North Kent Marshes

The low sea wall runs through the middle of the Swale National Nature Reserve and maintains the freshwater grazing marsh on the landward side. Seaward, is a wide expanse of flat and featureless salt marsh, beyond which a huge sandbank rises from the Swale estuary decked with an odd assortment of geese, crows and gulls. No harbour seals are hauled out today. Today, the sky is bright and clear and the green pastures and blue waters appear postcard-saturated; only the stiff westerly is out of order.

The emptiness of the views is transformed when a peregrine runs through low, straight and fast and there is an eruption from the flooded water meadows of wheeling flocks of geese, curlew, lapwing and starling. Like big cats on savannah grasslands, with peregrines there is often a fleeting moment of breathtaking drama; fast flight, arched stopping and twisting and a climactic hit or miss, between long bouts of idleness from some favourite lookout. On most occasions though, as these brief but incredibly exciting chases unfurl, the front-page story is blown away as the bird is tamely lost behind a hill.

Above the Swale NNR, the old church at Harty looks south to the marshes at Oare and Faversham; this is a quiet place of wide horizons and great natural beauty, save the pylons that march along the Kent coastline. This was, it is said, a favourite haunt of Slough-slandering, Sir John Betjemen.

Lower Halstow is a tiny village of simple beauty with a wharf that rises from the deep, sticky mud of the narrowing inlet; the masts of the permanently docked, Thames barge ‘Edith May’ now swathed in protective sheeting, dwarfs the old church and adjacent huddled terrace of cottages. Further west, Otterham creek is hidden between private land and a sprawling sewage treatment works. The latter pulls in great flocks of black-headed gulls and starlings. With a new moon rising over the low hills, on an uncommon evening of calm after a day of brilliant sunshine, these are rewarding places to breathe in history and watch winter wildlife.

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