Reports  

7th April 2015 - Markstakes Common, South Chailey

Nineteen members gathered at Markstakes Common for the first walk of the outdoor programme with Dr Jacqueline Hutson looking for mosses and liverworts. She explained the differences between mosses and liverworts, giving us a fact sheet on the 10 we were going to look at on the walk.

Mosses – usually the leaves are spirally arranged on the stems, never lobed, can have a nerve or midrib. The spore capsules are rigid, on a stalk in various shapes and sizes and last a long time. Different kinds of mosses: Sphagnum (bog mosses); Acrocarps (erect and not branching or not much) Pleurocarps (branched and often creeping).

Liverworts – have leaves that appear to be in rows or ranks and often lobed. The leaves never have nerves or midribs, and the spores are in globular shiny capsules on delicate stalks that last only for a few days. Different kinds of liverworts: Leafy (2-dimensional with two rows of leaves on either side of stem and sometimes rows of underleaves); Thalloid (flattened, plate like bodies with no leaves).

We made our way to the first area of moss, a species of acrocarp moss called Mnium hornum. Dr Hutson explained this moss is very common in woodland on clay soils. We all had a close up look at this tiny moss using the Society’s newly acquired magnifying lenses.

Next we looked at a pleurocarp moss called Kindbergia praelonga (Eurhynchium praelongum). A very common moss, often found in lawns, good for habitats and which resembles a tiny fern.

Moving on we turned our attention to a large hornbeam tree which had Metzgeria furcata growing on it. This is the commonest liverwort on trees and shrubs.

Nearby on a decaying tree trunk, after much searching, was found a tiny patch of leafy liverwort – Lophocolea heterophylla . This has delicate, translucent shoots. It is very fragrant, and members were encouraged to hand brush it to release the fragrance. Some liked the smell others were not so keen.

We moved onto an area which has been, and still is being cleared of scrub to encourage different habitats. Some heathers were in cages to stop them being eaten by animals. Here we looked at another acrocarp moss called Campylopus introflexus. It has dark green thin leaves with white hair points which when they dry make the plant look starry. Found all over the UK it is invasive. Also here - Ceratadon purpera known as the bonfire moss as it appears in places where bonfires have been.

The sun now shining, we saw the first peacock butterfly, various beetles and some had a lucky glimpse of a lizard as it scuttled away. We could hear lots of birds and saw a few - blue tits , great tits, a nut hatch, chiff chaffs, a pheasant, robins, and a greater spotted wood pecker drilling into wood.

The Community Ranger for the Common, Thyone Outram, also accompanied us, and she pointed out bee flies, which sadly I kept missing, but I did see high in a willow tree at least 5 peacock butterflies making the most of the sunshine.

Back into woodland we looked at two more pleurocarp mosses. Firstly, Thuidium tamariscinum, which looks like a tiny fern and occurs on the ground in woodlands, and nearby Brachythecium rutabulum one of our most common mosses which grows all over wood or stone areas.

Lastly on our way back at one of the several pond areas we observed a large patch of sphagnum moss which Dr Hutson explained are difficult to identify to a species level.

I really enjoyed my morning on the Common and would like to thank Dr Jacqueline Hutson for sharing with us her time and knowledge.

Marilyn Binning

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21st April 2015 - Spring Migration at Shooters’ Bottom and Birling Gap

The location and timing of this bird walk were designed to maximise our chances of witnessing the spring migration at one of the best coastal sites in the county. What I did not factor into the equation was the fact that this would prove to be an exceptionally disappointing spring by any standard. Indeed, by common consent, birders with 50 years’ experience in the area agree that this is probably the worst spring migration in living memory. As a result, on a great many occasions this spring I have walked Seaford and Beachy Head and seen almost nothing. Against that background, relatively quiet through it was, the SNHS bird walk on 21 April could almost be judged to have been a modest success.

Derek Barber and I arrived at around 05.45 quickly to discover that the very quiet birding conditions of the past fortnight had not changed miraculously overnight. Despite warning some participants that the cold north-easterly winds of the past month had adversely affected conditions, 22 brave souls turned out at 07.00 to walk around Shooters’ Bottom before exploring the extensive area of gorse to the west as we moved towards Belle Tout. Birds were depressingly thin on the ground – to the extent that, the enigmatic behaviour of some transient meadow pipits aside, the only real migrants recorded in three hours were confined to a slight movement of swallows passing along the cliff edge, several chiffchaff, a reticent blackcap or two and several highly vocal common whitethroats which, very sensibly, proved difficult to see well as they sheltered in the bushes from the very cold stiff north-easterly wind. Moving on towards the Plantation below Belle Tout the undoubted highlight of the morning for the first group was Derek’s discovery of a large and very well marked female adder in the gorse bushes which, despite being virtually at our feet proved remarkably difficult to see at first. Once observers had located it, however, it put on an excellent display which we all enjoyed greatly – even some members who admitted to being less than enthusiastic about snakes.

