15th January 2013 - Woodland Archaeology: Understanding a Walk in the Woods

Over 50 members and visitors attended this talk. “If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise” - I’m sure readers will be familiar with these words from the famous children’s song, the Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Well, after this talk by Vivienne Blandford, I for one feel much better qualified to recognise and appreciate some of the hidden archaeological surprises which can still be found in many of our native woodlands. Mind you, I do start from a very low knowledge base!

Vivienne explained that woodland archaeology survives primarily because the land has been spared the plough and that it is important because it provides an unwritten record of how our ancestors lived. It derives either from past management of the wood itself or from human activity that has taken place in the woods.

Boundary banks and laid Hornbeam hedges were cited as good examples of the former; while the remains of charcoal platforms, bloomery sites (for early iron making), pillow mounds (for rabbit farming) and saw pits provide examples of past industrial activity in the wood. Other evidence of man’s woodland activities may be seen in quarries, which now serve as important wildlife habitats; in military architecture; and in the remains of buildings, which in many cases can be accurately dated from the bricks used to build them.

As an aside on the subject of saw pits, it was interesting to hear that the modern day phrases ‘top dog’ and ‘underdog’ have their origin in the two saw cutters (‘dogs’) who straddled the saw pit – one above and one below – to cut their logs with a long tooth saw.

Vivienne concluded her talk by explaining the importance of woodland archaeological surveys, using a recent Historic Environment Awareness Project in the Weald to illustrate the point. The survey involved enlisting the cooperation of many individuals who each owned parcels of the woodland area to be surveyed. Old maps were consulted as they often reveal ancient archaeology, such as roads and fields cut out of the woods (Assarting). LIDAR (laser light detection and ranging technology) was also employed to detect surface archaeological features. In total some 150 sites of interest were identified in the survey.

For more information visit the SE Woodland Archaeology Forum website at

Brian Binning

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29th January 2013 - Sussex in Close-Up

Our speaker, David Bradford who runs the Turner-Drumbell Workshop in Ditchling, has been a designer in fashion, a sculptor and a teacher. He said he wasn’t an expert on wildlife and invited members of the audience (around 50 in all) to correct him if need be. As far as I can recall, there were no corrections and David gave us a fascinating and knowledgeable presentation on the insects (moths, butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and more); amphibians (frogs, toads and newts); and reptiles (adders, slow worms and grass snakes) of Sussex.

He explained that his influences were artists like Beatrice Potter, Samuel Palmer (an early 19th century landscape painter, etcher and printer), Eric Ravilious and Paul Nash. He thought Beatrice Potter was underrated as an artist and admired her capacity to render the colouring of the English landscape and her skilled drawing of animals and fungi. One of the pictures he showed us was a very precise drawing of a spider by Potter.

Eric Ravilious is well known for his wonderful evocations of our local landscape in the 1930s – David showed us some of Ravilious’s pictures, including the Cuckmere valley, the white horse above the Cuckmere valley and the South Downs and commented on how they portray a lonely, mournful landscape without people which was much more like a wilderness than it is now. (He also suggested that Ravilious had made Newhaven look attractive.)

With these influences in mind, David took us on a tour of the smaller things in Sussex – commenting on the aesthetics and habits of creatures from brimstone butterflies to speckled bush crickets. Unusually, he uses a non digital camera from 1979 so some of his stories were about the ones that got away.

We were shown a wealth of photographs. It would be impossible to describe everything so I’ve just recorded a few of the things which struck me –

Graveyards can be wonderful undisturbed landscapes providing a habitat for native wild flowers whose colours always work well together. This was accompanied by a picture of bluebells and other wild flowers in Westmeston churchyard.

Common frogs look like they are being taken over by marsh frogs which were introduced into Romney Marsh in the 1930s by a diplomat’s wife who thought she was introducing the edible variety. Now you can find marsh frogs in Lewes and right up the Ouse although they are difficult to spot. (In the spring, you may hear rather than see them.)

Thanks to the Butterfly Conservation Trust, the Park Corner nature reserve at East Hoathly has been extended to include adjacent land with a lake and now hosts 13 species of butterfly.

Adders are shy and even although David edges very close, he has never been bitten – and adders sometimes hibernate with their prey.

Some parasites on damselflies are very bright – carmine red in one case.

The minotaur beetle builds nest chambers two feet down and the male pushes rabbit droppings down to them through small holes - the eggs are then laid in the droppings.

Before the interval, David showed us some pictures of the Sussex landscape accompanied by music and he did the same at the end of his session which closed with The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams and more beautiful pictures of Sussex. I think David’s multimedia approach with its fascinating mixture of natural history, the aesthetics of the pictures, anecdote and music may be a first for the Society.

I am sure Deirdre Danes who gave the vote of thanks spoke for all of us when she said how much she had enjoyed the session and how it had been a marvellous reminder of how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful county.

