The government must invest in the ‘countryside next door’ to ensure we all have access to quality green space near to where we live as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, according to CPRE, the countryside charity, as it launches its regeneration manifesto today. Regenerate our countryside, regenerate ourselves: A manifesto for a resilient countryside after coronavirus urges the government to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect and invest in the countryside, support rural communities and break down the barriers too many face in accessing the health and well-being benefits of time in green spaces. Critically, our Green Belts, the countryside next door to 30 million people, and other countryside around large towns and cities that don’t currently have Green Belts should see funding significantly increased to make sure they are enhanced and include greener farming techniques that could make our food supply more resilient to future shocks. The manifesto was launched at a virtual debate this morning (Wednesday, July 1) with leading countryside and political voices, including Rhiane Fatinikun, founder of Black Girls Hike; Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee; Mike Amesbury MP, shadow minister for housing and planning; and Caroline Lucas MP, former leader of the Green Party. Emma Bridgewater, president of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Just as National Parks were integral to post-war reconstruction in the late 1940s, so too should everyday landscapes including local green spaces, the Green Belt and the countryside next door become a central part of the government’s response to coronavirus recovery. “Public support for protecting and enhancing these spaces is impossible for ministers to ignore – now more than ever we need more quality green spaces available to everyone and to make sure young people form lifelong connections with nature that can help us bounce back from the pandemic and build resilience in the longer term. “Today, we are calling on the government to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to put the countryside and access to green spaces at the heart of the recovery. “That means putting the Green Belt ahead of developers’ profit margins, guaranteeing children’s education includes quality time in nature and breaking down the barriers to the countryside for groups previously excluded. “But we also need to make sure rural communities don’t bear the brunt of the economic fallout by supporting the rural economy and investing in rural social housing. Only then can the government claim to be learning the lessons of lockdown and building back better.” The manifesto outlines a vision for a resilient countryside with thriving rural communities that is open to everyone, whether visiting, living or working there. Key recommendations of the manifesto include:
Regenerate our green spaces: the government must support local councils and communities to deliver up-to-date Local Plans, adopt a truly ‘brownfield first’ policy and ensure that our Green Belts, our countryside next door, is enhanced through greater funding;
Regenerate ourselves: the government must guarantee every child a night in nature as recommended in the Glover landscape review, and increase funding for the many tried-and-tested community outreach projects that have already enabled greater engagement with the countryside for marginalised groups
Regenerate our rural economies: the government must establish a rural economy task force working across government to develop a comprehensive strategy for supporting the rural economy and invest in rural social housing to provide genuinely affordable homes for our key workers.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to shine a light on the deep inequalities that exist in who is able to make use of green space or countryside near to where they live. Natural England’s figures show that children from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups are 20 per cent less likely than white children to visit the countryside. That’s why CPRE is campaigning for every child to be guaranteed a night in nature in a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, as recommended in last year’s Landscapes Review by Julian Glover OBE.
During these strange times, please keep checking in here to catch up on updates from CPRE Kent planner Julie Davies as we all adjust to very different working days… stay safe and well, everyone
Monday, July 6: Welcome to the countryside
We parked the car and heard gunshots: welcome to the countryside. No sooner had we parked up when out of nowhere – and cross-country – came a blue Land Rover, bumping over the field and then on to the lane. We headed off down the bridleway on what turned out to be a glorious walk. Walking in local but unfamiliar countryside really is like being on holiday – you’re never sure what’s going to be round the next corner, but you have the comfort of knowing that the kettle will be on in a matter of minutes. Our walk took us along a narrow tree-enclosed path. Just as it opened up into a clearing, we spotted oregano (also known as wild marjoram) and a purple pyramidal orchid.
We walked through the woods and out on to a single-track, hedge-lined lane – catching the tail-end of the blue flowers on a crop of linseed.
What with the gunshots earlier, we then passed paddocks and cottages with CCTV signs. Are we being deceived by the innocence of the beauty of the countryside, or is it really a hotbed of crime? This is the first walk we’ve done in ages with dog-gates on the stiles. Usually we have to do a complicated manoeuvre of climbing, lifting, transferring weight and setting down. We also came across the most spectacular three-rung stile – from this high point we spotted the sea.
We looped back into the woods and alongside a field of rye grass. To one side the margins had been left to go wild – we saw so much wildlife in this one stretch: butterflies (white and brown), bladder campion and beautiful oaks (which I’m told are host to hundreds of insect species).
Our dog began to get nervous again as we headed back to the car. With every gunshot we heard came a round of barking. Rural crime? Crop scarers? Or the start of the pheasant-shooting season? I checked online when I got home. The pheasant-shooting season hasn’t started yet. It runs from October to February.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, let me know what you think was being shot at.
And a lone female pheasant running through the grass
Sunday July 5: Fields of Purple
I’ve still got the scars from last Sunday’s walk. This week we walked in open, rolling countryside. Our starting point was a hamlet a few minutes’ drive from home. We’ve walked this valley before. It’s such a wide, open space. Our plan was to fill in some of the gaps from the neighbouring walk we did along the permissive footpath on the nearby estate. Eventually we’ll have the whole of our map filled up with highlighted loops.
Seeing as we’d only been this way a week or so back, it was amazing to see how much the landscape had changed. There were huge fields of purple (viper’s bugloss). If you squinted, you could imagine being in a field of lavender.
We had a pit-stop on the village green for drinks and snacks. We had cherries with us. We’d bought them direct from a local orchard on the way to the beach yesterday. My daughter and I love having cherry-stone-spitting competitions. We’re both useless!
I think after all these weeks of our family walk on Sundays we’ve finally cracked the balance of exploring new places, challenging ourselves to walk further and keeping the moaning to a minimum. On the way back to the car we spotted a large family group having a picnic under the trees on the valley side. I haven’t seen my parents since February half-term. Have you met up with your extended family yet?
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment – I’d love to hear about what family outings you’re planning over the summer holidays. Perhaps we could compare notes.
Sunday, June 28
We saw a hare. We went for a proper walk on Sunday. Our Father’s Day-lite version last week was just a little bit too dull. Next week, though, we’ll definitely be taking the safe option. We got caught up in brambles this week and still have the tingling feeling to prove it. After breakfast I stuck my finger on the map, aiming for somewhere without any inked-in routes. I landed on our charity bluebell walk – a favourite event pre-coronavirus – but which had been cancelled last year because of lack of volunteers to marshal the route,
To mix things up a bit I did vary the route. We overshot one path because I was filming this video in a field of barley and didn’t notice the side path dog-legging off. Watching the wind chasing through the barley was mesmerizing.
This was when we saw a hare – it was sitting right in the middle of the footpath as we doubled back. It was one of those paths that had been weed-killered in place. A clean, distinct straight line. And then we headed into the woods. It was like being swallowed up into darkness. The path disappeared. We were committed now. I spent the next half-hour chopping back brambles and nettles. The dog was carried. On the map the route was straight, but the vaguely beaten track meandered. We made it to a tiny clearing with an oak in the middle and eventually reached the other side.
Never have we been so pleased to see a cottage with a bridleway alongside. We were back in civilisation. I rewarded the team by missing out the add-on loop.
What an adventure. As I type, our walk hasn’t yet reached such a heady romantic classification. Even I was getting a bit concerned at one point… Another merry tale of walking in the countryside. If it was up to you, what would you do about footpaths?
Let them grow over – you don’t want people walking across your land
Get a team of path-beaters in – access (and signage) is vital
Give more importance to wildlife and nesting birds?
There’s never a single answer that will suit everyone. Much like everything in life. But imagine how off-putting our walk would’ve been if it was the first time you’d taken your family out for a country walk. Not very welcoming.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, I’d love to hear your point of view. What’s more important to you – being able to walk safely, letting nature run wild, or keeping people off your land?
Friday, June 26: Permissive footpaths
Do you ever get the feeling that walking routes in the countryside are one great big SECRET? I ask because that’s the impression I get. We re-walked the first bit of our Operation Poppy walk I told you about. But this time we looped round the other way and followed a permissive footpath. More about that later. Love it or hate it, Facebook is a great source of local information. The saga of our local poppy field was played out across a number of community groups I belong to. Suggestions were made that, instead of driving, the poppies could be enjoyed from local footpaths instead. A great idea until you look at a map. There aren’t any public footpaths in the area.
My OS map doesn’t have a key on it – I think it must have been on the cardboard cover that fell off yonks ago, so I resorted to Google. Footpaths are marked as short green dashed lines, and bridleways as longer green dashes. So far so good. The black dotted and fine solid lines that cross the poppy field are “path” and “other road, track or drive” – but are you allowed to walk on them?
And that brings me back to permissive paths. There’s a symbol for that, too. An orange dashed line. We walked a permissive path not because it was marked on the map but because we’d seen a sign pinned to a tree on our failed Operation Poppy walk. The OS map I downloaded didn’t help. I’m using the free version – which doesn’t show any map symbols!
This got me thinking. Do you get the impression that walking routes in the countryside are just one big secret? Do you have to have lived in the area for years before you’re let in on it? Or perhaps my map-reading skills (and legal knowledge) aren’t up to scratch – or should I pay for the premium version of the OS app?
If you’re reading this post on Facebook and you understand what the path symbols on a map actually mean, I’d love to hear from you.
Sunday, June 14: Instagram-tastic
Success! We went back to get an eyeful of poppies. Is your Facebook and Instagram feed full of poppies? I was so pleased we stayed close to home for our Sunday-morning dog walk. It wasn’t the prettiest of routes. We had the option of walking past the dump – or following the bridleway next to the M2. And then we invoked the Countryside Code… Last week I was a tiny bit disappointed with the poppies we saw. They were at the fringes of the field. Growing sparsely without the red stripe impact. But this time. Well, just look at these photos. And this short video.
Sunday morning. A sunny June day. We had company. This is the first time in three months that we’ve seen more than a handful of people at once. There must have been at least a dozen people enjoying the poppies with us. A friend told me she thought there had been a photo of this field in one of the national papers. That explained the attraction. It looked to me as there were Instagrammers in the field: flowing dresses and straw hats, hair being brushed and flying in the breeze, babies and matching outfits.