Unfortunately the luck didn’t last. Despite an extensive search for the wryneck immediately to the east of the copse, it did not show at all. Some compensation was offered by a brief look at the emerging lady orchid and one or two tiny early spider orchids – although these were fewer, smaller and much later than usual. The only other bird of note for the first group was the usual corn bunting seen singing along the road towards Cornish farm.

The second group, this time consisting of 17 members, met at 10.00 at Birling Gap and again the cold wind meant there was little to see on the way to the Plantation. On the east side, however, the wryneck finally decided to show itself and eventually it provided excellent views for virtually everyone present although it was rather flighty and rarely sat in the same place for any length of time. Nevertheless, a wryneck in spring is an unusual occurrence at this location and those who saw it well were very fortunate. The bird had been present since Sunday afternoon and it had departed by the morning after we saw it. Ironically, the second group also had the benefit of excellent views of a number of species not seen by the generally more enthusiastic birdwatchers in the first group. Among these were jay, green woodpecker, yellowhammer (an increasingly scarce species in the area), peregrine, more chiffchaff, willow warbler and one of the first reed warblers recorded at Beachy Head this year (and my first of the year). Also recorded were several brimstone and green-veined white butterflies. All in all, a fairly successful morning given the conditions and the generally unpropitious background circumstances.

Bob Self

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12th May 2015 – Outing to WWT Arundel Wetland Centre

41 of us met up on a rather grey looking morning and set off with high hopes at 9.30 am from the Martello Tower on the sea front. After an uneventful coach journey we arrived at the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust, Arundel, at about 10.30 am. While crossing the footbridge leading to the entrance a nuthatch was heard and some of us were fortunate enough to spot a water vole in the water below. A very promising beginning, especially since I had been watching a piece on television that very morning from Slimbridge WWT saying how the numbers of water voles are declining rapidly and that measures are being introduced to improve their habitat, provide some protection from predators etc, because without intervention these iconic creatures could be facing extinction.

Once inside the Visitor Centre most of us began our visit by viewing a short introductory welcome film which explained that the WWT was founded in 1946 (the first Centre being at Slimbridge) by Peter Scott, who oversaw the creation of further Centres including the one at Arundel over the following years. The film gave an overview of the charity and the reserve showing what wildlife to look out for. We were also given a welcome pack of map and leaflets. After that we were free to explore on our own to wander round the well-marked paths, perhaps taking the reedbed boardwalk, observing wildlife from the various hides dotted around, visiting the garden for wildlife or having a bite to eat in the very pleasant cafe.

Many of us chose to take the 15-20 minute electric boat safari, taking up to 10 people, which was a good way to travel round the reed beds (apparently, once charged, the boat is able to travel all day before needing recharging, however many times it goes out). Our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out various items of interest, including a mute swan on nest, coot on nest, tufted duck, buzzard, ducks with chicks, kingfisher, roach, and water voles. Heard but not seen were cetti’s warbler and lapwing. We were also told to look out for grass snakes, dragonflies and damselflies. There was even a spitfire flying overhead!

By late morning the weather had greatly improved and the sun came out. There was so much to see. Just to mention a small sample of some of the wildlife which we saw – red-breasted goose, wigeon, bewick’s swan, moorhen on nest with chicks, reed warbler, sedge warbler, swallow, house martin, lapwing, common tern, jackdaw, young robin, mallard and ducklings, long tailed duck, trumpeter swan, gadwall, Canada geese, shelduck and reed bunting.

Although the notice board which showed what to look out for mentioned butterflies and damselflies, there was, in fact, very little evidence of them because it was too windy and cool. The time passed only too quickly and everyone returned to the coach at 3 pm for the return journey to Seaford, arriving at about 4.15 pm.

This was a new event for the Society and our thanks go to Marilyn Binning for all her hard work in arranging and organising such an enjoyable and informative trip.

Susan Painter

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26th May 2015 – Seaford Head

28 of us met up with Sarah Quantrill, the SWT ranger for Seaford Head Nature Reserve, on a chilly overcast morning. A head count of members/visitors had just been started when someone saw a red kite circling overhead which rather took precedence over that and the health and safety talk! Sarah works at Seaford Head for 1½ days a week with help from volunteers from the South Downs National park once a month and from local volunteers every Thursday (about 2 days a month).

