returned and there were two pairs last year, only one this.
Turtle Doves were present in 2003 and 2004 and then not again until 2009. cuckoo is intermittent with one in 2003 and another in 2009.
Apart from Chaffinches, finches are thin on the ground. I see Bullfinch occasionally and there were a pair of Linnets in the roadside hedge for three years and a second pair near the house for a couple of years. Greenfinches make occasional appearances.
There are few birds of prey. Kestrel and Sparrowhawk have been recorded only a couple of times each during the 20 years. However, Buzzards, which are returning to Kent as a breeding species, are now regularly seen. They nest in the valley. This season I had Tawny Owl calling; these birds have taken residence in a couple of the boxes we have erected in the wood and we ringed two broods this season.
Generally, apart from the Woodpigeons, Pheasants and Chaffinches, bird numbers are lower than 20 years ago but there are still enough to make for a busy survey.
It is not just the birds that make the survey: I have encountered foxes regularly and my route crosses wellused badger tracks. I have seen deer prints once, but there is no evidence of a regular presence in the woodland.
I should also mention the support I have had from my wife Jill who runs me out and collects me from the site and from the Aspinall Estate and Mr Howland, who allow me access across their land so that I can complete the survey. When I look back over the last 20 years on my BBS patch, it is interesting to dip into the subtle changes taking place in the local countryside and relate these to the trends read about in the press.
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