Anne Fletcher

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12th Febuary 2013 - Climate Change and Natural History

Colin Whiteman is a retired lecturer specialising in ice age geology. Firstly, we saw a picture of a little egret, a Mediterranean bird, and he told us that he had seen his first one at Cuckmere Haven in August 1992. He promised to return to the little egret later.

He then went on to explain that climate change is not new and has been going on for about 4½billion years with alternate very warm and very cold periods. During the ice age, when temperatures in Sussex were probably as low as -28⁰c, animals such as the sabre tooth tiger and woolly mammoth roamed Britain. From 60,000-11,500 years ago there were marked fluctuations in temperature, since when things have been relatively stable apart from a mini ice age in the 16th century.

Sir Nicholas Shackleton, our most important British physicist, was able to demonstrate with the help of fossils found on the sea bed that over 2-3m years temperatures have fluctuated up and down in a distinctive pattern and that if this trend continues the climate will become colder. However, the industrial revolution has altered this pattern by putting carbon monoxide into the atmosphere leading to warmer temperatures.

After this introduction, Colin showed how climate change is affecting natural history, which brought us back to the little egret. This was once common in Britain as it is recorded that at a banquet in 1465 1,000 egrets were on the menu. With over- hunting and the arrival of a mini ice age in the mid-16th century they became extinct. Prior to 1952 only 12 had been recorded in Britain, by 2010 36 breeding pairs had been recorded in Sussex alone and by 2011 there were more than 800 breeding pairs in the UK. Why this increase? Not only have they have been protected since the 1950s but the climate has become warmer.

Research since the 1960s has found that a whole range of mammals, birds, fish and bugs have moved northwards in response to climate change, although frogs and toads have retreated more because of loss of habitat i.e. building on flood plains, dredging etc. Locally the Ouse project is working towards protecting their habitat.

Colin then cited evidence of global warming with, for example, swallows arriving up to 12 days earlier, and trees like oak, ash and beech leafing several days earlier. At the same time the average temperature in SE England is getting warmer.

In response to an internal clock change the pied fly catcher is arriving earlier but the insects they feed on are also responding to climate change and have already gone by the time they arrive (known as a phenological mismatch). Perhaps this explains the decrease in numbers. However, 5 new dragonflies have appeared in Britain, moving north from the Mediterranean, including the emperor and hairy dragonflies.

Colin then moved on to future impact of climate change. It is predicted that by 2100 British woodlands will have changed with more oak but fewer beech trees.

Research into plankton in the North Sea shows that the species more tolerant of warmer conditions is becoming more dominant and this will have an impact on future fish stocks.

Some species like the snow bunting could become extinct and their numbers have declined rapidly in the last few years. The Bird Atlas 1988/89 showed that this bird was found over a much wider area around coastal area of Britain and Sussex. (There was one local sighting recently.)

Turning away from Europe excessive temperature increases, rises in sea level, and storminess are all attributable to global warming which is having an effect on , amongst other things, coral (bleaching) and also the flying fox in Australia where in 2008, 3500 succumbed to hyperthermia when temperatures rose to 42 ⁰c. There have been die offs before but nothing on this scale before 2000.

At the Arctic, satellites record more accurately the dramatic decrease in sea ice from 8½m sq km in 1979 to 4½m sq km in 2012 and show that the extent of one year thin ice is increasing at the expense of the older thicker ice. Because ice reflects heat back, more heat will be absorbed into the atmosphere. It is predicted that in the near future there may be no ice left. This will be disastrous for polar bears, which are already moving south where they are coming into contact with brown bears moving north, and producing a hybrid bear. As access to the Arctic increases, the scramble for rights to mineral deposits is causing concern for the future of the environment.

At the Antarctic the Southern Ocean has warmed to the extent that sea ice has decreased greatly around the edge of the continent which is affecting the habitat of the penguins which are being forced further south.

In the tropical forests the cutting down of older trees (which are more able to absorb carbon dioxide) is leading to drought and climate change.

Colin concluded a thought-provoking talk by showing us maps predicting how our area of Sussex would be affected by 2100 when it is predicted that sea levels will have risen from between 59 cm to over 1m. Should Greenland disappear altogether we are looking at a 6m rise which will totally change the area.

Susan Painter

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26th February 2013 – AGM

Keith Blackburn welcomed the 40 members (approximately) who were present. Three apologies for absence were received. He opened the meeting by giving a brief report on 2012. All the indoor meetings had been of a high quality and, although there had been some problems with the sound system, St Luke’s should shortly be installing a new p.a. system. The programme of walks had often been stimulating (in spite of the rain). The financial position of the Society remains sound.

Richard Mongar then presented his statement of accounts for 2012 and thanked Mike Staples for examining them. He reported that subscriptions were down on 2012 but there have been more visitors. Regarding expenses the costs for both speakers and the hire of the hall have increased. Dot Moore and Janice Reynolds were thanked for organising refreshments. The tea break not only gives people a chance to talk but also creates extra income. The accounts were accepted and Keith thanked Richard Mongar for taking over as treasurer, a task he had performed with distinction.