We set off westwards towards the golf course as opposed to last year’s walk when we headed towards Hope Gap. We began by walking through a tenant farmer’s land along the concrete track which many years ago used to be a runway. On the way we saw a linnet and a peregrine. Also seen were heartsease, quaking grass, milkwort, sorrel, white bryony and speedwell. We passed an area of scrub clearance which had been done to improve the habitat for the common spotted orchid (not out yet). Next we passed a variety of scallops; the scrub clearance is done using a flail machine, then raking by hand and removing so as not to enrich the soil, all very labour intensive. Some is left to grow back which takes about 2 or 3 years. All this is done in order to increase the variety of wildlife, although one passerby, not understanding this, had apparently compared it to Hiroshima in 1945! The best way is to gradually cut back so as not to alter habitat completely in one go. Saw cowslips and salad burnet. Also observed was a large patch of ground ivy. If it is decided to destroy this the plant has to be treated within a couple of hours of cutting down or it is too late. Colin Whiteman said that when cutting back one of the scallops recently a 1914 penny had been discovered.

A couple of species of beetle were spotted, one of which was a bloody-nosed beetle. The other one was identified later as Pyrochroa Serraticornis, a member of the cardinal beetle family.

As we continued walking Sarah explained that a part of her remit is to raise awareness through talks and walks. At this point she gave an update on Hope Gap saying that new fencing has now been installed and the steps made safer. With regard to the Cuckmere Haven the shingle brought in to counteract erosion could well bury the salt marsh which, although not a large area, needs preserving - there is to be a meeting next week with all the relevant bodies to discuss the best way forward. A black cap was noticed. We carried on and moved around the edge of the golf course where a group of 19 herdwick sheep had been grazing for 2 months. They did a good job and Sarah hopes they will be back around September - the timing depends on who else wants to use the sheep. This is potentially good chalk grassland.

We stopped to look at a large area now colonised by cotoneaster. Sarah wants to look through old records to see how this area was managed before. She knows that cotoneaster has been treated before and it certainly needs dealing with again or otherwise it will completely take over. However carefully this is done it can cause damage and they do not wish to upset dog walkers etc. Therefore they will cut it down later this year but get a contractor in next year to treat. Chemicals are only used as a last resort but will probably be needed to control the bramble as well since this also takes over if not controlled. The bramble is being cut now but where it has been cut earlier tall grass is coming through which is not good.

Towards the end of the walk we did a slight detour in order to see the remains of a huge camp and the trenches which date from the 1st World War and were also used for training in the 2nd World War. Unfortunately at the moment kids on bikes go over it and parties are held, all leaving litter. The Sussex Archaeological Society want to expose more of the trenches and it would certainly be interesting to find out more of the history. There is a possibility of putting up an information board and there are hopes of designating the site a SAM (scheduled ancient monument). After some scrub clearance it is planned to have a dig in the latter part of this year.

The habitat is different here – steep, close cropped. There is lots of rabbit grazing (rabbits are apparently getting bigger!) giving a close cropped sward. Bees like nesting here and the potter flower bee has been seen. Opposite the trenches is an old chalk pit perhaps used for target practice during the war but now covered with cotoneaster.

Apart from in a few sheltered spots towards the end of the walk where a speckled wood and a wall were enticed out, not many butterflies were seen owing to the cool and breezy conditions which prevailed during the morning. Right at the end we saw some heath dog-violet.

This is the second walk that Sarah has led for the society since becoming SWT ranger for Seaford Head and this one was every bit as enjoyable as the first.

Susan Painter

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9th June 2015 – Insects on Seaford Head

22 members/visitors arrived (on a rather blustery, cool, afternoon) full of anticipation for the walk to be led by Graeme Lyons, Senior Ecologist at the Sussex Wildlife Trust. Also with him were Sarah Quantrill and an SWT trainee. Ten people each took possession of a net and Graeme gave them a quick lesson on the best way to sweep with one in order to trap as many invertebrates as possible before tipping them out into a large tray for everyone to have the chance of closer inspection and identification. He told us that the goal was to find 100 species.

Almost immediately after setting off Graeme did the first sweep and we all gathered round eagerly to see what had turned up in the tray. Amongst others were garden snail, soldier beetle and cucumber spider. We then moved on – but not very far – when another sweep turned up big legged flower beetle, tortoiseshell caterpillar, small malachite beetle, Kentish snail (which is an alien species) and sawfly.

Already Graeme’s boundless enthusiasm and encyclopaedic knowledge was becoming infectious and we began a slow but thorough progress towards Hope Gap with frequent stops for further sweeping. The number of species was gradually creeping up and I will mention just some of the invertebrates we noted on the way - click beetle, the webs of the orchard ermine moth, common blue butterfly (female), red tailed bumblebee, leather bug (related to shield bug), beetle larvae, Bombus pratorum, hoverfly, oedemera beetle and robber fly.

Next, Graeme suggested beating some gorse, which drew out broad nosed weevil and large jawed orb weaver beetle; this was followed by crane fly, 14 spot ladybird, wolf spider, money spider, Lasius niger ant, pollen beetle, and dock bug (one of the squash bugs).

