White tailed Eagle reintroduction to the Isle of Wight?

White tailed Eagle reintroduction to the Isle of Wight?

A personal reflection.

I was pleased to be able to get to one of the consultation meetings over the proposed reintroduction of the White-tailed Eagle onto the Isle of Wight in 2019. The project is certainly ambitious and one that might be expected of wild remote coasts rather than a lowland Island off the busy English south coast.

Fourth largest Eagle in the world.

The White-tailed Eagle or Sea Eagle as they are often called is undoubtedly an impressive bird. The adult has a 2.5 metre wingspan with a white head and tail. Their current range covers northern and eastern Europe and was largely lost as a breeding species in England by the end of the 18th c. It was in the mid-1970s that Sea Eagles were successfully introduced into Scotland on the Isle of Rum. And as it happens, I was working on Rum at the time and among my other duties, I helped build the cages to keep the young in before they were fledged and released into the wild.

Courtship display

Some years later whilst still on Rum, I had the fortune to watch their courtship display when high up in the sky, the birds locked talons in mid-air and cartwheeled down earthwards before releasing themselves only to fly up skywards again.  This courtship display was quite a few decades ago now, but I still clearly remember it – it was spectacular!

The potential reintroduction of the Sea Eagle to the Isle of Wight is being proposed by the Forestry Commission and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. Both organisations have a good reputation for wildlife management and for species introductions and more can be found about the plans, along with an online questionnaire at www.roydennis.org/isleofwight .

Display panel

One of the consultation display panels on reintroducing the White tailed Eagle to the Isle of Wight.

Top species predator

So, do we really want a top species predator to be introduced to the Isle of Wight and the Solent? Is the UK conservation movement (or even the Island conservation movement) at one in wanting this reintroduction? Well, I would say probably not – there are reservations, some would argue that we need to ensure existing species and habitats are in good order first before reintroducing species that were here hundreds of years ago.

Others will argue that we need a full time Forestry Commission Wildlife Ranger on the Island instead or that scarce environment funds should go towards maintaining our AONB, country parks and nature reserves.

Yet, notwithstanding the careful preparation work to be completed before any permission is given for reintroduction, this initiative might just be that special thing that highlights the Island’s natural beauty, encourages visitor spend in the local economy, links in with the new Coast Path to be established around the island and balances the current proposal to establish the Island as a Biosphere Reserve.  And if the Sea Eagles are allowed to fly? Then perhaps I might once again see the remarkable courtship display above my head – this time on the Isle of Wight.

Bread making on Mental Health Day

Mental Health Day 7th October 2018

The Isle of Wight Festival of Mind, organised by AspireRyde, was held as part of Mental Health Day and there was a range of activities on offer to help people relax and enjoy life a little more.

I took part in the bread making course run by Vectis Housing. It was an excellent course and was enjoyed by all of us who took part. The end result was tasty too!

Just out of the oven!

The Festival of Mind was held at their community buildings, formerly Holy Trinity Church. Within the grounds of the old church was community growing project called Growing Great Things aimed at improving the health and wellbeing and reducing isolation of local people. I met up with Alice the organiser who told me the project was really well attended  with activities happening three days a week. Numbers of people attending were high with the limiting factor being time and money.

Tomatoes from the Growing Great Things project

Growing Great Things is just one of several green centered activities to be found on the Island aimed at connecting people with the outdoors and the natural environment.  It seems to me that perhaps more could be done to promote these excellent activities to both the wider public and to the health and care profession so that they can be better accessed by more people and better funded.

 

 

 

Photos by Pete Johnstone

More photos of Mental health day can be seen here

Pete’s pictures now up in the New Rembrandt Gallery, Newport

A new venue for my pictures in the centre of the Isle of Wight! Throughout October they can be found at the New Rembrandt Gallery in Newport.

All the scenes are of West Wight and the images have been printed on Aluminium Dibond, a process which ensures excellent picture quality and durability. The matte finish reduces the glare that can often be seen when pictures are mounted behind glass. The prints are 21x28cm priced at £55 each.

The images, all taken over the past year are of the coast and mostly shot in winter, when I reckon the light on the Isle of Wight can be at its best.

New Rembrandt Gallery, 15 Scarrots Lane, Newport PO30 1JD

 

 

Yar Estuary walk and AONB boundary review

A walk along the Yar estuary

I can join the Freshwater to Yarmouth walk just down my road. It is currently my favourite walk as it seems to capture the best landscapes of lowland England. I head out one glorious September morning.

The prominent landscape feature of the walk Is the Western Yar estuary and I cross the river at the Freshwater causeway with a warning sign alerting driver to be aware of the possibility that swans might be in the road. Are Swans that small that they could be overlooked?

Then the walk is along the old railway line that once served Yarmouth town. The railway line which closed in 1953, is long since dismantled but you can still spot the old metal fence posts that once ran along side the line. The woodland growing up here is quite diverse and on previous walks I have once spotted a dormouse and on numerous occasions red squirrels. Today, I spot a Buzzard lurking in the wood and it flies from one tree to another before flying off across the river.