Andrew Painter thanked all those who had contributed to the magazine and stated that the next issue would be ready for collection at the March meeting by those members who had not opted to receive it by e- mail. Andrew and Susan were thanked, and also Richard who is responsible for the printing of the magazine, which now has the added benefits of colour and keeping costs low.

Turning to the outdoor meetings, Chris Brewer was presented with a gift token for organising a very enjoyable and varied programme of walks over the last 3 years. There are always a number of members willing to share their expertise and this enables everyone to appreciate what they are looking at. Chris will continue to look after the excellent website (which he set up in 2010). Keith said that the way Marilyn Binning had taken over the organisation of the outdoor programme was most impressive and she had arranged it with the minimum of fuss and maximum efficiency. He thanked Marilyn in her absence.

As regards indoor meetings, Colin Whiteman thanked all the speakers this year who have been excellent and said that he had almost completed arranging the programme for 2013/14. He said he always welcomed feedback and suggestions for future topics. Keith thanked Colin for a superlative presentation on climate change at the last meeting.

Keith mentioned that people can always be co-opted on to the committee and new people would be very much welcomed. Keith thanked Anne Fletcher for all her hard work and also said that this will be her last year as secretary. Everyone on the committee was re-elected en masse.

Under any other business Keith mentioned that the tree planting programme has been halted because of concerns by the Town Council about the liability for future maintenance of trees and possible damage of pavements by roots etc. The Council are looking into the position but there is the possibility that they will not agree to more trees being planted. Keith will report future progress.

After a break for tea, Penny Green from the Sussex Biodiversity Research Centre, SWT, gave a talk on the recording work that they do. She explained that there are a number of recorders in Sussex, each an expert in their own field in flora and fauna. One of them, a beetle expert, has recorded over 53,000 species over 40 years. His enthusiasm was such that when he discovered his 3,000th beetle species in Sussex he had to carry it back in his hand on the bus. She encouraged people to take part in recording – it can be great fun and no special expertise is needed to get started. There is always the excitement of perhaps finding a new species. On the other hand, recording of commonplace species is also important and the various groups always welcome volunteers. The more recording that is done, the more comprehensive will be the bigger picture that can be built up from all this knowledge. All data collected is digitalised; there are now over 3 million records. Each local recorder gives his results to the SWT who then put the data on the national web. Data is collected in this way all round the country and access is freely available to everyone, whether members of the public, planners etc. This data is a useful tool in several ways –perhaps in deciding whether a particular development should be allowed and what could be affected by it. Penny’s talk explained very well the continuing importance for the future of wildlife of obtaining this information.

Susan Painter

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12th March 2013 -The 2007-11 National Bird Atlas: a Sussex perspective

I suspect that Chris Brewer spoke for more than a few in the audience when he admitted with disarming candour that, at first glance, the title of this lecture filled him with a strong sense of foreboding. This, he feared, would be a worthy but dull afternoon spent looking at a seemingly endless succession of maps variously adorned with different sized red dots depicting the distribution of each of the 397 species recorded in Sussex. Fortunately for all concerned, Richard Cowser treated his substantial audience to a lively, well-structured and truly fascinating tour de force which offered many new insights into the changing pattern of bird distribution and abundance in Sussex – particularly when the results of this fieldwork between 2007 and 2011 are compared with classic (but now dated) works like Paul James (ed.) The Birds of Sussex (SOS, 1996) and those studies conducted under the auspices of the British Trust for Ornithology since the 1960s – J.T.R Sharrocks (ed.) Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland (1976 ) and the New Atlas of Breeding birds in Britain and Ireland, 1988-1991 (1993 ). The new volume, covering the Atlas data for the whole of Britain and Ireland for the years 2007-11, will be published by the BTO (and its Irish counterpart) in the late summer of 2013.

To conduct such a study, each of the sixty or so 10 km squares wholly or partially in Sussex was divided into 25 Tetrads (2 km squares) and these 1039 units provided the basis for the most recent Atlas – a major but very labour intensive improvement on previous Atlas work which used rather less specific 10km squares as the foundation unit for recording. The methodology for the collection of data involved two distinct phases between 2007 and 2011. First, to gather data on relative abundance across the entire county, Timed Tetrad Visits (TTVs) each of two hours duration were conducted - two visits in winter (November to February) and two during the breeding season (April and July). In total nearly 4000 TTVs were carried out by over 200 people; a vast voluntary effort which amounted to at least 8000 survey hours. Secondly, although the TTV survey gathered data on both species numbers and distribution these observations were supplemented by ‘casual records’ from over 900 people and these related generally to unusual or difficult species. In total, by the end of the fieldwork there were over 750,000 individual records on the database. During the summer visits, efforts were also made to establish the likelihood that breeding had occurred using 16 different categories of evidence ranging from confirmed, probable or possible breeding to a note that the birds were simply passing through.

