Last year we were delighted to note the reappearance of five marsh orchids and a single pyramidal orchid in the Whitehall Field. This year the number of marsh orchids has increased by 20% (OK, that’s just one extra plant!) and the pyramidal orchid (right) hasn’t been touched. By keeping the cattle from grazing in that field in the first part of the season should allow the flowers to flourish, and hopefully spread.

Another plant that has benefitted from a change in the management programme is the meadow cranesbill (below). Normally by late June the path verges would have been mown, greatly reducing the display of these lovely flowers, but a late cut has meant that there is more colour for all to enjoy. KCC is contracted to keep the riverside path verges clear of tall vegetation, so as not to impede the passage of visitors, and they duly mowed along this busy route in early July but, fortunately, as many of the cranesbills are growing hard up against the fence, it looks as though most of them survived. Though widespread in much of England, it is extremely scarce in Kent.

This is the first season that a cuckoo has not been heard on Hambrook Marshes. Another missing bird is the swallow, normally seen darting low across the meadows at this time of year, but only a single one has been seen. While it’s lovely to have buzzards overhead and beavers doing their carpentry work in the Stour valley, these recoveries don’t make up for the loss of so many other species lower down in the food chain, which ought to be abundant.

The parakeet is still around, though seemingly not spending a great deal of time on the Marshes. We may have three pairs of Cetti’s warblers along the ditch at the back of the Marshes, bordering the Ashford railway line. Notoriously secretive, they give away their presence by a sudden outburst of loud, unmusical song, falling silent equally abruptly. There has also been a little more reed bunting activity, with the possibility that two pairs are nesting.