Reports  

23rd January 2018 - Invertebrates of Sussex Rivers: Sam St. Pierre, Vice Chair of the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust

The Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust started life as The Sussex Ouse Conservation Society. The Society, based in Barcombe Mills, was set up by local residents who were concerned about declining species in their river. Initially they undertook conservation work to improve the health of the Ouse around Barcombe Mills and over time their organisation grew and eventually merged with other organisations leading to a change of name to The Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust. The Ouse and Adur rivers are grouped together because they are designated by DEFRA as having a single catchment area, they have similar characteristics and face similar challenges. The characteristics of the Ouse and Adur rivers can be seen elsewhere in Sussex, for example in the Cuckmere. Currently the Trust has around 160 members who monitor the quality of the water, undertake conservation work and fundraise. Through grants and research funding they now employ one full time project manager and a part time assistant. For a more details visit www.oart.org.uk.

Mr St. Pierre limited his presentation to invertebrates that are large enough to be visible to the naked eye and are found in the freshwater areas of these rivers. The vast majority of these invertebrates live on the stream and river beds, with only a few living on the water surface or on water plants. There are a variety of habitats within each river that can be grouped into three main types:

  • Calm water with little flow and a mud river bed. Both the Adur and the Ouse have been modified by man over the centuries and indeed the Ouse had at one time 19 locks. These modifications have resulted in this calm-water type of habitat.
  • Tributaries, which tend to be clear water, fast flowing and often over gravel.
  • Glide, which is water that flows slowly over either silt or gravel and is usually no more than 30-60cm in depth.

The Trust assesses water quality in approximately 50 sites across their two rivers. They use the Biological Monitoring Working Party Protocol which involves using a square, flat bottomed net which is dragged by hand in a zig-zag pattern across the river bed for 3 minutes. All the invertebrates are recorded on a specific form and are graded according to their individual sensitivity to common pollutants. If large numbers of invertebrates that are particularly sensitive to pollutants are found it is extrapolated that the water quality must be good.

Because of the huge number of invertebrates present in these different habitats, Mr St. Pierre chose to highlight a small number that he found particularly interesting. He explained the different types of caddis (sedge) fly larva and explained how the larval cases were made. He presented images of the rare least water snipefly (atrichops crassipes) of which there are only 31 records in the UK. Finally he mentioned the invasive species found in our Sussex rivers. These included the New Zealand Jenkins spireshell snail (potamopyrgus antipodarum), a common but harmless snail that is thought to have been brought over on the steam ships and the signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus). This North American crayfish can grow up to 30cm and does significant damage to our river banks, local fish and amphibians.

Marion Trew

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6th February 2018 - South Downs National Park – Work of the Rangers

Forty five to fifty of us joined Phillippa Morrison-Price, a Lead Ranger in the South Downs National Park (SDNP) for a wide-ranging talk. She gave us a summary of the purposes and duty of all of the national parks and structured her talk around them.

’Purpose 1: To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area.

Purpose 2: To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public.

Duty: To seek to foster the social and economic wellbeing of the local communities within the National Park in pursuit of our purposes.’

Key facts about the SDNP – it was originally conceived in the 1940s and eventually became operational in 2011. It is the third largest in England and farming is the largest activity on the Park. It is split into four administrative areas – Western, Wealden Heath, Central and Eastern - and there is a management plan which is being updated.

Purpose 1: To conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area

There are a range of habitats in the Park, including heath, rivers and streams, chalk grassland (4%) and woodland (24%).

50% of the chalk grassland is in the eastern end and is important because of its diversity of flowering plants and butterflies. Much chalk grassland has been lost to ploughing. The decline of the wool trade and in rabbits following myxomatosis has also had an impact. Restoring chalk grassland through scrub clearance and grazing are therefore major activities for the rangers, working with volunteers, landowners and many other organisations. Ponies (from the Sussex Conservation Pony Trust), cows, sheep, Bagot Goats and rabbits are all used for grazing.

Species specific work is another important activity. Examples include working with farmers to integrate conservation and farming, with a focus on bird habitats; work to encourage the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and the wort-biter cricket; boxes for barn owls; and the reintroduction of water voles on the Meon River in Hampshire (and mink control) where otters have now returned.

As well as wildlife conservation, Phillippa described the work rangers do to preserve the cultural heritage in the park, focusing on archaeological sites, for example, cross dykes and long barrows. There are 616 scheduled monuments in the Park of which 133 are vulnerable or at risk and the rangers have been condition-testing the 133 for Historic England. Other projects include removing scrub at a large Celtic field system (Cloth Farm near Jevington), at an at-risk long barrow (Long Burgh near Alfriston); and at Devil’s Dyke hill fort. Scrub encourages rabbits and other burrowing animals which can undermine ancient monuments.

Other work under Purpose 1 includes advising on landscape character, for example, discouraging unsightly features, like fences on escarpment skylines, or bright green golf course practice nets, and commenting on planning applications.

Purpose 2: To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public

Activity under this heading includes learning and outreach work with adults and children, working with people with learning disabilities and others to improve accessibility, work experience for students, events and education, and signage and interpretation. Phillippa mentioned that responsible dog walking was an important part of this work.

There is an extensive network of paths in the Park. Most are the responsibility of the county councils (although Park staff and volunteers are involved in their maintenance) but the paths on access land are the responsibility of the SDNP (4.4% of the National Park is access land). The 100 miles of the South Downs Way has a dedicated SDNP team of two staff.

Sustainable transport is also an important issue supported by leaflets, and a free ViewRanger app available at https://www.southdowns.gov.uk/enjoy/walking/digital-route-guides/

Phillippa stressed that the rangers’ work would be impossible without the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service (around 500 volunteers) and collaboration with local people and organisations throughout the Park.

