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A Minor Drama on the creek

Sunday 6th March

Emergency fire services vehicles and volunteers from British Divers Marine Life Rescue rushed to the top of Faversham Creek early on Sunday morning after being alerted to a Common Dolphin that had stranded in shallow water just below the outfall from the allotments.

Up to four fire service vehicles attended including the specialist animal rescue vehicle based in Faversham.

Thanks to a good team effort from the two services the animal was rescued successfully and taken to the Harty Ferry slipway at Oare Marshes where it was released into the Swale. Allotment Society members who were angling in the Swale on Saturday were treated to the sight of 4 – 5 dolphins east of Sheerness, so perhaps this unlucky youngster had become separated from the family pod.

Many thanks to the local Fire Service and BDMLR who responded so promptly and whose efforts resulted in a happy ending.

Road closure for Dolphin Rescue
Loading the Dolphin onto the rescue vehicle for transport to the Swale

New Gauge Board Installed

A water monitoring gauge board has been installed in the stream in Flood Lane. This, with two boards upstream in the Westbrook Stream and the water measurement levels taken on the allotment watercourses will contribute to a better understanding of how water levels fluctuate in the Westbrook catchment and inform management.

Thanks are due to the Friends of Westbrook and Stonebridge Pond who purchased the gauge boards and to Nigel of the Friends who calibrated the Flood Lane board to Ordnance data, Newlyn Cornwall.

An Exotic Visitor to the Pond

A drake Mandarin Duck has been on the Stonebridge Pond for the last few days.

The Mandarin Duck is a native of Eastern Asia where it is found mainly in China and Japan. It was introduced to Britain in the 1800s, with later introduction of free flying individuals at the beginning of the twentieth century and is now established as a breeding species in the wild. It nests in tree holes or nest boxes in woodland next to rivers and lakes. It first bred in Kent in 1935 and there are now 100 – 150 pairs nesting in the county.

It is perhaps the most beautiful duck species in the world. I photographed it today near to the duck feeding area.

Stream Clear

On Sunday 29th August four plotholders assisted the many volunteers from The Friends of Westbrook and Stonebridge clear encroaching vegetation from the channel between the allotments and Morrisons Green in Flood Lane. Sedges and Yellow Flag that had grown out from the allotment side and were partially blocking the stream were cut back to increase the width of clear water. A narrow fringe of vegetation was left to provide habitat for aquatic invertebrates, food for ducklings and other water birds and provide a refuge for young chicks. The Friends pulled out the cut vegetation for collection by SBC. Good work by all.

An unwanted Alien

Last year we discovered a few plants of the alien Indian or Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera, also known as Policeman’s helmet after the shape of the flowers, growing in one of the water courses and on the adjacent allotment. The origin of these plants is not known.

Himalayan balsam is listed under schedule 9 of the Wildlife Act. Himalayan Balsam is regarded as an invasive weed by the Environment Agency of the UK Government. It is legislated under The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2012 under section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981nd Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence to plant this species or to cause it to grow in the wild. It was introduced to the UK in 1839 and is now a naturalised plant found mainly on riverbanks.

As an occupier of land –

We must not plant in the wild, or cause to grow in the wild, listed plants which are either non-native, or invasive non-native. This can include moving contaminated soil or plant cuttings. If we do, we can be fined or sent to prison for up to 2 years.

We must not do any of the following with them:

grow, cultivate or permit to reproduce.

The invasive weed can tolerate low light levels and can ‘shade out’ other plants so that it will gradually kill them off due to a lack of light.

Whilst Himalayan Balsam is an annual plant, its high level of seed production and vigorous seed dispersal means that it is highly invasive. Each plant produces at least 500 seeds, which can be propelled up to 7 metres from the parent plant by seed pods that are explosive to touch. Seeds remain viable in the soil for two to three years.

Hand pulling can be a very effective strategy where an infestation is relatively low. To attempt to fully eradicate Himalayan Balsam from a site, a key objective is to exhaust the plant’s seed bank. This is done by repeatedly removing adult plants before they set seed. Last year we managed to pull up and dispose of the plants before they set seed. So far, we have not recorded it again at the original location.

If you see this plant growing anywhere on the allotment, please pull it up and inform the committee of its presence. This should be done carefully to avoid stimulating the explosive release of any seed present. As a responsible Allotment Society, we have an obligation to control Himalayan Balsam populations on our land and help prevent the spread of the non-native invasive species. The photographs below by Bob Gomes illustrate the plant.

Recent cold weather arrivals

During the recent cold spell we were lucky enough to be visited by a Great White Egret. This large all white heron is about the size of the Grey Heron but more elegant with a longer neck and legs. It is almost twice the size of the more familiar Little Egret. In most years the Great White Egret has started to become a regular visitor to the UK. Its numbers have increased in the recent twenty years and it has now started to nest in a few sites in GB. The snow and freezing conditions appear to have forced the egrets off frozen inland wetlands or perhaps triggered an influx from the continent; up to 9 were seen on the coastal marshes in the Faversham area. One of these visited the allotments on Sun 14th Feb. when I was lucky to obtain some photographs. It was, however, seen off by our local Grey Heron that appeared not to want to share its favourite fishing spot!

Cormorants also moved onto Stonebridge Pond during the freeze. Normally we see just one or two occasionally, but there were up to 14 on the pond during the cold spell.

Great White Egret
Great White Egret and Grey Heron
Cormorants on platform