Past Backets copse the view of the estuary opens up and takes centre stage. Today, I see curlew, lapwing and an egret but later in the year, the estuary is full of wading birds and I have seen Avocet, Spoonbill and my favourite goose, the Dark Bellied Brent Geese where at times, they can be seen in their hundreds. And a  perfect sight it is too.

Wildlife designations

The Yar Estuary is internationally recognised for its special wildlife and the designations include a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a  RAMSAR and a Special Protection Area.   Each one of these designations is from a different body and should give the area, particularly the wildlife and waterscape protection against any potential damaging development. The fourth designation afforded to the river and surrounding hinterland including Yarmouth town is the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There is a national government AONB boundary review currently taking place and I sincerely hope that more of the Island will be given AONB status as the current boundary makes little sense to me.

As I head towards Yarmouth I take a diversion to Mill Copse. This lovely woodland manged by the Wight Nature Fund has a rich variety of trees to be found in it. My favourites must be the coppiced Field Maple to be found on the far side along the footpath. Goodness knows when they were last coppiced, but they do look magnificently ancient.

Yarmouth Town

Back on the old railway line, past the old water mill into Yarmouth. Plenty to see and do in Yarmouth, best pub is arguably the Kings Head but I go and look at the newly restored pier – built in 1876 it is said to the oldest  wooden pier in the country and has just been beautifully restored, thanks to the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £778,000. I want to see the lobster boats, but all I see is their gear squeezed between some posh yachts.

I cross the Yar over the bridge, bypassing Norton Spit with its sand dunes habitat – the only sand dune habitat that I know of on the Island. Up through Saltern Wood with its No Trespassing signs, I see evidence of badgers and onto the highest point of the walk and views of the chalk downland hills and of Tennyson Monument. But I will leave that walk for another day.

 

Photos and text Pete Johnstone

The Solent, a tree, a country park and something special

It is not often you come across something special, but today was that day when walking along the shore at Fort Victoria Country Park I came across David Wallace and his horizontal tree carving.  Horizontal as the sea is ever encroaching on the land and the holm oaks are forever slip sliding into the sea.

David has taken to carving the fallen trees and this one is of the animal life of the Solent, both past and present. David stopped work for a moment and we counted how many species he had done. 24, no it was 25 in all as he had forgotten to count the seal at the base of the tree.

The Solent and the tree

View across the Solent from where David is carving the fallen tree.

I came back later in the day as David had kindly allowed me to take photos of him and his work. Whilst there I watched him engage with passers by enthralled by his work – he really is knowledgeable about the marine environment and people keep asking questions – often he spends more time talking to people than carving – but then it is all voluntary, so there are no targets to keep.

It’s the ‘aquarium’ for the ranger explained David – much easier to illustrate what lives in the sea than from any book or a picture. David has been carving since 8 years old, mostly public works of art with the occasional private commission. The Solent carving has taken two months and he says he will keep going until it is finished or indeed until it gets washed away by the sea.

Tree carving

Admiring the tree carving on the shoreline

A passer-by asked me what my favourite carving was, I immediately said the limpet, but on second thoughts it’s probably the sand slater or maybe even the stingray…

Location: Fort Victoria Country Park, Isle of Wight.

Addendum: This year we celebrate the Countryside Act’s 50th Anniversary.  One of the outcomes of the Act was the creation of Country Parks – and a key component of Country Parks was enjoyment of the countryside and I reckon David Wallace’s work is a fine example of Country Parks in action today.

UPDATE: On the night of October 17th someone came to the Country Park sawed the carving from its trunk and stole the lovely carving and took it away. Now all that remains of David’s work of all Summer long is a tree stump. If you ever get offered or see anything resembling David’s tree carving from the pics above please inform the Police.

The Countryside Act 50th Anniversary

This month see the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Countryside Act.  To celebrate this, an event was held recently by past staff and Board members of the Countryside Commission.  This was an opportunity to reflect on some of the achievements of the Act, many of which are still influencing countryside work today.

The Act was developed against a backdrop of an increasingly urban population, becoming more isolated from the benefits that the natural environment can provide and a recognition that something needed to be done about this. Sounds familiar!

The formal purpose of the act was

…to enlarge the functions of the National Parks Commission (NPC), to confer new powers on local authorities and other bodies for the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty and for the benefit of those resorting to the countryside and … to amend the law about trees and woodlands, footpaths, bridleways, and other public paths.