Having explained the mechanics of the Atlas survey work, Richard then provided us with a number of interesting species case studies which highlighted the many benefits of such a systematic long-term survey. One obvious primary advantage is simply that such work enables us better to understand the distribution and relative abundance of birds within the county. For example, although we are accustomed to regarding dark-bellied brent geese as a relatively common sight in Sussex during winter, the species was actually recorded in only 93 of the 1039 tetrads in total and in only 33 of these during the TTVs, with the largest count being 2503. As the map demonstrated, although this species can be found all along the coast, distribution and abundance was concentrated very strongly in the western areas around Chichester and Pagham harbours.

The production of a new Atlas will also provide many valuable insights into changing population trends – particularly when today’s data is compared with the baseline results of the past studies conducted by the BTO since the 1960s. The fate of the willow warbler provided our speaker with an excellent example of the knowledge to be gleaned from such comparisons. In 1988-91 this long-distance sub-Saharan migrant was recorded in no fewer than 876 tetrads and it was recorded as breeding in no fewer than 711. The most recent survey, however, shows the species was now found in only 610 tetrads and it probably/definitely bred in only 213 of these confined largely to the NW corner of Sussex. The ‘change map’ in the new Atlas thus illustrates the depressingly substantial retreat of the species across the county as a whole in a period of only 20 years – and the species is faring particularly poorly in the southeast of the county.

An even more depressing picture of decline was offered by closer scrutiny of fortunes of the wood warbler. This delightful little bird migrates to equatorial Africa but it is suffering long-term decline. In 1968-72 the first Breeding Bird Atlas recorded it in 36 of the 10 km squares. By 1988-91 this figure had been reduced substantially and it was found in only 21 of the 10 km squares; a preferred habitat confined largely to the heathlands and forests of the north west and Surrey borders. By 2008-11, Atlas fieldwork (supplemented by a special SOS survey) found the wood warbler has now completely disappeared from all except a most vulnerable toehold in the north west of the county and it was completely absent from the drier south east.

In contrast, the speaker provided much interesting quantitative evidence concerning species that are expanding their range and numbers within Sussex. The raven was one such species but perhaps the most notable in this category is the common buzzard. Only 20 years ago a buzzard was a rare sight in Sussex; a point substantiated by the 1988-91 data which found it in only 30 tetrads in total and in only 10 of those was possible breeding suspected. Today, it is recorded across much of Sussex and it definitely or probably breeds in some 450 of the 1039 tetrads, with a particular stronghold in the western and central areas of the county.

The survey work also throws much important light on changing patterns of behaviour as well as trends in population numbers. For example, the goldeneye is an increasingly scarce winter visitor to Sussex whose numbers nationally have fallen by 20 per cent in only two decades (from around 25,000 to 20,000). In a typical winter today, only around 200 goldeneye can be found in the county. But what is interesting about this change is that it is not symptomatic of a decline in population, but rather a direct reflection of the impact of climate change. Milder winters in their breeding grounds in Russia, Scandinavia and the Baltic now mean that birds are ‘short stopping’ and not moving so far from their breeding grounds in winter unless compelled to do so by abnormally cold weather – with the result that fewer make the extra effort to winter in Sussex where they may be disadvantaged when it comes to nesting site and mate selection in the spring as they make the long journey north. At a rather different level, the evidence helps confirm the proposition that while ringed plovers can be observed in Sussex all year round, these are not actually the same birds. On the contrary, beneath this ostensible stability in numbers it appears that throughout the year there are three distinct sub-sets moving through - a small breeding population which leaves for Iberia and North Africa in winter; a much larger Western population which breeds in northern Britain and the continent; and finally, a passage population which breeds in the high Arctic and winters in western and southern Africa. Another interesting trend which is often overlooked concerns the wood pigeon. Thirty years ago this bird was rarely found in gardens and 20 years ago it was not included among the top ten garden birds. The growth in bird feeders in urban and suburban gardens, however, has precipitated a radical change in wood pigeon behaviour to the extent that it is now always in the top three or four species recorded in the BTO’s annual ‘Garden Bird Watch’.

As a long-serving member of the Sussex Ornithological Society’s council and one of the lead editors of the Sussex Bird Atlas, it was inevitable that the speaker should have concluded with some remarks about this truly authoritative book. The end product of so much labour will be distilled into a monumental tome of some 600 large format (A4) pages covering all 397 species recorded in the county so far. The species accounts have been produced by a specialist team of writers from the SOS and these offer detailed analysis of the status of each species within the county, population trends and habitat along with abundant maps and tables and colour photographs of some 280 species (all taken in Sussex!). Much of the book’s cost has been covered by an extensive campaign to encourage individuals and groups to sponsor a particular species – the SNHS is, appropriately enough, the proud sponsor of the locally common rock pipit. The book is expected to be published early in 2014 with a tempting pre-publication discount offer appearing in the late summer of 2013. Richard ended this excellent talk with a compelling injunction– this is a ‘must have’ for all those interested in birds and the natural history of Sussex.

Bob Self

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8th October 2013 - Farming for Wildlife on the Pevensey Levels

Martin Hole is a familiar figure to many members as he has led a number of natural history society walks around his farm on Pevensey Levels. This talk was an opportunity to hear about the philosophy behind his approach.

