Reports

12th January 2016 - Exotic Creatures

An unusual theme started our talks for 2016. Alexandra Loske, Art Historian and Curator of Sussex University and Brighton Museum, conducted us through the history of the discovery, depiction, capture and various methods of confinement of various wild animals. Our talk was based on the exhibition currently on show in the Royal Pavilion. The talk was enriched by many exciting images found in manuscripts, paintings, illustrations, sketches, diaries, satirical pamphlets, publications, photographs etc. to be found from the C11th to C19th. The changes in our attitudes showed us more about humans than animals.

Since ancient times big cats were depicted in sculpture and heraldry to display the might of monarchs. Evidence of the fascination people in Continental Europe and England had with mythological creatures began with gifts to Kings in the C11th. The first menagerie was in the Tower of London enabling commoners to see captured live animals for a fee. An elephant was kept there in 1255. The conditions were not ideal yet the menagerie continued for centuries yet.

Medieval bestiaries and illuminated manuscripts often showed more imagination than accuracy but gradually a scientific approach began. A giraffe was confused with camel and leopard and was consequently described as camelopard. Anatomical drawings in 1698 focussed on the study of the body and showed realistic skeletal and structural information. The Age of Enlightenment accelerated the study of science and art. Studies of pregnancy in the Histoire Naturale by Comte de Buffon 1707-1788 advanced medicine. We were shown a particularly gruesome depiction of the dissection of a baby hippo. Etchings and paintings produced by travellers and sketches of Captain Cook’s voyages were published. There were many methods of collecting and storing specimens (the Hunter Brothers - surgeon and anatomist). Methods employed were bottling, shipping on ice, stuffing and capture. Monkeys were sent to shops and dressed up. Wild inaccuracies abounded with several editions of different encyclopaedia and dictionaries gradually improving the representations.

Patrons wanted quality paintings and portfolios were published. Durer’s engravings of a rhinoceros was updated by Oudry’s paintings of the French King’s menagerie in the mid C19th which attempted to place the animals in their natural habitat, e.g. the cassowary, hyena, leopard, rhinoceros and giraffe, but he had never travelled to see them in their own environment. The results were amusing. Animals went on tour around Europe, speculations about nature and God surfaced, images proliferated on Meissen decorative items, plates, bowls, pottery, skeletons posed in landscapes. Nobody knew what to do with the new knowledge.

Satirical political broadsides illustrated animals as humans in popular culture, e.g. Napoleon was drawn as a monkey. Aristocrats and royalty were objects of fun and criticism. Impossibilities abounded, e.g. the Prince Regent with female companion riding a giraffe. Queen Charlotte was presented with a zebra for her Royal Collection in Buckingham Gate.

A real problem was satisfactory winter quarters for the animals. At The Strand Mr Pidcock kept an elephant, lions, and tigers in cramped cages on the first floor of a rickety building for commercial gain. The bull elephant became so large and enraged it had to be shot in 1826. It was cut up and sections sold. Performing animals were seen in the streets and even at Covent Garden.

In the Romantic Era George Stubbs in particular was to become one of the most skilled painters of beautiful and sublime creatures in authentic natural surroundings: fierceness in tune with nature. Josiah Wedgwood around 1780 used Stubbs’ images for dramatic pottery sculpture. In the 1840s Edward Landseer toured the country for appropriate settings. His studies produced the lions in Trafalgar Square. Biblical scenes in paintings increasingly appeared with impossible settings. Museums required collections and specimens. Taxidermy knowledge grew.

The Nubian Giraffe, painted by Jacques Laurent Agasse, well represents the trials and tribulations of capturing and keeping such a shy and nervous creature. It is unable to lie down except as a calf because of its circulatory system and its’ legs are very fragile. It dies if lifted and consequently a calf was walked from Egypt through Europe before being shipped to England for George IV. It became stressed by all the people, was hurt by the journey and only survived 26 months despite travelling with its keepers. A Giraffe House was built in 1836/7 at Regent’s Park which still stands. The most expensive creature was a male zebra.

It was thought fashionable to visit these animals. Windsor Great Park was closed in 1829, the Zoological Society formed “for research”, Crofts in the Strand closed down, and the Tower animals all moved to land given by the King in Regent’s Park. Attitudes to the animals continued to be poor. They were poorly housed, crowded and mocked. Gradually understanding grew though animals were still paraded and performing in the streets. Circuses were popular well into the C20th.

The fascination with a frisson of fear generated by wild creatures through the ages continues in architecture and the use of colour in fashion, clothing and magazines.

Deirdre Daines

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19th January 2016 - Dormice - Adam Grogan

It started with Alice in Wonderland, tea with the Mad Hatter and finished again with Alice! This was an afternoon where you absorbed information without really realising it. One could not fail to become interested in all things relating to these intriguing small mammals. As Vice Chair of the Mammal Society of the British isles Adam was well equipped to provide an informative talk.

Of 29 species worldwide, all with prehensile tails, only two species are found in Britain. The hazel dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius has been here since the last ice age but is now rare but widespread in the south of England. It is yellow, with white underparts, weighing approx. 16-20g but up to 45g prior to hibernation. The edible dormouse Glis glis was introduced in 1902 and is the size of a small squirrel. The focus however for this talk was the hazel dormouse.