And then the cars. If you live locally you’ll have spotted these poppies from the A251. As we crossed the road to continue our circular route home there were cars parked haphazardly everywhere – and in the passing bays of the lane opposite. It seems that enjoying the countryside always has its downsides. Whether it’s dog poo, rubbish or inconsiderate parking. Instead of complaining, perhaps now is the time to challenge our negativity. If more people enjoy being outdoors, more people will become aware of the fact that the countryside is a living, breathing, vibrant place that we collectively need to care about. And the Instagrammers I saw? Well, perhaps they’ll come back to the area when things are back to normal and help kick-start the rural economy by staying in a B&B, eating in a country pub, shopping locally and exploring our network of public footpaths.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment. What annoys you most about people visiting the Kent countryside – and how could you turn your views on their head for the benefit of the all?
Wednesday, June 10
Slowed up by a set of panniers. We got the bikes out again. It’s quite a task. Our garage isn’t actually a garage. It pretends it is, with a fancy set of side-hung doors, but it’s a converted storage area with a very small area set aside for the lawnmower and our bikes. Biking for us only really works when the three of us do it together. I lead the way, my husband brings up the rear and our daughter is sandwiched in the middle. She doesn’t like being out as a twosome – she worries about getting knocked off and likes the fact that Dad is providing some protection at the rear end. Part of the National Cycle Network route runs through town and on out to the coast. Our plan was to cycle part of this route, to build confidence.
Cycling involves a totally different set of considerations from being a car-driver. Instead of taking the most direct route from A to B, I’m constantly recalibrating the route to avoid traffic pinch points. Sometimes for our personal safety we cycle on surfaced footpaths in town, blatantly ignoring the no-cycling signs. We are responsible cyclists, though, and slow, stop and avoid pedestrians. What would you do when the place you live has a network of off-road routes that you’re not actually permitted to use? Of course, I know the obvious answer, but sometimes there are shades of grey and – in a world of coronavirus – more cycling (and less car-borne traffic) has surely got to be a good thing…
We were able to build up speed on the cycle path out in the countryside and, as we did, my bike started to make a horrible grating sound and eventually my wheels stopped turning. The corner of my picnic-perfect panniers kept getting caught in the spokes of my wheels (I think the crush factor when storing our bikes is responsible). It was a right pain as I had to stop every few minutes to release my back wheel.
On the plus side, though, it meant I got a good look at the hedgerows – I’ve spied foraging locations for rose hips, blackberries and sloes later in the year.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment and share your thoughts on your experience of cycling in the area. Do you feel safe?
Tuesday, June 9: Poppies
It’ll be lovely, I said. And then it turned into a bit of an ordeal. Operation Poppy didn’t quite go to plan. The problem with spotting poppies along an A-road as you drive past is that you can’t accurately plot them on a map when you get home. So, my idea of parking at the village church and doing a poppy walk from there didn’t quite work out. The poppies were always tantalisingly just over the next ridge. Our walk was beautiful. We walked alongside the church into a field of wheat with a really wide margin of oxeye daisies and turned left at the second set of footpath crossroads. We were surrounded by gently rolling countryside with mounded hills off in the distance.
We walked through fields of broad beans and peas. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crop of peas before. The plants were knee height with white ‘sweet pea’ flowers. We then walked down a track and passed an old orchard of tall cherry trees. There were sheep being loaded (or unloaded) from a trailer.
On all our walks the ground has been really hard beneath our feet. It’s so compacted it’s hard to imagine the young seeds pushing through the earth.
The next part of our walk took us down a bridleway. There were patches of the most fabulous wild flowers. More oxeye daisies, the small (fake) chamomile daisy, actual borage and the soft blue/purple/mauve of Echium plantagineum – also known as purple viper’s-bugloss – which is used in the cosmetics industry.
It was a short-lead walk back along the main road to the car. You need to be a confident walker to walk along these particular pavements as traffic at 40-50mph travels so fast. At one point we stepped back into the verge as we could hear an HGV approaching from behind – he did cross the centre line of the road to give us a wide berth, though.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment. Have you spotted poppy fields near you? I’d love to hear about them.
(Fake) chamomile daisy
Monday, June 8: Lost
It RAINED at the weekend. Do you remember the last time it rained? It was before March 23. Fortunately we timed our walk just right and we were well into flopping with a cuppa before the sky turned ominously dark. Our family walk involved another car journey. Fifteen minutes south of the A2. I’m becoming an ace Facebook detective and tracked down a very rough description of where our nearest bright red poppy field is. It was a dramatic sight, but we didn’t stop. That one’s in the memory bank for another walk. We parked in a tiny village that is renowned locally for its summer fete. Everyone (but me) had decided that this would be a one-and-a-half-hour walk. So I set the pace. I have no idea how long the walks I plan are – they’re roughly the same size when I ink them in on the map – and take about three hours (with a picnic stop).
We were probably only five miles from where we were last Sunday, but the landscape was so different. The soil looked fertile, as opposed to being more flint than earth. And the hedgerows were intact. They included hawthorn, field maple and dog rose. And there were wide uncropped margins to the fields. Shall I let you into a secret? We got a little bit lost at one point. Wholly my responsibility because I was the one with the map. We were supposed to walk directly through a small wood, but the path disappeared immediately. We followed the most beaten path, which took us longways instead.
We weren’t actually lost. I knew exactly where we were. We just weren’t on the path. The pylons were plotted and the contours were doing their thing. We reached civilisation a while later. Our lunch stop was in a broad-bean field with amazing views out to distant hills. We followed the road back into the village rather than sweeping round on the footpaths. Apparently, we’d exhausted the collective family walking time – and we couldn’t quite decide which way the path went around someone’s house. Even with a map, it’s quite intimidating trying to follow a path that cuts across someone’s garden (and isn’t clearly marked on the ground). We’ve experienced several missing paths in recent weeks and it’s suddenly dawned on me that perhaps some of the designated footpaths have been diverted. I downloaded the Ordnance Survey app when we got home. It didn’t show a footpath through the woods we got lost in. I plotted our route. It was seven miles.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment telling me how good your map-reading skills are. When was the last time you got lost?
Today we spotted:
Free-range chickens (and escapees)
Wednesday, June 3: Pilgrims on the Pilgrims’ Way
We met pilgrims on the Pilgrims’ Way! I’m always on the look-out for photos I can take that don’t just show beautiful country scenes but have people in them actively enjoying the countryside. My family are getting fed up with me asking them to stop and pose.
One of the joys of lockdown has been seeing more people than normal exploring the outdoors: family groups biking, couples with maps. Imagine my delight when I saw a couple with bikes taking in the view on the Pilgrims’ Way. Sneaky photo time, I thought. Then their matching bikes caught my eye.
We gave a cheery hello and then I thought this isn’t a matchy-matchy cagoule situation, these bikes have been hired. It turns out that this couple had come down from London for the day and arranged to pick up their hire bikes from Hollingbourne train station.
We’ve always ruled out distant bike rides because we can’t get three bikes in/on our car. It looks like we’ve been missing a trick. I often talk about how we should holiday in Kent. No one else in my family is convinced. But wouldn’t hiring bikes make a great day out? This is something I’m definitely adding to my wish-list. As we walked away, my husband said I should have asked what lockdown was like in London. A missed opportunity.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, do leave a comment – can you recommend any bike routes in Kent?
Tuesday, June 2: Beetle bank
My husband stuck a finger on the map and that decided where we’d do our family walk. I’m not keen to go out in the car, but he feels the need to escape. We drove 20 minutes to the other side of the Kent Downs. I think he had his eyes open when he made his random selection. One of the hardest things to do when you drive out for a country walk is to find somewhere to safely park your car. We drove up and then back down the street before deciding which bit of lane was the widest and straightest. I was pleasantly surprised when, a couple of hours later, we hadn’t been pranged and there was no note from an angry resident pushed under the wipers.
We walked across rickety bridges over drainage ditches and through fields of rape, wheat, beans and brassicas. And then came across a beetle bank. We were a bit confused by this. The bank followed the route of some telegraph poles and looked for all the world as if there had originally been a hedge between them – that had since been removed – with the bank marking the old field boundary. Perhaps we were doing the farmer a disservice – but wouldn’t retaining the hedge have had a greater wildlife benefit?
From our high point on the downs we scrambled down the scarp slope to the Pilgrims’ Way through a paddock of sheep. The views were breathtaking. We sat down under the shade of some trees in front of a pretty cottage and ate birthday cake and then started our loop back to the car.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, perhaps you can shed some light on the beetle bank we came across.
Amazing views out towards the High Weald
Monday, June 1
My walking companion turned 13 at the weekend. Imagine that. A milestone birthday during lockdown. We went out the evening before for one last walk as a 12-year-old. After the heat of the day it was lovely to get out while it was still warm without it being overbearing. And the light was beautiful. We did my daughter’s favourite route but couldn’t decide which direction to walk it. We let the dog decide when we got to the end of our road.
Obviously, there wasn’t going to be a party this year, so the chosen treat was a picnic lunch at the beach. There was hardly anyone around when we went to the coast in the evening last week – but I must admit I was slightly nervous about a daytime visit. Fortunately, our bit of sea is not a tourist hot-spot. We always take pot luck with the tide. It was so far out, it looked like you could practically walk to Sheppey!
We found a patch of less gritty shingle and lay down on blankets listening to the breeze and the chatter of the family in the next set of groynes. Selfies may have been taken. It felt like we were on holiday.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment – has there been a lockdown birthday in your family? How did you make it special?
Wednesday, May 27: M2 and fruit
We redeemed ourselves with a long walk today. And we ventured out on paths across the other side of town. It was quite an adventure. Instead of walking straight along the A2 to the farm shop we meandered through the park and up over the railway line. We battled stinging nettles and then discovered the reason the path was so overgrown was that everyone else takes a short-cut through the farm shop car park!