Martin comes from a farming background but he trained in nature conservation and this is his main focus. Whilst he keeps cows and lambs in the upper areas of his farm, his talk concentrated on the work he has done on developing the wetlands in the lower areas. Over the years his approach had moved from species management to landscape management so that instead of attempting to conserve individual species the aim is to develop the landscapes in which many species can thrive. Now he is thinking in terms of re-wilding or bringing the land into a (managed) state of wilderness – of which more later.

Martin describes the marshland on his farm as intact wilderness surrounded by built up areas. Its clean water supports a rich diversity of wildlife, including

• Plants like fen water violet and water soldiers

 • Rare insects like the fen raft spider

• Snails and dragonflies, and

• Some 240 species of birds. Skylarks, shelduck, lapwings, redshank, short eared owls, avocets (visiting but not nesting yet) and cetti’s warbler were some of the birds mentioned although sadly the great partridge has disappeared from the Levels.


Natural England and the Environment Agency were mentioned as sources of funding for conservation. Martin highlighted several policy clashes. Natural England (or its predecessor organisation) was originally most interested in bird conservation, offering £30 per acre to farmers not to harm bird habitats at the same time that the Government was offering £160 per acre to farmers to grow oil seed rape.

The Environment Agency supported the flooding of lower lying areas, including 160 acres of land which had been down to wheat. The flooding was a gentle process of raising the water level by blocking ditches. However, this flooding contravened a drainage act and Martin was threatened with prosecution by the same agency which funded the activity.

His aim was and is to increase diversity. Martin reported that as soon as the land was flooded the number of birds increased. Montague Farm is only 6% of the Levels but the initial target of increasing the bird population on the farm to that of the Levels as a whole was comfortably met. One example he quoted was the increase in the number of shoveler ducks to around 200 making the farm’s marshland an internationally important site.

More traditional farming

In the upper areas, Martin keeps 1000 Romney ewes – a breed well adapted to the local environment. The ewes feed on grassland and require no additional feeding or housing, and they lamb in the fields. Good disease control is required to keep them healthy. They are less productive than other breeds but require less management - and Martin assured us they make good eating!


Predator pressure - one reason for Martin’s shift from species conservation to landscape conservation was the need to avoid setting up food for predators. He mentioned lapwings as one of example of ground nesting birds with many predators, including foxes, grass snakes and marsh harriers.

Feeding Britain versus conservation - another major issue was the balance between ‘feeding Britain’ and conservation. Apparently 80% of food grown in the UK comes from 15% of farm business and Martin seemed to suggest that the remaining 20% of land currently used to produce food could be set aside for conservation. The area of wheat production he had flooded was an example – it was ill suited to wheat and had become less and less productive. This issue was much discussed in the coffee break and at question time, with people expressing some concern about getting the balance right and asking how much money should be available for conservation – an interesting debate for a natural history society!


Martin thinks re-wilding is now the way forward. Wikipedia defines re-wilding as ‘large scale conservation aimed at restoring and protecting core wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and keystone species’. Martin talked about a large area of marshland in Poland where elk had been reintroduced and asked us to imagine the Pevensey Levels returning to its habitat in Palaeolithic times, with woolly mammoths etc roaming the marsh. More prosaically, he could see a time when his approach was shared by his neighbours so that a larger part of the Levels was marshland and creatures like beavers could be introduced.

Keith Blackburn thanked Martin for a very stimulating and thought provoking talk which had given us all food for thought.

Anne Fletcher

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29th October 2013 – Wildlife of the Ouse Valley

Members packed the room waiting in anticipation of a very interesting and lively talk, and were not disappointed. Michael made us laugh from the start as he used his local knowledge, anecdotes, pictures (some interestingly doctored), together with bird recordings to lead us on a walk up the river Ouse from Newhaven to Lewes and beyond.

Birds come from much colder climates to overwinter in the area. At Piddinghoe Pond we were told you could see the “best looking Sussex ducks” goosander – teal – shoveller - pintail and his favourite, smew. At Court Farm you might see cattle egrets, bittern and, if you were very lucky, common crane.

In spring the steep banks of the canal become a migration corridor for house martins, sand martins, nightjars, whitethroat, stone curlew and many more coming to spend the summer here. Also, butterflies like the red admiral, clouded yellow, and from 1344 miles away the painted lady. Even a lone monarch butterfly was spotted this year. Various moths, dragonflies and many more insects can all be seen.

Common seals are sometimes seen after they have chased in after sea trout that inhabit the river. Shark pictures and accompanying music made us wonder what else lurked in the water that had been seen beyond the bridge in Lewes town. No, not sharks but lampreys that can cling to the back of larger fish. They reproduce in the shallow water of the tributaries.