She also mentioned a number of new projects –

The dewponds project, putting together information on dewponds on the Eastern Downs which will support a bid for funds for renovation. (It costs between £10,000 and £20,000 to renovate each pond.)

The Eastern Downs chalk grassland grazing project which aims to fund a grazing officer

The Truleigh Hill habitats project, using funds from the Rampion Fund to restore chalk grassland and dewponds and create an access trail advised by disabled ramblers; and

The Longlands Wood coppicing project, near Henfield, which is bringing back coppice rotation and promoting small wood management to improve butterfly habitats. It is hoped to reintroduce the Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

The talk ended with a brief summary of the National Park’s duty – ‘to seek to foster the social and economic wellbeing of the local communities within the National Park in pursuit of our purposes’, and was followed by a wide range of questions and comments from members, and a vote of thanks for a very interesting talk from Ruth Young.

Anne Fletcher

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13th February 2018 - Brewer’s Challenge: How many species in your garden?

After Chris Brewer challenged members of the Society to find out how many species of wild animals and plants occurred in their gardens, following the published example of the Leicester University Ecology lecturer, Jennifer Owen, who in 30 years recorded over 2,600 species in her suburban garden, the speaker revealed his current total of just 465…and counting!

Regarding habitats, the back garden has a vegetable and soft fruit area, a lawn with surrounding flower borders and a ‘wild garden’ where grass is allowed full growth away from the fruit trees. At the front, the lawn and borders are supplemented by a small pond and a shaded area dominated by ivy beneath a laburnum tree. Both front and back gardens include small beech hedges.

Prior to Chris’s challenge in 2014, birds (currently 39) had been recorded since 1992, the five rarest being turtle dove, bullfinch, firecrest, spotted flycatcher and rose-ringed parakeet with no more than two sightings. An unusual visitor was the red-legged partridge that spent 6 hours rooting around grasses and agapantha plants. The picture of a male blackcap showed a bird dazed by hitting the front windows, but the good news is that it flew away after about 15 minutes.

More colourful creatures were illustrated under the heading of Lepidoptera – butterflies (18) and moths (131). The most recent butterflies were small copper, holly blue, large skipper, small heath and a fly-over clouded yellow. As far as moths are concerned, leaving the light on in the bathroom, initially by accident, and the window open, turned out to be the main reason for a haul of 75 moths and 56 micro-moths on the property! A good start was the Fern Smut (Psychoides filicivora), found near ferns at the base of the north-east-facing fence, of which fewer than a dozen sightings had previously been recorded by the Sussex Moth Group. Bob Foreman of the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre kindly verified the sighting. A few moth larvae were also illustrated: the spectacular Vapourer, and the equally striking Lackey, which eventually turns into a rather drab brown adult. Amongst adult moths shown were the Large Long-Horn Micro-moth, with antennae more than twice as long as its body and with a name to match, Nematopogon swammerdamella, and a fuzzy hummingbird hawk-moth in perpetual motion. A cabbage moth caterpillar, “ruining cabbages by burrowing into the heart”, had been liberated from the head of one of the speaker’s treasured Brussel Sprout plants!

8 mammals (badger, bat sp., brown rat, fox, grey squirrel, rabbit, hedgehog, mouse sp.) have been recorded, of which the fox is most often seen and heard.

At a smaller scale, the Hymenoptera (ants(1), wasps(13) and bees(8)) provide some spectacular images in close up, such as the German Wasp on a tennis ball that illustrated how facial pattern is used for ID. During 2016 two wasp nests were found in the garden, one in a hole in the wild garden, the other beneath a green waste heap. The sources of nest material appeared to be a pile of thin logs and a wooden fence. Both nests were broken into, probably by a badger, activity that has been previously reported. In the front garden Common Carder Bees occupied the base of an ornamental grass. A digger wasp, Gorytes laticinctus was shown with its prey, possibly a froghopper. A variety of colourful bees, Andrena haemorrhoa, Andrena fulva, Bombus pratorum, Bombus rupestris and Bombus terrestris were illustrated, on a variety of flowers.

There followed a sample of the 49 recorded Diptera, including a range of strikingly patterned hoverflies, the two species of Rhingia hoverflies that are distinguished by their long snouts, and the curious Eristalis nemorum pairing in which the male customarily hovers a few centimetres above the female. One way to differentiate Eristalis species is to record their distinctive facial differences.

The front garden includes a small pond reserved for purely wild creatures, no fish having been added to it. Common backswimmer, smooth newt, and several of the nine recorded dragonflies were illustrated, including azure damselfly, southern hawker, common darter, and broad-bodied chaser.

The front lawn, especially, is mown sparingly to allow grasses, such as Yorkshire Fog, and wild flowers (birdsfoot trefoil, red and white clover, hawksbeard sp. etc.) to mature, to the benefit of Hymenoptera. Evidence that the front lawn may derive from the original local chalk grassland is provided by the annual presence of several autumn ladies tresses and the recent appearance of parrot, golden and blackening waxcaps, fungi probably indicative of a lack of fertilisers and other chemicals. Nothing has been added to the lawn over the last 25 years.

A single lichen was illustrated to represent this complex group of life forms that have yet to be given serious identification time. The slide showing a group of woodlice feasting on an unidentified tasty morsel reminded the speaker that it was also the meeting teatime and a break was called.

With tea over, some less familiar evidence of different insects was introduced – leaf mines, the complex, often distinctive patterns left behind on leaves after larvae have chomped their way through the inside of leaves, sometimes leaving behind trails of frass. The impact of the horse chestnut leaf mining moth, liberated from the surface of a garden water butt, presumably associated with the large horse chestnut tree in a neighbours garden was illustrated by an image from the RHS. The holly leaf miner fly leaves an irregular yellowish and reddish patch on holly leaves from which blue tits are reported to have been seen to be taking larvae. A selection of seasonal patterns was illustrated from a useful book – Micro-Moth Field Tips by Ben Smart.