The roar of the motorway is starting to build up, giving a seemingly hard urban edge to the countryside we were walking through. This was emphasised by the graffiti on the motorway bridge. Amid the apparently ‘barren’ fields we noticed pockets of wildness. Wheat and oats growing in the margins – presumably runaways from last year’s crop – with wild grasses and what looked like chamomile. We passed neat fields of blackcurrants laid out in lines, almost as if they should be an on allotment. And then large-scale strawberry production on table-top trays in polytunnels.
Quite an industrial walk for us – particularly as most of it was on concrete-paved farm tracks – with the M2 as our ever-present companion.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment – have you eaten your first Kent strawberry of the year?
Tuesday May 26
It’s half-term. Our routine has gone adrift. And it’s too hot to walk at lunchtime. And then we find other things to do. Much to my husband’s disgust the daily walk with my daughter and dog amounted to little more than a quick half-hour around the block. We’ve developed a conspiracy theory. We’re both convinced that our allotted period of exercise isn’t so much for our general well-being; he likes to have the house to himself for a while! We threw caution to the wind and did our mini town walk in reverse. There’s a cricket pitch near us in the middle of a housing estate. A quiet secret of open space. It was lovely to see socially distanced meet-ups (bring your own deckchair) – a park being put to good use. Short walk it may have been. But I had an ulterior motive. The elderflower is, well, flowering and I wanted to go down to the local stream where stocks are plentiful. Usually I don’t get around to making elderflower cordial until July – when I struggle to find the blossom because it’s started to set into the fruit. The path next to the stream is a well-trodden route for us. It’s a car-free easy-access option that takes us from practically outside our front door, right into town. With more time to ‘be’, this year I’m ahead of the elderflower game – although two friends have already made batches. I love elderflower cordial. I especially like the fact I’m in the moment, embracing the season.
The recipe I use is a heady concoction of sugar, with more sugar. I might try reducing the quantities, though, as I need to make a birthday cake later in the week.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, please do leave a comment and tell me if you make elderflower cordial – perhaps we could swap recipe notes?
Today we spotted:
An interesting moth on our hall ceiling
Sparrows nesting in a really exposed nest-box next to our patio
Sunday May 24
It feels like we’ve been on holiday – we drove five miles from home and explored footpaths we’d never been on before. We have clearly defined responsibilities at home. Mine is to plan our walks, provide the picnic and carry the rucksack. It’s pink. My husband refuses to wear it. We decided to try somewhere new for our walk and parked in one of the villages that I sometimes drive through to get to our office in Charing. I’d already marked out our route in highlighter pen, making a loose circle – with two sets of opt-out points. No one complained, so I didn’t tell them about the shortcuts. Part of the reason we headed this way was because my husband doesn’t like marsh/coastal walks in hot weather – he prefers these locations in the gloom of winter. So it was woodland and rolling countryside for us.
The start of our walk was the busiest I’d seen so far. Having parked up, we saw 10 other people in quick succession. This soon thinned out.
We passed hedgerows for dormice. Shocked ourselves in the woods – I had my head down reading the map while a gentleman stood aside for us. I hadn’t noticed him and jumped. My husband claimed he was having a ‘ladies backwards’. This is a walking joke that stems from outings with my parents’ rambling club in Yorkshire. We spotted bluebell country for next year. And great vantage points to take in the view. Where we live it’s reasonably flat, so being in the Kent Downs was a real change of scene.
The footpaths through the cropped fields were really well marked. I can’t say the same for the horse paddocks the paths went through. We got the distinct impression we weren’t welcome – from the taped-off enclosures and the invitation to follow the diverted footpath markers (there weren’t any) and the missing footpath signs from the lane that went through someone’s yard to the electric fences we had to unhook (and rehook) that barred our way through two sets of kissing gates.
I guessing these routes aren’t particularly well used and perhaps the designated public rights of way are considered a bit of a nuisance.
If you own land with a footpath running through it, I’d love to hear your point of view – if you’re reading this post on Facebook, leave me a comment.
Friday, May 22
I’ve just looked at the kitchen calendar and discovered that I haven’t been out in the car since Mother’s Day on Sunday, March 22. That’s over eight weeks ago! With restrictions on our movements eased a little, we went to the beach midweek, on the hottest day of the year so far. I’m not very good in the sun, so I was happy to stay home during the day, away from the sun-lovers. In fact, if we do go to the beach, we tend to head off at teatime – when all the day-trippers are starting to go home. We packed a picnic and drove off. Our closest beach is about 15 minutes away and as we rounded the corner to our usual parking spot, I did a double-take: there were cars everywhere! Fortunately, this was only an indication of the limited amount of parking locally, and not a statement about how busy the beach was. As usual, there was (at least) one groyne-defined section of beach per family.
The tide was out. And the sea was still. And it was still baking hot. I’d bought my book with me and was prepared to linger until sunset, but I was outvoted. Fired up by all this adventure, my daughter and I went out on our bikes for our next session of daily exercise. Big mistake. While we’ve got into a routine of lunchtime walks, apparently cycling is a step too far. The complaints were numerous.
As I’ve got plans for sunrise and sunset bike rides to all our local too-far-to-walk spots, my aim is to start off with short frequent rides. We haven’t really cycled since we got our dog five years ago. And it’s with huge thanks to my brother-in-law that exploring on two wheels has been made possible. He serviced my daughter’s bike after a rather dramatic puncture incident during a practice ride a couple days ago. Perhaps that’s what’s putting her off travelling further afield!
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, do leave a comment and tell me whether you’re travelling further afield to enjoy being in the great outdoors. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.
Tuesday, May 19 (Claire’s story)
Over the last few weeks I’ve been chatting to local mums on the community pages of Facebook asking them about their experiences of exploring the countryside with their children during lockdown in what, for some, has been a first-time experience. In today’s post, Claire tells me how she’s been enjoying exploring with her four-year-old looking for signs of spring as they’ve gone about working on a school homework project together. Claire reminisced about her own childhood and how she enjoyed camping trips in the countryside and playing in her parents’ large garden. She’s comfortable being in nature. Claire explains how she and her daughter have been stopping more often than they otherwise might have done to look at things. They’ve been documenting their walks by taking photos and have been trying to find out the names of butterflies and plants. This is where your smartphone comes in handy: Claire uses apps like Plant Finder (and the ‘picture this’ plant identifier) to help fill the gaps in her knowledge. As a side note, I’ve started using Google Lens, which I’ve discovered is part of my phone’s in-built software, so I don’t need to take up storage space by downloading an app. Claire told me she’s really been enjoying learning with her daughter. They’ve done a flower dissection at home and been learning about pollen. Together they’ve found that understanding more about nature means they look more closely at what they see on their walks – which includes stopping to look at the flowers they spot to see if there’s pollen on the flowers and bees.
And they haven’t just limited themselves to studying flowers – they’ve been exploring shells on the beach and looking at the living things in the tide pools. As Claire says: “It’s been interesting to learn about British countryside flora and fauna. We’re also working on bird song!”
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, leave a comment and tell me what you’ve spotted on your walks. Are you keeping a journal like Claire and her daughter and using apps to find out more about the natural world?
Sunday, May 17
One of our routes out into the countryside is to walk to the end of our road and cross the bypass. Every time we walk this way, I see one of the many building sites around town – and I’m reminded that my sloe and blackberry picking grounds have been displaced.
While I’ve been mildly inconvenienced, I have been enjoying scouting around for new foraging sites. Not all change is bad, though. Today the footpath we couldn’t find (Thursday, April 9) has now been clearly marked – and an additional area cleared on the top edge of the field. This means there’s now a ‘pavement’ on the field edge, which makes negotiating the bends on this particular single-track lane much easier. It wasn’t cars we needed to be mindful of, but quiet cyclists – we were walking on a section of the National Sustrans Route 1 between Dover and Gravesend.
When we’re about one mile in, the moaning starts. Can we stop for lunch now, are we halfway round yet? Of course, I lie. My daughter is starting to piece together her mental map of the local geography – and then groans when she realises that home is some way off. No one else is interested in putting in a few minutes’ work before we leave the house, so I’m left to be the route-planner and map-reader. More fool them, I say. I do build some short-cuts into my routes if the complaints ratchet up a level; most of our walk was a shortened route so we walked along quiet lanes rather than footpaths. We stopped for a picnic lunch outside a Grade II*-listed building. The field in front has been mown and has a lovely view down to the local church. As with all good walks, the second half was a little shorter – and included sashaying through a field of wheat (on the footpath, of course).
My walks are proving to be a great way of taking exercise and exploring my local area and have given me the opportunity to spend time chatting with my daughter. All of which is rather apt as May has been designated National Walking Month by Living Streets (the UK charity for everyday walking).
I’d love to hear about your walking stories. If you’re reading this post on Facebook, leave a comment and let’s compare notes #Try20.
Red admiral butterfly
Friday, May 15
Has your house ever been cleaner and your garden tidier? I don’t know about you, but I’ve been deep-cleaning our house, room by room – although, with only one left to do, I’ve run out of steam. While I’m indoors, the garden is my husband’s domain. He often likens mowing the lawn to having a quick hoover around: it really does perk up the garden. On the subject of mowing the lawn, did you know it’s No Mow May this month?
As we have a wildlife garden, I asked my husband whether he was going to embrace No Mow May and he gave me an empathic “No!”. Actually, this was echoed by a gardening friend of mine who said something along the lines of needing a combine harvester in June. My husband did go on to explain himself, saying that our town garden is too rich in nutrients and that wildflowers thrive better on poor soils. He suggested a compromise of leaving a small pocket unmown, or mowing a path through some longer grass to balance the needs of nature and give an air of estate management. Do you remember several years ago when prairie planting was a big thing at the Chelsea Flower Show? At the time we really embraced this idea and turned our front garden into meadow. We thought it was amazing: our neighbours weren’t quite as impressed. We eventually lawned it over and I remember looking at Google Street View afterwards and agreeing that to the untrained eye it did look a mess! You can be wildlife-friendly without being unkempt and this is what the team at Plantlife is encouraging us to do this month – much like the nation’s haircuts, now’s the time to adopt a less rigorous mowing regime and say goodbye to your close-mown striped lawn for a while. You don’t need to go full-on meadow – you could raise your mower blades and cut slightly longer than usual.
