In Search of Spring   30th March 2010

In spite of the inclement weather 8 members set out to hunt for signs of spring on a walk around Seaford Golf Course at East Blatchington. It was very wet underfoot so the planned route had to be altered. The cold weather has delayed spring and it was a challenge to find plants in flower. At the very start we saw sweet violets in profusion. A row of Cherry Plum at the start of the bridlepath, which would normally have been in flower by now, were just showing the first signs of bud burst. The flowers on these are typical bisexual flowers, with male and female parts on the same flower.

A little further on we found a single hazel, a rare sight in these parts. Hazel has separate male and female flowers on the same plant; the male flowers are the very visible catkins and the females are inconspicuous small red brush-like flowers. We found a female flower on a hazel a little further along on a branch overhanging the path from an adjacent garden. We passed under a Monterey Pine, which has large cones retained on the tree for a number of years. The seeds are only released after fire. Arum lily (Cuckoo Pint, Lords & Ladies) were present in profusion all along the path but were showing little signs of flower as yet. A few lesser celandine were in flower, the sun earlier in the day having brought them out as they were not in flower the day before.

On a field edge we found a number of goat willow trees. Willows are dioecious, bearing male and female flowers on separate plants – the ones we found were all female. Not far away was a stand of wild cherry. Along the field edge we saw both ivy-leaved speedwell (not yet in flower) and common field speedwell which was in flower. The rain had driven the birds into cover but a male kestrel appeared and posed on a fence post.Further along the path is a mown area in which bluebells and sheep’s sorrel (the latter having distinctive leaves) were evident. Hidden under the hawthorn scrub were harts tongue fern and male fern. A little further on we found some more violets which, on closer inspection were identified as hairy violet.

We searched for but could not find any evidence of the common dog violets which were present in such profusion last year. The gorse was in flower and we saw how the anthers are spring-loaded so that when an insect lands the pollen is thrown onto its body. Towards the top of the track we saw two aliens – garden escapes. Daffodils (just into flower) and winter heliotrope (flowering now over). As we turned into the golf course we saw buds on blackthorn not yet out but looking soon to blossom.We saw another dioecious tree – a holly but could find no flower buds; berries have not been seen so it is probably male. Bluebell leaves could be seen in profusion, so there is somewhere in Seaford where bluebells can be seen in May. The path runs through extensive scrub so that we were sheltered from the wind that had been blowing on our backs on the outward part of the walk. The recent warmth had brought out common chickweed all along the path edge and daisies and dandelions were also in flower.

Part way down the path was an extensive patch of climbing corydalis an uncommon plant of the fumitory family. Much of it was in flower. Further down were two goat willows which were known from last year to be one male and one female. Unlike the female seen earlier the catkins were still closed so we couldn’t appreciate the difference between them. As we approached the end of the walk we had a view of the trees seen at the start of the walk from a different perspective.

Chris Brewer

return to top


Firle Village   20th April 2010

After meeting 12 members and 2 visitors in the car park on a lovely sunny morning but with a nippy wind, we moved off across the playing fields to see slender speedwell, then into the village where growing between the walls and pavements was coltsfoot, grey field speedwell and white comfrey. In a section of the churchyard we saw butchers broom. Along the old coaching road, which ran from Lewes to Eastbourne, growing on the wall of the Firle estate was common calamint (not in flower). We also saw spurge laurel, a small bush which generally only grows on the chalk. After walking back through the park we took a detour to see butterbur, a garden escape but has been naturalized for many years. Some members had a pub lunch at the Ram afterwards.

Janice Reynolds

return to top


Abbots Wood   4th May 2010

The weather was rather cool, windy and mostly cloudy but it had not discouraged 18 members and a visitor from coming to this familiar location. The heavy rain which had spoiled the bank holiday weekend had ended and the forest tracks were mostly very dry underfoot. We used the clearly signed “Abbot’s Amble” trail with a side track in the hope of seeing some butterflies, making an easy level walk of about 3km.

Throughout the morning, we heard many birds singing but we concentrated on looking at flowers and trees. We were delighted to have the benefit of Peter Davys’s forestry expertise, from his long career with the Forestry Commission, including work in Abbot’s Wood. He helped us to identify several tree species, told us something of the management history, and explained his concern over the occurrence of cases of Sudden Oak Death.