And then we came to the arachnaphobe’s nightmare, spiders. The handsome garden spider, hanging from the greenhouse ceiling was strikingly patterned, alongside a variety of different species. Nuctea umbratica was shown apparently wrapping up its slug prey, and a wasp and fly seemed both to have succumbed to spiders lying in wait beneath flower heads.

A mating pair of frogs, representing the 5 reptile and amphibian species, was shown partially camouflaged amongst dead leaves and plant debris. A group of different slugs, were identified for the speaker by Chris de Feu who believed they had assembled around a source of food. A cluster of small white eggs were probably from the garden snail, Cornu aspersa, although on the day after first seen an Arion slug was observed next to the pile. Finally, beetles (20) were represented by the common, black Nebria brevicollis, the large, bright green rose chafer, the very hairy summer chafer and the spectacular swollen-thighed beetle, and bugs (25) by the ant damsel bug, the attractive red and black Corizus hyascyami and the dock bug. After questions Chris Brewer gave a generous vote of thanks.

This talk replaced the advertised one on Wealden Heath’s Breeding Birds by Alan Perry who had suffered a broken fibula. It is hoped that he can present during the next winter programme.

Colin Whiteman

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20th February 2018 – Badgers

After two failed attempts to have a talk on badgers by outside speakers, our Chairman, Jim Howell, gave one in February.

Because of their nocturnal habits, badgers are rarely seen alive in the wild, although many Seaford residents are able to get frequent sightings in their gardens. Badgers are an iconic and a much appreciated component of our wildlife.

The European badger, Meles meles, is a member of the Mustelidae family, characterised by their prominent scent glands, typically used both as a territorial marker and to convey information about sexual status.

One feature of badger life which is very obvious in the countryside is the sett, which is often a complex structure. A badger Group is likely to have more than one sett on their territory – there may well be a subsidiary sett and temporary resting structures as well as the main sett; and they will abandon setts from time to time for various reasons (usually human disturbance). Mating tends to occur in the spring, but it can take place throughout the year. Regardless of the time of year of fertilisation of the egg, further development is delayed until December. This 'delayed implantation' means that there is an opportunity for cubs to grow sufficiently before their first winter. Litters contain between 1 and 5 playful cubs, which become sexually mature at around 2 years of age.

In the UK, the bulk of the wild badger diet is earthworms, which they will take from the surface of grassland whenever possible (typically on a warm summer evening after rain). They also have a wide range of alternative foods – carrion, berries, grain, rabbits and birds’ eggs amongst other things. There is quite a lot of seasonal variation in the badger's diet. It is generally too dry in the summer for badgers to access worms, so they will go for wheat, if they can, and insects. Fruit, especially blackberries becomes very important during the early autumn. When worms are “on the menu”, badgers will also consume a lot of grass.

Badgers are social animals. There is usually a dominant male (boar) and one breeding female (sow) in each group, but occasionally more than one female breeds. The dominant boar marks the range with dung in certain places called 'latrines', and will fiercely defend his range from intruding males.

The badger population in the UK has been increasing for many years. A scientific survey of badger social groups carried out in 2011 – 13 estimated there were 71,600 main setts in England and Wales. This is an 88% increase from a similar survey in 1985 – 88. However, it is not necessarily true that the total number of badgers has increased in the same way – the number of badgers per sett can go in the opposite direction and, despite a considerable research effort, no reliable method has been found to estimate badger numbers without direct field observations.

There is a long history of interaction between badgers and people, and much of it is bad news for the badgers. Unfortunately badgers have all the attributes to make them ideal as a target for baiting – they can be dug out of their setts, they are hard to kill and they fight back. In some parts of the country, this continues to be a serious problem today. Badgers are unique amongst our wildlife in having an Act of Parliament solely for their protection – the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which prohibits the killing or taking of badgers, or interference with their setts. The Act is applicable when badgers take up residence in people's gardens - you need a licence from Defra and any translocation would be carried out by licensed operators.

The role of badgers in the infection of cattle with Bovine Tuberculosis was discussed at some length (Jim was previously the Head of the Policy Unit for Bovine TB at Defra). This is a complex problem with no easy answers. The scientific evidence suggests that around 15% of badgers in the TB “hotspots” are infected with TB and about 38% of TB breakdowns in cattle are associated with badgers. However, the Independent Scientific Group on TB and Badgers concluded that culling badgers made “no meaningful contribution” to the eradication of TB in cattle. This is because of “perturbation” (the disturbance to badger social groups following culling activities, which makes infection of cattle more likely). Although vaccination of badgers may provide a solution in the future, at present, faced with soaring costs and much distress to the farming community, the Government is continuing with a badger culling policy in the areas of the country where TB is a serious problem.

Several members of the Society had provided photos and video clips of badgers and badger activity and Jim showed a selection of these during his talk. There is a lot of badger activity both on Seaford Head and in the north of the town. In preparation for the talk, Jim had mapped out the signs of badger activity on Seaford Head and discovered evidence for several distinct badger "clans".

Jim Howell

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6th March 2018 – AGM and Talks

About 45 members were present and eight apologies for absence were received. Jim Howell began by saying that 2017 had been a very busy time for the Society which had been strengthening its partnership with various organisations. He thanked all committee members for their work, and also a number of members for their contributions, often behind the scenes, during the year.

Membership numbers remained around 100, of whom quite a few were new members; finances continued to be in a healthy state but there was no room for complacency. JH would be sending out shortly a questionnaire asking members what they felt could be done better and, after looking at the results, he would report back as to what the committee had been able to do. There had been a few heating and sound problems at St Luke’s. JH was grateful to Colin Whiteman for stepping in for one of the booked speakers and he asked if anyone who would be able to do a talk to contact CW.