Whitethroat was seen and heard and black cap was heard but not seen. Further sweeps of the nets produced migrant moth, rush veneer, loopy caterpillar, speckled bush-cricket, pill woodlouse, scorpion fly, hover fly, garden snail, leaf beetle, pointed snail, and tortoise beetle. Also seen were germander speedwell, cuckoo spit, speckled wood and small heath butterflies and cinnabar moth.

As we approached Hope Gap the habitat changed from scrub to chalk grassland. We saw money spider, bush cricket nymph, and grasshopper nymph. Graeme pointed out to us the heath snail which is common to Seaford Head. One of our members found a discarded snake skin. Also seen in this area was salad burnet.

All too soon it was 3:30 and time to set off back. We walked through a new ride recently cleared by Sarah and her team of volunteers. The ride being more sheltered from the wind than in the earlier part of the walk it was here that we saw the most butterflies of the whole walk - small copper, green hairstreak, and grizzled skipper. Deadly nightshade was growing in abundance in the ride but amongst other plants seen were hound's-tongue, ground ivy, bryony and bracken.

Coming out of the ride and joining the main path a few painted lady butterflies were seen and a little later nearing the car park the last few finds of the day were recorded which included flea beetle, hairy snail, Chrysolina polita, 7 spot ladybird, and white-lipped banded snail.

All in all, despite the breezy conditions which kept numbers of invertebrates down, we succeeded in achieving a respectable tally of 55 species. There were possibly 56 but Graeme was not able to verify on the spot exactly what this was and said that he would check this out. This brought to an end a most interesting and different kind of walk involving everyone in tracking down insects.

Susan Painter

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23rd June 2015 - Dragonfly walk at Frog Firle

Twenty two society members were present at Frog Firle on a bright, although somewhat breezy and overcast, morning determined to enjoy themselves and, if possible, to see some elusive dragonflies. Whether we would be able to identify them, however, was going to be a particular challenge as the designated walk leader on this occasion, John Luck, had emailed a few days beforehand to say that unfortunately he would not be present owing to his wife’s unforeseen illness while holidaying in Yorkshire.

Imagine then our complete surprise (and relief) when we arrived to see John in the car park ready to lead the walk after all! John and his wife had unexpectedly returned from Yorkshire despite everything and we are very grateful to John for leading what turned out to be a very successful walk. I’m sure all members would want to join me in wishing John’s wife a speedy recovery too.

We all set off to walk the best National Trust site for dragonflies in Sussex, rather more confident now that we might actually be able to identify anything that we saw! John informed us that 20 of the 29 species in the County can be found at Frog Firle and our first stop was the magnificent wild life pond where there were numerous blue-tailed damselflies of both sexes to be seen in various stages of maturity. This damselfly thrives on the sort of dense plant growth surrounding the pond and we were treated to a thorough look at the species.

Moving on to the ditches that meander through the Cuckmere Valley, dragonfly sightings were rather more scarce initially with only the larvae case of a broad-bodied chaser to focus upon. That’s not to say that there weren’t other wild life species to see, including grey mullet swimming tantalisingly in the river; and many birds such as reed bunting, buzzard, yellow hammer, hedge sparrow, chaffinch, wren and house martin. Plant sightings included branched bur-weed, celery-leaf buttercup, sea spurrey and marsh mallow.

Slowly, as the temperature began to climb a little, we began to see more dragonflies. The four-spotted chaser, with distinctive black spots on its wings, several common darters, the bright crimson-red ruddy darter, mating azure damselflies, and a stunning male black-tailed skimmer. But the best was undoubtedly saved until last as we returned past the pond to see our largest dragonfly, the emperor, flying continuously over the still water. These were also accompanied by a number of four-spotted chasers making a fitting finale to our walk.

Thanks once again to John for joining us at such a difficult time.

Brian Binning

PS For members interested in further reading on dragonflies John recommends referring to field guides written by Richard Lewington.

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30th June 2015- High & Over & Cradle Valley

On a hot, sunny morning with a gentle breeze blowing 30 members gathered in a crowded High & Over car park sharing the spaces with a paragliding club. Chris thought it would be a good idea to list all the plants we would see, and Coralie volunteered to be the scribe. I have only listed a few of the plants we saw as we went along, but the full list is available on the Society’s web site. Plant list (as a pdf file).

A short walk through the trees brought us to the top of the Cuckmere, with a wonderful view of the valley bathed in sunlight. In single file we passed hogweed, lesser burdock, hawthorn, elder and cleavers- goose grass and much more that Chris had identified along the path, while Coralie busily wrote them all down.

We turned right along the side of the hill with the paragliders casting shadows across the path as they circled and passed overhead. More plants were pointed out and added to the list.

