Reports

Memorial Common Chailey   25th October 2008

Exmoor Ponies Exmoor Ponies

For the second year running we were treated to a fascinating afternoon of Rosalie Sinclair-Smith, ably assisted by her husband Ivan, showing us fungi to be found on part of Chailey Common, this time on Memorial Common. Rosalie began, as last year, by giving us a presentation of the fungi we might find on the tour around Memorial Common. While some of those we also saw on Lane End Common last year, many others were different showing what a variation there can be over a short distance. Rosalie first described fungi found on trees and then those we find find at ground level. We were treated to examples of such delights as Green Cup, Turkey Tail, Fly Agaric, Shaggy Parasol, Blushing Bracket, Birch Bracket, King Alfred's Cakes and an Earth Star.

 

Coriolus versicolour
Coreolus versicolour

It apparently has not been a good season for fungi - cold wet summer, then dry and lastly recent frosts. If this was to lower our expectations of what we might see it was unnecessary - we saw a broad variety of fungi on our walk. If this was poor then a good year must be spectacular. There were sufficient that I was unbale to note them all.The walk started by going through the wooded part of the Common then through the more open, grassy areas. We came across a silver birch stump with two fungi growing on it. The first, Coriolus versicolour, looked like shells from the beach; next to it was a white fungus, Panellus serotinus. There were a number of Yellow russula and others of the russula family.

Chanterelle Chanterelle

A little further on we found Buttercap, Amanita citrina and the delightful edible yellow Chanterelle. These have yellow gills running down the stem. Other captivating names included Brown Roll-rim and Clouded (or Grey) Funnel Cap. This latter is funnel shaped and forms fairy circles in the Autumn. Rosalie had reconnoitered the route a few days before and thought that she had found all the fungi we would see. But she was in for a surprise. One of our members came across a fungus in the grass had part of the cap turned over to reveal lilac gills and asked if it was a Blewit. Rosalie confirmed that it was a Wood Blewit which she had not previously noted on the common this season.

Wood Blewit
Wood Blewit

Close by we came across some Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) the classic red and white toadstool (found only in association with Birch trees), regrettably in rather poor condition. We also found some Liberty Caps, which are only up to about 1.5cm across. These are one of the Magic Mushrooms, being hallucinogenic and Roaslie related an anecdote about family members having eaten some. Uncontrolled giggling, fireworks and trails of mud throughout the house were part of the story. Finally we came across one of the many Puff Balls, Lycoperdon echinatum, which has long slender spikes.

A splendid afternoon thoroughly enjoyed by all. We look forward in anticipation to the talk Rosalie is scheduled to give us January 2009.

 

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Ponies - BoPeep   12th October 2008

Exmoor Ponies Exmoor Ponies

On a balmy afternoon more like summer than autumn we met at the BoPeep car park on the top of the Downs to see the Exmoor ponies owned by the Sussex Pony and Grazing Conversation Trust. Our guide was Mike Squires, both one of our members and a trustee of the Trust. The Trust was formed in August 2004 to continue the work of the Exmoor Pony Project which started in 1999. Changing farming practices and economics have lead to a reduction in grazing which has had a devastating effect on both the visual appearance of the South Downs and the associated flora and fauna.

Ponies feeding A tasty treat

Farmers are now provided with grants to manage their land as Conservation land which means grazing to control the coarse grasses, mainly Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum), also known as Chalk False Brome. This coarse grass is unpalatable to the modern grazing animals kept by farmers but is happily eaten by Exmoor ponies.The Trust has some 45 Exmoor ponies, which are used to assist landowners meet their conservation obligations, graze the Downs in Winter and Ashdown Forest all year round. The ponies are Registered Exmoor Ponies, each one has a passport, is branded with a number and carries an identity chip. Apparently each pony has a unique arrangement of whirls on its flank where the rear leg meets the abdomen, rather like we have fingerprints, and this is the primary means of identifying each individual. We walked along the South Downs Way over Bostal Hill until we reached the bridlepath descending the scarp face of the Downs towards the former chalk-pit.