Habitat

They live in woodland where there is a good upper storey and a good understorey, characteristically living about 6 metres above the ground often where there are honeysuckle vines to help their climb. Work in Wales has demonstrated their presence in conifer woodland. They rarely travel further than 60 metres. A good bio indicator, if dormice are present there will also be butterflies, song birds and ground flora. They are climate sensitive preferring the warmth in the south.

Life History

Dormice hibernate from October to May and may then undergo summer torpor when they sleep for up to 10 hours a day, putting weight back on after hibernating. Considered to be rare they have a low reproductive potential, producing small numbers (one litter per year of 4-5) but are long lived, surviving for up to 5 years. Breeding takes place between May and September with young being born in June, July and August. The nest is the size of a tennis ball. Young remain with the mother for 4-6 weeks and may be vulnerable to attack at this time (wild boar are causing some problems). Adults moult during September. Food is berries and nuts. Characteristically the hazel mouse nibbles nuts leaving a hole with crescent shaped markings distinguishable from a wood mouse where the perimeter of the hole has serrated markings. Additionally there is some evidence of insect remains in the droppings.

Conservation

Dormice are a protected species under European legislation and also under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. This means they have to be taken into account in any development issues. Adam described the building of a dormouse bridge in West Sussex providing habitat connectivity. Mention was also made of the green bridge at the entrance to Scotney Castle. Little is known of the success or otherwise of these initiatives as dormice are so difficult to track. They are amazingly secretive creatures.

Surveys

Much has been done in Sussex at Mallydams wood near Fairlight. Surveys are based largely on the use of dormice boxes, placed strategically in the canopy and monitored carefully. In 50 acres of woodland 100 boxes were placed and monitored monthly from April to October. Signs were actual creatures present or gnawed nuts. Dormice are weighed, sexed and distinguishing marks noted. Licences (obtained from Natural England) are required for handling live dormice. Attempts at reintroducing dormice have been done by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). The animals have to be released by July for any success. At Mallydams the intention is to explore other areas of the woodland not yet surveyed and to investigate neighbouring sites to see how far animals have spread. Work is currently being done using genetic analysis of hair to monitor movements of individuals. The talk concluded with a brief time for questions and it was suggested that it might be possible for individuals to arrange to visit Mallydams.

Colin Pritchard thanked Adam Grogan for his illustrated talk – expressing some disappointment that he had not manage to bring a dormouse for us to see! It was suggested that good reading matter could be obtained from the Mammal Society and an author called Pat Morris. The PTES website is http/ptes.org/campaigns/dormice.

Coralie Tiffin

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9th February 2016 - The Ecology of Chalk Grasslands

Who would have thought that sheep, rabbits and ants could be central to the ecology of our precious chalk grasslands? I for one was not aware of this until I listened to Dr Michael Keith-Lucas’s fascinating talk on 9th February. Michael, who is based at the University of Reading, gave a very interesting talk and exhibited a wealth of knowledge on his subject.

Michael explained that chalk grassland develops on shallow, lime-rich soils that are poor in nutrients. In spring and summer these come to life as swathes of wild flowers, such as cowslips and clustered bellflowers; while bee orchids attract butterflies like striking Adonis blues and clouds of marbled whites. It was Neolithic farmers who first cleared their land of trees and chalk loving plants before introducing primitive sheep to graze the grassland pastures. Sheep are selective feeders, eating only what they like and leaving behind anything they don’t like; and it is this grazing habit that provides the basis for the rich diversity of plants we find today in chalk grassland.

So what plants actually make up chalk grassland? One rather surprising revelation to me was that there is actually very little grass. Chalk grassland is comprised mainly of sheep’s fescue (which incidentally provides the ‘spring’ to grassland), sedge and carnation grasses, with only a few broad leaf grasses managing to take hold. Many chalk grassland plants, such as salad burnet and cowslip, produce their leaves close to the ground making it hard for sheep to graze the leaves; while others have developed fragrances that sheep do not like to ensure their survival. Horseshoe Vetch is another common constituent, along with thistles such as the carline which sheep have no appetite for. Some annuals like fairy flax also thrive, along with poisonous plants and parasitic species such as yellow-rattle and bastard-toadflax.

Chalk grasslands also support a wide variety of orchids, including the fragrant orchid and the bee orchid - whose flower strongly resembles a female, ostensibly to lure unsuspecting males to pollinate the plant. In fact though Michael explained that notwithstanding this deception of nature it is now thought that all bee orchids in Britain are self-pollinating after their seeds blew in from the continent. Other orchids commonly found on chalk grassland include the fly orchid, burnt orchid and monkey orchid.

Butterflies, such as the green hairstreak, small skipper, common blue, small blue and chalk hill blue thrive on this varied selection of chalk grassland plants, as do a wide variety of insects and insect eaters such as the slow-worm.