A wide range of spring flowering plants could be seen, now rapidly catching up after the unusually cold and long winter. Bluebells were abundant but the famous blue “carpet” on the woodland floor was not yet at its peak. Almost as plentiful were wood anemone, lesser celandine, bugle, primrose, and common dog violet. In a few sites, the leaves of common spotted orchid had appeared.

Our detour from the main route was to search for the rare pearl bordered fritillary. This species was once common nationally, but changes in woodland management have led to its steep decline. Here, about 6 years ago, the Forestry Commission decided to re-introduce the species by actively managing a broad ride to create a suitable habitat. Volunteer rangers, including some of our members, cut back the encroaching scrub to encourage the growth of violets on which the larvae feed and a range of other flowers used by the adults. Alas, on this visit, we saw only one pearl bordered fritillary, and this was not actually in the managed area. We did hear of a recent report of large numbers in flight and feeding under more congenial weather conditions.

After the walk, some of us enjoyed a convivial lunch in the local pub.

Ruth Young

return to top


Ashdown Forest   18th May 2010

Ten members met together for an afternoon walk at Old Lodge Reserve, Ashdown Foreston on a chilly overcast day – which didn’t look too promising. Conditions underfoot were hard and dry on the open grassy areas. Willow warblers were quite plentiful together with one or two chiff-chaffs and whitethroats, and a pair of stonechats but no redstarts were to be seen. We made our way to the several ponds towards the northern fringe of the reserve but there was little invertebrate life to be seen apart from pond skaters (including a jumping species not noticeably larger than the others); there are I believe nine species in all the UK.

One or two back-swimmers/water boatmen were about and on the little stream a few rather lethargic whirligig beetles. No damsel or dragonflies and only one butterfly which was probably a small white. But what was absent in the animal world was more than offset by the beautiful fresh greens of the many trees on the reserve, particularly silver birch and beech against the darker shades of the pines. Among the plant community tormentil was common and we saw sheep sorrel, lousewort and petty whin.

The Exmoor ponies belonging to the Sussex Pony Grazing and Conservation Trust were eventually found (one of which provided good close-up photo opportunities) and we were able to see the foal born recently when the herd was still on Blackcap Hill. They are scheduled to remain on Old Lodge helping to tackle invasive purple moor grass and bracken until September depending upon weather conditions. Despite the unhelpful weather I feel we all enjoyed what we saw on a not too strenuous walk.

Mike Squires

return to top


Elm Trees - Alfriston   1st June 2010

About a dozen people attended the walk. We looked at three different elms by the church, English, Jersey and Huntingdon and later by Frog Firle we saw some Wych and Dutch elms.

Birds seen were a hobby which flew across the river in front of us and a heron. There were also quite a lot of swifts flying high overhead and a turtle dove was heard calling in a wood.

Flowers seen were hairy buttercup, cleavers, ragged robin, wood avens, hemlock water dropwort and holly. Chris found an orange tip butterfly egg on a garlic mustard plant that had changed colour from green to orange prior to hatching. That was a first for me.

Peter Davys

return to top


Whitbread Hollow   8th June 2010

There was some discussion about the name of this venue. On OS maps it is "Whitebread Hole", on local finger posts it is "Whitbread Hole", and is known as "Whitbread Hollow" by Sussex Ornithological Society and Seaford Natural History Society! So take your pick!

A goodly turnout of 21 members was rewarded by a sunny afternoon with a gentle breeze, after a rainy and windy morning. This was a lucky gap in the weather as it rained again on the journey back to Seaford. Anyone who wanted refreshments after the walk was unlucky as the cafe at the west end of Eastbourne seafront road was (very unusually) closed all afternoon, and the thatched venue in Helen Gardens was closed before 5 p.m.

The afternoon sun brought out the butterflies, day flying moths and other insects. A pair of wall browns was seen early on in the walk. There were reasonable numbers of common blues and small heaths about, along with a small copper butterfly and several speckled yellow moths. Silver Y moths with fast beating blurry wings occasionally stopped their blurring so the Ys could be seen.