Next we listened to the “racket” of the marsh frog, as Michael described it. Introduced into Kent in 1935 it had spread all along the River Ouse, and is a source of food for the many grass snakes in the area. A health and safety guide on snakes followed:- Smooth snakes - illegal to pick up (he told a group of youngsters) you could be arrested, at which point one asked “what if it were dead?” Grass snakes – if picked up can “splat” on you, it does not wash out and it stinks! Adders – poisonous and you deserve what you get if you pick it up. “After all common sense dictates you would not put your hand in a blender”!

Commonplace along the river are little egrets; once hunted almost to extinction for their feathers they have made a slow comeback. In 1931 they were recorded in the Carmargue, and in 1960 in Brittany. By 1989 forty had been recorded n the UK, and by 1996 they were breeding.

Found past Southease Bridge, the tall lizard orchid, we were informed, “stinks of billygoat”. Of the elm trees in the area, many have died or are dying of Dutch elm disease, and this has dire consequences for the white-letter hairstreak butterfly which feeds solely on elm wood. Barn owls can be seen, and found in the daytime near Southease, the short-eared owl. Near the car park in Rodmell, little owls have been seen, and we listened to their odd bird calls.

There are 165 chalk streams in England, and one of these is called the Winterbourne which runs through Lewes and past Michael’s office window. Kingfishers that breed further up in Hamsey come down in winter to the stream. Often flying past his window too fast to see, he only hears their call, which we then listened to.

The reed beds near Lewes give good shelter to cetti’s warblers, roosting pied wagtails, and one of Michael’s favourite birds the water rail. It has a bad habit of drowning any small bird it comes across and then eating it. We listened to it’s call which Michael likened to a young pig being slaughtered. While reed buntings are in the reed beds all year, seven pairs of reed warbler arrive in spring and we listened to their song.

Fish to be found in the river are rudd, perch and the three spined stickleback. Also the European eel which starts life in the Sargasso Sea, migrating to live in fresh water streams for 15-30 years until adult when it then returns back to the sea to spawn and die. Also in the river is the record breaking smallest, rare, vascular plant –rootless duckweed.

The chalk cliffs near the river are home to ravens that Michael thinks are most intelligent as they nest in January, finished by March and then get the rest of the year off! In the area also are three pairs of peregrine falcons. One pair nested on the cliffs in 2012 producing two chicks, but none this year. In winter they hunt pigeons, redwing and bats in the town.

Next a ‘top of the town’ chart compared Lewes with Arundel. Both were similar except in June/July when about 200 rose chafer beetles were seen in Lewes but none in Arundel. Lewes also has the great diving beetle, Sussex diving beetle and found by a bus stop the 3000th beetle to be identified - Melanotus Punctolineatus. Also in the area we learnt that female glow worms cannot fly but glow to attract males. While males do not glow they can fly and have distinct markings like large eyes on their undersides.

Near to Lewes are Malling Down and Southerham Nature Reserves, both home to a diversity of wildlife to include orchids, butterflies and insects. Also here is the little two coloured mason bee. It sometimes lays an egg on top of a provision of food for the emerging larva inside an empty snail shell. It then seals the shell with stones/mud and covers it with small sticks.

Grazing sheep are the main “state of the art equipment” for managing the grasslands, and old pictures taken in the 1900’s showed their use then, as now, on the chalk downs of which only 3% remains.

Other winter visiting birds are redwings, brambling, long tail tits, and sometimes blackbirds from Russia. Some years waxwings are seen, and we listened to a demo of their calls. December 2012 the birds were sighted in trees near Tesco, and Michael decided to set up his own 2012/13 Waxwing Alert website. He altered pictures of road signs to say ‘Lewes welcomes careful waxwings’ and ‘Lewes berry capital of the UK’ with free berries which brought complaints to the Council of poor use of public money on such road signs!

Further up the river past Lewes there used to be otters, but hunted until 1978, they disappeared. Now only mink, which escaped from a farm near Lewes many years ago are seen. Michael showed us a stuffed otter to demonstrate how large it is. The good news is that local wildlife experts are tentatively suggesting that otters are back in the River Ouse.

Lastly we had a ‘5 minute encore’ as on a ‘soggy’ day in 2012 a Spanish lady followed and photographed Michael leading a group of this Society’s members on a butterfly walk. The pictures set to Spanish music were very entertaining, as was Michael’s talk today.

Marilyn Binning

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12th November 2013 South Downs National Park

On 12 November, Fay Pattinson, a SDNPA Ranger in post for just six months, gave us a “rapid gallop” through the history, scope and operation of the South Downs National Park (SDNP).

At 16,000 Km2, the SDNP is the largest, most populous (112,000 people dwell within it) and popular (39 million day visits pa) National Park.

The SDNP has diverse landscapes and habitats including seven rivers, chalk grassland, greensand heaths and woodland, parkland and farmland (85%) The east contains many old drove roads and footpaths, and three towns lie within its boundaries – Midhurst, Petersfield and Lewes.

The SDNP Authority is managed by an independent body comprising 27 government, local authority and parish council appointees. It is allowed a maximum of 100 employees. This year it has had its budget reduced to £10.58m. As it doesn’t own any land, the NP has to work in partnership with local stakeholders.