Group What the ponies saw

Here we saw evidence of the ponies’ whereabouts. Electric fencing, a notice about the ponies and plenty of droppings indicated that they were about. Mike pointed out the coarse Tor-grass and showed how different it was where the ponies had been grazing. We then ventured down the path and after a short while the ponies came into view. The ponies were towards the bottom of the slope and, to get a closer view, some of us climbed down the slope. Mike encouraged us down by showing us the inducements he had (carrots) for attracting the ponies. Initially it appeared that they were perfectly content with Tor-grass but, eventually one or two succumbed to the temptation. We counted 21 ponies; they are just starting to put on their winter coats.

Exmoor Pony Exmoor Pony

The ponies are visited daily and of the 100 or so members of the Trust about 30 are on the daily visit rota. After climbing back up from the ponies to the South Downs Way we walked a little further along towards Alfiston to enjoy the panoramic views. Although it was somewhat misty on the Weald we could clearly see Alciston and Berwick churches and Arlington reservoir. There was a scarcity of flowering plants (not surprising given the time of year and grazing by sheep) but we did see common gorse in flower.

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Seaford Head & Cuckmere Beach   20th September 2008

Seven Sisters Seven Sisters

On a bright Saturday afternoon we started by walking down to Hope Gap noting the typical chalk grassland wild flowers and a number of butterflies (predominantly small and large white) on the way.

Moon Carrot Moon Carrot

On the rising cliffs to the East of Hope Gap we found the colony of the interesting and uncommon plant Moon Carrot looking like the tops of miniature cauliflowers. Despite its name it is not related to wild carrot which is quite widespread around here. Encouragingly we found that there seemed to be quite a good number of plants. Also growing amongst the Moon Carrot was Devil’s Bit, so named because it has quite a short root supposedly as a result of being bitten off by the Devil. Looking towards Eastbourne from Hope Gap we participated in “Name the Seven Sisters” and also noted and drew attention to the fact that as a result of erosion it is now said that there are seven and a half sisters.

Moon Carrot Moon Carrot

As we walked up and over towards the coastguard cottages we found a lone Gentian. This stimulated a debate on their knees and with much consulting of floras amongst the botanists amongst us as to whether it was Autumn-flowering Gentain (quite common but generally not in flower by now) of Field Gentian (which is sufficiently rare as to excite the interest and special noting of location by the SBRS).

Devil's Bit Devils Bit

Down at Cuckmere Beach we found Greater Sea Spurrey and had a discussion about whether Lesser Sea Spurrey is also found here and another consulting of floras to make sure we could tell the difference. There was glasswort in abundance and lenses in hand we proceeded to look for the tiny white or yellow flowers on them. The flowers are quite easily knocked off but we did find a few which were carefully passed round. Other plants found included sea purslane, sea aster Towards the meanders we saw a little egret which elicted the comment that while these were rarely seen not so long ago they had now become sufficiently common that it was easier now to note those occasions on which one isn’t seen.

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Brighton Marina   9th September 2008

Group photo Sea dipping

We were privileged yet again to visit a location not open to the public, this time to parts of Brighton marina where two species of seahorse have been found. We were led by the newly-wed Kate Cole accompanied by David Harvey (from the marina), Gerald Legg (a regular diver in Seaford Bay) from The Booth Museum in Brighton and Tim Smith, Shingle Officer ESCC (who joined us on our survey near Tide Mills and showed us how shingle surveys should be done).

While walking to our first location we saw a number of fish swimming in the marina including large grey mullet. We started by “pond dipping” in the part of the Martina where the sea horses had been found. It was not long before everyone had a net in hand sweeping into the water with all the enthusiasm of children to see what could be netted. Although we didn’t find any seahorses a number of other sea creatures were brought up including a number of species of sea squirt, prawns and shrimps. Kate told us that, as the pontoons moved up and down with the tide the water level on them was constant meaning that we could see close to the surface creatures we would not normally see because they would be uncovered at low tide and not survive.