There was abundant bird song but only a few birds were seen. A kestrel flew up to the hover, a meadow pipit sat in a tree and a solitary skylark soared and sang his heart out. Near the end of the walk there was a brief sighting of a jay. During the walk a pheasant and a green woodpecker were heard in the distance.

A large furry beasty was persuaded on to a walking pole for closer inspection and to pose for its photo. It was identified as the caterpillar of an oak eggar moth.

Amongst the flowering plants seen were white campion, bladder campion, yellow-rattle, eye bright, mignonette, sainfoin, burnet rose and milkwort.

Peter Hammond

return to top


Cuckmere Valley   22nd June 2010

Well, I truly blotted my copy-book! Not only did I arrive late, abandoning 8 children in Friston Forest with whom I had been orienteering, but we did not get back to the car park till 5.30pm! Alas this does not mean I am crossed off the list of walk leaders, just that I have to continue to lead till I get it right. In my defence, my work there with children is on behalf of the Wildlife Trust and I had offered people a chance to walk straight back along the concrete path from the Napoleonic wars well, but no-one took advantage of the offer.

Before we started I confessed that I was not sure what we would see as the lagoon had previously been allowed nearly to dry up, that I had not seen any orchids in the park, only the bee-orchid by the Visitor Centre, and that, though there was an area cordoned off on the shingle for the ringed plovers, I had not seen any evidence, lastly I said that though there was an electric fence protecting nesting redshanks, I had not seen anything there either. All I could promise would be skylarks. I counted 16 members out and 16 in, so at least among my misdemeanours, I did not lose any.

Among the flora, down on our knees we saw squinancy wort, fairy flax, thyme and milkwort. More easy to see, among the common flowers there were dropwort, hedge bedstraw, salad burnet. Larger still the two that are common at this time of year, houndstongue with its ‘Velcro-like’ seed-pods and vipers’ bugloss. Near the sea there were the slender thistle and curled dock with the sea kale all along the shingle. The only orchid was found by those at the back—a rather pathetic fragrant orchid: those who crossed the road to the Visitor Centre would have seen the bee orchid on the bank near the road.

There was a little too much southerly wind for us to see many butterflies or moths, and those we did see were difficult to name precisely, but there were skippers, male and female common blues, small heaths. We saw the caterpillars, chrysalis and adult burnet moth. We examined closely amazing peacock butterfly caterpillars. Lastly we twice saw a fritillary, but neither obligingly settled for us to identify.

There were birds, of course, and we were almost constantly serenaded by the skylarks. Flying over us there was a raven and a common egret. Unlike the previous week there were no swifts but swallows, including a swallow feeding a juvenile. We scanned the shingle for some minutes where the area is roped off for the ringed plover’s nests, but saw no sign of life. On an island in the lagoon an oyster-catcher seemed to be on nest with partner standing guard. The greatest treat of the day was just the landward side of the Second World War dragons teeth, on a post, near the electric fence for the redshanks’ nest, there was a redshank [a misnomer, surely, more orange than red] sitting on a post in the lagoon. It allowed us to get within about 40 feet of it before flying off with its characteristic white showing. Through the gate there was another feeding in the shallows. That one too flew up onto a post, and we soon realised that it was standing guard over a young one in the shallow and shelter of a side-creek.

Though we have frequently seen adders in the park this month, none was to be seen that day, maybe because there had been too many school parties earlier, but we made a detour to the dew-pond to see what state the tadpoles were in. As we were watching the froglets hopping through the damp grass a female emperor dragonfly flew over and obligingly settled on a stick in the water and started ovipositing her eggs directly into the water.

In all I think it was a good afternoon, the weather was wonderful, with a breeze to stop us getting overheated. Perhaps not as exciting as some other outings but we saw a great variety of fauna and flora.

Colin Pritchard

return to top


Cornish Farm   3rd July 2010

On a mild summer’s evening 8 members set off on a circular walk around land owned by Eastbourne Borough Council. We started at Belle Tout and walked East along the well-manicured paths that are found adjacent to the road. The first plant of note was the Belle-Tout lizard orchid, which is said to smell of billy goat.