Wildlife recording was proving successful over a wide range of topics, with an enthusiastic and growing band of wildlife recorders. CW was already planning next year’s programme with the possibility of one of the meetings combining both indoor and outdoor programmes elements. The 2018 outing would be to Wisley. Finally, there was the opportunity to get involved in the Seaford community wildlife project which Michael Blencowe, the architect of the project, would be talking about after the break.

The minutes of the last AGM were agreed and signed; there were no matters arising.

Richard Mongar thanked Mike Staples for examining the accounts for 2017. Income from subscriptions was down on 2016. Overall expenditure was slightly up. There was an operating surplus of £192 for the year. JH thanked RM for preparing the accounts and MS for auditing them.

Andrew Painter thanked all those who had contributed to the magazine and also RM for printing and sending out the e-version. He said that the March edition was ready for collection. JH thanked AP and RM.

Turning to outdoor meetings Paul Baker thanked Coralie Tiffin for helping to arrange the 2017 programme and for continuing to organise lifts. He also thanked all walk leaders; only one walk had not taken place because of bad weather. The walks continued to be popular as had the all-day outing. The new approach for 2017 of making some of the walks bookable would not be continued in 2018 because it had not proved necessary and also added greatly to the work of arranging them. PB then thanked Marion Trew for helping put together the interesting and varied 2018 programme which he hoped members would enjoy. This year a larger coach seating 49 had been booked for the outing to Wisley in April which was almost fully subscribed. JH thanked PB and MT.

In respect of the indoor meetings CW said that various difficulties, alluded to earlier, had cropped up leading to revision of the programme; he was grateful to everyone for making sure that it all worked out well in the end. He had already arranged much of the 2018/19 programme. CW asked if anyone with ideas for a talk for when something went wrong in the future to let him know. He was then thanked for stepping in at short notice himself. He concluded by thanking everyone who helped to make these meetings a success, often behind the scenes, from bringing in books to making the tea.

Marion Trew then talked about the Society Facebook page which Mike Kerry had kindly set up nine months ago with the aim of enabling members to talk to each other in an informal environment and facilitate sharing of what they had noticed throughout the year, whether common or unusual, sometimes including photos, also asking questions. About a quarter of the membership had now signed up and there had been nearly 500 postings. She was delighted to report that there had been no problems such as inappropriate postings, probably because entry was controlled and mainly confined to members. She ended by encouraging members to try Facebook out.

JH said that members were very welcome to join the committee. A new secretary would be needed next year and anyone interested was invited to talk to SP and perhaps come along to a committee meeting. All members nominated for the 2018 committee were then elected en bloc.

Under any other business the 2019 outing venue was raised and PB would look at all options with MT during the summer. The possibility of including a short walk for those who were not able to walk far was already being looked at.

After the break members heard presentations from Michael Blencowe on the white-letter hair streak butterfly and also the Seaford community wildlife project, Paul Dixon on Seaford Head Butterfly surveys 2017, and Chris Drewery on reptiles.

Susan Painter

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20th March 2018 - Informing the next Seaford Head Local Nature Reserve Management Plan Graeme Lyons SWT Senior Ecologist

As they approach the 6th anniversary of the last Seaford Head Local Nature Reserve Management Plan, the Sussex Wildlife Trust, which manages a substantial part of the reserve, is conducting a widespread review which will inform the next plan. This entails entering and analysing all available data, (some 85,000 records sent to SWT), holding team meetings and consulting and working with the conservation committee.

The site of the reserve is an SSSI, currently categorised by Natural England as “Unfavourable recovering” since 2014, due mainly to bramble and other scrub encroachment. These conditions are being addressed by means of scrub clearance by volunteer working parties, and by cattle and sheep grazing.

The map of vegetation distribution (based on the National Vegetation Classification) which was prepared for the previous management plan will be retained for the new plan until a new survey can be undertaken.

Graeme drew attention to a number of surveys that have been made in recent years, some annually, of various fauna and flora of the reserve and highlighted certain aspects of surveys that would enhance the value of the results:

Moon Carrot Survey - average c 1500 plants over five survey years. A second satellite colony was recorded in 2017. Graeme would like a more detailed distribution map based on 10 metre squares.

Common Bird census includes red listed skylarks and linnets. The total for 2017 was 73% of the 2016 record, but Graeme stressed that fluctuations are normal and conclusions on trends should be based on at least a seven year record.

Invertebrate surveys - These were carried out in the lagoon, cattle and sheep grazed areas, Hope Gap, Hope Bottom, golf course ride (ride C) and the trenches. In six days 508 species were found, of which 43 were of conservation status. Some species were unique - 315 were found on only one of the seven plots. Only six were on all plots. Hope Bottom and Gap were most species rich. Highlights included the Potter flower-bee (Anthophora retusa); the beetles saltmarsh short-spur (Anisodactylus poeciloides) and Cassida nobles; a land snail (Helicella itala) and the moths Pyrausta ostrinalis, blackneck (Lygephila pastinum), and Brussels Lace (Cleorodes lichenaria) whose larvae feed on lichen and look like lichen!

Casual recording - site species lists use grid references, date, name of recorder and a generic location grid reference. There is an element of competition with other reserves and we are nearly in the top ten! We have a high total of birds in the species list and are joint with Woods Mill for the top site for earwigs! Graeme suggested keeping an eye out for two rare jumping spiders: Pseueuophrys and Sitticus.

Fixed Point Photography - needs to be not only the same point but also time, season and weather.

Management prescription

Scrub control requires a sustained effort. Bramble takes a long time to remove by cutting and grazing and we really need winter sheep grazing.