However, we learned that one of the undoubted stars of the chalk grassland insect population is the yellow hill ant, which over time builds large mound colonies which in turn provide yet more opportunity for species diversification. For example, the warmer south-facing side of the ant hill mound provides the perfect climate for plants such as thyme and rock-rose; whereas the cooler north side is home to plants such as wild strawberries and mosses. As the mound builds up annuals colonise the top level; and changes in PH concentrations following rainfall allow more acid loving plants such as gorse and heather to take hold. So in this way the ant hills help to increase grassland diversity.

What about the rabbits I hear you say? Well sheep were not always an economic proposition for chalk grassland farmers and in the second half of the nineteenth century they were largely replaced by rabbits. Initially rabbits lived in warrens which allowed plants such as nettle and deadly nightshade to thrive. However, the advent of myxomatosis forced rabbits to become surface dwellers in order to avoid passing on disease carrying fleas within their warrens. As surface dwellers they produced ‘scuffs’ which allowed different plant species – such as musk thistle, ragwort and kidney vetch - to take hold.

Today rabbits have also become fond of sitting on top of grassland ant hills, which they use as sentry posts. Michael noted that a growing population of red kites in the Reading area have commonly been seen taking young rabbits and the practice has increased to such an extent that the rabbits have now been forced to become nocturnal feeders.

Take away chalk grassland grazers, be they sheep or rabbits, and tall grasses will start to grow up along with taller plants, shrubs and eventually trees. Chalk grassland scrub might include hawthorn, blackthorn, dogwood, wild rose and wild privet; and some chalk loving plants – such as berberis and the toxic juniper - will even grow up under grazing. Birds carry in the seeds of trees like yew and beech and these, if left to their own devices, will eventually establish themselves.

In conclusion, I came away pondering one sobering fact from Michael’s talk, namely that it takes about 100 years for chalk grassland to establish from scratch. All the more important then to ensure that what remains of this delicate habitat is managed and preserved for future generations.

Brian Binning

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1st March 2016 – AGM and talks

Fourteen apologies for absence were received. In her overview of the Society’s position Anne Fletcher said that the Society continued to be prosperous with over 100 members and a healthy bank balance. This brought both opportunities and challenges eg buying equipment, more talks and walks, and an outing; but the more there is to do the more there is to manage. She invited members interested in joining the committee to talk to a committee member. She thanked Chris Brewer for maintaining the website and Mike Staples for examining the accounts over the years. Thanks also to Paul Baker for taking over the GPS and recording an increasing number of sightings and also to Colin Whiteman who with PB had taken on the moon carrot survey, all part of developing the scientific aspect of the Society. She also thanked Janice and Susan for providing refreshments. AF concluded by telling members that she was stepping down from the committee after 5 years. The minutes of the last AGM were agreed and signed.

Richard Mongar then presented his statement of accounts for 2015 and thanked Mike Staples for examining them. Expenditure was up (6 walks by outside leaders) and income was down because of the Arundel outing. Coffee and tea sales produced £227 for the Seaford Head Local Nature Reserve. AF thanked RM. The accounts were approved.

Andrew Painter thanked everyone who had contributed to the magazine over the year, and also RM for printing it. He said that the next issue would be ready for collection on 15 March together with the outdoor programme card. AF thanked AP, RM and SP.

Turning to outdoor meetings, Marilyn Binning said that of 12 walks in 2015 only one had to be cancelled owing to bad weather. She thanked all leaders of walks. Twelve walks have been arranged for this summer, five of which are to be led by people outside the Society. As the outing to Arundel last year was successful PB and Pru Cooper-Mitchell have organised an outing to Pulborough Brooks in May. MB said that she was stepping down and invited anyone wishing to lead a walk to see PB and Coralie Tiffin who would be taking over the walks programme. AF thanked MB for all her hard work over the past 3 years.

In respect of the indoor meetings CW said that there have been 8 talks so far with two more to come. Looking ahead to next winter’s programme most talks are already lined up, ranging from Japan and Taiwan to badgers. He invited members to come up with suggestions or to volunteer to give a talk themselves. He thanked members for making these indoor meetings a success. AF thanked CP for the wide range of meetings.

CW proposed a vote of thanks to MB and PC-M who are leaving the committee after some very hard work. Each was presented with a token.

AF thanked Deirdre Daines for doing a really essential job and for remaining as a member of the committee. DD was presented with a card.

Turning to the election of the committee, AF, MB and PC-M were standing down. Jim Howell was proposed as chairman and SP as secretary, with all other members of the committee standing again. The committee was then elected en bloc. Ruth Young then thanked AF for her valued input over 5 years on the committee during which numbers have flourished. She had also represented us on the Seaford Head Local Nature Reserve Committee (a role now taken over by CW). Ruth also thanked Paul Chalmers-Dixon for his support to AF.

Under any other business a good proportion of the membership expressed an interest when Ana Swaysland mentioned that our RHS insurance entitles us to one trip a year to a garden. AF then handed over to JH as chairman. He thanked AF for asking him to stand and also thanked committee members for welcoming him. He said that he and his wife Janet do everything together so we were getting a BOGOF. His three watch words were enjoy, explore and enhance. It was good to find out more about wildlife, become more involved in identifying and recording and to do our bit to improve the environment such as being involved in active conservation work.