Prawn Prawn

As luck would have it the rain clouds moved in and we beat a retreat to the central covered pontoon, which itself is also floating. David Harvey had brought with him an underwater camera attached by a long lead to a monitor which we had under cover. Notwithstanding the rain David went out onto the uncovered pontoons (getting drenched in the process) and dropped the camera over the side trying to hold it steady each time Kate yelled “Stop” when she saw something interesting was in view. Eventually the rain stopped and we finished by peering over the side of the central pontoon to see colourful and seemingly quite large anemonies attached just under the surface.

Cameraman Our cameraman

Kate enthusiastically suggested that if we came to the Marina at another time of year such as late spring/early summer we would see other things of interest which we took to be an invitation to come back again, perhaps next year.

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Berwick Downs   30th August 2008

On a warm sunny cloudless afternoon with an Easterly breeze, eleven of us left a full Berwick Church car park and walked through the churchyard. At the churchyard exit there was a large bracket fungus on a tree. We turned right and followed the treeline outside the churchyard. A small dragonfly kept returning to its perch on a bare stem. There was a powerful smell from a tyre covered silage pile. A field was being sown, probably with winter wheat, and many gulls were making the most of it, settling on the bare ground behind the tractor and drill and being chased off by the next pass of the machinery.

Speckled Wood Speckled Wood

As we reached the old coach road two latecomers caught up with us. Part of the bridleway leading away from the old coach road tree lined. The anticipated speckled woods were present in good numbers. An apple tree had a plentiful crop. (Probably a crab apple, but we weren't sure of this.) After the wooded section there was a grassy hillside with meadow browns and small heaths. A linnet was perched on top of a distant hedgerow. As we ascended the path we started seeing common blues.As we took a breather at the furthest and highest point of the walk we could see the water of Arlington Reservoir in the distance.

Common Blue Common Blue

A male pheasant was spotted creeping along a field hedge line. It was time to return by way of a sheltered path down to a slightly lower level. There was a good assortment of butterflies with many common blues, and a brown argos was identified. A female cricket (it had an ovipositor) with a distinctive light edge to its pronotum (a shield-like part behind its head) was found. Back at the car park this was identified from an insects book as Roesel's Bush cricket (Metrioptera roselii), which I had never heard of. On the return journey a yellowhammer was spotted just before we entered the tree lined path.

We had been very fortunate to have one of the best days of the "summer" for this spirit lifting walk onto the lower part of the scarp slope of the South Downs.

 

Peter Hammond

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Reports

Ouse Valley Reserve   19th August 2008

One of the advantages of being a member of the Society is the privilege of being able to visit locations not open to the general public. We were given a guided tour of the reserve by the ranger Jessie Leamey who before we started gave us a short presentation on the reserve. Unfortunately the weather was poor, overcast, cool and windy so many of the birds and insects we would have hoped to see were out of sight. There are some 16 ponds on the reserve. Some are pre-existing i.e. present before the reserve was established and these hold water throughout the year. The remainder are new and ephemeral. Great crested newts are still breeding and fish have now appeared on the reserve, presumed to have been brought in by birds.

Many bird species have been seen at the reserve, but there has been little change in much in the flora and fauna – not surprising given its relative newness. However, two recent insect observations have generated some excitement – a potter wasp and a broad (red?) belted clearwing. A small water mammal – either a water shrew or possibly a water vole has also been seen. Stoats and weasels also on site. It appears that the relative isolation on the site (bounded by road sea and river) means that foxes are not generally present. The trees and shrubs on the site have established well, there has been significant growth in the last twelve months and many of them are at about head height so finally establishing a screen to protect the wildlife from disturbance.