I’ve noticed some spectacular urban verges on my town walks during lockdown – some of them put areas of the countryside to shame. Have you noticed garden boundaries in the countryside that are over-manicured, with tightly clipped grass right up to the road edge? The local environment is often made worse for wildlife, with a profusion of non-native species – we’ve seen conifer hedges, photinia and laurel in the most rural of settings. This upsets my husband so much that he now refuses to spend his leisure time walking in areas where the countryside, nature and wildlife doesn’t seem to be understood by local property owners.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, I’d love to hear whether you’re going to embrace #NoMowMay – how many plant species have you got in your lawn?
Thursday, May 14
What would you prefer: a couple of hours at a soft-play centre, or to be out in the countryside – or does that set off your allergies? One thing that working from home has taught me is that my experience of life isn’t necessarily the same as yours. It’s second nature to me to put on my wellies, grab a map and go for a walk. But what if the prospect of a muddy walk fills you with dread as you try to wash and dry your toddler’s clothes in a small flat – or being outside sets off your allergies? I’ve been chatting to some local residents on Facebook, asking them about their experiences of getting out into the countryside – particularly if it’s a new activity they’re sharing with their young children. One mum told me “We weren’t very good at going for walks before lockdown – in fact we simply didn’t do it – but lockdown has kind of made it a necessity. With a two-year-old who enjoys entertainment at soft-play and the park, we’ve found the woods to be a really lovely place for him to burn off energy and really enjoy himself, when he’s clearly felt very cooped up in our small flat.”
As we chatted, I asked whether choosing the woods would become part of their family’s new normal. She wasn’t sure but did say “I wonder if our mentalities will change as we are more ‘scared’ of the indoors and the higher probability of the virus being spread indoors than outdoors. But equally soft-play was a lot less effort, to just rock up and go. You don’t have to find the wellies or take a change of clothes in case you all get covered in mud!” Another subject cropped up while we were talking and that was allergies. Rapeseed is in full bloom at the moment. It had never crossed my mind that suffering with allergies could put whole swathes of the countryside out of reach to you. Another local resident chipped in at this point to say she’s vulnerable to rapeseed pollen and a tree pollen. “I mostly avoid areas where rapeseed is being grown while in flower – antihistamines don’t seem to help too much and it can flare up my asthma, making me more vulnerable to attacks. When I lived more rurally, I’d have to dry my clothes in the tumble-dryer so they didn’t get pollen blown on to them while on the line. “It doesn’t stop me getting out, but it does change where I’m going to walk – as soon as I notice a particular field has been planted with rape I’ll find different footpaths to amble down for the year until it’s run to seed. I’m particularly aware of it this year because of Covid-19 and because early symptoms of an asthma attack in me are wheezing and coughing. I’m worried about coughing in public and causing a panic.
“In winter I’m always pretty safe, mostly it’s keeping an eye out for when the yellow flowers are gone and I can walk the same old footpaths again.” Huge thanks to the ladies I spoke to in helping me write this post – it’s given me a great insight into your experience of the countryside. If you’re reading this post on Facebook, I’d love to hear about your experiences of being out in nature – are you put off by muddy walks and having to plan around allergies?
Wednesday, May 13
It was long walk yesterday. We’ve come to think of these walks as scouting opportunities for when we go out as a family on Sunday for our picnic walk. It didn’t disappoint – my daughter and I are getting strong enough to walk further afield and exploring lanes we’ve never been down before. Anyway, it’s Wednesday. This is the day we both try to get out of walking the dog. I have an exercise class first thing on Zoom, and my daughter has back- to-back ballet and tap classes in the afternoon. We’re too tired to walk the dog. We do always eventually go out for a quick spin around the block around teatime. But for the moment, the furthest I’m walking is to the bottom of the garden. Did you know it’s the wild garlic season? The smell of it always reminds me of visiting my parents when they lived in North Yorkshire. It’s quite pungent. There’s garlic in the woods near our office in Charing, but aside from that I’m not sure where else I’ve seen it in Kent. We have, however, got a huge patch of it in our garden.
This year is the first time I’ve ever done anything with it. I’m quite happy picking elderflowers for cordial and blackberries for jam, but I find there’s something a bit too ‘intense’ about picking something green and putting it in your mouth. Perhaps deep down I think I’m about to eat something unpalatable? With more time on my hands, I have been picking our garlic. We’ve had it on pizza, in pasta sauce and with mushrooms on toast. My go-to book for advice on Wild Food tells me that wild garlic (also known as ramsons) is a native bulb found in damp woods and lanes – the young leaves can be used in salads. On the same page is a recipe for Alexanders sauce – this is the plant that looks like Angelica – but eating it for lunch might be a step too far for me, though…
Hopefully it goes without saying that you shouldn’t be eating anything from the wild that you cannot identify with 100 per cent confidence. Plants may be poisonous if eaten. If you’re reading this on Facebook, I’d love to know whether you go foraging for wild garlic and what you use it for – tell me about it in the comments and let’s compare notes.
Tuesday, May 12
I’ve been seeing lots of posts in Facebook residents’ groups I belong to berating dog-owners and poo-bag etiquette and asking about walking routes out and about near here. It got me thinking. Why do some of us seem to know the local walking routes but others don’t? If there can be any positives to be gained from staying home and only making essential journeys (and exercising), it is that my fellow residents are really starting to enjoy having easy access to the countryside. One day last week I put out a call on Facebook asking local people if they’d be willing to share their experiences of accessing the countryside during lockdown. Today’s post features the experience of Helen, one half of a couple usually out at work full-time. Helen told me how she’d been enjoying walks out to the sea wall, commenting that while we’re in lockdown Mother Nature isn’t. She has been amazed at the cacophony of noises, from the frogs (we heard those on Easter Sunday), the cows and the cuckoos. Helen went on to say that although she’d lived in town for 13 years she was only now discovering new walks in the neighbourhood. When I asked why it had taken so long to discover the local area, Helen said that staying at home and taking a daily walk had made her re-evaluate what she could do for a better life balance. With her husband she’s now feeling excited about future retirement, and then thought why not live for the moment and embrace what we have now. The upshot is that Helen is going to be making more time for walking and enjoying the natural world around her, as of now.
Helen went on to explain that her walks had made her think about something her mum had said recently. Her parents retired to France 15 years ago. Apparently, Helen’s mum’s biggest regret was that they didn’t explore enough of what was around them while they were both relatively fit and able to do so. Helen says that her walks have borne credence to this – she’s now walking an average of six to seven miles most days. After all, why wait when you can be in the here and now? Interestingly, Helen says that she and her husband have needed these walks for their emotional well-being. They’ve been able to work off anxiety, anger, upset and stress. After a walk they find themselves floating back to their house, relishing the fact they live in a beautiful area and are so lucky. I love the message in Helen’s note. If not now, then when?
I’ll leave the last word to Helen as she says her wish “after this awful period is that we stick to all our resolutions and remind ourselves what is important rather than losing ourselves in routines that do not offer us the right life balance”.
If you’re reading this post on Facebook, I’d love to hear about your experiences on walking in your local area – especially if you’re new to it. Keep on walking, Helen!
Monday, May 11
We spotted buzzards on our family walk yesterday. Two from a hill near the start of our walk and another five from a hill further round. We took my husband on the route we’d walked last week. The bluebells had started to fade after the heat of the VE Day 75 bank holiday weekend. I was so glad we’d seen them in full bloom. Instead of walking down the hill through the field of wheat, we went straight on. Even when you’ve got a map, sometimes it’s difficult picking out the right path in the undergrowth, but after a couple of false starts we found it in the end. We came out into a set-aside field. It was full of teasel and what looked like dried-out ragwort. Both are great species for nature. We’ll have to come back to see whether we can spot cinnabar moths on the ragwort in the summer and goldfinches feeding on the teasel seeds in the autumn.
We also spotted the prettiest stile on all our walks so far. It was part-hidden by red and white campion. It was such a shame that this native planting didn’t influence the choice of hedging right next to it. I mean, who chooses to plant a leylandii hedge in the countryside – and why? We had a picnic lunch on the footpath through an orchard we’d visited several times in the last few weeks. The blossom had gone and the apples had set. It feels a bit like ‘our’ orchard: the more we walk through it, the more we notice and enjoy it.
On the subject of ‘noticing’, this is a topic that has come up with one of the ladies from my running club. She told me she’d noticed how much more intense the scent of the apple blossom and bluebells had been this year. We weren’t really sure whether this was brought on by a very wet February and super-hot April, or because there was more time for us to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Have you noticed? I’d love to hear whether you think the apple blossom perfume has been better this year. If you’re reading this post on Facebook, leave a comment and let’s compare notes.
Red and white campion
Thursday, May 7
I don’t know about you, but I’m squeezing every ounce of enjoyment out of the bluebells before they disappear for another year. Word on the street – well, in my WhatsApp group of eight local mum friends – is that the bluebells just out of town are exceptional this year. And yes, they were well worth the visit. The problem when you want to visit a specific place is that you have to get there. And bearing in mind this has to be achieved in reasonable time and walking distance during the daily walks with my daughter, decisions needed to be made. This wouldn’t be a three-part ramble of getting there, visiting the bluebells and going home. We’d need to dive straight in with getting to the bluebells as fast as we could. For us, this meant walking along the A2, rather than taking the more pleasant route cross-country. However, with the traffic significantly lighter than normal, we weren’t buffeted by the back-draught of HGVs and we managed to cross without having to wait ages. The walk we did was absolutely delightful. It was a route I hadn’t taken in about 15 years. I’m hoping to go back again for our family Sunday walk – but my husband would like to travel further afield and literally see pastures new.