After the tea break there were 3 presentations by members Alison Baker, PB and CW, and Ronnie Reed.

Alison Baker gave an account of her ongoing research into the history of Seaford Head Local Nature Reserve.

This was followed by Colin Whiteman and Paul Baker who between them gave an interim report on the scallop monitoring on the reserve.

The meeting concluded with Ronnie Reed telling us about her role with children as a former SWT education officer at the Seven Sisters Country Park.

Susan Painter

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15th March 2016 - Medmerry - a saltmarsh in the making by John Kelsall

A member of the Chichester Natural History Society (CNHS), this was the first time John had given a talk on Medmerry. He brought leaflets, maps and photos to help explain why and how Medmerry came about; how the RSPB came to own and manage it and the involvement of the CNHS.

John started his talk with some background information on the RSPB and how it now has more than 200 nature reserves, a million plus members and 15,000 volunteers. Its goal is to work for a better environment rich in birds and wildlife, and to give nature a home.

Illustrating with photos, he then explained about the CNHS which has 140 members with 8 indoor meetings, several pub lunch meetings, and field outings held throughout the year with spring and summer surveys of Medmerry. They celebrated 50 years in 2013 retracing the Society’s first ever walk, followed by lunch and celebration cake. The speaker at the lunch was Adrian Thomas the Project Manager at Medmerry.

John explained that Medmerry evolved because until 2011 hundreds of houses on the Selsey peninsular were under threat by the sea as they were surrounded by low-lying farmland and fields which constantly flooded. The Environment Agency (EA) had spent millions over the years bulldozing shingle up the beach to form banks trying to stop the flooding to no avail. The solution was to let the sea flood the low-lying area naturally, but build strong clay banks to contain it and stop the threat to the houses. It was the largest flood risk management scheme of its kind ever undertaken in Britain. The RSPB owned some land to both sides of Selsey, and on completion of the scheme it was decided they would take over the newly created area.

At a cost of £28 million the 7km wall was constructed to enclose the flooding area to make the new saltmarsh. Earth moved around within the area formed 10km of new drainage, ditches and ponds, and rock from Norway formed barriers. On the other side of the wall fresh water lagoons were also constructed. Completion date was March 2013 but rain pushed back the date to 6 September 2013 when an area of beach was breached to let the sea in.

Medmerry officially opened on 4th November 2013. It has 2 small car parks, 4 viewpoints with seats, but no hides. It is fenced off but it can be viewed from the 10km cycleway which goes all the way around the outside. Aerial photos showed how the sea has gradually eroded much of the beach area and is expected to continue to do so.

In May 2014 the CNHS started their surveys on two areas in Medmerry, but unfortunately one of the areas had been sprayed with insecticide and the other area had only been planted with grass seed so both yielded very little. Also water voles trapped before work began in order to be returned to the area on completion had been stolen, but it is hoped that water voles in the nearby Chichester canal will migrate across to the new area in time.

By 2015 the wildlife had moved in and new areas had been planted with wild flower seed. This time surveys showed grasshoppers, wasp spiders, adders, brown hares, fox, and on the freshwater lagoon emperor dragonfly, damsel flies and even one or two of the rare small red damsel fly had all taken up residence. Also recorded were huge numbers of skylarks, some lapwing, kestrel, sparrowhawk, barn owl, grey heron, little egret, and more now of short eared owl. In the freshwater stilt pool, a flock of 2,500 brent geese along with wigeon, teal, and mallard, and also breeding avocet were recorded, and near the harbour area a flock of dunlin, and also oyster catchers and grey plover.

Some of the rarities recorded included corn bunting, common sandpiper, breeding little ringed plover, spoon bills, and a black winged stilt which in 2014 bred in the stilt pool for the first time in the UK for 40 years.

John concluded his talk saying that in the future the RSPB might zone an area for terns to breed in Medmerry otherwise they will “leave it and let it happen”. He also advised that further information about Medmerry can be found at www.chichesterhistorysociety.org and at www.rspb.org.uk/groups/chichester

Marilyn Binning

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29th March 2015 - Wildlife on Stamps

Paul Baker gave a talk about wildlife pictured on stamps, based on his own stamp collection. The presentation was in three sections - the earliest stamps picturing wildlife; stamps featuring endangered or protected species, and wildlife on British stamps.

All pre-1940 stamps depicting wildlife were listed, with those in Paul’s collection illustrated.

The first stamp shown was from Western Australia in 1854, featuring a black swan. Some of the 4d blue ones were printed upside-down, and unused can now fetch over £100,000.

Next shown was an Australian stamp of a grey kangaroo in 1913, followed by: Ethiopian stamps of 1919 showing gerenuk, giraffe, black rhinoceros, ostrich, elephant and buffalo; leopards from Nyasaland in 1934; a greater flamingo from the Bahamas in 1935 and Gambian stamps of an elephant in 1938.

We then went on a trip around the world with slides of stamps showing endangered and protected species.