We walked within the reserve and saw the specially designed barriers which are intended to prevent the relocated great crested newts from attempting to return to their former now unsuitable location. These are not always successful, the urge to return to their original breeding grounds is very strong and it is estimated that when newts are relocated there is up to a 75% casualty rate. Hopefully the young born on the reserve will see that as their home territory.

There are a wide variety of trees and shrubs planted on the reserve including 12 black poplars now about 5 years old, all derived from a single parent by Kew; one was planted in memory of a former member of the Society. Sadly it appears that the parent may have low fertility so the prospect of seedlings arising remains unknown

While walking around the reserve we saw two pairs of little egrets perched in some distant trees and a lone moorhen was visible from the bird hide. Further on we saw some goldfinches. Towards the end of the walk one or two curlew could be seen on the pond adjacent to the main road. On walking further round it transpired that there were many more and the final count was some 25 all of which appeared to be juveniles. On the walk back along the footpath/ cycle track to the car park we were also treated to the sight of three kestrels hovering overhead.

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Bat Walk Cuckmere Haven   9th August 2008

Group At the bat walk

Twenty seven of us met in the Exeat Car Park on an overcast evening. Among our number were half a dozen children, though at times it felt like a dozen. After an introductory talk by Vic Downer we crossed the road to look at the tile-hung Exeat Cottage where Vic described how our little Pipistrelle bats can find a roost behind the hung tiles - we didn't see one.

Chatting to Vic over the course of the evening, he was saying that is is getting increasingly difficult to continue the work of detecting and recording bats, especially in their roosting sites. "It's all getting too political" he felt with gaining access to places like hardly used railway tunnels or other tunnels on private land, In the past one could seek permission and it would be readily given, but now so many restrictions are imposed that it is hardly worthwhile.

On the way back towards the car park we were well strung out and chatting in various groups; as one of the groups passed the place where the meanders are closest to the concrete path our cricket-detector actually detected a bat - then another, and another, The conclusion we came to was that we could hear Brant's bats or whiskered bats. Some even thought that we also heard Pipistrelle.

With the benefit of narrow-beamed torches playing low over the water we even saw fleeting glances of the bats; occasionally too they were silhouetted against the sky. Panic set in for a while when we discovered that one of the children was missing. We discovered him a long way forward with one of the other groups. Eventually we were all re-united on the bank of the meander and continued to listen to the bats on the detectors for twenty minutes or so.

A happy and instructive evening spent; if we are to repeat it again somewhere we need to find a better time of the year when we are more likely to see and hear the bats - or rather detect them.

Colin Pritchard

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Reports

Friston Forest   29th July 2008

Yellow Birds Nests Yellow Birds Nest

A number of us met on a pleasant afternoon for the delights of another walk led by Peter Davys. Although I am only a recent member of the Society I have already learnt that on Peter’s walks in familiar areas I will see things I would never have know were there and visit parts others never reach. This walk did not disappoint.We started by walking through a variety of trees which Peter as ever identified with ease and stood under the Scots Pines where the Heronry is to be found. A number of nests were pointed out to us.

Soldier Beetle Soldier beetle

We reached one of the main tracks through the Forest where there were many nectar rich plants attractive to butterflies and other insects. Peter pointed out welted thistle and we also saw extensive growth of perennial sowthistle. A little further on Peter took us off the path to point out white helleborine (sadly no longer in flower) and an extensive patch of yellow birds nest. Yellow Birds Nest is a saprophytic plant living on decaying vegetable matter especially in beech or pine woods. It is not related to the Birds Nest Orchid, not being an orchid at all.

Bumble Bee on Scabious Bumble bee on scabious

We then ventured on to a clearing with very sparse growth at the back of which is a bank where pheasants eye was last seen in Sussex. We did not find it but while exploring the ground we found some interesting plants including autumn-flowering gentian and round-leaved fluellein. Many butterflies in particular gatekeepers and whites were feeding on the plants.