We saw typical chalk downland plants including lady’s bedstraw, common and greater knapweed, dropwort, wild mignonette, thyme, yarrow, salad burnet, viper’s bugloss and also a patch of Dyer’s greenweed.

As we climbed north away from the road opposite Shooters Bottom the manicured paths ceased and we moved onto rougher tracks on less-visited parts of the downs. Cresting the first rise we came across a field of Soft Brome with a large number of common poppies in flower. Both here and the top of the next rise afforded magnificent views of the channel and Belle Tout lighthouse.

We dropped down from Long Down to Wigden’s Bottom to reach an area of unimproved chalk grassland which often sports a number of interesting plants. Although there had been a lack of rain we did find pyramidal orchids, fragrant orchids and at least 20 round-headed rampion, also known as The Pride of Sussex.

After passing through Cornish Farm we made our way back to Belle Tout noting the new track running up to the lighthouse and also saw a few of the white bee orchids to be found nearby.

Chris Brewer

return to top


Castle Hill LNR   13th July 2010

Some of the 17 attending members started from the designated meeting place, the LNR car park. The walk started by going up to the car park for Newhaven Fort to sweep up the people who had chosen to park there instead. It was interesting (after our evening lock-in three years ago!) to see the proliferation of notices reminding visitors that the car parks are locked at 7.30 p.m. Yours truly led then as well, which is why I chose an AFTERNOON this time!

The first of many marbled white butterflies were seen as the walk progressed along the western dry moat of the fort, until vistas of Seaford Bay and the harbour breakwaters appeared. Above us a fulmar glided lazily back and forth on characteristically stiff wings, in contrast to a paraglider quite low above us flying to and fro on characteristically floppy wing.

It was a steep walk up to the first gun emplacement where there was a very small amount of sea brome in a crack in the concrete base and a quantity of English or white stone crop - (nobody was sure which it was). There was also some goats beard.

At the second gun emplacement we walked past the coast watch tower (staffed by volunteers), recently improved with steel stairs inside and out to replace the original vertical access ladders, and the building is now covered with brick-red render to protect the original brickwork and badly eroded grouting in this very exposed location.

Further downhill behind the tower the local surface geology results in acid and alkaline soils occurring together, so tormentil and salad burnet are both found here. There is also creeping cinquefoil, wood sage, betony and gorse. The tormentil and creeping cinquefoil produce hybrids. There is abundant rosebay (willowherb) threatening to encroach into this interesting area, but vigorous management should hopefully keep it under control.

Also in this area there were a number of funnel webs, showing up well with raindrops on them. One of the spiders aggressively attacked a grass stem poked into its funnel entrance. I have identified this spider as Agelena labyrinthica from my poor photo. It has a distinctive pale "herring bone" pattern on the brown abdomen.

A short distance from this area, off the main path, an artificial pond has been constructed using a liner. Two goldfishes appeared soon after it was filled - there are now eight! Attempts to catch them have failed, but with the current low water level a further attempt may be made. Around the pond water plantain and flowering rush have been planted, and a wild flower mix sown. A small skipper was seen during the return to the main path.

There was a choice of a shorter or slightly longer route back to the LNR car park and the end of the walk. Most people chose the longer route.

Peter Hammond

return to top


Abbots Wood Ferns   24th July 2010

Twelve folk attended the meeting on a lovely not too hot a day mainly to look at the various ferns, of which we saw bracken with its smooth stems, broad buckler with its dark scales near the base of the stems, narrow buckler with its pale scales and nearby the hard fern with its fish skeleton appearance.

Also seen was male fern with its rounded pinnacles contrasting with the soft shield fern with its attenuated pinnacles. Lastly we saw lady fern with its delicate foliage and kidney shaped spore covers. There were three other species in the wood but we did not have enough time to see them unfortunately.

Flowers out that we saw were enchanter’s nightshade, musk mallow with its very divided leaves, gypsywort, wood pimpernel, cinquefoil, teasel, burdock, water plantain, common and water figworts, hedge parsley, wood dock and wood melick. Flote grass by the dried up pond. Butterflies seen were silver washed fritillary, specklewood, holly blue, red admiral, peacock, marbled white and gatekeeper.

