3rd April 2012 - High & Over/Cradle Valley

Although the weather forecast had not been encouraging 22 members turned out for the first outdoor walk of 2012.

The initial walk around the top of High and Over, a distance of no more than about ¼ mile, revealed a number of plants in flower including typical early spring flowers such as sweet violet, lesser celandine, ground ivy, blackthorn and a single early bluebell. There were also some non-native plants including daffodils, hyacinth and primula as well as a pear tree and a little further down a horse chestnut tree neither of which one would expect to find on the downs.

Along the old bostal a profusion of hairy violets were on display. Towards the bottom a patch of slender speedwell was found, another plant not expected in this habitat. A patch of white sweet violets was still in flower close to the road.

On the far side of the Alfriston Road at the top of Cradle Valley were both hairy violets in profusion and the first signs of the many cowslips of which one or two were just in flower.

The sun came out just as we reached the dew pond which was sheltered from the wind prompting and opportunity for a sit-down and a little early sunbathing. The pond was teeming with tadpoles but there was no sign of the palmate newts seen at this time last year.

On the far side of the valley the first vines had been planted on the Rathfinny Estate and we spent a little time watching metal stakes being put in place and tied in.

Gorse was in flower and as it was sunny I was able to demonstrate how the stamens are on a spring so that when an insect lands on the bottom petals (the keel) the stamens are released throwing pollen upwards. Climbing up the hill we passed more hairy violets, which under the scrub were larger than those in the open grassland. There is also a large number of Deadly Nightshade growing along the path which although not in flower are readily recognizable.

Towards the top of the path where the steps have been replaced was a single common dog violet, an area of bluebells and a number of early purple orchids (not yet if flower).

The Comp (the track along the ridge back towards the car park) is a good area for butterflies. Just as we were noting that none were in evidence a white butterfly flew past. Speculation was that it was a small white but it settled long enough to be studied and revealed as a green-veined white.

The walk back to the car park was along the recently ploughed and re-sown pasture which is intended to improve the quality of the grazing and to provide improved habitat for birds in autumn.

Chris Brewer

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17th April 2012 – Herstmonceux

The forecast for my Herstmonceux walk on April 17th wasn’t good, with heavy rain and winds clearing by midday and that was what happened. Six people arrived so off we went. Except for three fields to walk across we were in woodland, so it wasn’t too bad. The bluebells were hardly showing due to the cold dry weather earlier in the year.

First we saw false oxslip on the roadside. On entering the wood, Chris spotted some spring beauty which I believe is quite rare in Sussex, then one flower of climbing corydalis before crossing the first two fields with the wind behind us.

In the next wood are some lovely very old sweet chestnuts and at the pond were some water violet leaves and horsetail spikes. After passing the invasive shallon, we saw some hard and broad buckler ferns. On our way back we saw some more spring beauty and lots of dog violets on the path edge, by which time it had stopped raining. We had a lovely view of the castle before we climbed a short slope to a dry area to see common forget-me-nots and changing forget-me-not where the petals change from cream to blue as the flower opens.

Before finishing we had a wander round the church and churchyard and had a lovely view of the South Downs between Eastbourne and Lewes although partly hidden by a heavy shower.

Janice Reynolds

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1st May 2012 - Whitbread Hollow

I was much relieved when there was no revolt from the nineteen members present when I announced that we would NOT be going down to Cow Gap and the seashore. I considered some of the steps cut into the path to be a little too awkward to negotiate, especially considering the amount of rain there had been. We were fortunate, for after a dull morning we had a sunny afternoon with just a light breeze.

Soon after setting off from the refreshment kiosk a few dingy skippers were seen, followed by a solitary small copper. On alexanders there were jet-black St Mark's flies, whose legs dangle in flight. Several whitethroats and a lot of jackdaws and magpies were about. As we approached the school sports field at Whitbread Hollow a weasel appeared ahead of us. It remained stationary for a while and then moved forward and disappeared down a small hole in the middle of the path. A solitary swift whistled past and then a red kite was spotted above Beachy Head - but this one was being flown on the end of a string.