We learnt how the WWF logo appears on stamps from over 220 different countries, amassing royalties for their work. We visited Gibraltar, Poland, Romania, and Russia, where we saw stamps of purple swamphen/lotus plant, great egret and glossy ibis.

From Africa we saw colourful stamps of Kenya, Mauritius (the extinct blue pigeon, dodo, Rodrigues solitaire, red rail and broad-billed parrot), Niger, Rwanda and South Africa.

We saw wombat, bilby, wallaby, possum and stick-nest rat from Australia; Cocos Islands stamps picturing two species of reef shark; New Zealand stamps showing the kakapo, and Singapore stamps of crabs, butterflies, fish and amphibians/reptiles.

Our tour finished in America, with Cuban stamps of extinct birds including the passenger pigeon, once numerous but hunted to extinction in just 20 years. Dominica issued a set of stamps in 1972 featuring common opossum, Brazilian agouti, orchid and hibiscus. The final country was Grenada which issued a beautiful set of stamps with the WWF logo in 1978 showing 8 native birds, of which Paul had 3 - black-headed gull, Wilson’s storm petrel and the killdeer.

The final section was on British wildlife stamps 1961 - 2000. Although Great Britain first issued postage stamps in 1840, the first stamp featuring wildlife was in 1957. Paul showed his 1961 set for the centenary of the Post Office Savings Bank, followed by flowers and woodland life for National Nature Week in 1963. In 1964 the 10th International Botanical Congress in Edinburgh was celebrated with more flower illustration. Birds featured for the first time in 1966 - blackbird, blue tit and black-headed gull; and in 1967 a set of British Wild Flowers was issued – drawn by Keeble Martin, famous for his wildflower books.

Just prior to the next wildlife stamps were a set of garden roses commemorating the centenary of the Royal National Rose Society. A misprint of the 13p sweet briar omitted the value. Only three stamps remain, of which the Queen has two. Their estimated value is at least £100,000 each.,

Hedgehog, hare, squirrel, otter and badger appeared on a 1977 set and in 1979 there were spring flowers: primrose, daffodil, bluebell, and snowdrop. A set commemorating the centenary of the Wild Bird Protection Act in 1980 depicted kingfisher, dipper, moorhen and yellow wagtail, followed by butterflies for the first time in 1981: small tortoiseshell, large blue, peacock and chequered skipper.

1982 was the centenary of Charles Darwin’s death, and stamps illustrated animals associated with his evolutionary theory. Salmon, pike, brown trout and perch featured in 1983. 1985 stamps pictured the buff-tailed bumblebee, seven-spot ladybird, wart-biter bush cricket, stag beetle and emperor dragonfly, and in 1986 the first British stamps of endangered species were issued for European Nature Conservation: barn owl, pine marten, Scottish wildcat and natterjack toad.

A set of flowers photographs by Alfred Lammer was issued in 1987, and in 1988 the Linnean Society’s bicentenary was commemorated using archive illustrations, including a Bewick’s swan by Edward Lear. In 1989 the centenary of the RSPB was commemorated with stamps of puffin, avocet, oyster catcher and gannet, and the 15th anniversary of Kew Gardens in 1990 featured trees.

1992 stamps showed wildlife in winter, and in 1993 the 600th anniversary of the Abbotsbury Swannery was appropriately commemorated. The 14th World Orchid Conference was held in Glasgow in 1993 and also in 1993 came a set of Autumn fruits and leaves. 1996 was the 50th anniversary of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, commemorated by paintings of Muscovy duck, lapwing, white-fronted goose, bittern and whooper swan. More endangered species in 2000 included common dormouse, shining ram’s horn snail, mole cricket and devil’s bolete fungus. The penultimate slide showed a set of bees, issued in 2015, the highest value of which featured our very own potter flower-bee.

The presentation finished with tongue-in-cheek illustrations of possible stamp designs for the ‘Republic of Seaford’, featuring nationally rare species that are found locally, namely: the potter flower-bee, the moon carrot, the kittiwake and the ornate shieldbug.

Paul Baker

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4th October 2016 - Getting to know the exciting lives of Fungi! – Janet Howell

Janet said that her interest in fungi started through photographing some of the beautiful fungi she had found. She hoped that, apart from giving some basic information about fungi, her talk and photos would make others enthusiastic and interested to know more. She presented photos of some of those she had found, showing the wide range of forms and colours in the fungi world. There are over 12,000 species of macro-fungi in the UK - 8 times as many as there are native plant species.

Taxonomically, Fungi are a Kingdom, as distinct from the Plant and Animal Kingdoms. The macro-fungi (those with fruiting bodies) are divided into two types - Basidiomycetes (the spores are released from a basidium and spread by the wind), and Ascomycetes (the spores are forcibly ejected from club-shaped asci).

Janet went on to discuss the ways in which fungi can be identified. Size, colour, texture, smell, taste and location (including plants in the vicinity) can all be important factors. She illustrated this but said that many species of fungi need a microscopic examination of the spores in order to be identified definitively. Many fungi are saprophytic (typically on dead wood or dung), whilst others have mycorrhizal (symbiotic) relationships with the roots of trees, which would not grow well without this fungal relationship. Some fungi are parasitic (on plants, animals or other fungi).