Recording and monitoring of butterflies and day-flying moths especially the barred tooth and forrester moths; distribution surveys planned.

Surveying Anthophora bees - where are they exactly?

Mapping and Counting some additional key plant species. Ground ivy is a key plant.

Safeguardthe lagoon - no more infilling by beach gravel

Grazing - extend to south of Hope Gap, Hope Bottom and rides.

Graeme ended by thanking the members of the society for our support and the time we give to the surveys. We need to think carefully about what goes in the plan. Seaford Head has a heavy footfall, but we now have stability within a 25 year lease, and funding to employ Nikky Hills to run the two-year Seaford Community Wildlife Project. We all felt inspired to make the most of this rich resource on our doorstep.

Jenny Wistreich and Colin Whiteman

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2nd October 2018 - Seven Seaford Birds - Colin Whiteman

Sadly the opening talk of the SNHS Winter Programme 2018/19 “Restoring Woodland Culture in the Weald” could not take place due to the abrupt departure of the planned speaker from his SWT employment. The hastily arranged replacement talk “Seven Seaford Birds” was given by Colin Whiteman. Its essence involved brief discussions of the lifestyle and migration pattern of seven birds, either resident or visiting the Seaford area in the last few years. The introduction of each species was enhanced audibly by Marion Trew electronically playing the call or song of each species into the microphone for members to hear.

The magpie (Pica pica) opened the sequence. Love it (for its spectacular appearance) or hate it (for its alleged treatment of small song birds), the magpie is a common feature of the Seaford scene. It frequents gardens and Seaford Head, finding ideal conditions for feeding, nesting and cover, whatever the season, as the SHLNR Common Bird Census (CBC) reveals. Maps of its national breeding and wintering distribution are remarkably similar, emphasising that it has little incentive to migrate. In fact British ringed magpies have never been recovered outside the country!

Slightly less of a ‘home bird’ is the stonechat (Saxicola rubicola), another species recorded in SHLNR. Stonechats usually perch conspicuously on low shrubs surrounded by short grass where they forage for insects and sometimes worms and snails. They breed widely in Britain except in the dominantly arable parts of the country, where their favoured scrub, particularly gorse, is sparse. In Sussex, Ashdown Forest is the hot spot but many can be seen along the Seven Sisters and east of Birling Gap. Like the magpie they are reluctant to migrate, but will go as far as southern Spain if winter weather is very severe.

Yet another SHLNR-nesting species is the fulmar (Fulmaris glacialis), not a gull but a petrel, which frequents reserve cliffs during the summer, occupying nesting holes in the chalk or the sandy part of cliffs between Hope Gap and the Cuckmere. The distribution map shows that they are northern birds, their breeding sites scattered across Arctic and sub-Arctic cliffs with Seaford very much at the southern margin of their breeding range. Outside the breeding season, research in both the Atlantic Ocean and the Bering Sea has demonstrated that fulmars are essentially oceanic birds, feeding on shrimp, fish, squid, plankton and jellyfish. Sadly, other research has shown that plastic fragments are now also part of their diet.

Having spotted the record of a snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), photographed by Matt Eade on Seaford beach in November 2014, the speaker could not resist a ‘twitch’ (the obsessive chasing after bird records), having become familiar with this species during visits to glaciers in Iceland and Norway. There, snow buntings nest amongst the rocks exposed in front of retreating glaciers, feeding on a variety of invertebrates and seeds. In Britain a few cling to territories on top of the Cairngorm Mountains, a relic from the last Ice Age when glaciers would have occupied the corries. During the winter many Icelandic snow buntings retreat from their summer haunts, swelling the numbers in Scotland and extending coastally down eastern England and along the south coast where they can occasionally enhance a day’s birding.

There was just time to include the Brent Goose (Branta bernicla) before the tea break. Many Brent Geese summer on the Taimyr Peninsula in Arctic Siberia, nesting on the tundra with the aid of Eider down. Once the tundra starts its winter freeze-up, these geese are forced to migrate. Many spend the winter in and around Chichester, Langstone and Portsmouth harbours, a few sometimes stopping off for short breaks in the Cuckmere valley near the end of their journey. The Solent Waders and Brent Goose Strategy is a scheme devised to ensure that these birds are well catered for during their winter stay in Sussex and Hampshire. In January 2016, 14,260 Brents were recorded across the area of the harbours.

The penultimate species introduced was the swallow, strictly the barn swallow (Hirundo rustica), appropriately named due to its reliance largely on buildings for nesting sites. Ringing recoveries have confirmed that barn swallows undertake a long-distance migration between Britain and South Africa, where many of them spend time at Mount Moreland reedbed just outside Durban. After a new airport was constructed close to the reedbed disturbance by late-flying aircraft as the swallows came into roost threatened to disturb this spectacular roost site, where people pay to picnic and watch the evening’s entertainment. Fortunately, special radar has been installed so that aircraft can be diverted if necessary. The airport’s operators are legally obliged to maintain the roost for the benefit of the swallows. Good news!

Finally, a mystery bird, a very rare vagrant to Britain, let alone the Cuckmere valley; an American Golden Plover (Pluvialis dominica), only the third record for Sussex when it visited, 11-14 June 2013. Having left its summer breeding grounds, somewhere in Arctic Canada or Alaska, it should have been on the Argentinian Pampas, but almost certainly became caught up with a strong Atlantic depression and was diverted towards the UK, where it enhanced the speaker’s ‘tick list’.

After a few questions Douglas Young introduced a generous vote of thanks.

Colin Whiteman

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16th October 2018 - Our Living Seas – Sarah Ward

Our afternoon was somewhat marred by problems with the technology. However, when Sarah got into her talk she more than made up for the problems by giving an excellent one.