Beyond Whitbread Hollow there were good signs of cowslips as we turned away from the coast for the return route round the back of Whitbread Hollow. A wheatear had been seen on the way out and better views were obtained on the way back. There was also a redstart in the same area. Back near the kiosk there was a robin, and a speckled wood was flitting about inside the wooded area.

Also seen were:- Green alkanet, herb-robert, grey speedwell, bird's-foot-trefoil, salad burnet, sea radish, buttercup, wild onion (or crow garlic) (Allium vineale), common milkwort, common vetch, colt's-foot, garlic mustard, common speedwell. A domestic apple tree in blossom and glaucous sedge.

Peter Hammond

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29th May 2012 – Friston Forest

Seventeen of us met up on a lovely day in the car park off the Litlington road. We followed the path marked with patches of sawdust which led to the heronry, which was also being used by little egrets.

Along the way quite a number of plants were seen in flower such as wood avens and four different types of speedwell, namely wood, wall, germander and thyme-leaved. White helleborines in flower were also seen in abundance, as were long stalked cranesbill, houndstongue, mignonette, twayblade, and fringecups (a garden escape). However what turned out to be the highlight of the walk for many was the finding of a rare plant, a single pheasant’s eye in flower. Chris Brewer remarked that he had been looking for it for years at this location but that before today he had not seen it.

During the walk herons could be heard and little egrets could be seen nesting in the trees.

Ferns seen were male and harts tongue and the following varieties of butterflies were spotted: dingy skipper, common blue and speckled wood. Also seen was a broad bodied chaser and finally on West Dean pond a hawker dragonfly was seen.

Peter Davys

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12th June 2012 – Seven Sisters Country Park

Two stalwarts turned up in the rain to “Dip” in the Wildlife Trust’s pond in Friston Forest. It continued to rain all the time we were dipping, but we enjoyed ourselves; perhaps we could organise another session. Apart from ramshorn snails most of what we found was very small at a few millimetres.

Newt tadpole, whirligig beetle, dragonfly larva, freshwater shrimp, phantom mosquito larva, water boatman, both common and lesser, mayfly larva and other fly larva.

Then, shortly before we packed up we fished out a good sized hawker dragonfly nymph.

It was still raining after lunch for the “walk”. Three of us decided on a more energetic short walk. To get the best view of the valley we walked to the top of the hill to the stone commemorating the old village of Exceat [Excete]. The rain briefly stopped as we walked through the meadow flowers but began again when we reached the valley. There was one bee orchid with two flowers well down the valley at the bottom of the bank beside the fence. To get the greatest variety of habitat we crossed the rabbit-cropped grass near the sea to the vegetative shingle.

Half way across the valley we saw a similar group to ours, similarly examining flowers in detail. We discovered it was the regular survey by Sussex University of our vegetative shingle habitat.

Maybe next year we can have another chance of pond-dipping and hope for better weather.

Colin Pritchard

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26th June 2012 – Old Lodge Ashdown Forest

It was a bright and breezy afternoon when twenty members, three of whom had also walked in the morning, met for the walk. Old Lodge is an area of lowland heath of about 60 hectares managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust, which has extensive dry heathland vegetation and numerous wet flushes and small streams. Native pine and birch wooded areas, which include some rowan and beech trees, cover much of the centre, and a certain amount of clearing has taken place to allow heather to regenerate. Bracken remains a problem and much continues to be removed.

We had hoped to see Exmoor ponies grazing the grassy areas but none was to be found on the reserve, but some were seen on neighbouring MOD land. Bell heather and cross-leaved heather were just coming into flower, and several heath-spotted orchids were seen together with cotton grass. Birds included hobby, tree-pipit, woodlark, tree creeper and stonechat. Several red and blue damselfly species were seen also an emperor dragonfly and a pair of broad-bodied chasers. Very few butterflies were about apart from two or three small heaths. One of our number saw a herd of about twenty fallow deer on the edge of a wooded area.