Peter Davys

return to top


High & Over and Cradle Valley   3rd August 2010

28 members gathered at High and Over car park on a bright but breezy afternoon to look for butterflies and wild flowers.

In the corner of the car park was a red star thistle in flower. This plant is nationally scarce but can be seen along the Cuckmere Valley. As we dropped down from the Car Park we had tremendous views along the Cuckmere where clearance of scrub last winter has opened up the vistas.

Although it was breezy, the old bostal provides some shelter and butterflies were in profusion, in particular common blues and chalkhill blues.

After crossing the road (potentially hazardous with such a large group!) we dropped into Cradle Valley, a SSSI owned by the National Trust and a haven for wild flowers and butterflies. Part of the valley is home to the uncommon Silver-spotted Skipper, at the northern end of its range it Southern Britain. It is supposed to favour sunny south-facing slopes but evidently the local ones haven’t read the books as the slope here is essentially north-facing. In spite of the strong breeze we did find a number of these butterflies and I think that all 28 of us saw at least one. There were also meadow browns, gatekeepers, common blues and chalkhill blues on the slopes.

As we had botanists amongst us it was inevitable that at some point we would be down on hands and knees to look at something – this time is was Janice showing us bastard-toadflax a nationally scarce plant with tiny white flowers.

An early sighting of a pyramidal orchid by one or two members who wandered away from the main path was dismissed by the leader who said that there was a much better collection further along the path. Memory plays tricks, however, and, when we reached the place where I thought they were, there were none to be seen. However, further along the path in a small clearing hidden from view until very close were 30 or more magnificent specimens.

The climb out of the valley goes through blackthorn scrub, somewhat overgrown in places and necessitating the use of secateurs to clear the way. A little higher is a patch of many 10’s of deadly nightshade and we were lucky enough to find them in flower, with unripe fruits and with large, shiny ripe black fruits. Towards the top of the climb, the path has been cleared and looking back down the hill there are now views of the valley and hills towards Alfriston.

The walk back to the car park passé through a field which is part of Frog Firle Farm and which was previously arable land but was re-sown in 1991 to provide pasture for sheep and cattle. The dominat grass is crested dog’s tail and there are disappointingly few butterflies. However, the gorse on the path edge offered a number of funnel-web spiders webs complete with spiders and at a convenient height for viewing.

Chris Brewer

return to top


Alfriston Bat Walk   7th August 2010

About 22 people, including one child, met Charlie Dwight, the leader of the walk, in the Willows car park, Alfriston at 8.30 pm. She explained that Sussex is fortunate in having all 17 of the species of bats in the country. New legislation has meant that although some species are still declining some have stabilised.

She handed out several bat detectors set to 45 kilohertz throughout the group and after a few minutes waiting for it to become darker we set off. At first the bat detectors were only detecting grasshoppers and it was not until 9.10pm that we heard the common pipistrelle near the Clergy House. Later on we heard the common pipistrelle again.

Nearer the river Charlie got those with detectors to tune them to 19 kHz so that we could hear the noctule bat. After this we made our way towards the Tye and retuned to 45 kHz again.

Charlie explained that there is a large colony of seratine bats at the church but we were only able to pick up one on the detectors and certainly none was seen. Charlie was concerned about this and said that she would be checking this out. She also said she had never known it to be so quiet. It was agreed, however, that this was probably on account of the noise and bright lights from a disco at the church hall and a party nearby. On returning to the White Bridge, however, we were fortunate in hearing a daubenton’s bat. Although bat activity was disappointing, the evening proved to be enjoyable and informative.

Susan Painter

return to top


Seaford Head and Cuckmere Haven   24th August 2010

18 members and one visitor met at South Barn for what has become the annual walk at our local Nature Reserve. Fortunately the rain had stopped, although it was still very windy, but warm. We walked eastwards with the amazing views of the Seven Sisters ahead of us, then down Hope Valley with tall flowering wild parsnip on either side of the path and red bartsia and wild basil at our feet.