Sarah explained that Shoresearch, which she leads, is a programme under the aegis of Sussex Wildlife Trust. Participants join Sarah at one of a number of beaches along the Sussex coast. The meetings are timed so that the group can follow the tide out, searching rock-pools and seaweed. Any species found are (hopefully) identified and recorded.

Sarah showed us examples of some of the species typically found on Shoresearch events. Many of these are fairly common, but rarities often provide the highlight of the day, such as the stalked jellyfish Calvadosia campanulata, found at Peacehaven in August 2017.

Sarah also leads the more specialised Seasearch programme, which is for volunteer divers and which surveys the beaches at greater depth. Some of their findings were also illustrated.

Sarah is also considerably involved in the programme to establish Marine Conservation Zones around our shores. Several MCZs have already been designated off the Sussex coast, including Beachy Head West, which runs from Peacehaven to Beachy Head. However, more needs to be done, both to better protect the existing sites and to designate further sites (there are six designated MCZs in Sussex, and five more have been recommended for designation).

In 2019, Shoresearch starts with a training event at Birling Gap on 1st May. If anyone is interested in taking part further details can be found at www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/what-we-do/living-seas/sussex-shoresearch.

Jim Howell

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13th November 2018 - Fauna and Flora of the Cevennes by Mike Kerry

My wife and I have visited the Cevennes a number of times since the mid 80’s. The Cevennes mountains form the south-eastern wall of the Massif Central in France. The Cevennes National Park is an area of 840 square kms, including both the mountains, and areas known as the Causses, which are vast limestone plateaux dotted with bizarre and fascinating calcareous formations and divided by deep and dramatic river gorges.

The area is a rich treasure-land of fauna and flora, especially orchids, birds and butterflies.

The climate in the Cevennes is harsh with hot summers with thunderstorms, and bitterly cold winters with snow. Spring is an ideal time to visit, and also autumn if the summer has not been too dry.

In the foothills of the mountains there are forests; some are pine plantations managed for timber and broad-leaved woodlands of oak, beech and sweet chestnut, and by the many streams and rivers, alder.

Because of the climate and terrain, agriculture has been basic and farms are scattered and there is also sheep farming. These factors are a blessing for naturalists as many plants, rare elsewhere, still exist in the Cevennes.

In the lower areas bordering the foothills is the Garrigue which is the French word for scrub land. Here you find lower growing bushy fragrant plants such as juniper, thyme, rosemary and lavender. The poorly drained areas are ideal for marshy flora. Vineyards have been planted in the Garrigue.

R.L. Stevenson at one time popularised the Cevennes through his book “Travels with a Donkey”. Today the tradition continues for some holiday makers.

Mostly we have stayed in the West or South-West of the Cevennes, but in May 2018 we stayed on the Eastern border, which is hillier with more granite and schist rather than the flatter limestone plateaux in the West.

Much of my insect hunting was done in the substantial grounds of our gite, but we also took day trips to the South, North and West. During a 2-week stay in May, some 40 species of butterfly and moth were photographed, and 30 species of bee or wasp, plus a good number of beetles and bugs and some gorgeous looking spiders! We have to say that birds were notable for their scarcity, but we did have good sightings of Griffon vultures, which were introduced in the area some 35 or 40 years ago.

Some of the butterflies encountered are local varieties of species known in the UK, such as the Provençal Orange Tip. I was also pleased to find the Glanville Fritillary, have occasionally thought of visiting the Isle of Wight to see it, and there it was in the Garrigue area south-east of the Cevennes.

This beautiful spider, known colloquially as “Napoleon’s Hat” (due to the pattern of that shape), comes in three colour varieties, and all three were present where we stayed.

Some spectacular Ruby wasps were found. The Broad-Bordered Bee Hawk Moth is a species I have previously encountered in the Cevennes. This one visited a flower bed near the front door of our gite.

Always a delight to find, is the Scarce Swallowtail butterfly, so named because it is scarce in the UK, but is actually quite common in France.

A number of orchids were found and photographed in May 2018, although we did not find them in such profusion as in some earlier years. Over some 30 years, while flora is not my speciality, I have photographed about 20 species of orchid in the Cevennes. In 2018 those of note included the Butterfly Orchid, Bee and Woodcock Orchids. We were also pleased to find the Wild Tulip, Tulipa sylvestris, that was on our target list.

The 18th century brought difficult times to the Cevennes, with famine, plague and the Napoleonic wars. However during this period the crown encouraged the planting of mulberry trees in the farmsteads to supply silk worms for the silk industry. Most of the farmsteads built long extensions to their properties to house the racks for the mulberry leaves on which the silk worms fed.

In the 19th century mining came to the region, and silkworm breeding was decimated by disease. Further diseases also ravaged both the chestnut trees, and grape vines. Hence there was a population shift and a big reduction in farming.

All these misfortunes obviously had a huge impact on the countryside and life in farmsteads would, for many, have become impossible to sustain. Today the emphasis is on tourism and many of the “mas” (homesteads) have become gites.

However there is a determination amongst many in the region to revive the once desolate properties and to farm in environmentally friendly ways, reviving old crafts.

With the Eurostar train service, it is possible, as we did, to travel without any changes from Ashford in Kent right down to Avignon. We then picked up a hire car. This makes for a convenient way of accessing the delights of the Cevennes, and neighbouring regions of France.

Mike Kerry

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30th October 2018 - The World of Lichens - Simon Davey

Prior to today’s talk (and the morning lichen walk at Seaford Head) I would have counted myself in Carl Linnaeus’ camp on lichens – he apparently thought them uninteresting and lumped them all into a single genus. For many the first challenge is that very few lichens have vernacular names so to name them means getting to grips with binomial (aka scientific or Latin) terminology.

After Simon Davey’s presentation I think my interest has been stimulated – not only are they interesting, many are easy to find locally and can best be studied when there are no leaves on the trees.