Because the wood had been coppiced, the impact of the bluebells was all the more intense. The colour wasn’t diluted by intermittent tree trunks. An amazing sight.
On the way home we walked downhill on a footpath through a field of wheat. It was more mature than other wheat we’d seen locally. And then to my shock my daughter suggested we loop back (out of our way) because she wanted to see which crop was growing in the field next to the church, so she could compare the two – they were broad beans. We’re both finding that, although we’re generally fit and active, our stamina has increased and a mile detour gave us way more pleasure than pain. If you’re reading this post on Facebook, I’d love to hear about your favourite bluebell walks. Tell me about them in the comments.
Wednesday, May 5
Yesterday was a short walk. Without my phone. A ploy by my daughter to speed things up, so I would’t take photos and we’d get back home faster… so she could play on her phone. It’s May and the hawthorn blossom is out. I mentioned a while back that my husband recalls his father eating new hawthorn growth as a child. On this theme I noticed on Instagram that local herbalist Mandy Rickard had been foraging for hawthorn to use as a tea and a tincture.
On a side note I should mention that Mandy runs herbalist classes at Belmont House & Gardens – if you are a member of CPRE Kent you get a two-for-one ticket price concession to the gardens at Belmont (although no reductions apply at the events Mandy runs). Mandy has kindly agreed to share her knowledge with me. However, please do note the disclaimer at the end of this post. Once the hawthorn (or May blossom) comes into flower, Mandy harvests just enough as she needs for her herbal practice from her garden and nearby wild spaces. Some is dried for tea and the rest is made into a tincture (medicinal liquid). Mandy says that hawthorn is her go-to herb for circulation and the heart. She regards it as “a powerful medicine that protects and strengthens the blood vessels throughout the heart and circulation. Its gentleness lends it to a more emotional level, too, where I use it for the ‘heartbroken’”. You’ll recognise hawthorn in hedgerows near you by the shower of tiny white flowers – my daughter and I love ‘pinging’ them as we pass, creating a shower of confetti. Mandy describes how the smell of the blossom is reminiscent of fish or rotten meat, which attracts pollinating insects. Mandy says she is “truly grateful to enjoy the abundance of beautiful blossom throughout the Kent countryside on this useful, albeit thorny, bush!” Be like Mandy and forage for just what you need – and if you want to stay youthful strew a few blossoms along your garden path. Disclaimer: the contents of this post should not used as a substitute for medical advice. Mandy Rickard works with patients, taking a full case history and medications into account before prescribing a blend of herbs. For more advice you can contact Mandy at email@example.com
Sunday, May 3: cowslips and Roman snails
It feels like I’m the last among my friends to discover the two fields of cowslips in the next village. We saw fields of yellow last week and thought is was rapeseed flowers that had gone over. But no. We had two options for Operation Cowslip. The first was to take the long route and follow the public footpaths for as long as possible, while the second was to just hit the road and keep on walking. We decided on the second. The only problem being that eventually we ran out of pavement. Even though the traffic is much lighter now we’re all staying at home, it is quite unnerving facing oncoming cars when there’s no path and you’re walking on the road itself. The utter shock on some of the drivers’ faces once they’d spotted us has hopefully reminded them that just because there’s no speed limit you don’t need to drive at 60mph at every opportunity. As a pedestrian you really do need to read the road. Listening and looking out for traffic and deciding when to cross over in order that you can safely see around the bends in the road. As well as coping with the cars, we also did our social-distancing dance as we passed fellow walkers, runners and cyclists.
The cowslips didn’t disappoint. I’m curious to know what the management regime is for maintaining a field with such a healthy yellow glow – why wasn’t it overrun with weeds? Do you know? As I was map-reading, I tricked the rest of the gang into going home the long way round. I’m glad I did as we spotted a lone Roman snail.
Did you know that these snails are protected under the Wildlife and Country Act 1981 (it’s also known as the edible snail)? As such, I’ll be recording my find on the Kent & Medway Biological Records Centre website. The KMBRC encourages recording in the community as an enjoyable, educational pastime that can be done from your kitchen window. Information supplied by professionals and amateurs alike enables the centre to collate and disseminate information about wildlife species and habitats in Kent to inform decision-making, education and research.
Early purple orchid
Thursday, April 30: what a load of rubbish
Is your bit of the countryside being overwhelmed by members of your community getting out of town for their daily walk? I’ve noticed more people than we’d normally see but certainly not a vast increase. What I do see gives me a warm glow. Families spending time together – walking, cycling, chatting. Taking in their surroundings. The more time I spend out and about, the more I’m starting to notice about my surroundings. And what I’m seeing is a load of rubbish. That’s right, litter strewn around in the undergrowth.
While I’m sure some of it must be stray, fly-away rubbish, I’m becoming more convinced that most of it is being purposely discarded. Imagine the scene. You decide to go for an evening stroll and take a couple of beers with you. You drink said beers as you watch the sunset. And then you toss your cans over your shoulder as you head home. I just don’t get this attitude: the idea that it’s someone else’s job to clear up after you. Where’s your civic pride? Or your concern for the impact on wildlife?
Here’s a problem you might want to get your home-schoolers to work on. What is the weight and volume of a full beer can, compared with the weight and (crushed) volume of one that’s empty? If you’ve gone to the trouble of carrying your tinnies with you, why can’t you take them home afterwards – when they’re much lighter and small enough to fit in your pocket? As a national charity, CPRE has been campaigning for a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans. The scheme requires us to pay a small deposit on the drinks containers we buy, which is repaid when we return them to machines in shops and supermarkets. This campaign is backed by evidence gathered on a yearly basis by CPRE – including CPRE Kent – through organised Green Clean litter picks. The rubbish found is sorted by size and type and the results used to lobby for the urgent need for a deposit return system that includes drinks cans, plastic and glass bottles, cartons and pouches. So, with our friends at Keep Britain Tidy, I’d like to say love where you live and take your litter home with you.
Nine beer cans
Six plastic drinks bottles
Fifteen empty crisp bags
Monday, April 27
We had a great feeling of breaking free today: we crossed over the motorway and headed south. It’s strange how having your movements restricted makes tiny things more pleasurable. We took a B-road out of town and stopped on the motorway bridge. I can remember waving to traffic as a child (and doing the same with my daughter), but there wasn’t anyone to wave to today…
Today’s walk was all about road walking: we didn’t use a single public footpath, but we still got our countryside fix. It got me thinking about the lady who had posted in one of the community groups I belong to on Facebook. She said she was getting fed up with taking her daily walk along the A2. In reply, another lady suggested that she head out towards the farm shop on the A2 and walked some of the footpaths there for a change. I wonder whether Lady No.1 was being fastidious in sticking to the lockdown rules or whether she just had no knowledge of the huge network of paths in the local area that she could use and still keep to the social- distancing protocol. Perhaps it’s my inner geography geek coming out in me, but don’t people have maps – whether real or on apps? Or perhaps she felt she needed ‘permission’ to walk into the countryside. As a side note I should say that where I live the A2 marks the southern boundary of the town. For the most part, if you cross the road, you’re in the countryside.
Anyway, back to my walk. Our return journey meant going down a single-track lane – it feels so like a public footpath that the sound of a very occasional car coming up behind you is quite a shock. Eventually this road widens out as it goes back over the motorway. This part of our walk always makes me smile. For 20 metres or so either side of the motorway bridge the narrow lane widens to accommodate two-way traffic, with proper pavements (and kerbstones) at the side. Why?
Wild mustard (white flowers)
and another white flower that is a daintier version of the white campion – I’m really going to have to get an app to help me with my plant identification…
Sunday, April 26
Sunday is our designated family walk day. We usually cover about three miles every other day of the week, but I like to plan a longer route when we’re all together. The last time we did this particular walk must have been over 10 years ago. I think it may originally have been one I’d plotted out from a local guided walks series. I’ve taken to drawing over our Ordnance Survey map, documenting our travels. It also makes it easier if you’re not sure where you’re going – to immediately find which bit of the countryside you’re actually in – so you’re not having to constantly unfold and refold your map while remembering you’re vaguely south of wood X. I don’t, however, deface books: I do have standards! I had imagined that the orchards would be in blossom and we could have our own mini Hanami festival, but the first orchard we walked through was already at the leaf stage. We had more success in the second. A couple of years ago we went to Hanami at Brogdale – if you’re missing your blossom fix, take a look at this short video. We then headed into the woods. The bluebells weren’t quite as spectacular as we’d seen closer to home, but we were rewarded with the spectacular sight of the early purple orchid. The leaves are tinged with dark purple blotches. My post-walk research tells me they have a wonderful scent that’s not dissimilar to lily of the valley, tinged with blackcurrant – I wish now I’d got closer to the ground and had a good sniff, instead of just taking a photo.
Part of our route home took us down the road I sometimes use as an alternative route back from work. It was lovely to take in the views without being boxed up in my car. As my husband was with us, he regaled us with his knowledge of birdsong and how his dad used to chew fresh hawthorn growth, which is said to taste of bread and cheese. While I couldn’t detect any notes of a picnic lunch, Rogers Phillips’s book Wild Food backs this up, saying that young hawthorn leaves were traditionally eaten by children on their way to school. Perhaps if lockdown continues, I’ll explore more about eating for free in the countryside. [Disclaimer: don’t touch, cut or eat unless you are crystal-clear what you are looking at.]