At Hope Gap we admired the rare Moon Carrot (seseli libanotis). The general opinion was that it wasn’t as prolific as last year but it had spread over a larger area. It was very low growing generally apart from one plant which was flowering through and above a small shrub. We went down the steps at Hope Gap, chatted and, of course, took in the views.

Then we walked past the Coastguard Cottages, where we saw weld, down to the Cuckmere estuary. Whilst one member paddled, others bird watched, and with the help of Janice, Wendy and Chris, the rest of us identified lesser sea-spurrey, glasswort and annual sea-blite amongst other plants. Another lovely walk.

Diana Swaysland

return to top


Birling Gap - Birds   7th September 2010

Birdwatchers tend to be a fairly philosophical breed – they need to be, given the nature of their chosen pursuit and its dependence on the vagaries of weather, wind direction and migration patterns. The truth of this proposition soon became painfully apparent to the nineteen brave souls who participated in the ‘bird walk’ around Birling Gap and the Belle Tout plantation on 7 September 2010 in rather blustery conditions. Indeed, as someone who goes birding virtually every day during the spring and autumn migration seasons, I must confess that while I have experienced many quiet days and a fair number of extremely quiet days, rarely (if ever) have I ever seen so few birds in three hours during what is supposedly the best migration period of the entire year in Sussex!

In the event, a total of 20 species was recorded. In many ways, the best sighting was a single Corn Bunting perched all too briefly on the top of bush near the car park; a once common species in this area but today a depressingly rare sight. Most disappointing was the lack of migrant species and the extremely small numbers of those species which were present - as demonstrated by the fact that we recorded only three Common Whitethroat, two Chiff Chaff, two Willow Warbler and singletons of Lesser Whitethroat and Blackcap. For all that, however, spirits remained high and the mood of good-humoured acceptance was bolstered by the spectacular sight of a lawn covered with the diminutive white flowers of the Autumn Ladies Tresses orchid and the presence of reasonable number of the striking Adonis Blue butterfly mingled with the Common Blue and Chalkhill Blue. Odonata also played their part in providing some interest with excellent views of several Migrant Hawker while the discovery of a colourful Hornet Mimic Hoverfly, Volucella zonaria by one eagle-eyed participant was a treat for those lucky enough to see this once extremely rare insect.

Bob Self

return to top


Arlington Village   21st September 2010

17 members met in Arlington village car park on a fine sunny and warm morning for a circular walk.

We started through the churchyard across three fields to the river Cuckmere where we saw the invasive Himalayan Balsam in flower along the bank. We then walked through three more fields which have permitted footpaths into two new tree plantations, which are about 12 years old and saw some lovely spindle berries. Arriving in a lane we turned left to Bates Green Farm where we turned right across three more fields, the last one planted with sweet corn fodder to find the two Fluellens growing together, sharp-leaved and round-leaved along with Cockspur and Bristle grass (2 aliens). After one more field we arrived back in the village.

Also seen was a red kite, spotted woodpecker and a chiffchaff along with a speckled wood and comma butterfly.

Janice Reynolds

return to top


Pre-Roman Settlements Jevington   2nd October 2010

On a rather damp afternoon, 21 members set off for a walk led by Graham Kean in search of signs of pre-Roman settlements. During the Old Stone Age between 10 – 12,000 years ago the ice age ended and the dry hanging valleys of the Seven Sisters were formed. Palaeolithic people were hunter s and gatherers of shell fish and nuts in very small groups of about 50 but did not build or make tools. They moved north as the ice thawed.

The Middle Stone Age - Mesolithic – came next between 8,500 – 4,000 BC. Perhaps there would have been one extended family in each river valley. They followed rivers through woodlands as it was the only accessible route. They hunted animals which came to the river for water. Old Stone Age axes were replaced by knapped thin (see-through) flint tools; sometimes the flints were mounted in rows on a branch or used singly in a spear.

Around 4,000BC in the New Stone Age there was a great change. Early Neolithic people stopped wandering and settled - developed agriculture and had a sense of place – and began to build monuments and other permanent features. At Combe Hill, two rings of earth banks and ditches with gaps, was constructed around 3,400BC - “Causeway camp”. This was not defensive and the white chalk mounds were highly visible from valleys. Perhaps it was used as a market place. People began producing articles such as polished flint axes which would not have been of any practical use but perhaps had a ceremonial use. At the end of this era the community were building monuments that outsiders would come to visit using ancient tracks like the South Downs Way.