The Countryside Act bestowed powers to undertake or grant-aid experimental research projects, powers that have now been inherited by Natural England.  From this came hugely significant initiatives that remain with us today. One example is the early thinking and piloting of practical land management that led to Countryside Stewardship including a landscape monitoring initiative that has now been running for 44 years (Another was Country Parks next post)

A second and contrasting example is the support that was given to the National Small Woods Association.  This is described by Ian Baker (current CEO) in his blog, which also provides a further insightful consideration of the 50th anniversary: https://www.facebook.com/smallwoods.org.uk/posts/2191623497518998.  The establishment of the National Forest in the early 1990’s in Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire and the suite of Community Forests which followed elsewhere is yet another example.  These have provided the inspiration for the commitment to create a new Northern Forest in the Defra 25 Year Plan.

Natural England’s drive to create resilient landscapes and seas; to put people at the heart of the environment and to grow natural capital, enshrined in their Conservation 21 Strategy, now carries the mantle in the 21st Century.  In this context, it was great to hear the reflections of those involved in some of the early pioneering work including from Adrian Phillips and Michael Dower, both Director Generals of the Countryside Commission, created by the Act to replace the NPC, as well as those of Marian Spain (Natural England Board member, CEO Plantlife, New Forest Park Authority), who focused on the continuing relevance of the legacy of the Countryside Act today.

Next year the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 will be 70 years old and no doubt itself will be the subject of its own anniversary celebrations.  Michael Gove, Secretary of State (Defra) recently announced a review of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This review, to be led by Julian Glover, will bring us back full circle to ‘look at how these iconic landscapes meet our needs in the 21st century’.  The legacy of the great achievements that stemmed from the Countryside Act 1968 will no doubt be an important backdrop to the Glover Review.

 

With thanks to David Vose, Natural England.

Photographing the Greensand Country

Greensand Country Landscape Partnership

It was particularly pleasing to secure a photography commission from the Greensand Country Landscape Partnership as previously, some years back, I had played a part in helping to devise the Audience Development Plan for the project.

My current role is to help build up a library of photographs that feature the distinctive qualities of the Greensand Country. The two days recently spent in the area were to focus on taking photographs of the first Greensand Country Festival (26th May – 3rd June 2018) with the photos helping to monitor progress and for use in future Festival guides and publicity.

In all I attended 6 Festival events ranging from a ramblers walk, a very well attended Walk4health walk through the lovely and recently restored Ampthill Great Park (again HLF Funded) a Forest School activity through to a singing event on Woburn Sands Station!

I thoroughly enjoyed the two days which was really helped by people happily allowing me to take their photographs.  While taking the photos I must have spoken to several dozen people and it is surprising how few have heard of the HLF funded Landscape Partnership schemes.

These Landscape Partnerships have helped restore many local landscapes up and around the country and one that has engaged many thousands of people in the process. Just one of life’s hidden gems, I guess.

Background: Greensand Country is an island of distinctive, beautiful and loved countryside in the heart of Bedfordshire. The area contains all of Bedfordshire’s remaining heathland, more than half of its woodland and more historic parkland per hectare than anywhere else in the country. It is a landscape rich in wildlife and cultural heritage, with its own special qualities and sense of place.

More info: http://greensandcountry.com/

Photographs. Taken by Pete Johnstone, published courtesy of Greensand Country ©. All images have parental permissions where required.

 

 

West Wight People and Place (Isle of Wight)

Final (frantic?) touches are going into the exhibition which launches next week at the Dimbola Museum and Galleries, in Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight.

I am really looking forward to the exhibition opening and show casing the many fascinating people I have photographed in West Wight over the past year.

West Wight People and Place seeks to capture the contribution that people are making to this diverse rural community, be it around the sea, landscape, heritage or the community itself.

Also great to be co-hosted with Jan Ramscar.

Pete Johnstone

 

 

 

Wild Flower funding (UK)

Grow Wild Community Project Funding 2018

The innovative wild flower project from Kew has another funding round.

Grants are available to groups and projects working on activities to connect and celebrate UK native wildflowers, plants and fungi.

Grants of £2000 or £4000 are available

Grow Wild will fund 50 groups in 2018 across England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Voluntary and charitable groups can apply – must be constituted and not – for -profit.

Deadline: 15th January 2018

More information: https://www.growwilduk.com/project-funding

Grow Wild is funded by the Big  Lottery Fund

 

Photo: Wild Flower meadow, Isle of Wight ©Pete Johnstone.

Re thinking Parks – Replication awards (UK)

Re thinking Parks – Replication awards

Nesta, the Innovation charity along with the Heritage Lottery Fund, both of whom have a long-standing interest in saving parks have opened a new award scheme to help organisations rethink parks across the UK,

Whether you are from a local authority, social enterprise, business improvement district, ‘Friends of’ group, or beyond, Nesta would love to hear your plans and ideas on how we can rethink parks across the UK.

There are two funding streams in this current round of funding – the Replication award and the Prototyping award.

As always Nesta are looking for innovative approaches to the management of parks which could include the setting up of Parks Foundations and ways to use digital technology to help address the challenges that face parks.

Further details here

Deadline: Tuesday 27th February 2018