Mike Squires

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10th July 2012 – Rowlands Wood & Park Corner Heath

Setting off from Seaford on a cool and showery morning didn’t engender optimism for the prospect of many butterflies on our first visit to Rowlands Wood, the new 80 acre Butterfly Conservation (BC) reserve adjacent to the familiar 8 acre Park Corner Heath reserve of small pearl-bordered fritillary fame. However, our guide for the morning, Michael Blencowe, is always well prepared for all eventualities and did not disappoint the 16 members who risked the elements to see the new reserve.

Although the sun had briefly appeared when I first arrived, by the time we were starting the tour down came the first heavy shower. Undaunted Michael introduced us to the reserve, gave some history of Rowlands Wood, commented on the limited wildlife value of dense pine plantations which the wood comprised when acquired by BC told us of the plans to convert the site back to an open woodland more suited to butterflies and other wildlife. All the while exploiting one of the few benefits of a pine stand which provided shelter from the rain.

Off we went towards a newly created open area where Michael assured us that, with a bit of sun, White Admirals would be seen. He evidently has a magic wand as thereupon the sun shone and two white admirals appeared, one seeing off a red admiral, together with meadow browns, a ringlet, speckled wood and silver-washed fritillary. We also saw an emperor dragonfly a harbinger of the lake we were later to visit.

Michael then led us to the centre of the reserve where stands a venerable beech tree left in place as a marker from when the original wood was converted to pine plantation in the mid-twentieth century. Here Michael had two moth traps ready to open, he having cleverly set them up the previous evening to ensure we saw some form of Lepidoptera if the weather wasn’t conducive to butterflies.

Michael demonstrated his encyclopaedic knowledge of moths by proceeding to reel off a seemingly endless list of the moths in the traps. I couldn’t write fast enough to catch all the names but among the many poplar hawk moth, large emerald, common emerald, Beautiful golden Y, scorched wing, great oak beauty, green silver lines, July high flyer and scalloped hazel appealed to me. Definitely not seen was the Lewes Wave, the initial reason for the reserve being established but long extinct in the UK .

Michael then took us to the large pond, man-made originally for duck shooting, where many damsel flies were in evidence. By this time most of us had lost all sense of direction, the possibility of being lost in the 80 acres being compounded by Michael saying that there were parts of the reserve he had yet to visit. But reassurance was at hand as we came to the familiar public footpath adjacent to Park Corner Heath reserve and we were back on familiar territory. The bracken has taken off with all the rain but Michael explained that it was beneficial as it protected the violets on which the small pear bordered fritillary depends – without it the area would revert to grass and the violets lost.

The tour was punctuated by members being posed for photographs by a Spanish photographer visiting Michael for the week and wanting to take photos of enthusiastic naturalists indulging their passion. We await the results with interest!

Michael has evidently taken on board that some of us like plants for, in addition to telling us about some relatively rare plants in the ephemeral pond on Park Corner Heath, he pointed out a lesser butterfly orchid, a rarity in Sussex – it was safely within a cage and we queued to view it in pairs.

As in previous years It was a rewarding visit to a Butterfly Conservation reserve that was well worth the journey.

Chris Brewer

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24 July 2012 – Bopeep

With temperatures in the mid-twenties, a clear blue sky and just a light breeze, 22 members and 4 visitors assembled for this short but very enjoyable amble from Bopeep car park. Good company, fine weather, flowers, butterflies, birds and views; what more could one ask for?

As people arrived a man was mowing the grass alongside the South Downs Way. This odd behaviour was later explained, as he was clearing the tall grass from an overflow parking area for the hang glider fraternity who use this part of the Downs. He said he had built the first hang glider in this country and flown it from Ditchling Beacon in 1971.