During the Bronze Age from 2,000 – 1,000BC people discovered how to make bronze tools using carved wooden moulds. They constructed round barrows for individual burials. Bodies were placed in the foetal position facing east with grave-goods such as beakers and jewellery indicating a belief in the afterlife. There are several hundred intact in Sussex but the two mounds we saw were plundered by Victorians (hence dip in top). Earlier barrows were long and communal.

During the Iron Age – from 600BC – iron making began, probably coming from Germany. There was population growth and a lot of the Downs was cleared, terraced and made into square fields using ridges, for ploughing with iron plough. Settlements were becoming more defensive – Cissbury Ring accommodated residents and animals of Worthing. Mount Caburn was fortified against the Romans.

At Jevington’s Saxon church we saw Roman tiles in its tower so there must have been a villa nearby, but this has yet to be discovered. On this tantalising point the walk ended. It was a fascinating and enjoyable glimpse into the past.

Jenny Wistreich & Susan Painter

return to top


Romany Ridge Fungi   26th October 2010

p>There had been a long dry period followed by frosts which meant that we could expect few fungi and those fungi that had dared to show were likely to be difficult or impossible to identify. To add to this unpromising prospect the weather was overcast and significant rainfall was forecast for the afternoon. And the meeting place was some distance from Seaford. It was enough to test the enthusiasm of anyone. But Seaford Natural History members are an intrepid bunch and 11 members and a visitor (from East Grinstead Natural History Society) appeared for our annual fungus foray with Rosalie Sinclair-Smith.

The weather, especially during the walk, was not conducive to note-taking - making paper wet and even pencil was not reliable.

As usual Rosalie was well prepared and brought along a selection of fungi we might have expected to find in the vicinity to show us before the walk itself. So most of what I write is what Rosalie described before we set off.

First was the familiar red fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), a member of the poisonous Amanita family which was once used as a fly killer (by putting bits into a saucer of milk). A more deadly member, a death cap (or destroying angel) Amanita phalloides was next - recently found at nearby Marksteaks Lane, a site we may visit in the future. Rosalie showed us the ring on the stem (Stipe) and the remnants on the cap both arising from the characteristic veil. They all have white spores, which is why taking a spore print is a useful identification aid.

Next were earth balls and puff balls both of which eject spores, but each with a different mechanism for releasing the spores. Earth balls split when mature spilling out the spores; puff balls have a single opening through which spores are ejected into the air currents on contact with, for example, a rain drop. Rosalie related that in the past this had been exploited to produce smoke in school plays.

Plums and Custard (Tricholomopsis decora), so called because it is red and yellow, is known on the Common and Rosalie had a fine example.

One fungus probably familiar to many is the Parasol mushroom – there are a number of these. Rosalie had an example of the shaggy parasol (Chlorophyllum rhacoides formerly Macrolepiota rhacoides). The Parasol (Macrolepiota procera) which is found around Seaford - for example on Seaford (Blatchington) golf course - is distinguished by having snakeskin-like markings on the stalk (actually called the stipe).

Boletus (which we would have expected in abundance in most years but not on this visit) do not have gills but are sponge-like underneath.

A Russula (now known as a brittlegills) Blackening brittlegill (Russula nigricans)(is also common in the area.

Milk caps (Lactarius species), which looks similar to Boletus, can be distinguished by bleeding milk when cut, which Rosalie demonstrated by cutting the gills, and by the fact that it turns purple when washing soda is put on the cap.

Fungi can have interesting odours and Rosalie passed round a funnel cap, Aniseed funnel (Clitocybe odora) for us to smell.

Spindleshank (Collybia fusipes) is so called because the stem (stipe) is spindleshaped making it easy to identify.

We were tested by being shown a jellified egg, which no-one could identify and which turned out to be the early stage of a stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus).