Near the large NT stone distance marker we saw welted thistle, one of 7 varieties of thistle Chris explained were all found in the area, and as the morning progressed we saw all of them -carline thistle, creeping thistle, dwarf thistle, musk thistle, slender thistle, welted thistle and spear thistle.

Just past the stone marker, as we waited to pass single file through a gate onto the open hillside beyond, some members saw house martins flying in the valley. Also buzzard and two pairs of ravens were seen, along with the first marbled white butterfly. For those of us at the back of the group, Janice confirmed we were indeed looking at a smooth hawksbeard plant, and then a dog rose both added to the list.

More plants were identified as we moved along the top fence line - annual dog’s mercury, poppies, germander speedwell, greater mullein, and greater knapweed. Some of us clambered down a steep incline to have a close look at more plants Chris was pointing out. Among these were hedge bedstraw, common centaury, vipers bugloss, slender or (seaside) thistle, dropwort, white horehound, and squinancywort.

Climbing back up the hillside to go back through the gate we had added about 80 plants to the list. Again single file along the tree lined path passing the car park we continued gradually downhill with bramble, blackthorn, common stinging nettle, rosebay, white bryony and more being pointed out.

The path opened out onto an area of uneven grassy covered old trackway where we saw the first pyramidal orchid. Also here among the many plants, the round-headed rampion (Pride of Sussex), red clover, and more marbled white butterflies and cinnabar moths. Much to Chris’s surprise a burnt orchid was also spotted, the first time it has been seen this side of the road and was subsequently GPS tracked.

After crossing the road we headed up a path listening to white throats singing in the bushes, sky larks, a corn bunting, and saw several meadow brown butterflies. On the side of the path were a few young burnt orchids nestling amongst vegetation and not easy to spot. Chris explained these orchids can take up to 18 years to flower. Further along it was a treat to see fragrant, pyramidal and common spotted orchids all in the same area.

Climbing the path back towards the car park we headed through a part shaded by trees, and black caps, a chiffchaff and a very cross wren could all be heard. Other members spotted a red admiral and soldier beetles enjoying the sunshine.

A grand total of 108 plants were identified, and the full list is available on the Society’s website. I would like to thank Chris on behalf of all the members for a very interesting and informative walk.

Marilyn Binning

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14th July 2015 – Rathfinny Estate Vineyard

A few minutes after turning onto the estate road the 40 members who had booked for this walk met up with Richard James outside his office. He has a background in conservation and land management and is now the Landscape and Environment Officer for the Estate. We then followed him in convoy at a stately 15 mph to the Flint Barns, a privilege since cars are not normally allowed. By this time it was becoming apparent just how extensive the vineyard is and how much work has been done not only with regard to planting of the vines but also the variety of wild flowers that have been introduced.

Before setting off, Richard gave a short introduction on what has been happening on the Estate since it was acquired in 2010 and the first vines planted in 2012. He pointed out the fully restored Flint Barns which had become dilapidated, partly due to the Canadians during the Second World War who used the whole area as target practice! Apart from when accommodation is needed for seasonal workers, they are used during the week for educational purposes or for groups no longer able to stay at the now closed YHA near Alfriston. At weekends up to 45 guests can stay for leisure purposes. Bookings are being received from several counties as well as Sussex. The barns also house a cafe open to all – most needs are already catered for apart from the installation of rings for horses to be tethered while their owners are visiting!

Wherever possible, all food produce and goods are sourced locally within a radius of 20 miles. The tanks however can only be purchased abroad, although the long-term aim is to buy from British manufacturers. Most of the wood used in the buildings is reclaimed elm and oak.

Richard showed us an area where a pollen nectar mix 750 metres long has been sown just for wildlife. Poppies also grow naturally in the fields among the vines. The Rathfinny Trail is open to all but can be closed if, for example, livestock needs to be moved. By co-operating with the National Trust, 4 or 5 bridleways, indicated by new signage using the red shield of the Sussex flag but replacing gold martlets with grapes, now connect and give open access through the whole area.

A few statistics: 210,000 vines planted over 72 hectares, 10,000 km of wire used. The goal is 300/400 acres, 700,000 vines, producing 1 million bottles a year which, put into context, will account for about 20 per cent of the current UK production. There are 8 permanent staff and between 200/300 people are needed for pruning (highly skilled) in February and harvesting from mid-October.

Three main (classic) varieties are grown – Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier, also a small amount of Auxerrois and Riesling. The red wine produced is only used in blending for rosé as it is not good enough on its own. This may change, however, with global warming.