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Chris Brewer

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Reports

Park Corner Heath   19th July 2008

Slow worm Slow Worm

There were eight of us present on a sunny/cloudy day with a brisk north west wind.The voluntary reserve manager Michael Blencowe had stopped by on his way to a “Save Our Butterflies” event at Sheffield Park to “give us an hour“ before he went on to that event. As we walked down the track to the reserve Michael told us about the history of the reserve, and explained how the Reserve volunteers had opened up the track to let in more light by cutting back growth, with permission from the adjacent landowners. Silver washed fritillaries were about, and one white admiral.

Adder Adder

He showed us round the Reserve, explaining features as he went. The visit was thus much more interesting than if we had been wandering around on our own. He described the 12 year coppicing cycle, lifted up reptile/snake corrugated hideaways and showed us the lesser butterfly orchid, now protected from nibbling with a small wire enclosure. Michael told us about a postgraduate student at Sussex University who had placed drilled wooden blocks on the ground to assist his study of a small solitary wasp.

Shield Bug Shield Bug

There was nothing under the first hideaway lifted, a slow worm under the second and two adders under the third. One of these slithered off quickly. The other uncoiled itself and made an unhurried exit. There were brimstone butterflies around.

Michael is very enthusiastic and his 1 hour stay extended to double that! In this report I have not really done justice to what Michael was telling us. I was suffering from information overload.

Peter Hammond

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Reports

Bullock Down   8th July 2008

Inquisitive Goat Inquisitive goat

On one of the few dry evenings in early July 7 members met below a windy Belle Toute for a walk through typical chalk grassland. We started off walking through and area which was formerly arable, has recently been re-sown by Eastbourne Borough Council and now managed as traditional unimproved grassland. We saw typical plants including yellow rattle, centaury, ox-eye daisy, common and greater knapweed and wild mignonette. Bee orchids also grow here including white bee orchids but flowering was over and all there was to be seen were the seed heads.

Clustered bellflower Clustered bellflower

We then ventured up the concrete road opposite The Horseshoe Plantation to Cornish Farm. As we passed through the farm buildings into the field beyond we came across grazing cattle and a large and very inquisitive goat which showed keen interest in a number of our party. The field beyond the farm is a magnificent example of unimproved chalk grassland, open access downland. We found many exciting wild flowers; the most spectacular were the extensive display of pyramidal orchids and hundreds of round headed rampion, also known as The Pride of Sussex.

Round-headed rampion Round-headed rampion

While we stopped to take in the extensive display conversation turned to orchids found on earlier summer walks and particularly burnt tip orchids which a number of the group had never seen. It was with some surprise that I looked in the rather poor light to see a group of the late flowering variety right at my feet.

DESCRIPTION Pyramidal orchid

We made our way back past Bulling Dean to Beachy Head road for the walk back into the strong wind to Belle Toute – fortunately the wind was not as strong as the previous day when it had been almost impossible at times to walk along the road. We finished by seeing the seed head of the Lizard Orchid close to the lay-by and the remains of the Lady Orchid which caused some excitement earlier in the season.

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Chris Brewer

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Reports

Burnt, Marbled, Swift & Round-Headed   28th June 2008

Nine members and a visitor met at High and Over on a bright but windy afternoon. We started by walking down the old track between Seaford and Alfriston. The path affords impressive views over the Cuckmere valley towards Alfriston and, if one looks back, also Cuckmere Haven. The grassland here has probably never been ploughed and is rich in chalk grassland plants. The pyramidal orchids were in full flower and we saw many other plants here including agrimony, viper's bugloss, centaury, bird's foot trefoil, kidney vetch (with its wonderful hairy sepals making the flower head look wooly) . There was a lot of squinancywort, a delicate member of the bedstraw family so named because it was considered a remedy for quinsy a thoat infection once an affliction of, amongst others,  lawyers and preachers.

