Yellow-tailed scorpions

It’s believed the yellow-tailed scorpions first arrived on our shores in the 18th Century, during the days George III was on the throne. It’s thought they made their way over from other lands on merchant ships carrying cargoes of Italian masonry. They are now an established and recognised colony, residing in Sheerness Dockyard. It’s the largest and most well known wild scorpion colony in the UK. With the warmer, sunnier weather the colony is thriving – it’s thought there are over 10,000 now living in the crevices of the walls at Sheerness Docks. Read

Wildlife of the White Cliffs

The wildlife and history of the iconic White Cliffs of Dover (BBC Springwatch).

Chalk river

In 1989, the River Dartford gained the dubious official distinction of being the ‘lowest flowing’ river in the UK due to neglect and over abstraction. Today, it is has been greatly restored thanks to local pressure.

Melissa Harrison visited the river in her Rain: Four Walks in English Weather  (2016) which I loved.  

It is in part the purity of rivers like the Darent that has been their undoing. Fed from beneath the ground by a chalk aquifer, their naturally filtered waters are exceptionally clean and require less expensive purification than other rivers – making them attractive to water companies, who like to abstract their flow. Occurring mostly in the southern UK and a couple of places in France, many pass through important agricultural areas – like here in Kent – where farmers need their water to protect thirsty crops like fruit and vegetables from failure during the growing season. But chalk streams make wonderful habitats, their alkaline water supporting vast numbers of invertebrates, brown trout and other fish, and wild flowers and birds – all of which are easily threatened by low water levels, pollution and agricultural run-off. And back in the late 1980s a series of long, rainless periods, coupled with over-abstraction, meant that this chalk stream suffered the lowest recorded flow of any river in the UK. Fortunately, much work has since been done to restore the Darent and its wildlife, and while its upper reaches sometimes run low in summer as groundwater levels fall within the chalk, this section is looking healthy.

Review inThe Guardian “A guided tour of wet English landscapes offers extraordinary insights of the natural world.”

Nightingales at Lodge Hill

The ex British Army training camp of Lodge Hill in Kent is one of the last strongholds for nightingales in the UK, home to one’s percent of the British population, 85 singing males, the highest number in the country. 

Despite this, it is, as of 2017, threatened by housing development.

This lovely article explains the high numbers of nightingales is:

…partially as a result of the former military management of the land for bomb disposal training. Clear-cuts were mown in parallel lines through scrub where soldiers practiced the craft of defusing, leaving dense thickets to develop between them, unintentionally producing the ideal habitat for nightingales, a suite of dense scrub and clearings, a world of multiple edges where the bird can easily command territory, nest and feed in safety. While the base has emptied of soldiers, the nightingales, for now, remain.

Writer and broadcaster Paul Evans also visited Lodge Hill. He comes across an old sentry box and imagines its occupant:

What did he think about – guarding the old Chattenden gunpowder depot built in 1872, used in WWI to store explosives for the naval ships down on the Medway – staring out from his tomb as a thunderstorm lowered into a summer afternoon in 1916?  The sentry listened to nightingales as he scanned the horizon for Zeppelins and lightning. A storm was coming from the continent. Crickets fiddled in the grass, the smell of cordite and elderflower in the air. He thought of a girl in yellow and spoke her name to the concrete. He wondered how long it would be before he sailed from Gillingham Docks to be torpedoed by a U-boat somewhere in the North Atlantic…thunder…birdsong…  

Reflections on Lodge Hill

While Patrick Barkham writing in The Guardian in The housing development that could silence our nightingales

Lodge Hill should be a unique national nature reserve. Whether it becomes so will say something powerful about our society and whether we always bow to market forces or still have an ear for joy. I’m hopeful. As Keats put it: “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!”

Malaria in Kent

One of the last outbreaks of malaria in Britain was a local epidemic of imported malaria after the return of soldiers during World War I on the Isle of Sheppey. More here

Local malaria was rife in Romney Marsh was until tbe early 19th century:

From 1564 the health of the marsh population suffered from malaria, then known as ague ormarsh fever, which caused high mortality rates until the 1730s. It remained a major problem until the completion of the Royal Military Canal in 1806, which greatly improved the drainage of the area. Wikipedia

Flint tools

Swanscombe is famous for its spectacular finds of flint tools dating back 400,000 years to the early Stone Age. More here

Gravesend whaling
Phillip Hoare writing in The Guardian:

…. down at Gravesend, one of our audience recently told me how he’d been working to decontaminate another site on the Thames river bank and found a layer of organic matter. Sent off for analysis, it turned out to be composed of 250-year-old whale remains.