Vines grow to about 6 feet high and live for a minimum of 30-35 years and planning is already in hand for replanting in 35 years time. There is a high survival rate of vines with about 10 per cent loss. In a line of 300 metres of vines there is only a 14 mm tolerance. All vines are self pollinating and south facing and are high grafted onto rootstock which is disease free to protect their roots from phylloxera. Chardonnay is grown higher up the slopes as it prefers drier conditions, while Pinot noir is grown lower down. Already 6,000 bottles have been laid down to mature for 3 years.

Richard later explained that the estate is afforded protection by Cradle Hill from late frosts and from south westerly salt laden winds. Artificial windbreaks have been erected which will be removed once the planted trees, mainly ash and hawthorn, have grown high enough to replace them. A margin is left each side for wild flowers to flourish. A crop of mustard is grown for a whole year before vines are planted. This takes out nutrients in order to give the vines a suitable environment. It is also good for insects and bees. In fact the bee population has gone ballistic and Richard has seen one which was thought to be extinct. Skylarks (26 pairs at last count) and bunting are thriving; buzzards and various owls are also breeding.

20 acres of long grass have been planted just for skylarks, and clover for bees. They hope to attract the rare potter bee. An area has been set aside for growing wild flowers using seed from Wakehurst Place, although the aim is for the Estate to be self-sufficient in seed. Research during the next six years will monitor the variety of insects found. In 2/3 years a patchwork quilt of wild flowers is envisaged which will hopefully attract parasitic wasps to feed off caterpillars of unwanted insects. Later on in the walk Richard was to point out a further 15 or 16 acres of pollen mix.

At the moment a spray is used under the vines but they are looking at other ways of control, for example mulching to suppress, putting down granite and slate which reflect light back. Traps have to be used to kill certain pests. At harvest time there were issues with starlings and Corvids. The latter are very intelligent – they soon got wise to a gas gun used as a deterrent and carried on eating! This year a falcon will be used and netting installed. Badgers are also a problem. In one area the decision to leave picking for 24 hours proved costly because they got there first!

Further on, Richard later explained that the chalk grassland had not been grazed for around 50 years so in order to control the scrub Exmoor ponies were introduced, followed by Herdwick sheep which, being more successful, will be brought back again this winter after cows have at first been used. Rathfinny has also received some funding from Natural England to control long grass and scrub.

As we climbed the bridleway to admire the view over the Estate, Richard pointed out a further 100 acres in the west of the estate earmarked for vines in 2017. Alongside the bridleway, plants seen included lady’s bedstraw, yellow-wort and St John’s -wort, squinancywort, scabious, horseshoe vetch, bird’s-foot-trefoil, pyramidal orchid, and round-headed rampion. Several marbled white butterflies were seen on thistles and skylarks were heard.

This walk was rather different to what we normally do. Richard proved not just to be an informative and entertaining guide but demonstrated how a business like this can be run successfully while actively encouraging all kinds of wildlife.

Susan and Andrew Painter

Ed: Later that day Richard James took round some members of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society who carried out a quick survey of wildflower areas, and he hopes to let us have the results in due course.

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28th July 2015 - Mount Caburn

There was light cloud and sun for this climb to the Caburn, but a VERY strong breeze, which did not bode well for birds and butterflies. Twenty members and visitors started by walking up the road from Glynde village and past the entrance to Glynde Place. We crossed the road to use the permissive path all the way to the Caburn. There have been recent changes since our last visit in 2011. The completely overgrown sunken track has been cleared by South Downs National Park rangers, the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service and Glynde Estate workers. The dew pond at the top of the track has also been restored. Both will take time to recover and still look a bit spartan. Between the dew pond and the wooded section there were some pyramidal orchids, harebells, round headed rampion and nettle leaved bellflowers.

As we entered the wooded section there were better examples of nettle leaved bellflower. Beyond the wooded section we walked between the sheep to reach the fence line, which was followed all the way to the Caburn. On the top the wind was very strong, so after a short time admiring the views in all directions we started the descent towards Glynde village. Part way down the hill the awkward steep stile has been replaced by a swing gate. Just below this there is a seat sheltered from the strong wind behind a hedge, and this area was still in the sun. We spent some time here looking for insects - soldier beetles on umbellifers, a solitary small copper, several seven spot ladybirds, hoverflies, bees, grasshoppers, meadow browns and a common blue.

We descended further, between ripening fields of cereal. Below these there were some areas of Lady's bedstraw. When we reached the road we checked that all were present (two had left the walk earlier) before returning to the start point.

I am sure the dawdling botanists at the rear of the strung out party saw more plants not mentioned in my report!