Although legally responsible for planning policy in the SDNP, local authorities actually manage 96% of all applications while the NP keeps a “watchful eye”.

Its operations are divided into four area teams with a manager and three or four rangers in each team. Working with 350 volunteers, who contribute 5,300 work days, they are active in scrub clearance, hedge laying, improving signage and conducting surveys to restore chalk grassland, re-instate historic landscapes and improve habitats for rare and threatened species.

Of the SDNP’s projects, Fay referred to the Farm and Bird Initiative, which concerns management options for wildlife, the Secrets of the South Downs Project, which has lottery funding to map historic features in the west, and the Dark Skies Project which is mapping areas less affected by light pollution.

Funding is available from the Sustainable Communities Fund (from £250 -£20,000) to get projects off the ground; and the Major Partnerships Fund for more significant projects such as the £45,000 it has awarded to Birling Gap. There is also the Sustainable Transport Fund to encourage eco-friendly travel. Cycle paths are being improved and developed such as the Egrets way from Newhaven to Lewes along the C7.

Fay sees the South Downs Way as the jewel in the crown of the SDNP with 20 million people walking some part of it every year.

In the Q&A Fay, when asked about the profile and visibility of the SDNP, hinted that the Seven Sisters Visitor Centre might be acquired by the NT or SWT.

For more information, or to get involved, visit where they have an on-line forum, and a Learning Zone.

Coralie thanked Fay for her enthusiastic and comprehensive account.

Jenny Wistreich

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26th November 2013 – Impact on local areas of sea level rise and global warming

In this presentation we had the benefit of two lectures in one, from Peter Amies and John Gower from the Environment Agency.

Coastal management and Seaford Beach defences – Peter Amies

Peter started by showing us the English Channel as it was (or wasn’t!) 20,000 years ago when sea levels were 100 m lower than they are today and you could walk from England to France. He ran a simulation showing how sea level rose as the ice sheets from the last Ice Age melted until England and France were cut off from each other, and commented that most of the flint for our beaches came from the floor of the English Channel, apart from Seaford of course, whose present day beaches arrived by boat and lorry back in 1987.

Peter then went on to explain briefly the Environment Agency’s approach to coastal management and more specifically the various financial and administrative hurdles that had to be overcome to ensure that the shingle on Seaford Beach is replenished each year. In 1953 the UK, Netherlands and Belgium suffered catastrophic coastal flooding which claimed around 2,500 lives. This flooding was caused by a 2 m storm surge following a combination of high spring tides and storms in the North Sea. Following these floods the coast of the UK was divided into sections or cells, the purpose of which was to identify the risks posed to each cell by encroachment of the sea, and then draw up shoreline management plans to reduce these risks. The last review was undertaken in 2006, and the approach for Seaford was to hold the line (i.e. to continue to move/replenish the shingle beach each year). To do this a strategy had to be drawn up, the ‘River Ouse to Seaford Head Coastal Defence Strategy’, which had to be approved by the ‘Large Project Review Group’, a high level committee composed of senior managers from the Environment Agency and DEFRA. The strategy for Seaford was to continue with the shingle replenishment as this was seen as the most cost effective solution, but this wasn’t approved until December 2012. Following this approval, several further approvals had to be obtained, not least of which was bidding for the £250,000 project funding against other Environment Agency projects – initial approval of the strategy does not necessarily mean it will receive funding.

Final approval for Seaford Beach was obtained in August 2013, although the original request for funding for 10 years was reduced to 5 years. The Environment Agency is responsible for coastal management for a large tract of the south-east coast (apart from the section from Pevensey to Bexhill which was awarded to a private contractor in 2000 for a period of 25 years). To obtain better rates and reduce costs the Environment Agency links contracts along the south coast, and due to the size of this contract it had to be advertised in European journals. The contract was eventually awarded for a period of 4 years with funding agreed for a further year. A future problem for Seaford Beach may be that of funding at the end of the current 5-year term. As money from central government becomes ever tighter, this funding cannot be guaranteed and the Environment Agency may have to look for some kind of partnership funding at the end of the existing contract.

Long term climate change and sea level rise – John Gower

Following Peter’s very informative talk, John talked to us about long term climate change and the initiatives that the Environment Agency were involved in to ease the negative effects of this.

John pointed out that climate change was not just about global warming, but more about extreme weather events such as heavier snow, more flooding and more frequent droughts. John showed a number of slides, including one of a flooded riverside road at Newhaven on a fairly unexceptional high tide in October 2012, and another showing a graph of sea levels in Sheerness, Kent since 1834. At first glance the Sheerness graph looked like a straight line showing a steady rise in sea level, but on closer inspection it presented the classic “hockey stick” graph showing accelerated change. Other graphics included both drought events and flood events in Europe over the last decade, with the south-east of England not faring particularly well.