Early purple orchids
… and possibly a distant view of a field of cowslips
Thursday, April 23: looking for water
I really wanted to see some water today. However, my companion decided that going out to the creek was a walk too far – so we settled on the fishing lakes. We’re getting quite speedy with our walks. Our post-lunch routine is set and I don’t have to do the pre-prep countdown routine I was doing in the early weeks of lockdown. However, I’m not quite sure that the keenness to get out has anything to do with being out in the countryside – it’s more the thought of getting home faster to start the bedroom makeover. We’re dedicating an hour each afternoon to learning the skills of Polyfilla and paint brushes. We visit the fishing lakes a lot. It’s my husband’s go-to dog walk. To change things up a bit we’ve been doing other routes. Consequently, it was rather nice to visit somewhere we’d not been for a month. Instead of sticking to the main route, we meandered through narrower paths – getting a different aspect on the (very) familiar. Much to my daughter’s disgust I’m keeping up with my cheery ‘hellos’. I’ve even taken to doing a double hello to prompt a response sometimes… We were given the task of checking up on some ransoms (wild garlic) but couldn’t find the spot where it was planted. We did see lots of litter, though, but that’ll be a post for another day…
I love the reflections cast on the water. I’ve been banned from stopping to take photos but managed to sneak in a couple anyway. Don’t tell.
Wednesday, April22 Clear skies by day and night. Last night I ran out in the garden and looked up into the night sky. It was a lovely clear night with plenty of stars. I seemed to have missed Starlink, again. And for those not in the know, Starlink is a satellite constellation that is being constructed by American company SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk. The firm has recently been sending satellites up into Earth’s orbit in batches of 60 – with the aim of improving global internet coverage (as reported in inews.co.uk). Another batch is scheduled to be launched on April 22 (tonight). See more here Fingers crossed, it won’t be cloudy tonight and I’ll get a good view. Have you noticed how clear, blue and cloudless the sky’s been recently? We seem to be having endless sunny days. A sharp contrast to when it rained and rained and rained in February and we thought it would never stop.
I’ve been wondering whether we’re having unusually blue-sky days because there’s less pollution from air and roadborne traffic, or is it just a normal run of anticyclonic weather? Or is it that I’ve got more time to ponder the world around me? I’m all questions today… On the subject of clear skies, CPRE regularly updates research on the sky at night. After all, starry skies are one of the most magical sights the countryside can offer. It’s a sad fact that light pollution not only limits our views of these skies but also disrupts wildlife’s natural patterns. Through our national office we run an annual star count – the most recent took place back in February. The aim is for you to help us to see where light pollution is a problem and where the darkest skies are. We use this evidence to advocate for better-controlled lighting, and we offer advice about what we can all do to reduce local light pollution. You can learn more about CPRE’s star count here So tonight, turn off your outside lights and join me as I look up to the sky and see whether I can spot the chain of satellites travelling overhead.
Monday, April 20 Are you getting more exercise with your daily walk than you ever did before? I’m pretty sure we are. My daughter and I go out every day – whereas pre-coronavirus I only exercised in set blocks, at classes I’d paid for, as well as doing a family walk on a Sunday. Last week we went out to the woods to check up on the bluebells. As we revisit our now-favourite walking spots, we’re noticing – almost day by day – what changes are happening in nature. Two weeks ago there was only the smallest hint of the approaching bluebell season and now the woods are awash. This got me thinking. Usually we make a visit to the woods just as the bluebell seasons ends. I start spotting bluebells on my drive to work and add it to my ongoing list of things to do. Almost making it a chore that needs to be ticked off: the need to squeeze in an appointment with the blue, before it fades away for another year.
For the last few years we’ve met up with friends at a local charity fundraising bluebell walk. And sometimes we go to a local beauty spot. Are your appointments with nature at set times? At a specific attractions? Somewhere you’ve paid money to go? Newsflash: enjoying the countryside is a free activity. You don’t have to be part of an organised tour. The fact that we, as a community, have become isolated from the countryside really struck me when I was scrolling through Facebook at the weekend. Someone was asking for recommendations for bluebell woods to visit. There were all sorts of suggestions, with the most popular being a ‘designated’ site. There was much discussion about ‘the rules’ and whether a 20-minute drive for some exercise was acceptable. The irony is that for a 20-minute walk we can see bluebells practically on our doorstep – as presumably can most of the rest of the families in town. I quite often say to my husband that we should go on holiday in Kent. To discover the places around us that are too much for a day trip. In a small way, we’re starting to do this now: making the most of social distancing, by exploring with new eyes, sights that familiarity has made us overlook.
Today we spotted:
Thursday, April 16
Lots of my walks recently seem to have featured views to the Isle of Sheppey. Today’s was no different. We walked out to Harty Ferry.
As my husband was with us, he helped us identify the birds on the Oare Marshes reserve, which is managed by Kent Wildlife Trust. Over the years the names have become familiar to me, but I’m not very good at the actual spotting and identifying.
I can spot a seagull, though. Actually, almost 25 years of marriage has taught me not to refer to seagulls as seagulls – you should be more specific. As in: black-headed gull, herring gull and so on.
Today we saw lots of black and white birds, including little egrets and avocets.
On the way home we saw these little blue flowers. I can never remember what they’re called. My husband insists it’s borage. It isn’t. And by the magic of the internet I can reveal it’s called green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens).
And the reason we walked to Harty Ferry? That’s easy – we went to visit the recently-repaired spring head. My daughter took this photo of me – only when I’d filled my cup did I see the sign (I’m hiding it) that said not to drink the water as it hadn’t yet been tested. It’s been a few days now… and I’m feeling OK.
Little egrets and avocets
Easter Sunday, April 12
Our goal for Easter Sunday was to find a field of vivid rapeseed flowers. As there wasn’t much complaining – and I was doing the map-reading – we took a detour.
By some strange coincidence we walked up a lane and took the footpath off to the right. We could see the Isle of Sheppey ahead and then we saw a three-metre-tall crucifix planted in the field. Apparently, it first appeared 15 years ago and can be seen in the distance from the west door of St Peter’s Church.
I’m getting pretty skilful at deflecting the “What time will be home?” questions and diverting attention to enjoying the views around us. It’s quite weird seeing Sheppey in the distance. It looks as if it’s attached to the mainland as you can’t see The Swale until you’re really close to it.
As we walked the long, hot path to the shore we saw and heard skylarks and the most incredibly noisy marsh frogs. What a sound: they sounded like ducks quacking! We also saw a grass snake in the same waterway with its distinctive yellow and black collar.
was much cooler on the coast and we were buffeted by a welcome breeze.
We did find our yellow field. It was under a line of buzzing pylons and looked really dramatic against the sky. Walking under these electric lines always reminds me of the children’s sci-fi TV series The Changes.
Peacock butterflies (six)
Marsh frogs (hundreds)
Thursday, April 9
Yesterday we did a town walk. We couldn’t really be bothered getting out into countryside, even though the countryside is probably closer than town. Sometimes it just seems too far.
Over time we’ve settled on leaving the house at 2pm. Today we mapped out our route first and took a loop out into ‘unknown’ territory. We got to the heady heights of 30 metres above sea level and were rewarded with views out across to Sheppey and a pleasant breeze.
We’d committed the route to memory and knew that the only bit of path we weren’t familiar with was in a dead straight line across a field from road to road. But when we got there, the path wasn’t marked. We chose the most worn of the tractor furrows and hoped for the best.
At this point we were about 20 minutes into our walk. Suffice to say, 12 minutes before a doggy bag was needed. If you’re a fellow dog-walker, what do you do with your full bags when there isn’t a bin in sight?
Answer: let it dangle from your hand for the next 20 minutes, put it in your pocket or stash it in your backpack. It’s not a difficult decision: bag it, bin it.
Why then did we come across so much dog poo on the footpaths, and carefully knotted bags left hanging in the undergrowth or neatly piled up? Spoiler alert: there’s no magic poo bag fairy. It’s your dog – your dirt – take it home and dispose of it.
If you need it, you’ll find some dog-fouling advice from our friends at the Blue Cross for Pets charity here and it’s worth remembering that “even if you walk in areas with no legal requirement to pick up poo, it’s important to get into the routine for doing so. It might seem like not much harm has been done, but canine faeces contain parasites that, if not cleaned up, can spread to grass and, if eaten, can cause blindness in people and pregnant cattle to abort their young”.
Peacock butterflies (eight)
Small white butterfly
Lots more bluebells
One family group walking their dog
A couple with a pair of rather fine Standard Poodles
Tuesday, April 7
It wasn’t quite the way I’d planned to spend my birthday. Instead of wandering around Monet’s garden at Giverny, we were in the Garden of England. As a family we’ve got into the habit of taking our exercise separately – much as I love them, being together 24/7 isn’t good for our family dynamic. But today was an exception.
Snacks packed, we walked to the end of our road and out to the woods. My daughter and dog were shuttle-running up and down the path between us. My husband was up ahead (for the secret birthday talks) and I was lagging behind, taking photos. The woods are a riot of colour at the moment: neon-yellow lesser celandines, glow-in-the-dark-white wood anemones and the hazy beginnings of the bluebells.
We stopped for a picnic next to the fishing lakes and, thanks to our resident wildlife expert, we were able to identify more of the sights and sounds around us than usual – so although we couldn’t see them we identified a green woodpecker, a chiffchaff and blue tits.
We also spotted:
Two pairs of tufted ducks
Great crested grebe
Monday, April 6
What glorious weather we had at the weekend. It’s so hard to believe we’re in the middle of a global pandemic when – to misquote Robert Browning – oh, to be in England now that April’s here.
Beautiful as the countryside is – especially on a spring day – there do seem to be a lot of my fellow walkers taking the social-distancing rules a bit too literally. They’ re carving out new paths across the fields.
isn’t just one long-grassed park: it’s the industrial engine that keeps us fed.
Don’t forget to
follow the Countryside Code: respect – protect – enjoy. Stick to the marked
footpaths and don’t take shortcuts through the farmers’ crops.
Respect other people:
consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths unless wider access is available
Protect the natural environment:
leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
I was abandoned by my walking companion midway between our front door and the postbox at the end of our road. It’s not quite the same walking on your own.
I went up and over the railway line just as a train was coming. I love the noise they make. When I first moved into town my house backed on to the railway line and I found the sound really comforting. It was 1994. I was 26, single and a home-owner and had just paid £47,500 for a Victorian mid-terraced property. My dad lent me the deposit (which I paid back with interest every month).