Grassland provides a rich habitat for many fungi, including a number of species of Agaricus, the true Mushrooms, and also Puffballs. The quality of unimproved grassland can be assessed by the number of species of certain groups of fungi - the Clavariacaea (Clubs and Spindles), Hygrocybe spp (Waxcaps), Entoloma spp (Pinkgills) and Geoglossum spp (Earth-tongues).

One interesting aside Janet made was that the largest living organism is a type of Honey Fungus (Armillaria solidipes), which occupies 3.7 sq miles in Malheur National Forest, Oregon. It is at least 1700 years old.

During the interval, a range of locally collected fungi were available for examination. Much lively discussion ensued!

After the break, Janet spoke about the fungi to be seen in a few local areas.

Friston Forest has a range of typical woodland species, including Rooting Shank (Xerula radicans), Dryad's Saddle (Polyporus squamosus), Candlesnuff (Xylaria hypoxylon), White Saddle (Helvella crispa), Collared Earthstar (Geastrum triplex) and Fairy Inkcap (Coprinellus disseminatus).

Seaford Head is mainly characterised by grassland species. On the open grassland, the Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procea) can be found, along with the Yellow Stainer (Agaricus xanthoderma); the latter is similar to edible species of mushroom, but it bruises chrome yellow at the very base of the stem and on the rim of the cap; it causes stomach upsets in many people. A number of Waxcaps (Hygrocybe spp) are seen in the rides leading towards the golf course, whilst Jelly Ear (Auricula auricula-judae) are often found on Elder trees.

Chailey Common is an excellent site for a wide range of both grassland and woodland species. The most dramatic species to be seen there is Devils Fingers (Clathrus archeri), a relative of the Stinkhorn and with the same characteristic smell; this species emerges out of an "egg" and has bright red "tentacles", making it look truly bizarre!

Janet & Jim Howell

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18th October 2016 – Conservation on Seaford Head LNR

Around 35 members attended this meeting. The Sussex Wildlife Trust ranger, Sarah Quantrill, gave us an overview of activity on the Reserve over the past year and some plans for the future. After the break Colin Whiteman talked about the 2016 common bird census, followed by Paul Baker who talked about the species found on the scallops in 2015 and 2016. Sarah’s session covered a wide range of activity.

A new ride has been created east of Hope Gap. This gets more sun and wind than the ride to the west of the Gap and should provide different habitats and increase diversity.
Seven British White cattle are grazing Area D (see map below). With cutting and mowing, this will restore the chalk grassland which degraded during the hiatus in management of the Reserve in 2010 to 2012. Bramble is a problem here and in other reserves. Current thinking is that global warming and an increase in nitrogen in the atmosphere might be the cause.
Hope Gap – the path has been widened and scallops put in. Sarah showed us a fascinating aerial photograph of the area in the 1930s when sheep grazing meant that there was much less scrub. This was still the case in the 1980s when Monty Larkin was the ranger. Nowadays, the area is too busy for sheep grazing so volunteers do the work instead.
Two years of sheep grazing (plus some supplementary work) has improved the chalk grassland in Area F (see map below) providing good habitat for knapweed, lady’s bedstraw, bird’s foot trefoil, autumn lady’s tresses and other plants. The sheep (Herdwick and Hebrideans) will be back this winter hopefully to eat some of the tor grass which has also flourished in the area. Unfortunately, there have been a few dog attacks and one sheep has died as a result.
Invasive species - Russian vine weed, some human neighbours, and cotoneaster encroach on the Reserve. An extensive patch of Russian vine weed has been found behind South Way which had to be treated with chemicals. It will probably be impossible to eradicate it and regular work will be required to keep it from spreading again. Work in this area had also revealed that some human neighbours have encroached on the Reserve. Seaford Town Council will ask them to stay within their garden boundaries in future. The other invasive species, cotoneaster, is near the golf course. Again SWT has had to resort to chemicals followed by hand grubbing to get it out – another ongoing problem.
Archaeology - another fascinating aerial photograph showed the lumps and bumps of the First World War camp. A small trench turned up lots of small finds, including toothbrushes and Canadian badges.
Over the summer, Sarah led some guided walks for the public and walked the Reserve with the Anthrophora Group who were very complimentary about SWT’s management of the site for the rare potter flower bee (anthrophora retusa).
Four society members joined Graeme Lyons, the SWT Senior Ecologist, on an invertebrate survey and another group did the annual moon carrot survey.
Environment Agency works on the shingle bank at Cuckmere Haven continue but Sarah is hopeful that the damage to the saline lagoon had now been halted.
Sarah finished by talking about all the lovely things she had seen on the Reserve over the past year. She thanked the volunteers who work with her for all their invaluable contribution.
Next year’s work will include more of the same with the aim of creating a range of habitats where a diversity of wildlife can flourish. Sarah thought they were making progress and the Reserve was improving as a result.