Simon’s enthusiasm for and deep knowledge of lichens took us on somewhat of a globe-trotting tour of where interesting lichens can be found. In addition to various parts of the UK including Sussex, Norfolk, Kent, Aberdeenshire, Inverness we were taken to Jersey, Scandinavia, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany and the Galapagos Islands.

Many of the lichens Simon illustrated are rare. On one occasion Simon was shown an apparently very rare lichen on Jersey which was covering a whole road.

Simon’s talk had 2 broad themes – what Lichens are and their habitats and requirements.

Lichens are a symbiotic association of a fungus (the mycobiont) and most often an alga or, less frequently, a cyano-bacterium (the photobiont). Although the photobiont can survive independent of the fungus the fungus can’t survive without the photobiont.

At Rhynie Chert in Aberdeenshire (a site of fossilised plants) Psilotum nudum a primitive plant with no roots can be found. It is not a lichen but associates with mycorrhizal fungi – so may be a precursor.

The British Lichen Society (BLS) also studies certain fungi, for example Stenocybe pullatula, so apparently a lichen is lichenised fungus or any other fungus that the BLS is interested in!

Each fungus can associate with a variety of photobionts and vice-versa. Some lichens (always named after the fungus) can have both an alga and a cyanobacteria so that the lichen may appear green in part and black in others – Simon showed examples.

There are also lichenicolous fungi which parasitise the lichen.

Lichens are very sensitive to pollution. 30 years or more ago there was a lichen desert stretching from London to Newcastle, a result of pollution with sulphur dioxide. Hyde Park had only a single lichen the SO2-tolerant Lecanora conizaeoides which thrives on acid substrates and evolved on Mt Vesuvius. The impact of Clean Air legislation now means that many lichens have returned to areas previously devoid of them.

The major pollutant now are nitrogen compounds from agriculture and motor transport. Nitrogen-tolerant and nitrogen-loving lichens are now widespread. The most abundant lichen seen on the morning walk was the nitrogen-loving Xanthoria parietina – it was probably more that 50% of the lichens we saw – (Xanthoria apparently means golden yellow).

Lichens grow in many habitats and can be found from the tropics to the polar regions but are sensitive to pollution. They can be very fussy. One lichen grows only on the stumps of felled native pines in Scotland – but requires 30+ years of rotting before it appears.

Light is essential. The substrate (mainly wood – both with and without bark- and stone) also has a major influence on which lichens will grow. Lichens also need ecological continuity as they are spread in the digestive systems of molluscs. Ancient woodlands with open areas are ideal – the New Forest is home to over 300 species of lichen.

Churchyards are excellent lichen habitats. St. Brelade’s churchyard in Jersey has the highest score for lichens of any churchyard in the British Isles.

Another interesting habitat is the coastal and intertidal. There is an inter-tidal black lichen which may be mistaken for an oil-slick on the rocks.

There are some lichens, metalophytes, grow in the presence of heavy metals for example mine spoil-heaps. These can be ephemeral appearing only between November and February. They require a constant supply of spoil (whether because that suppresses competition or because the lichens need the heavy metals is apparently not known). That can cause some challenges for conservation – the normal “rules” of rare species, designated a SSSI (so development is not permitted) would be counter- productive. The solution was to regularly introduce small piles of spoil.

Other habitats included bone, glass (greenhouses for example) and cars. Both Simon’s and his wife Amanda’s car sport an impressive array of lichen. Simon’s was damaged by a coach driver but there was an upside as lichens colonised the cracks.

One especially particular lichen is one that grows only on parts of wooden benches where bottoms have rubbed. Kew Gardens has some good examples. It gives “bums on seats” a whole new perspective.

Simon asked us particularly to look out for a particular lichen – Teloschistes chrysophthalmus the Golden-eye Lichen. Before 2012 the last sighting in Sussex was in the late nineteenth century near Lewes. Several sites were discovered along the coast of England during 2012 and 2013, where the hosts include hawthorn and apple trees. Simon was shown it N of Brighton in early 2013 but the branch on which is grew is no longer there.

In response to questions Simon said that not all lichens grow slowly. Dog lichen (peltigera sp.) grows in lawns and can spread rapidly.

For those interested in identifying lichens there are three forms – crustose, foliose and fruticose – into which lichens can be categorised. Many can be identified in the field with the aid of a 10x hand lens. Some require chemical tests (bleach – the C test, potassium hydroxide – the K test and para-phenylenediamine – the Pd test) and/or microscopic examination.

Books Recommended by Simon were:

  • Lichens - An Illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species by Frank S. Dobson. The 6th edition reputedly has better illustrations than the latest (7th) edition;
  • The Lichens of Jersey – by Simon and Amanda Davey.

Other information sources:

British Lichen Society Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BLSlichensF/ ;
British Lichen Society on Twitter https://twitter.com/blslichens?lang=en

The Field Studies Council (FSC) produce a number of individual charts of Lichens as well as a collection of charts in the Lichens Wildlife Pack.

Lichens illustrated (with thanks to Wendy Brewer for the list) included:

  • Acrocordia geminate
  • Arthonia varians
  • Cladonia coccifera
  • Cladonia diversa
  • Cladonia mitis
  • Cladonia rei
  • Collema tenax
  • Fuscopannaria sp.
  • Graphis elegans
  • Lecanora jamesii
  • Lecanora rupicola
  • Lobaria amplissima
  • Lobaria pulmonaria (Common Lungwort)
  • Peterjamesia sorediata
  • Pertusaria lactesens
  • Stricta canariensis
  • Usnea (Dolichousnea) longissima
  • Xanthoria parietina
  • Xerotrema quercina - new species found by the speaker - grows on oak

Chris Brewer

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27th November 2018- Birding in Antartica and the South Atlantic - Matt Eade

Matt has been birding for 20 years locally, but only 8 years further afield. You don’t get much further afield than Antarctica, visited in November/December 2016. A useful map, reproduced here, illustrated the route, beginning with a 10 day drive around the Strobel Plateau, Patagonia, Southern Argentina, followed by a cruise on the M/V Plancius with Oceanwide Expeditions, with stops in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, South Orkney Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula, South Shetland Islands, and finally, via Drake’s Passage, ending in Ushuaia at the tip of South America.