Before the start of the walk a kestrel hovered in the distance over the scarp slope, and dragonflies flitted about the car park. As we proceeded down the road several marbled whites and a red admiral were seen. A roar was heard approaching and then a very large tractor travelling quite fast appeared round the uphill bend. People took to the sides of the road. The common spotted orchids were almost over by now, and there was only one flower on the long-time naturalised pinks, mainly just showing patches of their glaucous green leaves.

As we walked downhill on the road there were more marbled whites and other butterflies. The group became spread out as various flowers took people's interests. There was a pause at the gate to the uphill off-road section of the walk for the group to bunch up a bit. Soon after we passed through the gate a yellowhammer was heard above us on the hill, but was never spotted against the glare from the sun.

Further up the sunken track another yellowhammer was heard downhill. By climbing on to the raised edge of the track it was possible to see this one clearly, on the top branches of a small tree not too far away. As we approached the gate at the top of the hill a patch of harebells was spotted, and nearer the gate was another patch. People paused near the gate to drink in the view of the patchwork of fields in the Weald. Arlington reservoir appeared to be quite full.

We crossed to the South Downs Way, trying not to disturb the contented hot sheep lying on the ground. The silvery roof of the Newhaven Energy Recovery Facility (Incinerator) was just visible in the distance.

It was a short stroll back to the car park. Under the prevailing circumstances the group had become very strung out and widely dispersed, so it was some time before everyone was back. While we waited at the cars a group of three kestrels was seen and a large emperor dragonfly kept quartering the car park.

Many thanks to those (including the mower man), who ensured that everyone returned securely. In his haste to assist the mower man locked himself out of his live-in van. He borrowed a penknife to recover his spare key hidden under the van.

Other sightings (Not Exhaustive): - The strange sight of a short grass straw flying erratically through the air, and then found to be in the grasp of a small bee(?)!

Skippers (probably small), meadow brown, blues (probably common), burnet moth.

Lady’s bedstraw, agrimony, self heal, rosebay willowherb, hedge bedstraw, viper's bugloss, field gentian, squinancywort, eyebright, dwarf thistle, musk thistle.

Peter Hammond

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7th August 2012 – Rodmell

Over twenty members and friends met me at Rodmell on a fine windy day to walk down to the river Ouse, then along the river bank to Southease bridge and up the lane to the village, past the church and back to Rodmell along a new permissive footpath avoiding the busy road.

Leaving Rodmell all the ditches were very overgrown with fool’s watercress and reeds. Along the river bank some meadow browns were seen, two rare plants, slender hare’s-ear and lesser centaury were in flower along with some blue patches of bush vetch. In the ditch going up to Southease were the large leaves of water dock and spikes of marsh horsetail.

Between Southease and Rodmell some dragonflies were seen along with some wayside and arable plants. In a sheltered spot on this stretch quite a number of crickets were also noticed. Very few birds were seen however.

Janice Reynolds

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28th August 2012 – Seaford Head/Cuckmere Haven

It was a lovely warm sunny but windy day as 23 of us including several visitors gathered at South Barn in the Seaford Head Nature Reserve, for what has become our annual walk to Cuckmere Haven.

We took our usual route down to Hope Gap, seeing lots of wild basil, hedge mustard, wormwood, deadly and woody night shade, weld and burdock. The wild parsnip, which was very short last year after the dry summer, was this year a metre high. We saw small tortoiseshell and common blue butterflies and the unmistakeable black and orange stripped caterpillar of the cinnabar moth on ragwort. In the open area by Hope Gap we saw robin’s pincushion (a gall on a rose), eyebright, carline thistle, teasel, and a few clustered bell flowers. We climbed up at the side of Hope Gap to see the rare moon carrot (seseli libanotis), devil’s bit scabious, betony and milkwort. Walking towards the Coastguard Cottages we saw yellow horn poppies at the cliff edge which I couldn’t remember seeing before. Also the autumn gentians had started to flower; last year they were still in bud.

By the Cuckmere estuary we saw a little egret, black headed gulls and a cormorant. In and by the marshy area we saw common fleabane, sea mayweed, glasswort (called samphire in the restaurant trade), lesser sea spurry, sea milkwort and orache.

