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What the Dickens?

a precious, unique marshland with a low leaden threat on the horizon…

Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out… that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing, was the sea.Thinking about the threat that the airport poses to Cliffe one could scarcely do better than quote what must be one of the most celebrated landscape descriptions in literature. The haunting thing is that, even on a bright sunny day some 140 odd years after that passage was published, Dickens`s description (from the start of Great Expectations) still rings true. Few places in Kent, or indeed anywhere in the southeast, can claim to have retained its identity, as can the north Kent marshlands. One shudders to contemplate what, if this ill-conceived plan goes ahead, some latter day Dickens would write in c2020. Ours was the concrete country down by the runway, within a jet`s roar as the jumbo flew in from the sea. My first broad impression was of choking fumes and the stench of burnt rubber… - no it`s just too dreadful to contemplate!Not that I was intending to go to Cliffe today. Tootling along the A2 en route to Oare, I suddenly found myself turning onto the M2 and on to Cliffe. I`d not been there for ages - so much so that I wasn`t quite sure of the route and found, more by luck than good judgement, the Medway Tunnel (which I`m not sure had even been completed last time I`d been down to there). The fact was, I`d had an impulse to repay overdue debts; Cliffe had gifted me a lifer (Stilt Sandpiper), a British tick (Pallid Swift) and a hatful of Kent ticks, but what had I given back? So it was time to do my bit on the mound. The place almost had a Mediterranean feel partly due to the (still) unaccustomed sunshine, but largely as a result of the dash of the exotic in so many resting avocet & egrets - it just made me long for the time, as it will be, when the place is `up & running` as a major RSPB reserve & resource. Being so close to London & the Medway conurbation, it could do for the RSPB what Barn Elms has done for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust ? it would be a magnificent educational resource. It just has to be saved from this rotten confection of an airport plan that treats the environment with a spite which would shame even Miss Haversham!Whilst birding from the mound I met a couple, new to birding I think, who`d read about the threat to the reserve in the papers. They knew nothing of the campaign, but, having heard about the reserve, they`d come for a look see and were horrified at the prospect of this place being entombed in concrete. Keep spreading the word, folks! Let`s not just have the hardened cognoscenti there, but let`s all make a point of encouraging all birders, at whatever level of experience, to pay homage to the place. In the village it was gratifying to see so many `No Airport at Cliffe` posters, some clearly home produced, adorning the windows and a bevy of residents sporting `No airport at Cliffe` T-shirts being filmed by TV cameras. Good too to see the barn draped with an outsized Na@C banner. It was pleasant too to be the recipient of a friendly wave from a passing dog walker as I birded. Cliffe arrived with a baptism of horror stories about the vandalistic tendencies of some folk so it was good to get a more rounded picture. Being so used to doleful stories of communities and conservationists being at loggerheads, it was refreshing to see such unity of purpose.I didn`t notch up that additional bird to the mound list as I`d fancifully hoped. I`d discovered something rather more important - ours is still the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea. My first vivid impression of birding in Kent, when I moved here, seems to me to have been a delicate immature Red-necked Phalarope one memorable afternoon towards evening at Cliffe. Today I`d recalled, what I`d so often taken for granted… that the dark flat wilderness beyond the churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates, with scattered cattle still feeding on it, was a precious, unique marshland; and that the low leaden threat on the horizon, from that distant savage lair of Whitehall, threatening & unreasoning, must be thwarted.With apologies for waxing over lyrical and distinctly on the purple side?

John Cantelo - a posting to KOSNET - the mailing list for Kent Birders

4th July 2014