Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Friars Nor Frys

I've been trying to get my money's worth from my Council Tax. I had the Local Archives elves pouring over old maps and documents in an attempt to get to the bottom of a niggling question:
What is the oldest recorded name for one particular piece of land out in the middle estuary- Frys Marsh, or Friars Saltings?

Sadly, the question beat the elves. So many of the anciente mappes of Medwaye watery bittes seem to consist of 'here there be dragons', and not very much else. And the latest OS maps didn't help, either.

Why does this really matter? Well, pure OCD on my part. To a historian, the original name might well be the best. But what about to the present-day landowner? They probably wouldn't be too happy if you keep getting it wrong- and as I get on well with the present owners, I use their choice- Friars. I'll come on to the geographical/ornithological importance for getting this right a little later in the post. First though, the name.

Three elements to consider here-

     (i) Is it Frys or Friars?

     (ii) Is it marsh or saltings?

     and (iii) is there a cure for my grammar pedantry regarding a lack of apostrophe in both names?

Blue- Nor Marsh. Yellow- Friars/Frys.
Orange, the public viewpoint at Horrid Hill

Let's take (ii) first, nice and general-

- Marsh or saltings?

A marsh is a piece of land that floods regularly, freshwater or saltwater, and something remains waterlogged for a considerable time. A salting is a British term for coastal land regularly inundated by saltwater. Here, the old maps do come good- the area was consistently marked as 'saltings'. Makes sense. Up to the floods of '53, the land adjacent to Friars/Frys, Nor Marsh ,was indeed a marsh, being an 'island' protected by a complete sea wall, full of creeks and fleets. This land next door to Nor, unprotected, inundated on highest spring tides, could well be called a marsh but was, and is, more precisely, saltings.

So, let's rephrase part (i) of the question- Frys Saltings or Friars Saltings?

- The case for Frys:

Just south of the Country Park, north of the railway line, were a series of old farms. A few remain as farms, more technically parts of larger farms, whilst others are remembered through the names of private houses and converted barns. One is still signposted nicely- Fry's Farm.

A local birder who had grown up in the area in the 1950s has told me in the past that he had always known the parcel of saltings as "Fry's", because the Fry family had been the tenant farmers whose cattle had been put out to pasture on Nor prior to the flood of '53. And somehow that name got passed on to RSPB staff when they took over the liaison for local WeBS counts in the '90s, and it stuck. If you check the the BTO WeBS pages, it is still in use today.

- The case for Friars:

Argument (a) The saltings belong to Kent Wildfowlers. As do the saltings just north of Nor, on the far side of South Yantlet Creek, Bishops. "Bishops and Friars"? Now could that be a throwback to the days when an awful lot of land locally, including much of the now long gone farmland, belonged to the Church? Fanciful? Perhaps. Tracing the history of land lost back to the estuary is a bit of a challenge.

But argument (b) is much more forceful- possession. nine-tenths of the law and all that. The organisation that owns it, manages it, does use a different name to RSPB and BTO, and has used that name since they formed over half a century ago, before the start of WeBS and the like. (That year was the same as when Nor Marsh was flooded then abandoned- 1953.) Their website records they purchased the freehold in 1985. Freehold implies legal documentation, so you'd think they'd be getting the name right.

For me, a no-brainer. If I called any private site I surveyed by a different name to that used by the landowner, I'd get some strong feedback. The answer has to be Friars Saltings.

And (iii)? Well, sad to say there's still no cure for my pedantry.

Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours

Neighbours. You have to try and get on with them. Friars adjoins Nor. Nor is owned by Medway Council and leased to the RSPB, whose website currently describes their Nor and Motney reserves as follows:

At first glance, all reads well, but once you appreciate 'the saltmarsh islands' is plural, taking in the mix of landowners on the estuary, and the mix of of birds rely on each landowner, you start to see the value of being more specific. Most land-based birders only know the Nor/Friars complex as 'Nor'. Figures in various reports will always read 'x roosting on Nor'. The problem is, quite often they weren't. They were roosting on Friars. A whole different set up, not a reserve, instead a routinely worked saltings.

Take an older image off Google Earth at high tide and you can clearly see how much more of Nor is innundated by the tide nowadays. Since the breach in '53, much of the land has eroded and now just parts of the sea wall and a few odd stretches stay above a spring tide. Friars is slightly higher, slightly drier, and more 'natural', so appeals to more of the roosting waders for many of the tides. The dry stone-covered stretches of the Nor seawall are used less often; sometimes preferred when shooters are in situ on Friars, but even then not always, as the wildfowlers tend to stick to one or two spots and the birds can always make for Bishop.

Specks roosting on a distant Friars, 01/16

Breeding? The majority of the gulls and terns that attempt on Nors/Friars complex are on the saltings. The Black-headed Gulls do get by on Nor on a few linear stretches of the seawall plus one raised area that just about survives the tides- but the larger colonies of 'Nor' are actually on the wildfowlers' land.

Of course, Nor can be better for some things; full of duck over the tide, but they are wary so, as with many spots around the estuary, only use Nor routinely after the end of the shooting season. Even then, many duck can tuck themselves away in Friars.

Neighbours have to get on. For me, getting the neighbours' name right is one of the first steps to having good working relationships. I cannot fathom why 'we' birders continue to ignore the landowners' name for this stretch of the estuary. Pain in the backside that I am, yes, I've already pointed this out to many observers. One such reason for continuing to do so is the breeding colonies.

Neighbourhood Watchers

The gulls are now back on Nor. And on Friars. Ready to face the threats of another breeding season. Everyone wants the birds to do well. Two summers ago, many of the gulls on the accessible stretches of Nor deserted, with rumours of robbery abounding in the local community. Further thievery was suspected last year further along the estuary.

Last year's message regarding egg thieves may well, sadly, need highlighting again. We all need to be vigilant. Any good neighbourhood watch only works when neighbours get on and look out for each other.

So, for the local birders; next time you record those birds from Horrid Hill, why not consider recording roosts/breeding colonies, etc, as either Nor, or Friars? It all helps the overall understanding of the way our estuary works. And we can report any potential egg thieves out among our colonies in just the same way- the more specific your observations, the better chance of action.

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