Our last Tuesday morning walk found us at the Northward Hill RSPB nature reserve. I had already asked the wardens for permission to visit the Duck Decoy, which is way out on the marsh and has no public access, and as everyone in the group present seemed to be keen, off we went. I have been there many times and I know the route well, but in recent years an electric fence has been installed around a large part of the marsh, so a few short detours were required to avoid “shocks” (thanks for the map, Katie!). Large numbers of lapwings and redshanks nest on the marsh and like all ground nesters are vunerable to predators such as fox – the fence helps to keep the “productivity” of the birds high enough so that their populations increase. The marsh was very dry and we saw few birds on our route but Terry did manage to get this photograph of a grey heron. Grey herons are very early nesters in the wood and most of the adults and young had already dispersed away from the heronry in the wood.
Probably the highlight of the walk out was finding a male southern migrant hawker Aeshna affinis. True to its name it was continuously hawking low across our path and around the bushes. It would not keep still – so none of our photographers managed a picture. Instead, and very second best, here is a picture of the group – watching the dragonfly!
Eventually we arrived safely at our destination. You can view the duck decoy in this Google Map. It is the rectangular structure with four “arms” in the centre of the map. The view also shows all of the (water) rills and the new reservoir that feeds them, created by the RSPB to restore the structure of the wet grazing marsh that lapwings and redshanks need to nest (below left area). The pre-existing rills, landscape features present for hundreds of years, were all ploughed out, with the support of government grants, in the 1980’s. Government grants now finance their restoration!
It is a four pipe duck decoy that was previously used for catching ducks to eat or sell in the market. It is likely to have been dug out in the 18th century and would have been filled with water from the ditch system (the connecting ditch is still partly visible from the left pipe). It is now virtually dry and covered by common reed (Phragmites australis). Bearded tits like the area though! Catching the ducks was a skilled art involving a decoy man, nets and a trained dog and the decoy man would have lived nearby. Several old houses, now gone, were known from the area and just about everything else in the area has a name pre-fixed by Decoy! – Decoy Hill, Decoy Cottage, Decoy Farm etc. So, although rather forgotten now, it must have been better known in the past.
My excuse for visiting the decoy is that it is one of my favourite sites on the marsh. When I was an RSPB volunteer, I did not need much excuse to have a tea break or lunch on the banks of the decoy. As some of us used to say, the place has “ambience”.
Eventually we all arrived back in the car park, where lunch was taken.
For more information about the duck decoy and many other sites on the marshes I recommend “of the North Kent Marshes” by Ian Jackson and Keith Robinson, 2015 ISBN978-1-908067-14-2. Apparently a limited edition of 500 copies. Dedicated (partly) to Eric Gilham, the birdwatcher who put the North Kent Marshes on the map, the book is a mix of natural history, history and archaeology with lots of stories from people who lived there. It has many fine illustrations and photographs.
Thanks to Terry and Sally for the photographs.