As always, thanks to Janice, Wendy and Chris with identification.

Diana Swaysland

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18th September – Birling Gap

Undaunted by my rather mixed record of success and failure over the past three years, 29 members gathered in the Birling Gap car park at 10.00am with the hope of seeing a few migrants either just leaving for sunnier climes or arriving for the winter. Unfortunately, dreams of a Beachy Head for once alive with all the usual warblers and flycatchers of autumn were somewhat dampened by the strong westerly wind which had been blowing all night and which was encouraging those birds which were still left in the area (after a major exodus on Sunday night) to stay low in the bushes and out of sight. Even less promising was that this had generally been an early and unimpressive autumn passage so far and the migration was rapidly dwindling to a far smaller trickle than is usual for mid-September. Notwithstanding these unpropitious conditions, members of the SNHS are made of sterner stuff and not easily discouraged – which was fortunate in the circumstances!

The outing actually began extremely well. Having crossed the road to the set-aside field we obtained reasonable views of several small parties of linnets, stonechats and a couple of much larger flocks of mixed finches but (typically) there was no sign whatsoever of either the yellow wagtails or the corn bunting which had showed so brazenly during the early morning reconnaissance walk. But then, just in the nick of time, spirits were raised by the spectacle of a peregrine flying low and almost overhead carrying a prey item in its talons before it was eventually lost to sight as it dropped down behind the cliff. In some ways most interesting about this observation was quite simply the demonstration of the sheer size and power of a peregrine because on closer observation the ostensibly small prey item was actually a pigeon – yet it appeared to be dwarfed by its captor. Moreover, the real disparity in size was reduced by the fact that this was a male peregrine which, as we all know, is substantially smaller than the female. All of this merely confirms the old adage that if you only think you’ve seen a peregrine then you probably haven’t.

On towards the Plantation below Belle Tout but the bushes along the windswept path produced very little beyond fleeting views of willow warbler, common whitethroat and a couple of ‘ticking’ blackcaps which never showed themselves. The wood was equally quiet and soon abandoned in the hope that the more sheltered eastern edge would produce something (anything!) whether in the shape of butterflies, dragonflies, flora – or even a decent view of a bird of any sort. Fortunately, at this juncture some activity on the horizon towards Cornish farm gave us brief views of a kestrel and a hobby both going through the flocks of goldfinches and starlings in the fields – although it took a mobile phone call to a friend much closer to the action to confirm the sighting of the hobby such was the distance involved!

Between the Plantation and the bottom of the Belle Tout entrance road very little more showed itself beyond a single reed warbler (which would have been a nice bonus but it was seen by relatively few participants) and a lesser whitethroat which proved a little more obliging but all too briefly. Just as we turned to go back, the only wheatear of the day suddenly flashed past us to provide some seasonal colour. After this, however, it was all downhill in birding terms although there was a redeeming moment when a large female sparrowhawk flew across the set aside field as we approached the car park. Despite contending with difficult conditions, we still ended up recording 43 species of bird in three hours, plus several common darters, lots of migrant hawkers and even a measly two spikes of autumn ladies tresses.

If I am asked to do this again next year (a big if some might reasonably say), I hope to negotiate a slightly earlier date for late August-early September 2013. More important, as I always get on site at first light I would be happy to meet anyone who wishes to join me at the Shooters Bottom car park at 07.00 hrs for a preliminary walk in search of migrants. Time permitting we can also try the Old Trapping Area and other sites nearby before joining the main party for the scheduled walk from Birling Gap at 10.00.

Bob Self

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25th September 2012 – West Beach Newhaven

Just as heavy rain looked imminent, twelve of us met up in the car park with Dr Gerald Legg, formerly of the Booth Museum Brighton.