Crossing the Alfriston Road to the bridlepath above Cradle Valley we found more chalk grassland flowers including greater knapweed and common knapweed and had our first sight of round-headed rampion. This is known as the Pride of Sussex and is only found on the South Downs. We also found the colony of late-flowering burnt-tip orchids further up the path. There were at least 35 this year - a few days after our walk they had all been neatly numbered on plant labels as a student is carrying out a study of the inveterbrates associated with this orchid. We also had sight of a single marbled white butterfly here. There were many more last year but a week or so later I saw breeding pairs on the same site.

As the path climbs it enters a small wooded area where the plants are diferent. In particular we saw enchanter's nightshade which is the only native British plant that has only two petals. As we left the woodland and came into pasture on which sheep were grazing two of our party decided to take the short cut back to the car park - perhaps they anticipated that the walk would turn into a three hour marathon. Crossing the two fields of pasture was necessary to reach the Comp but was disappointing other than the occasional views down to Cradle Vally. The land was used for arable crops until about 1991, is on flinty clay, is dominated by crested dog's tail grass and contains few other plants. The wind was so strong that even the hoped for sight of butterflies did not materialise.

Our first objective on reaching The Comp was to visit a field managed in conjunction with Natural England as a conservation area for skylarks and meadow pipits. We saw no skylarks on this field although one could be heard further away and the consensus was that the grass was too sparse to be suitable for skylark to nest. However, there were swifts feeding over this and the adjacent field, an encouraging sight as these migrants from Africa are reported to be lower in numbers this year. We also had delightful views to Seaford Head and Seaford Bay. Our route took us through fields of beans (there was speculation as to whether they were for consumption or were being grown for green manure) and then across the second of the bridlepaths through Seaford golf course to further along The Comp. Here we saw a single ringlet butterfly, further round-headed rampion and cypress spurge.

The return meant we had to recross the two fields of pasture and had the tantalising view of the High and Over car park in the distance but at least the wind was now behind us and the views interesting.

 

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Walk from Milton Gate    17th June 2008

I am indebted to Patrick Coulcher in his book about wildlife walks along the Cuckmere. Lindsey and I walked the whole walk last year, and it occurred to me that the watermeadow going down to the Cuckmere would be a profitable area for our walk. Seven members duly arrived at the meeting point; I gather that the date clashed with a Sussex Wildlife Trust walk in the morning. I had dutifully made a reconnaissance the day before, to make sure the pathways were clear, to find a reasonably dry route down the watermeadow, and to take some detailed photos.

Just through the first gate there was one magnificent white moth mullein, which we duly examined. We thought we detected where the Milton Airfield had been, aided by Patrick's line-drawing, but we tried to press on towards the watermeadow . The previous day I had been much entertained by a sedge warbler in the ditch that is fenced off between two fields, but this time we were scolded by the much more angry whitethroat. We marvelled at the tremendous variety of grasses of the field that we walked beside; we were there on the perfect day to see the colours of the grass flowers. I was rather delighted to hear the name of the most prolific and colourful was yorkshire fog - whoever dreams up these wonderful names, and what was it doing in Sussex? It is so good to learn the names of plants and animals, and I for one am so grateful that there are those who join us on the walks that can enlighten us.

On we went past the rustling reedbeds and over a rather dodgy stile to the watermeadow where we were greeted by expanses of the rather beautiful but invasive hemlock water dropwort. I was duly corrected that what I thought was purple loosestrife was in fact water woundwort, though we did find the purple loosestrife later on the water's edge, just coming into flower. Those at the front managed to see the mayfly up close, but it flew away before I could take a second photo or the others to catch up. There were the native common yellow waterlilies in the Cuckmere. On returning to the path, there is a particularly soggy patch by a little spring and there were a couple of skullcap plants.

We thought we saw a buzzard, but it was only a distant heron, but then we thought there was a rather smaller bird of prey, and there was a cuckoo; I must admit to not having heard one this year, nor did I actually see this one; do they really exist? Back near the gate we were watching a dragonfly, but none of us knew which one; on looking in our books at home we all agreed it was a female broad chaser, with its golden-orange abdomen. It's a shame that our photos will not reproduce well in black and white for the magazine.