SNLHR Common Bird Census 2016 – Colin Whiteman did the common bird survey on the Reserve in May this year. For consistency, he used the older method of following a designated path and identifying all bird activity at specific points. (The survey is now based on transepts.) The aim is to produce indicative numbers of birds. Most of the common birds were seen (except rock pipits and linnets), as well as a lesser whitethroat and a pied fly catcher.

Scallop Monitoring – Paul Baker compared the species found in the scallops in 2015 when they were created and 2016 when the vegetation had grown up again. There was very little difference in flora between the two years but the variety of insects was different from one year to the next. Changes in vegetation, weather and recording skills were suggested as reasons for this observation and suggestions were made for future management.

Anne Fletcher

SeafordHeadGrazingMap
Extract from Seaford Head Local Nature Reserve, Management Plan 2013-2017

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1st November 2016- The Ivy Bee, Colletes hederae – Colin Whiteman

This talk was based on the discovery (by Mike Squires) of numerous Ivy Bees hovering over a chalky soil exposure (TQ469019) near Norton during the Outdoor Programme walk around Bishopstone valley on 20 September, which happened to coincide with the peak time for ivy bees on the wing.

The talk began by setting out a brief history of this attractive bee that only reached mainland Britain (Dorset) in 2001. The bee as a species was only recognised in 1993 when two German scientists, Konrad Schmidt and Paul Westrich, published a paper in Entomologische Zeitschrift detailing features that differentiated this new bee from similar species, Colletes halophilus (Sea Aster Bee) and C. succinctus (Gilded or Heather Colletes). The essential details involved differences in a mouthpart, spots on the tergites (segments) of the abdomen, colour of the hairbands (browner in the ivy bee) and lengths of some of the antenna segments. The ivy bee is the last of the three to emerge in the autumn and is oligolectic (specialising) on ivy.

A comparative table showing differences in size, flight season, habitat, flowers visited and nesting habits helped to distinguish one bee from another. For example, C. halophilus favours the upper saltmarsh habitat, around the coast of East Anglia, the Thames Estuary and the eastern Channel coast, where sea asters can be found. C. succinctus is a dry heathland bee, widely scattered across the country on its favoured habitat, with a preference for ling and other heathers, but will also seek out a range of other plants such as ragwort, thistles, bramble, yarrow etc. C. hederae, as mentioned, is an ivy specialist but will accept bristly oxtongue, for example, if ivy has not yet flowered.

So, having set the historical and ecological scene for this attractive bee, the talk moved on to some details about ivy bees in the Bishopstone valley. They were nesting in small exposures of the light chalky soil of a south-facing grassy bank just below the track that extended for several hundred metres south-west of Norton (TQ 471019). Hundreds, if not thousands, of bees, mostly males, were hovering above the nest holes waiting for the emergence of the females. These had been producing the larvae in cells at the bottom of tunnels, perhaps 12 cm into the face and up to 30 or more cm down into the soil. Providing the larvae survived kleptoparasitism of the pollen stored with the ivy bee larvae, by larvae of the meloid beetle, Stenoria analis, they would emerge next August to September to form the next generation. Whether the scratches on depressions in the face of one nesting exposure were those caused by badgers, which are known to attack nests of wasps and bees, is a more speculative question.

Having observed the bees the next question was ‘where do they find sustenance in the area of the nests?’ Two sources were highlighted, one in Norton itself where flowering ivy could be found in gardens, along hedgerows, up trees and telegraph poles, and on walls and buildings. At the opposite end of the nesting bank, a steep wooded slope on the western side of the valley was the obvious second source of pollen and nectar for the bees. Both of these sources are well within the normal range of ivy bees, perhaps 500 m, as determined by the German researchers. Apart from being widespread and abundant in Britain, ivy is late-flowering and therefore fits in well with the life-cycle of ivy bees. But it only flowers after establishing itself on one of its hosts, so regular pruning will not support ivy bees. Images of foraging ivy bees on ivy flowers in Norton proved its value to the local ivy bee population.

A range of dated maps illustrated how well the ivy bee seemed to be doing in Europe. To the east it has spread to Turkey and the Ukraine. To the north the most spectacular progress was seen in Britain. Since 2001 it has colonised southern England and moved into S. Wales and East Anglia. Its furthest outposts are now in Lancashire and Yorkshire. As ivy grows throughout Britain the bee is likely to expand its range even further if the climate continues to warm, which seems likely. Research in the journal, BioRisk, which modelled the suitability of climate up to 2050 suggests that Britain will become more suitable for the ivy bee.

In a brief epilogue, it was reported that a visit to the nesting sites, and locations of flowering ivy in Norton, on the day before the talk, failed to reveal any ivy bees, although a range of other insects were still taking advantage of the food source where the late afternoon sunlight provided sufficient warmth.

Colin Whiteman

Jim Howell then talked for a few minutes on the Seaford Neighbourhood Plan. Further details on this were given by Keith Blackburn.

The above talks were given in place of the advertised programme - as the speaker was unable to come due to medical reasons. Ed.