Peter Hammond

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11th August 2015 - Butterflies of Malling Down Nature Reserve, Lewes – Michael Blencowe

Michael joined the group waiting on the bridge over the Ouse in Cliffe High Street, Lewes at precisely 10.00. Dullish, overcast conditions after overnight rain did not look promising for butterfly spotting but after a brief introduction in the nearby car park (take care on slippery chalk paths, watch out for busy traffic, and dog mess!), we set off up the steep, narrow combe etched into the side of Malling Hill, the site of Malling Down Nature Reserve. With 98% of chalk grassland lost since 1940, this precious habitat requires constant maintenance, today provided by grazing Herdwicks, more aggressive towards invasive hawthorn, and six Polish Koniks, small primitive horses (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konik; accessed 11 August 2015). Without this grazing, hawthorn, cotoneaster, bramble etc. soon emerge as scrub, and ultimately woodland, probably also with sycamore, resulting in dense shade and a substantial reduction in biodiversity. One area of sycamore had been cut and the logs stacked up to provide wildlife cover. In some parts of the Down, attempts to ‘improve’ the grassland by fertilisation had led to its ruination as a haven for wildlife. Grazing is helping to regenerate the natural chalk sward but this is not achieved overnight. Fifteen years of management is just beginning to show biodiversity dividends.

At the bottom of the path the hoped-for Great British Bush Cricket, one of our largest insects, eluded us, but the delicious blackberries were some compensation. After a while we stopped to admire a brown-lipped snail (“I hate gardeners, love snails” said Michael), and cinnabar moth and glow worm caterpillars, the latter half way between its birth in 2014 and its maturity as a glow worm in 2016. An empty 6 spot Burnet moth cocoon fixed to a grass stem prefaced the later discovery of the real thing higher on the hill. Before resuming our upwards progress, Michael outlined the importance of the chalk-based habitat for biodiversity. The thin, nutrient-poor soil (rendzina) on the porous, rapidly-draining chalk bedrock, slows plant growth so that no single species out-performs the rest and biodiversity flourishes, a random quadrat encompassing from 30 to 50 plant species per square metre.

Onward and upward, and butterflies began to show themselves. First a small skipper, and then the delightful silver spotted skipper, a rarity in Sussex, before we came back down to earth with meadow brown and gatekeeper. Since 1985 a weekly transect counting butterflies had amassed valuable data on the success or otherwise of the lepidoptera in an area claimed to be the hottest part of the South Downs.

Where the valley divided the bottom was clogged with brambles on deeper soil where sheep had been regularly folded and enhanced the fertility of the soil. We had already passed allotments in a similar position. The intervening spur, referred to locally as “The Snout”, looked intimidating, but everyone made the steep climb in varying states of breathlessness. We sat on the heavily-rabbit-grazed ground surrounded by marjoram, centaury, round-headed rampion, the Sussex speciality, and rock rose amongst others, and took in the spectacular view. Michael pointed out the small survey plots being studied by Graeme Lyons to test the influence of rabbits that can overgraze an area if too numerous. Another problem is tor grass which can dominate an area but is often shunned by sheep. Shifting grazers around for conservation purposes is not always agreeable to farmers which is why the special grazers mentioned earlier, and owned by SWT, are often used instead.

The question was raised, “are the adonis blues still in their host ant nests?”. And the answer; “not all of them”, as one made a welcome appearance to go alongside the rare skipper as the morning’s highlight.

Many insects have specific food requirements, both the adonis blue, one of the walk’s target species, and the chalkhill blue favouring horseshoe vetch. Sheep fescue grass sustains the silver spotted skipper, warming up quickly and encouraging growth, so this species should be favoured by climate change as it is currently at the northern edge of its range.

Contouring the hillside on the return route, brown argus butterfly and Roesel's Bush cricket put in an appearance. As we slowly descended the Herdwicks were being rounded up by a truck and two collies, some to be driven out, presumably to a new conservation location. Michael explained the difficulty of dealing with the public’s mistaken perception that sheep with wool hanging off their back is a health issue, so the sheep are sheared to keep the public happy, even though the wool is virtually worthless commercially. He also alluded to the difficulty of dogs and irresponsible owners and their attitude to sheep. We passed a defunct dewpond, a colourful patch of ‘Lords and Ladies’ and a small chalk quarry towards the exit from the Downs. As we re-entered the urban area a few spots of rain fell but not enough to dampen our spirits. In the car park, spot on 12.30, Michael was briefly applauded in recognition of a most informative and entertaining morning.

Colin Whiteman

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8th September 2015- Shooters Bottom and Birling Gap bird walk

As in past years, the bird walk consisted of two separate components. The first is a meeting of perhaps the more committed birders at 07:00 hours at Shooters Bottom who make their way west towards Belle Tout. The second group meets at Birling Gap at 10.00 and spends the next two hours in a leisurely progress towards the Plantation below Belle Tout.