Children often ask me when I am helping out as a volunteer with the Wildlife Trust's Education department at Exceat how I know the names of so many plants and animals. I don't usually let on about all those whose names I do not know, but I was taught much by my grandfather whilst we evacuated during the war from London to the Berkshire countryside. I frantically try to recall all those names from childhood, I try to remember what people tell me now and I try to buy suitable reference books. Oh that I could retain the names when I get home from a walk with the society, evenmore that I could get the little grey cells to connect at the right time to bring to mind the names I know so well!!

Colin Pritchard

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Reports

Firle Beacon     5th June 2008

We had a nice walk at Firle Beacon yesterday, somewhat breezy but very pleasant. About a dozen folk turned up, and we just walked from the car park to the highest point. At one place you can see Lewes, Newhaven and part of Seaford all at the same time. Skylarks were singing and a small heath butterfly was seen (butterfly species seem down this year).Plants seen were musk thistle, white campion, ground ivy, germander speedwell, dovesfoot and cut-leaved cranesbills, crosswort, lesser stitchwort, common mouse-ear, fiield madder, and the lovely soft brome grass and burdock. It was a walk for the views more than anything else really.

Peter Davys

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Reports

Mount Caburn     27th May 2008

With ideal weather a wonderful walk was enjoyed by seven members and a guest. With burnt orchids the main object, we were treated to a great display. Janice found some (rare to Sussex) mouse-eared hawkweed (I think) [Janice advised it was in fact field fleawort] on Mount Caburn to complete a perfect day.

Len Tucknott

 

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Reports

Montague Farm     17th May 2008

Five members and a visitor met Martin Hole at his farm near Hankham. Our optimism in setting out from home on a cold, wet and misty morning more like February than May, was amply rewarded by the sight of a great variety of birds, flowers and grasses, on land which is not generally accessible to the public.

The farmhouse itself is part of a group of very attractive flint buildings, set on a small sandstone knoll overlooking the extensive pastures of the Marsh where Martin manages about 900 Romney ewes and 70 suckler cross-bred cows – themselves an attractive sight with their varied colourings.

We began with a short walk across the meadows, finding green-winged orchids, adder’s tongue fern, ragged robin and pepper saxifrage, to name just a few. Most of the land at Montague Farm itself has not been ploughed since the nineteenth Century and has been managed without fertiliser or other chemicals for about thirty years.

The movement of the animals around the farm and the drainageof the various sections are very carefully organised to provide good pasture and to encourage wildlife at the same time. Some sections are allowed to stay flooded in winter and some permanent ponds have been excavated.

Later, Martin drove us in his Land Rover to the nearby Horse Eye Farm, also on the Pevensey Levels, where wheat was grown until about 10 years ago but which has been allowed to revert naturally to pasture. Here we saw nesting skylarks, lapwings and swans, a yellowhammer, greenshank, a little egret, a hobby and various ducks. Buntings, pipits and warblers were heard if not seen by all.

This was an absorbing and enjoyable visit and we are most grateful to Martin.

 

Ruth Young

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Reports

Abbots Wood      7th May 2008

We had lovely walk in Abbots Wood. Some eleven people turned up luckily, including Chris & Wendy Brewer who might not have been able to come.

We saw many bluebells of course, also bugle (interesting white ones), lousewort, kingcups, wood pimpernel, bush vetch, petty whin, and climbing corydalis all in full flower. The wood anemones were hanging on a bit, with wood sorrel and wood spurge which is a feature of Abbots Wood but not Friston. We saw the narrow buckler and golden-scaled male ferns (first for me at Abbots Wood!), also one plant believed to be fifty years old.

On the lake coots had nested and we saw three young ones, another first for me - there, that is. We heard a nightingale singing and a pealr-bordered fritillary butterfly but, sadly, no other butterflies. Also in flower were primroses, tormentil, speedwell and dog violets.