Next was White saddle (Helvela crispa) the commonest of the saddle-shaped fungi and King Alfred’s cakes (Daldinia concentrica) often found on Ash and which is sometimes used as tinder.

Birch bracket (Birch polyphore or Razorstrop fungus – Piptoporus betulinus) was locally common as here were many birch trees around. It has been used as arazorstrop, cork, for making paper and cleaning church brass, being like chamois leather.

Blushing bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa), found on willow, characteristically blushes red when bruised – it has pores rather than gills.

Finally Rosalie had an example of the field birds nest fungus (Cyalus olla) a cup-shaped fungus containing minute flattened spheres

Having listened attentively to Rosalie’s introduction we set of to walk the common.

The wind and rain had added further challenges as many of those fungi to be seen were covered in leaves. We first came across a lone Mycena (bonnet) in the lush grass –there are more than 100 of these and which family alas not further identifiable. Then a single blackening Russula (or brittlegill) – one of the 100 most common fungi in the UK (according to Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms and Toadstools).

More fruitful were the trunks of the felled trees, mainly silver birch, which were located throughout the common. We saw both a bracket fungus, Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor/Coriolus versicolur) and a crust, Hairy Curtain Crust (Stereum hirsutum) - both top 100 fungi. The underside of former is white and has pores whereas the latter is smooth and yellow-brown and has a velvety upperside with short hairs.

Rosalie mentioned that orange peel fungus (Aleuria aurantia) was known in the area but she had seen none this year. Initial excitement that we might have found it was dashed when it turned out to be real orange peel. However, towards the end of the walk we found a number of patches much to Rosalie’s delight.

There were the remains of bonfires where the trees had been felled – a potentially fruitful location for fungi – we found a number but alas Jack Frost had made identification impossible.

On a fallen willow we came across a blushing bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa) another top 100 fungus which goes a reddish colour when the underside is pressed.

Here notes become almost illegible but we also came across a few Spindleshank, Peniophora quercina (growing on fallen oak), Birch bracket (Birch polyphore Piptoporus betulinus) another top 100 fungus, yellow brain fungus (Tremella mesenterica) another top 100 fungus, Earth balls (probably common earthball Sclerodermacitrinum) another top 100 fungus, The Deceiver (Laccaria laccata) another top 100 fungus, one of the Honey fungus (a group of fungi from the genus Armillaria), one with a crazed top which Rosalie had not seen before and didn’t recognize and The Miller (Clitopilus prunulus).

It had rained quite persistently towards the end of the walk so we reached the car park rather wet and cold but feeling that the trip to Chailey had been well worthwhile.

Chris Brewer

return to top


Montague Farm   23rd November 2010

This was our first late-year visit to Montague Farm where 20 members were greeted by Martin Hole.

In what seems to be a theme this year he started by saying he hoped we would not be disappointed as many of the winter birds had yet to make an appearance.

He then gave us an introductory talk explaining that he ran the farm as a nature reserve and a beacon farm for the area, which he was paid to do. This steady income enables him to run the farm as with a lower density of livestock and allows for habitat regeneration and wildlife diversity.

He first took us down to Hankham Level, where we walked through some of the fields with Pevensey Castle on one side and, further away, Herstmonceau Observatory on the other. Here we saw (or heard) swans, robin, lapwing, gulls (common and herring), snipe, comorant, wren and meadow pipits. Unexpectedly, we also saw a mink making its way along one of the drainage ditches.

While some of the party moved on to Horse Eye Farm in the landrover, the second group walked along the banks of Pevensey Haven to await the landrovers return. We came across redwings and fieldfares feeding on the haws and a bullfinch.

While being taken to Horse Eye Farm we had a good view of a kingfisher first sitting on a post and then flying along a drainage ditch. On the farm we saw flocks of lapwing with among then a single smaller bird, possibly a ruff, and saw a golden plover flying with more lapwing. Two small waders kept still with their backs to us making identification a challenge but the final conclusion was that they were dunlin. Two widgeon flew over and landed and there were noisy Canada geese in the background.

We returned to the farm with rumbling stomachs it being rather past lunchtime but having had an enjoyable morning.

Chris Brewer

return to top

page updated 30th June 2012