The first group this year consisted of a fairly meagre nine members but they were rewarded with a few nice birds. Not the least among these were the raptors and everyone in the group managed to see sparrowhawk, kestrel, a rather smart hobby which flew immediately overhead and a pair of fairly noisy peregrines which gave a very elegant display of close synchronised flying along the cliff edge. Although 2015 has been a dreadful year with regard to migration in Sussex generally, a few summer migrants were still present. Swallows and house martins continued the practice of the past few days and were seen in a fairly steady stream flying along the coastal strip. Less expected was a single common swift - although the time of the year and the appearance of a very white throat did faintly raise hopes of a much rarer pallid swift this optimistic illusion could only be sustained for a nanosecond before good sense once more reasserted itself.

Of the passerines migrants, a reasonable number were still present. These included the last of the common whitethroats plus willow warbler, several blackcaps and chiffchaff, a single wheatear and a fairly regular series of flyovers by yellow wagtails. Alongside the departing summer migrants, there were also the first indications of arriving winter visitors. Among these birds were regular small groups of meadow pipit flying overhead and a party of ten siskin.

The second group met at 10.00 and began with a brief walk up the Birling Gap Lane towards the cottages in search of the seasonal and well-named orchid, autumn ladies tresses. Having successfully obtained several good observations, we also recorded the first of up to four spotted flycatchers (a record for this group), more goldcrests and another wheatear. We then began the usual walk towards the wood along the lower path where still more goldcrest were seen along with a rather late but always handsome lesser whitethroat, whinchats, and quite remarkably yet another swift - this proved to be my latest sighting in 2015 by nine days.

In addition to the birds, as always a fairly reasonable number of butterflies were also noted including small heath, common and chalkhill blue, tortoiseshell, red admiral, painted lady, speckled wood, small and large white. These were joined by a few migrant hawkers and many common darter and what looked like a solitary southern hawker.

When considered overall, then, it would be fair to say that, while not exactly ripping up trees, both groups saw a few nice birds. Moreover, to put it in a broader perspective, we have all endured a good many far more disappointing sessions in the past six years! Let us hope that this is the beginning of a new and far more favourable trend in our observations at what is widely considered to be one of the best migration points in southern England. Once again, my thanks to Derek Barber for his generous assistance and sharing his encyclopedic knowledge which made the walk so much more enjoyable for all concerned.

Bob Self

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22nd September 2015 - Tide Mills

On a very wet morning 18 or 19 members & visitors gathered at Tide Mills for the last walk of the year. One member felt it worth driving home for over- trousers!

I gave my usual talk on health & safety with the addition of the care needed on the nearby railway line and said that under the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act it was prohibited to pick or remove any flower, seeds etc on areas of vegetated shingle. I passed round a flower of rock samphire (Crithmum maritimum) which I had picked by the old Buckle pub, as on my initial walk here, it was a plant I had expected to see but hadn’t found on the area of vegetated shingle where I was planning our walk.

When we arrived at the beach I pointed out two areas where rubble had been dumped and had been colonised by plants; one by different species of sea-lavender (Limonium spp - some still flowering) and the other, by thrift (Armeria maritima). This illustrated how easily this rare landscape can be destroyed.

We walked down to the strand line and saw the lack of plants this close to the sea except for orache (Atriplex spp) which is a hardy annual which grows just above the high tide mark and is washed away in the first winter storms but not before the seeds have been scattered. The next plant community inland is the pioneer community, made up of lots of shingle with a few plants namely yellow horned poppy (Glaucium favum) which was still flowering , sea kale (Crambe maritima) and curled dock (Rumex crispus) whose stems can reach 3ft and roots of all 3 plants can reach 2 to3 feet deep into the shingle.

The next area inland is called the intermediate community, plants here are more diverse but still some bare shingle. The next area is the established community which is a rich area of low growing plants. Plants seen in these two areas are all adapted to the harsh conditions and included woody nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), tiny buck’s-horn plantain (Plantago coronopus), sea beet (Beta vulgaris), sea mayweed (Tripleurospermum maritinum - still flowering), sticky groundsel (Senesio viscosus), stonecrop (Sedum), common (Linaria vulgaris) and ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis), viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare).

We then walked a few yards inland behind a long but small manmade bank where there were many plants which sheltered from the strong wind and sea spray by the bank were thriving. The most interesting one for me was blue fleabane (Erigeron acer) as I hadn’t seen it before.

Birds seen in the area on the previous Sunday, which had been sunny, by Katie Hoff and Bob Self were: an osprey, barred warbler and wryneck. They said a pair of ringed plover had bred here in 2015 and produced 2/3 chicks which was normal for the past few years. Wheatears had bred here in the past but not this year.

Thanks to Janice for all her help with identification of plants, also to Jenny Wistreich & Chris Brewer for help on the day.

The sun did come out briefly but as we say in our family “you can have fun in the rain!”

Ana Swaysland

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Page updated 30th October 2015