Peter Davys

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Reports

Too EARLY for Spider Orchids     28th April 2008

Nine members met at the car park above Woodingdean on a warm sunny afternoon, with some wispy high cloud in a blue sky. We walked on the stony bridleway along the ridge of the Downs to the entrance to Castle Hill National Nature Reserve, stopping en route at the aerials to admire the distant views of Seaford Head. As we descended into the reserve there was some germander speedwell on a bank at the side of the path.

When we were on the level ground at the bottom of the hill a kestrel took off from a tree. We watched it fly over to the opposite hillside where it joined another and they flew off ahead of us. On the ground there were coloured markers on sticks at the corners of several metre(?) squares, presumably for research purposes. Moving on we now saw three kestrels patrolling a hillside as a group.

We climbed the slope where the early spider orchids can be expected. The grass seemed a bit long and straggly. No sign of orchids. There didn't seem to be much hope. Still, they are short (2 to 8 inches) and can be notoriously difficult to spot. We did find both the blue and purple forms of milkwort on either side of a narrow path.

What relief when there in front of me standing proud was a single tall (for an early spider orchid) flower stem. Once one had been found people started finding a few more. There were more rosettes of orchid leaves close to the ground. A sign of things to come. Between us I think we found at most a couple of dozen in flower, over a wide area. Returning the way we had come we disturbed a few butterflies, amongst them a small tortoiseshell and a peacock. A brown speckled broken eggshell was found.

From size and appearance possibly that of a red legged partridge. There was a pair of stonechats on scrub up the hill from our path. Ahead of us above the skyline there was a red kite, but before you get excited I have to say that this was on a string and being flown by an unseen kite flyer. As we left the reserve by the same gate we had entered, a whitethroat was spotted in a nearby tree.

Was it my imagination or was the bridleway stonier and rougher on the way back? Being serenaded by skylarks made it more bearable. By the time we returned to the car park we had been out for three hours. Although we had not seen many orchids I think everyone enjoyed the afternoon and found something of interest. During the return car journey we spotted ducks on the pond at Rottingdean, and it was only as we passed that we realised that they were plastic (?) DECOYS!

Peter Hammond

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Reports

Blatchington Golf Course     15th April 2008

16 members met to look at three different habitats around Seaford Golf Course and to see violets and bluebells. We saw at least 50 flowering plants - each group typical of the habitat in which they were found.

First we visited an arable field edge on acid flinty clay where the highlight was the great number of bee flies which are parasitic on solitary bees. Further on the character of the field changed to a thin alkaline soil containing a lot of chalk on which it was noticeable that the oilseed rape was a lot sparser and much less vigourous. In the hedgerow beside the field we found both sweet and common dog violets.

Further on in typical chalk grassland with magnificent views over Cradle Valley we found hairy violets which grown which grow only on alkaline soil.

We finished by walking down the bridlepath through the golf course. At the top we had simultaneous views of both Seaford Head and the Seven Sisters at Cuckmere Haven. Along the bridlepath the extensive display of bluebells found here was beginning to show and also seen was climbing corydalis, an uncommon plant.

Chris Brewer

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Reports

Arlington Reservoir    5th April 2008

Ten members met at Arlington Reservoir lay-by on a cool, sunny morning. Peter showed us small-leaved elm at the roadise then we walked clockwise round the reservoir noticing ground ivy, thyme-leaved speedwell and bluebells. From the hide we saw a chiffchaff feeding on willow, about eight cormorants were on a small raft and a pair of grebes displaying closeby; Coming out of the hide a spotted woodpecker flew by. Along the wall we saw garden grape hyacinths and spring starflower, which must have come in with the soil.

 Peter showed us soft shield fern with a point on each pinnate. We didn't see the osprey  but it had been seen the day before.

Afterwards five of us who had brought thermos picnicked on the benches provided.

Janice Reynolds

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Reports
page updated 30th June 2012