A meeting with the RSPB at the Hayling Island Oysterbeds to look at future interpretation for the site could only mean one thing. Fish n' chips at the seaside!
We duly arrived a couple of hours before the meet-up and sat like 'Howard and Hilda' munching away, paper bags full of scrummy lunch sat in our laps - if only we had brought a Thermos of tea and a rug, then life would have been an ever decreasing circle!
Scram scoffed, we wandered off for a reconnoitre. The Oysterbeds have long stopped producing oysters commercially, but in recent times they have been preserved as saline lagoons and managed for wildlife by the RSPB and Havant & Hampshire councils among others. And a pretty fine site for birds it is too. During the winter months it acts as a roosting area for many thousands of wader, along with ducks and geese. In the summer the islands are home to nesting little terns, black-headed gulls and of late Mediterranean gulls.
Oddly though, it seems that no matter what time of year you visit, it's always blinkin' freezin'. Temperature aside, it was also clear from the birds we noted that winter was ever clinging on. Brent geese, wigeon and small flocks of
dunlin, grey plover and oystercatcher all vied for roosting space among the gulls, who were noisily setting up home for the summer on the islands.
But all was not ills and chills, a tiny, yet certain sign that spring is finally beginning to reign came in the form of a
steady and most welcome trickle of swallows sweeping Northwards over the meadows. Returning to the carpark along the old Hayling Billy Line, more clues to sunnier times to come revealed themselves. A splash of purple from the flowers of ground ivy, bumble bees motoring indiscreetly around the grassland and three whimbrel passing overhead. Just enough to bring further warmth to our cockles or should that be oysters.
Right that's Easter dealt with.
Recently some commercial projects have involved us working on interpretation at a more local level, giving us the opportunity to get to know the locations first hand. As opposed to relying on clients from futher-a-field supplying us with photos of the sites to get a feel for the work.
And so saturday saw us exploring the Beachlands of Hayling, with a view to producing some panels that celebtrate the series of habitats that have been designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Beachlands is a peculiar mix of fairground, beach huts, golf courses and dog walkers, not on the face of it ideal surroundings for wildlife to thrive in. But a mosaic of habitats, combined with nature's resilience makes this strip of coast home to one of the finest maritime plant communities in Hampshire. The key habitats are the sand dunes and shingle beach. To most it is a good place to sunbathe in the summer and a bleak area to walk the dog during the winter months.
However, to some birds migrating in the spring it is first landfall after leaving the French coast and one of the highlights of our walk was seeing seven wheatears fresh in from the continent, flashing their 'white arses' as they flitted among the dunes. Also among the dunes Green-winged Orchids were starting to flower, we counted a hundred or so, hinting at a spectacle to come, when thousands of these tiny purple orchids will be on display. Looking closely at the shingle, we saw signs of one of the specialist plants that make their living in this harsh environment. Growing up through the stones were the small purple leaves of sea kale, soon this cabbage-like plant will dominate in their hundreds, bedecking the beach in white flowers. They are not weeds! It is their home, we are the visitors.
A few hardy birds make the dunes and shingle beach their home as well. The cascading songs of skylark and meadow pipit, rang out as we wandered, but a pair of ringed plovers sat secretly on the pebbles proved too tempting for brushes to resist. Especially the handsome male, who sported the blackest of black eye-mask and bib. Soon four cryptically marked eggs will be layed, discreetly added to the number of stones on the beach and nesting will have begun for them.
If you're expecting words of wisdom from Dan and Rosemary you may be sadly disappointed. However, if you want to keep up to date with our current projects then pick up the feed at the top of this column.