Gerald explained that the West Beach forms part of the proposed Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) which will stretch from the other side of Beachy Head to Brighton. We had arrived at low (neap) tide. He pointed out that the ridges on the beach were now in winter profile and that apparently the Channel slopes slightly uphill to France. The soft chalk erodes quickly. He showed us the small holes in the stones where the worm polydora burrows and the larger holes of the boring molluscs (piddocks). These larger holes are also much used by other creatures.

According to the amount of exposure to sunlight the flora and fauna change. For example, there are 3 groups of seaweed which are coloured green at the top of the beach, brown further down and red which can only be observed at low tide.

After this introductory talk we set off, inspired by his enthusiasm, to clamber over the rock pools to see what we could spot and identify.

We saw top shell, edible periwinkle (which had closed its front door), flat periwinkle, which varies in colour according to exposure, sea lettuce, allegedly edible, red seaweed, amphipods, barnacles, related to crabs, molluscs and tube worms. Also seen were limpets on flint that feed when the tide is in and return to the same place to clamp themselves in, shore crabs and edible crabs. Netted whelk, dog whelk, sea squirt, which is a filter feeder on rock, a baby live oyster with front door shut and brittle star were also found.

Someone spotted a mussel on a stone. Gerald told us that the larger Mediterranean mussels have long threads which were used to create a cloth of gold (used at the meeting in France between Henry V111 and Francis 1). In the Booth Museum today there are gloves and socks made of this material.

Gerald told us that because of global warming some species are changing their habitat. For example, species that lived west of Selsey now come as far as Seaford, and trigger fish which used to be around only during the summer have now been seen in March. Today, however, we saw no fish at all, which was possibly due to the rough weather the previous evening.

After a fascinating couple of hours, we made our way back to the car park just as the rain finally began to fall. What good timing!

Susan Painter

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16th October 2012 – Lane End Common - Fungi

Rosalie Sinclair-Smith has been carrying out fungal surveys on Chailey Common for about the last 20 years, visiting each of the parts of the Common on a 5 year rotation. We have been fortunate to have benefited from this as Rosalie Sinclair-Smith has, for quite a number of years, led us on a regular fungal foray in the areas she has surveyed. This year was the turn of Lane End Common, which we last visited in 2007.

As is customary Rosalie first gave a brief introductory talk to the 18 members who took over the car park. She noted that, over the years, the fungal season has extended and, perhaps as a consequence, the number of fungi seen appear to be diminishing year on year. As a result there were fewer fungi to be seen than she had hoped. None-the-less we were treated to an enjoyable trip around the common.

Following the introduction we headed on to the common first coming to an open area which has recently been cleared of bracken and birch. A large number of the orange peel fungi (Aleuria aurantia) were on the ground stimulating the production of cameras for the first of a number of photo opportunities.

There were a number of fallen silver birch on which could be seen Turkey Tail and Smoky Bracket - Rosalie pointing out the difference between the two. Candlesnuff fungus was starting to grow out of an old birch stump.

The common has been fenced as cattle have been grazing the Common. This restricts where wildlife can go and, whilst most eyes were on the ground, those dallying at the back saw two muntjac deer run along the far fence.

A shaggy scalycap (Pholiota squarrosa) found on a stump engendered some excitement. Honey Fungus growing in the base of an old tree stimulated discussion of its impact on trees.

Growing on an old oak tree was Chicken of the Woods (also known as Sulphur Polypore). Further on was a Ganoderma (Southern Bracket) which had spread its pores like cocoa powder on leaves below the tree.

Other fungi we saw included a selection of Mycena (bonnets), ink caps (Coprinus) – which Rosalie recounted she had used to create ink for drawing, blushing bracket, a Brittlegill (russula), sulphur tuft, buttercaps (Collybia), funnel caps (Clitocybe) and Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria) – used in the past as a fly killer.

Inevitably a frequently asked question while waliking around the common was “Is it edible?” Bearing in mind the risks of mis- identification one maxim offered was to always gather three. When asked why we were informed one for yourself, one for the doctor and one for the coroner.

Chris Brewer

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page updated 23rd November 2012