During the last Ice Age much of the planet’s water was locked up in ice sheets and the polar ice caps, and sea level was around 100 m lower than today. If the poles melt over the next century there will be a dramatic rise in sea level; the long term sea level rise over the next 4,000 years is expected to be 10-15 m. Also, during the last Ice Age Scotland was depressed under the weight of the ice sheets, and the south of Britain, which was free of permanent ice cover, was raised up. Since the melting of the ice sheets and the release of this pressure, Scotland has been rising slowly, and the south of England has been sinking. This process is still ongoing today; as an example Romney Marsh is sinking by 1 to 1.5 mm per year.

One of the initiatives set up to combat long term climate change is the ‘Coastal Communities 2150’ communication project (CC2150), of which John Gower is the Project Manager. This project is aimed at helping communities at long-term risk from coastal climate change to understand the risks and what they can do about them, particularly the future consequences of decisions taken now. A good example is that of some newly built flats on the Newhaven riverside; these flats were raised up from the ground and were not affected by flooding in the area in October 2012. CC2150 has six partners, one from the Netherlands, two from Belgium, Kent County Council, Hampshire County Council and the Environment Agency as the lead partner. In the Netherlands around 1,800 people died in the 1953 floods, but since that time extensive sea defences have been built, including dams, dykes and storm surge barriers. However, even now 50% of the land, containing 60% of the houses and 70% of work places is liable to flooding in an extreme event and the Dutch authorities have held talks with Germany regarding the evacuation of a large proportion of their population to Germany should such a situation arise. The Netherlands also put aside 1% of their yearly budget towards future sea defences. Nearer to home John showed an aerial view of Peacehaven highlighting its close proximity to the cliff. All of the major utility services for Peacehaven run towards and then along the main road, a situation that will require a serious rewiring and replumbing job at some time in the future as the cliff recedes! Two photos were also shown of Birling Gap, one from 1908 when all the cottages were standing and were some distance from the cliff edge, and also a photo from 2002 when only half the cottages were left, the remainder having disappeared over the cliff.

John also showed a computer generated fly-through of the Seaford / Newhaven / Lewes area with various scenarios of sea level rises. In Seaford the Salts wouldn’t flood until the sea was 3.5 m above the present high tide, but in Newhaven a 1 m rise or storm surge would cause flooding. When the incinerator at Newhaven was built the Environment Agency encouraged them to build a protective wall around the site to protect against flood events and the animation showed that with large areas of Newhaven flooded the incinerator remained dry; if necessary this wall could be extended out from each side of the incinerator allowing protection for a larger tract of land. In Lewes the bottleneck for flooding was Cliffe Bridge, but since the floods of 2000 flood defences have been raised, and the animation showed that Lewes remained protected even with a rise in water level of 2 m.

John then ran through some concepts of how we could adapt in the future to the changes caused by climate change.

1.) Hard line: Hard structures would need to be built to hold back high tides and floodwaters, although this would require a lot of investment in building tall defences both along the shoreline and riverbanks.
2.) Soft Focus: This would involve the creation of more natural features like salt marshes and embankments to defend against flooding, but it would still mean occasional flooding of low lying areas. One advantage of soft flood defences is that they provide a habitat for wildlife. However, Newhaven would still need hard walls.
3.) Get wet: This approach would accept that some flooding is inevitable at very high tides or during storms. This would involve some changes to buildings and infrastructure and the acceptance that roads or railways may be closed during times of flooding.
4.) Higher ground: This would involve moving buildings and infrastructure such as roads and railways away from the current shoreline and riverbanks up to higher ground, and abandonment of areas that flood frequently.
5.) Rise up: This would involve lifting buildings, roads and railways out of harm’s way by putting them on stilts or embankments. This would mean major re-building or replacing most of the structures in the areas affected by flooding.
6.) New growth: We would need to adapt the way we farm to allow for changing weather conditions and seasons, and also to cope with more extremes of weather. Flood plains would revert to salt marsh which would be better for grazing, also more trees would need to be planted on hillsides to alleviate flooding, and more local reservoirs to protect against drought.

Summary and Update

Both talks were extremely informative. Peter’s talk gave us an insight into the hurdles that had to be overcome to get Seaford Beach replenished, and perhaps more worryingly the threat to funding when the existing contract expires in 2017. John’s talk gave us some encouragement that despite successive governments’ and other nations’ rather piecemeal and lukewarm response to global climate change, at least one government agency is looking at possible options for the future should no action be taken to slow or stop climate change, albeit on a rather minimal budget. Shortly after the talk two events occurred which highlighted the importance of the work done by the Environment Agency. On the night of the 5th/6th December the east coast of Britain experienced its worst storm surge since the events of 1953, but due to coastal defence work undertaken since 1953, and the combined response of the Environment Agency, the Emergency Services and Local Authorities, although some homes were flooded, no lives were lost as a direct result of the storm surge. Also, although the severe storms and high tides over the Christmas and New Year period removed a large section of the newly replenished Seaford Beach, it highlighted the importance of this work to the protection of Seaford.

Peter Austen

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Page updated 14th  January 2014