Of five target species, hooded grebe topped Matt’s list. Only discovered in 1974, on remote lakes of the Strobel Plateau, numbers were reduced to only 900 by 2013. Climate change appears to be drying out the breeding lakes on the plateau and a planned dam for a reservoir will interfere with food resources. Eventually a group of 12 grebes was tracked down providing the highlight of this section of the adventure. Meanwhile armadillos, guanacos, spectacled ducks and black-necked swans were amongst the plateau wildlife seen during the search.

Then, Matt joined the 110 passengers on the M/V Plancius for the two day cruise to The Falkland Islands and some island hopping. Black-browed albatrosses and Southern Giant Petrels followed the ship but the highlight, observed from the deck, was a Southern Royal Albatross with a 3 m (that’s nearly 10 feet!) wingspan. A key issue is the correct gear. “It’s cold on deck” but warm inside so take layers that can be peeled off or added as required, in a hurry when the cry “whale” goes up. Fin Whale (world’s 2nd largest) was seen and also Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins. On the Falklands themselves the endemic, Cobb’s Wren, was a nice spot, though the penguins were more spectacular, including gentoo, rockhopper, king and Megallanic. Penguins have to guard their eggs and chicks from predation by the large brown skua. Wading birds, Megallanic snipe and the two-banded plover were interesting ticks around Port Stanley.

Next stage, South Georgia was on the horizon, and sightings of wandering, sooty and Northern Royal Albatrosses, the latter normally seen around New Zealand. Statistics for the wandering albatross are staggering: a wing span of up to 11’ 6”, the largest of any albatross, hunting trips of 10,000 km and circumnavigations of Antarctica in 46 days. They land only to feed and breed. Approaching South Georgia, icebergs became a feature of the seascape, providing an appropriate backdrop for the most attractive snow petrel, a pure white bird, with jet black beak and eyes, breeding exclusively in the Antarctic.

Matt illustrated the rather grim weather that gripped S. Georgia on their arrival but this did not obscure the Antarctic fur seals littering the beaches, a recovery from their near extinction during European occupation in the early 20th Century. Then the weather improved to allow landing amongst the sparse vegetation of mosses and marram grass. The endemic South Georgia pipit was nearly another extinction event, this time due to introduced rats. Happily a recent eradication scheme has rescued the situation and in the absence of rats the pipit and other ground-nesting is making a come-back.

Grytviken, on S. Georgia, was a whaling station when Sir Ernest Shackleton made it famous early in the 20th Century. Today its rusted remains survive along with a museum, graveyard with Shackleton’s remains, a Norwegian church and some accommodation. The scenery is dramatic, enhanced by the 200-300,000 king penguin colony with its grey and brown patchwork of colour, the brown highlighting the groups of penguin juveniles with their immature brown plumage. Matt illustrated the penguins with some amusing short videos. And another where young elephant seals treated him as a parent substitute. And so to the tea break.

Afterwards we journeyed south again, this time via the South Orkney Islands, an Argentinian base. By now temperatures were down to -20oC, snow was falling and the seas were more choppy. 7-800 Cape petrels were sheltering from the freezing wind, along with snow petrels and Adele Penguins. But within ten hours the scene was calmer and icebergs littered the sea. Southern fulmer and more Cape petrels trailed the ship. An Antarctic petrel, rare on this side of Antarctica, was spotted. The tiny storm petrel, one of the most widespread oceanic birds appeared minute against the outline of bottle-nosed whales as M/V Plancius entered the Weddell Sea. A landing on Brown Bluff gave good views of Adele Penguins shown marching off on their fishing trip in Matt’s video. Weddell and crab-eater seals provided non-ornithological interest.

And finally, back north to the South Shetland Islands, volcanic Deception Island, Drakes Passage and Cape Horn, with Wilson’s storm petrel, chinstrap penguins, grey-headed albatross and Chilean skua completing the journey’s tick list. The images emphasised the extreme conditions in the southern oceans, providing a stark contrast with the Seaford scene. I wonder how many members will be following in Matt’s footsteps after this stimulating presentation.

Chairman Jim Howell thanked Matt for his fascinating contribution and proposed a vote of thanks to general acclaim.

 

 

 

 

Colin Whiteman

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11th December 2018 – Christmas Social

About 40 members came along to take part in the Christmas Social. As usual the afternoon began with a quiz which this year was devised in-house, mainly by Marion Trew and Janet Howell with Colin Whiteman providing the audio visuals. Members were arranged into seven teams of up to six people and the quiz consisted of nine rounds based on various aspects of natural history, including one round where members were shown photos of well-known people in the world of natural history.

In addition, during the quiz various objects were passed round the tables for people to guess what they were. Each table checked its own answers and handed them in to Jim Howell to do the final scoring and determine which team had won. There was then a break in proceedings so that people could enjoy the food and drink laid out in the other room. Then it was back to finish the quiz. Prizes were awarded not only to the winning team but also to the team which came last.

During the break for refreshments members were able to watch the very good slide show which had been set up by Paul Dixon showing photos taken on walks during 2018.

An enjoyable afternoon came to a close with a quick final round-up from Jim who as always thanked everyone who worked behind the scenes to make sure that the event was a success.

Susan Painter

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Page updated20th February 2019