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15th November 2016 - Birding Japan - from Hokkaido through the Izu and Ryukyu islands to Okinawa

Although we tend to conceptualise Japan as a single country embracing the four main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, it is more accurately regarded as a lengthy archipelago consisting of over 3600 islands stretching in a vast arc for more than 3000 km around the margins of the Western Pacific adjacent to the Korean peninsula - a distance comparable to that between Nova Scotia and southern Cuba As such, it embraces a broad range of climatic zones and habitats along an important part of the great East Asian-Australasian migration flyway carrying some 50 million birds a year in both the spring and autumn migration periods. Many of these species are under severe threat of global extinction from a combination of habitat loss, hunting and competition from man. Bob Self’s talk was designed to provide some insight into the spectacular avifauna of Japan across the seasons.

Despite the intense cold and snow, for European birders the magnetic appeal of Japan in winter is largely explained by the presence of two key attractions. First, alongside its vast array of different wildfowl, Japan attracts some six species of Crane including the Japanese (or red-crowned) crane which was brought to the edge of extinction by hunting in the early part of the 20th century. By 1924 the population of these magnificent birds had been reduced to a mere 20 individuals and only through very careful conservation efforts (including the species designation as a ‘Special National Monument’) has the population recovered to approaching 2000 today. Japan’s second major source of appeal rests on the vast accumulation of birds of prey on its frozen coast during the winter months. Among them the white-tailed sea eagle is common. It also has the largest range stretching from Iceland through to north-east Russia and south to Taiwan. Although these birds have a total height of up to 92 cm, a wingspan of up to 2.4 m and weigh up to 5 kg, the species is literally dwarfed by the iconic star of the show in winter – the Steller’s Sea Eagle. This majestic bird stands up to 110 cm tall (43 inches), it has a wingspan of 230 cm (92 inches) and the larger female bird can weigh up to 9 kg. In addition, the gigantic Blakiston’s Fish Owl provides further attraction along with the commoner species such as Ural Owl – not least because it is far easier to see in Japan than in north east China and Russia. This section of the talk concluded with a discussion of the possible future taxonomic developments among the many other interesting species to be found on the main islands - particularly the ‘splitting’ of a variety of species complexes such as those for the white- backed woodpecker, brown-eared bulbul and blue rock thrush.

The second half of the talk dealt with birding possibilities during the spring migration on the Japanese mainland and the southern offshore island arc consisting of the Ryukyu islands (also known in Japan as the Nansei Shoto). During the spring it is easiest to see some of Japan’s most charismatic endemics such as a Japanese Green Pheasant. Again, this part of the talk focused on some of the more interesting species from a taxonomic perspective. It began with some analysis of the endemic and near-endemic species of Amami Island. Located some 400 km south of the Japanese mainland arc this small island holds a number of island chain endemics - the Amami Thrush, Lidth’s Jay, Amami Woodcock, as well as Ryukyu chain specialities such as Owston’s Woodpecker (recently split from White-backed) and the eponymous Ryukyu Robin, Minivet, Varied Tit and Scops Owl. A similar discussion then followed about the birdlife of Okinawa at the southern tip of the Ryukyu chain and its much sought-after Okinawa Rail – a large and almost flightless member of the Rail family only discovered as recently as 1981. After a similar discussion of the Izu Islands with a particular focus on Miyake-Jima, the talk concluded with an insight into the vast range of pelagic species to be found around Japan whether to be seen from inter- island ferries or longer deep sea pelagic trips. Among the special species picked out for attention in this context was the short-tailed albatross. This species declined from several million breeding birds on the Izu islands in the early 19th century to fewer than 100 by 1933; a devastating population collapse attributable principally to the harvesting of albatross feathers to stuff quilts and pillows. This trade alone accounted for the slaughter of at least 5 million birds between 1890 and 1902. Little wonder the species acquired the name ‘stupid bird’ within Japan. In 1950, however, eight birds were rediscovered in the Izu Islands and in the nearly 70 years since then an extremely slow recovery has taken place so that by 1986 there were 150 in Japan out of the world population estimated to be no more than 250. In practice, the 250 photographs displayed only just scraped the surface of what Japan has to offer western birders and Taiwan at the end of the Ryukyu chain has even more avian delights as the speaker made abundantly clear in his closing remarks.

Bob Self

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6th December 2016 – Michael Blencowe, Sussex Wildlife Trust, and Christmas Social

This year Michael had organised a quiz which he carried out with his inimitable wit and usual enthusiasm. We were divided up into 9 teams and there were 4 rounds ranging from Seaford wild life to all about Seaford in Delaware. He warned us beforehand that anyone sneaking out to look up answers on phones would be immediately disqualified! He also threatened to eat the prize before it was awarded to the best team because he was rather partial to chocolates!

After this, everyone was able to watch the slide show which gave a snapshot of the walks over the summer and partake in the food and drink laid out in the other room. All in all a most enjoyable afternoon.

Thanks go to Paul Chalmers-Dixon and Marilyn Binning for arranging the slide show; also to Coralie Tiffin, Janice Reynolds, Pru Cooper-Mitchell, Ruth Young and Sally Crowther for their organisation of the refreshments behind the scenes.

Susan Painter

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Page updated 2nd February 2017