Next stop was the A2. I hardly had to look both ways to make sure it was safe to cross. Once over, I’m in the countryside – where two new housing estates are being built. I rather enjoyed discovering a new footpath that’s been put in by the developer. It’s inset from the edge of the road and screened with native-hedge-planting.
From there it was over farmland. I stopped to wave hello to one of the teaching assistants at my daughter’s old primary school and then looped back home.
The countryside south of town is undulating. It was quite bizarre looking off into the distance and seeing people out and about a couple of fields away. I probably saw about 30 people over the course of my one-hour walk – loads more than usual. It’s good to see more of the community getting outdoors to enjoy being in the countryside.
This was very much a stop-and-sniff dog walk. Because I had no one to talk to, I could just stand and listen to my surroundings. I heard birdsong, buzzing bees, the flapping of a bird’s wings and the crunchy footsteps of another walker coming towards me. No planes. And no traffic. In fact, I didn’t have to jump into the hedge at the sound of oncoming vehicles at all today.
Bank of lesser celandine, primroses and blue wood anemones
Small flock of starlings
Small flock of corvids – rooks or jackdaws, I’m not sure which
Two family groups of cyclists, plus five more
More walkers than yesterday
Thursday, April 2
It’s the first day of the school holidays today. I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter asked what time we were going out for our walk. She wanted to paint her nails and had to allow sufficient drying time. She’s written out a schedule for the holidays. It seems that every day will be exactly the same as the other – with each activity punctuated by a “go on phone” session.
Pre Covid-19 I’d always have an emergency £10 note in my pocket. But these days no money’s needed as there’s nowhere open for a sneaky cuppa and a slice of cake. It’s strange that the new normal is to reach for phone and keys only, without the usual “keys, wallet, phone” mantra every time we leave the house.
We skirted round the edge of town, out in the direction of the supermarket and then on to the bypass. We crossed what normally would have been a busy junction and headed out along the track alongside the creek – and then on to a walkers-only footpath – having been accompanied if not by traffic then by surfaced roads the rest of the way.
The tide was out, so the creek was all mud and marooned boats, and on the other side flat open marshland.
To the annoyance of my daughter, I’ve started making a real point of waving at strangers and saying hello. We may all be socially distancing – but that doesn’t mean we have to be unconnected with the world around us. And what, I always say, if we were the only people to have spoken to that lady all day?
The prettiest bit of our walk was the part of the footpath where the blossom on the overhanging trees made a tunnel. I’m making a mental of note of where to pick my sloes in the autumn…
looped back home down a country lane, which has been widened at the end to
allow regulation vehicular access to a new housing development.
Apple (and other) blossom
Dead nettles – red and white
Two butterflies – cabbage white and peacock
A quartering harrier
Monday, March 30
Not unsurprisingly, working at home has turned my world upside down. My office is my kitchen table. I have a great view of the garden – and the kettle is always on the boil.
Despite all the awful news about the coronavirus, I have lots of things to be grateful for – not least my lunchtime walks with my daughter (age 12) and the dog. It’s our first-week anniversary today.
We’re lucky in that we live in a small market town in Kent. The town centre is a 10-minute walk away and we’re out in the countryside within five minutes.
Taking our portion of exercise each day is becoming a welcome part of our daily routine.
I’m trying to encourage said daughter to look at an Ordnance
Survey map with me so we can plan a different path each time we go out. We’re
highlighting our routes with marker pen – building up a picture, tracking our
Naturally, as with any child, she starts off hating the thought of coming out with me. But I’m all for making memories – so I’m hoping she’ll look back on her year of CV2020 as the one of maps, rucksacks, snacks, walks and the joy of being out in the open countryside. It’s also a really good opportunity to talk as we walk side by side.
Today’s walk took us across the not-so-busy A2 and out through the old orchards thatare now used as horse paddocks and then onto a compacted routed scarred diagonally across a planted field. Countryside it may have been, but there was absolutely no sign of wildlife on the farmed land.
We looped back home – following a short section of path along the M2 – and then followed the lane back into town, passing two new housing estates under construction on the way.
We are indebted to Liz Garnett for today’s rather special contribution to Kent, Our Kent. Liz takes up the story: “I am a photographer based in Brabourne, near Ashford, and before lockdown I was part of a group of artists walking the Augustine Camino pilgrimage route from Rochester to Ramsgate. “We have paused our journey and in the meantime my personal journey is one of exploring the natural landscape in my garden and in the hedgerows of my little corner of rural Kent.” Hopefully, Liz and friends will be donning their walking boots before too long and resuming their wanderings.
To learn more of A Creative Pilgrimage, click here
72 per cent of adults in the South East of England think their local green space, or nearby countryside, could be enhanced
Majority of these would like to see more wildlife (52 per cent) and a greater variety of plant life (50 per cent) in their local green space
CPRE, the countryside charity, and the HomeOwners Alliance are calling for the government to go further to protect and enhance local green spaces so that everyone has easy access from their doorsteps
As lockdown in England eases and many venture out into their local green spaces, research has found 72 per cent of people living in the South East think their local green spaces, including the countryside next door to where they live, could be enhanced. Commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity, and the HomeOwners Alliance, and carried out online by YouGov as the lockdown started, the research shows that the majority of people in the South East believe increasing the amount of wildlife (52 per cent) and the variety of plant life (50 per cent) are top ways in which their local green spaces can be improved. During lockdown, we have seen a surge in appreciation for local green spaces and a heightened awareness of their role in boosting our physical and mental health and wellbeing. For the one in eight households who do not have access to their own garden, accessible shared or public green spaces are all the more important. CPRE, the countryside charity, and the HomeOwners Alliance believe that everyone should have easy access to quality green spaces from their doorsteps and the government should go further to protect and enhance these spaces. These results show that the public agree, and those who were in favour of enhancements in the South East would like to see:
1. More wildlife, including birds, butterflies and bees (52 per cent)
2. More and a greater variety of trees, shrubs, hedgerows, plants and flowers (50 per cent)
3. Better maintenance (eg paths maintained, trees pruned and lawns cut) (35 per cent)
4. More facilities (eg café, toilets and seating) (35 per cent)
5. More wilding (ie not overly manicured) (35 per cent)
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Access to quality local green spaces has hurtled up the agenda as a political issue and for good reason. “As lockdown eases, many people are turning to their local patch of green as a place to meet family and friends, subject of course to social distancing, as well as their daily dose of exercise and nature. We’ve been championing local countryside and green spaces for nearly a century, believing they are vital for our health and well-being – a natural health service as they’re now being called. “But not everyone has access to green spaces and too many have been lost as the countryside next door to our largest towns and cities faces mounting pressure for development. “If the government is serious about learning the lessons of the pandemic, it must use upcoming planning reforms to protect these precious spaces and recognise their value as a natural health service, as we do. “But we can’t stop there – by properly investing in our green spaces we can make these spaces easily accessible to more people and invite wildlife like birds, butterflies and bees back.” Paula Higgins, chief executive of the Homeowners Alliance, said: “Now that people are allowed to move, new-build homes and those with nearby green space are becoming more popular. “There is a real opportunity for developers and government to create quality green spaces – and this is much more than a patch of lawn. Planning reform should ensure that green spaces are not considered to be an afterthought or a nice extra given the positive role they can play in people’s lives.”
Sophie Shotter provides the latest image for Kent, Our Kent, the feature that during lockdown has been celebrating the best of our county. “This is the beautiful view at Teston I pass on my way to work every day,” said Sophie. Thanks for sharing, Sophie!
Something a little different in today’s Kent, Our Kent… two delightful poems from Peter Bailey. The Pilgrims’ Way celebrates one of the nation’s walking trails, while Ode to Lenham nods to the dark threat of a new town threatening to envelop the village.
Despite us living under the strictest social-distancing measures we’ve ever experienced in the UK, there has been an increase in community spirit and appreciation for local green spaces and countryside during lockdown, according to new research. Commissioned by CPRE, the countryside charity, and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (WI), and carried out by Opinium, the poll has found that more than half (54 per cent) agree that people are doing more to help their communities and almost two-thirds of people (63 per cent) feel that protecting local green spaces should be a higher priority for the government when lockdown ends. The results show local green spaces have been a haven for many people since lockdown measures began, with:
The majority (53 per cent) of people saying they appreciate local green spaces more since the country adopted social-distancing measures
More than half (57 per cent) of us reported that the lockdown has made us more aware of the importance of these local green spaces for our mental health and well-being
One in three people (35 per cent) reported visiting green spaces more since the start of lockdown
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “Our countryside and local green spaces are facing mounting pressure, but the coronavirus pandemic has reminded us why the countryside next door, including our Green Belts, is so important to ordinary people. “More people are aware of the health and well-being benefits that access to green spaces delivers and support for protecting and enhancing these after lockdown is impossible for the government to ignore. “Going back to business as usual is not an option. The government must use the forthcoming planning reforms to protect these precious spaces and also go further by investing in their enhancement. “Many of us feared that lockdown would see more people isolated, lonely and cut off from their communities and the outside world. However, these results have turned these notions on their head. “While we are physically distanced, many of us are more connected than ever and people are helping each other in their communities – with different age groups connecting more – which is truly inspiring to see.” It is clear that some of the high-profile volunteering and fundraising initiatives are not isolated acts of kindness and community spirit. The poll has also uncovered an outpouring of community spirit and feeling of togetherness, revealing that:
Only 11 per cent of us feel less connected to our community at this time – 40 per cent feel more connected and 42 per cent just as connected as before
More than half (54 per cent) of us agree that people are doing more to help their community under lockdown
Two in five people (42 per cent) are communicating more with people in their local community and one in six people (19 per cent) communicating at least twice as much with their neighbours as before
The top five ways in which we’re connecting more under lockdown are:
‘Clap for the NHS’ on a Thursday evening (49 per cent)
Saying hello at the front door (37 per cent)
Social media (36 per cent)
Phone calls (33 per cent)
Seeing people in person and at a safe distance in communal spaces like parks (29 per cent)
Intergenerational connections have also been impacted:
Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of people report they have made new connections with different age groups in their local community
One in three (33 per cent) 18- to 34-year-olds say they have made new intergenerational connections
For all those who have made these new connections, more than two-thirds (69 per cent) are optimistic these new relationships will continue once lockdown is over.
