Cold and windy (although, for once, not wet) weather greeted the people who turned up at the Walkabout.
As Chris Bradshaw said, the birds had all basically left, but we still saw, mallards, oyster catchers and a pair of swans with their four cygnets swimming around in one of the scrapes on North Screed. Chris gave a succinct description of the results to date, which is invaluable data for knowing what we should be working on to improve.
The emphasis of the walkaround then shifted to the management of this kind of project, its effect on the soils and topography and how that could, potentially, impact on a return to all out farming on the land. For example, the need to still have a program of drain jetting drains was highlighted. None of us know, at this stage what the priorities and attitudes of funding agencies will be in 2019 when this project ends, so it is best to keep all options open.
Keith Poole of Yorkshire Conservation and Farming said his best guess was that in the long term, there will be a return to food production on many projects. However, on land where the environmental benefits have proved their value, the best guess is that this will be recognized and valued.
What is increasingly clear to me is that better control of the water levels is required. This is not an easy problem, as you have to plan for everything from searing drought (2011) to deluges (2012). Getting it right, however, is key to the project. Last year, the drought limited the areas with optimal habitat for breeding waders. This year, some of the nests were flooded out. We have commissioned the Yedingham and Muston Drainage Board to do a more detailed survey of he levels between the fields to see if an arrangement of pipes between fields would allow us not only to distribute surface water between fields, but also to let the wider distribution of the water to substantially reduce the risk of flooding when there are large downpours. If the levels allow it, that might solve both problems (drought and flooding) in one fell swoop!
Such a scheme would also lead us away from trying to fill the scrapes by raising the water table (which is proving difficult) and instead harness existing flows of surface water. This surface water flow is, even in dry years, very reliable, so I am hopeful that the survey will show that this can be done.
Three people from the Scarborough Sea Life Centre attended and we had an interesting discussion them about the problems of surveying crayfish in the local water courses. The main issue seemed to have been getting the necessary licences to conduct the surveys. It left me thinking that, whatever the future may bring, I hope that it brings clarity to the policies that guide the different governmental agencies that are invovled with environmental issues.
Certainly, we have seen a much clearer focus in the Wetlands Project we are currently subscribed to than we saw in the Habitat Scheme which preceded it, but as with anything, time is needed to get it right.
So we seem to be heading in the right direction and I think I will second Keith Poole's best guess.
Steve and Jocelyn Gibson were also there amongst the attendees. We have much to live up to reach the standards I saw when we visited their farm last year. John and Andrew Middlewood were also present. John has been the tenant on Glebe Farm, which is adjacent to our wetlands, and provided some useful snippets from bygone days.
After everyone left, Helen and I sat down and over a glass of Sauvignon Blanc asked ourselves "What next?" in terms of open days and visits.
The best idea we came up with would be to organise two visits, one in winter when the migratory birds are there, one in April or May. A maximum of, say 30 people to avoid disturbing the wildlife. It is best to reduce the number of visits to the site to minimise disturbance of the wildlife, and also better, for everyone, to concentrate people into one visit. This allows for a more of a critical mass of thinking minds. The benefits would be, for example, a much better flow of information, in one direction by having Chris Bradshaw present, and in the other direction, by us benefiting from a critical mass of thinking minds and their suggestions and insights.
Thanks to everyone who turned up!