Lynne Stubbings, chair, National Federation of Women’s Institutes, said: “It is wonderful to see how communities have become more connected in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It is clear that we are cherishing our local communities now more than ever – by supporting our neighbours and those who are vulnerable, and getting out in the fresh air at our local green spaces. “The WI has always thrived through difficult times and for over one hundred years it has remained at the heart of its communities, supporting those in need – and today’s lockdown is no different. “WI members across the country have stepped forward to help others throughout the crisis – whether by arranging free book deliveries, sewing for the NHS, supporting food banks, or creating craft kits for families home-schooling their children. “It is these acts of kindness and solidarity which have spread positivity, alleviated loneliness and lifted people’s spirits through what has been an incredibly challenging time. “Throughout this crisis, green spaces have also been a lifeline to people dealing with the impact of lockdown. So many of us have discovered pockets of green right on our doorsteps – a chance to get out in the fresh air, exercise and support our mental well-being, which has been an oasis in difficult times. Yet too many of these places are threatened – by pollution, litter or the impacts of climate change. “As we look to rebuild after the crisis, we must make sure that we continue to cherish our communities and this new sense of connectedness – both to each other and to our local environment.”
CPRE Kent has been highlighting the plight of rural businesses struggling to survive the coronavirus lockdown and encouraging as many people as possible to support them. Now a free website that promotes UK-made or designed consumer products has launched a home-delivery feature across the country. YouK enables users to “shop for everything that is made in the UK, from cheese to hand cream, jumpers to gin, beds to bikes”. “We launched a year ago last April with the simple idea to support all UK businesses,” said Janey Millar, of YouK. “Some 95 per cent of all UK businesses are already on the site, including thousands of innovative brands that are little known. We are particularly proud of the boost that small businesses can receive, and helping consumers discover them.” Derek Poots founded the website in Edinburgh. “UK businesses have responded magnificently to their customers’ needs,” he said. “They can deliver to you, and they need your support now, more than ever. Our site enables people to find home deliveries for products such as meat, breakfast cereal, soap and wine. It’s a win for everyone.” YouK has an interactive map, with search and filter functions at both national and local level. For example, you can see more than 700 UK breweries on the map, zoom down to your local area and filter by types of beer or see those that are gluten-free. “Each time we buy a national or local product we cut product miles, on average, by a factor of 10. And each local spending choice supports communities and local jobs and, in turn, all of our public services such as the NHS.” YouK earns commission on products bought through some links.
The financial problems faced by many charities due to the Covid-19 lockdown have been well charted, but one staff member at CPRE Kent will be taking on the 2.6 Challenge to raise funds for the countryside charity.
“I will be running round my paddock 26 times for CPRE Kent because I want to help protect the countryside and fauna,” said Vicky Ellis, who has set herself the target of raising £500.
The 2.6 Challenge has been established to help charities through this lockdown period, which potentially could prove terminal for some.
It was set up by JustGiving and “the organisers of the UK’s biggest mass participation events, who have come together to create The 2.6 Challenge, a nationwide fundraising campaign to raise vital funds to help save the UK’s charities”.
It launches on Sunday (April 26), which had been the date of the London Marathon before its postponement; this is the world’s largest one-day fundraising event, last year pulling in more than £66.4 million for thousands of charities.
In response to that loss, organisers have been encouraging people to take part in the challenge on Sunday, although people can take part up until Sunday, May 3.
The JustGiving website says: “All that people need to do is think of an activity that suits their skills based around the number 2.6 or 26. The campaign is open to anyone of any age – the only requirement is that the activity must follow the government guidelines on exercise and social distancing.”
Vicky, who will be tackling the challenge on Sunday with her friend Catherine Avery, said: “I run virtually every day, but with lockdown I have decided for this 2.6 Challenge to keep it local and run round my horse’s field 26 times.
“I may get a funny look or two from my horse and donkey as they wonder what it is I’m up to. The total in laps equates to around five miles.”
With the exception of care workers and essential staff, each one of the rest of us is under serious but essential restriction of movement. However, we can dream and share moments of happier times that will return… and maybe lighten our days. At CPRE Kent we are inviting anyone (of all ages) in the county to share with us photographs and perhaps a short description of any of the following:
A virtual walk in the countryside. Photos and memories of past walks.
Exercise walks, runs or cycle rides that abide by the current restrictions. Photos and short descriptions of things that have given you pleasure:
new places that you discovered
people exercising in different ways
Places we are most looking forward to getting back to when this situation is over.
Home: have we learnt anything new about the nature viewed from our home?
As we write, England has been in ‘lockdown’ for more than a week. It is an extraordinarily testing time and everyone involved with CPRE Kent hopes you are keeping safe and well. The restrictions on travel that have justifiably and correctly been placed on us all in a bid to control the spread of the Covid-19 virus are doubtless taking their toll, to varying degrees, on people across the county. Certainly, access to the countryside that we love and cherish has diminished drastically. Sadly, for many, there is quite simply no realistic access to the woods, marshes, downs, beaches and rural highways and byways that we find so uplifting. However, there is natural beauty around us wherever we are. We appreciate that might not always be instantly apparent – the countryside is out of reach for many. But look outside. Spring is upon us and soon the annual riot of colour that brings will be exploding into its full glory. You will see (and hear) birds. Butterflies and bees are on the wing. You might have foxes or hedgehogs visiting your garden. The list is endless. Hopefully, there is green space near enough for you to visit. That public park you once took for granted has never meant more! And, as we take the daily exercise that we are permitted, we will walk down different tracks, paths and roads and discover places on our doorsteps that we didn’t know existed. All of us will get to know where we live just a little better. We can’t deny, though, that some of our favourite places are effectively out of bounds for the time being. However, those places will still be there when this crisis is over – we will return and surely delight in them more. And CPRE Kent will be here doing all we can to keep them safe. The spread of Covid-19 is an awful, horrible thing that is bringing personal tragedy to families across the country, but there has never been a better time to take stock of what we hold dear and the things in which we believe. We all need countryside close by, whether that’s protected landscape in the form of Green Belt or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or simply a collection of farms or stretch of undeveloped land between towns. Or, yes, the local park or green. That proximity to open space should be a basic right of every citizen in England, whatever their circumstances, whether in city, town, suburb or country. So we ask you to join us in taking a walk, slipping on the running trainers or hopping on your bike to savour the natural treasures around you while keeping your health and fitness in as fine shape as reasonably possible. You might also choose to enjoy the lack of planes in the sky or the fewer cars, trucks and lorries around you – our air quality has not been this good in years. Over the coming weeks, CPRE Kent will be demonstrating a slight change of emphasis. We’re aware the threats to our countryside won’t go away – and we will stay vigilant – but this is a time to celebrate the joys of landscape and nature and to stress their value to every single one of us. We will do that through our website and via social media. We have plenty of thoughts of our own, but this is an evolving process and we would love to hear your ideas. Please phone us on 01233 714540, email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us via Facebook or Twitter. In the meantime, please keep safe. This crisis will end and we can all play our part in bringing that about sooner rather than later. We will leave you with some words from our friends at CPRE Hampshire: “If you’re able to get out in nature, in a way that keeps you and others around you safe, take some time to appreciate the beautiful things we’re all working to protect.”
The specific impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on rural communities have been highlighted in a letter to government. Addressed to George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the letter is signed by the chairs of ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), Plunkett Foundation, Rural Services Network and the Rural Coalition, of which CPRE is a member. It says: “Communities and individuals everywhere are affected, in cities, towns and villages, but we thought it might be helpful to share with you some of the particular impacts on rural communities and where help is needed. “We would urge you, as part of your rural affairs brief, to ensure that your colleagues across government take account of the rural dimension in both tackling the virus and in the mitigating measures.” Subjects covered include the economic impact on high streets in rural towns, on tourism and leisure businesses and on workers whose employment is often seasonally related and linked to the land. The potential social, mental-health and well-being effects on people in the countryside, some of whom are socially isolated anyway, are also put into focus. Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “When a village hall, pub or shop has to close, the village loses a lifeline.”
To read the letter to the Secretary of State, clickhere
Crispin Truman: ‘We are committed to doing our bit’
The coronavirus outbreak brings with it unprecedented challenges for organisations and individuals alike. Our first thoughts, of course, are with all those infected by the virus, and their loved ones. For us as CPRE, the countryside charity, the welfare of our staff and volunteers is paramount. That’s why our staff are working from home for the foreseeable future and all CPRE meetings and events, nationally and locally, that were due to take place over the coming months have been postponed, or are taking place online. We are committed to doing our bit to help slow the spread of the virus. But we are still here and working for our vision of a thriving beautiful countryside. We at CPRE are rapidly reviewing our plans for 2020 in light of the coronavirus outbreak. We’re determined to find new and creative ways to help our members, supporters and volunteers through this difficult time. With Public Health England advising us all to avoid unnecessary physical contact, vulnerable people living in rural communities – including more elderly people – are of particular concern to CPRE. Through small acts of kindness, whether it be a kind message or a phone call to someone you know is in need, we will be able to ease the burden on those most vulnerable and support each other through the coming months. Let’s all look out for each other. With best wishes to you and your loved ones, Crispin Truman OBE chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity
CPRE Kent has considered its position after government advice on the coronavirus pandemic and will be keeping its Charing office open with a skeleton staff. Remaining staff members will be working remotely until further notice. Any changes to the situation will be communicated via this website and our social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter). We wish you all peace, health and safety during this difficult time.
In the light of the government’s latest advice on the coronavirus pandemic, the Eco Expo event planned for Margate on Saturday, March 28, has been cancelled. It is hoped it can be held later this year, but that is of course subject to confirmation depending on events relating to the wider crisis.