Reports  

12th April 2016 - Rock-Pooling at West Harbour Beach, Newhaven

Thirteen members assembled at the far end of the Newhaven West Beach car park on a fine sunny morning to meet our guide Dr Gerald Legg, an arachnid and marine life expert who has published extensively in the scientific and popular literature. Before the group set off to the beach, Colin Pritchard pointed out a pair of fulmars nesting in a small cave in the flint-banded chalk cliffs overlooking the car park.

We walked along the beach and onto the chalk platform at the foot of the shingle bank where Gerald gave a brief warning about the risks associated with rock-pooling (slippery, seaweed-covered rocks and deep gullies). He then explained that the chalk in this area formed around 80 million years ago from microscopic single-celled algae known as coccoliths, and being a soft rock erodes fairly quickly. The chalk cliffs contain layers of flint, an extremely hard silicate rock, and at the base of the cliff is a beach of flint pebbles and cobbles which have been sorted/graded by size, with the large cobbles at the foot of the beach and the smaller pebbles at the top. The beach showed three distinct ledges, marking the extent of the most recent neap, mean and spring tides - however, this profile changes throughout the year dependent on weather conditions, and long shore drift carries the shingle eastwards towards the harbour, which requires occasional dredging. The wave-cut chalk platform is riddled with gullies, some up to 2 metres deep, which have been carved out by the tide dragging flint cobbles up and down the shore, picking out and eroding faults or softer bands of chalk.

Gerald explained that this was a dynamic environment which made it difficult for organisms to live here, with the upper shoreline being the most challenging as it was exposed by the tide for the longest period and was also pummelled by shingle during stormy weather. Because of this there was very little seaweed cover on the upper shoreline - the bare chalk here was pitted with holes, the small ones being formed by tube worms (Polydora), and the larger by piddocks (Pholas dactylus) which are large molluscs that can grow up to 18 cm in length. Their long shells have a set of ridges or ‘teeth’ at one end and by using a rotating motion they drill down into the soft chalk, forming a tubular burrow in which they spend their whole lives. The piddock extends a siphon at the surface to take in water which it filters for food, and when it is digging its burrow you can sometimes see a puff of white particles as it expels the chalk. When the piddock dies these burrows are sometimes taken over by other creatures, and in a chalk boulder further down the beach we actually saw a small brown crab taking advantage of an abandoned piddock burrow, with a mollusc, Barnea, in another. We also found a split chalk boulder exposing a cross-section through some of these burrows with live piddocks still in them. Gerald explained that the shoreline is divided into three separate zones, the upper, middle and lower shoreline, with the different inhabitants of these zones being determined by how long the areas are exposed by the tide and by the time of year - during the stormy winter months a lot of the creatures move out to sea, and others cease feeding and go into regression (i.e. get smaller). As we moved from the upper to the middle shoreline we started exploring the rock pools. Gerald pointed out several species of seaweed starting with mats of the bright green hair algae Cladophora rupestris. Further down the shore we encountered toothed wrack seaweed (Fucus serratus); ‘sea binder’, a red seaweed (although it appeared brown), which traps sand in its fronds and binds it together; Corallina, a calcareous red seaweed with chalky white tips, sometimes mistaken for coral; sea lettuce (Ulva); two species of kelp (Laminaria and Saccharina); Irish or Carrageen Moss (Chondrus crispus), a red seaweed often used to produce agar; and Polysiphonia, another red seaweed. Also found was an unwelcome non-native species of brown seaweed, Sargassum muticum, thought to have been brought to the UK with oyster farming. Several species of crab were also observed, including shore crabs (Carcinus maenas), a juvenile edible brown crab (Cancer pagurus), a clawed porcelain crab (Porcellana platycheles), the velvet swimming crab (Necora puber), and a hairy/bristly crab (Pilumnus hirtellus). A small mass of the tube-dwelling amphipods Jassa falcate was found on the chalk substrate, and hiding under a rock was a shore prawn, Palaemon elegans. Various molluscs were observed including a chiton (Lepidochitona cinerea) attached to a flint block; a grey topshell (Gibbula cineraria); a purple or flat topshell (Gibbula umbilicalis); a yellow-shelled flat periwinkle (Littorina) (the yellow colouration relating to its ecology as a sun-lover); and a dog whelk (Nucella lapillus) with its thick tough shell. Gerald explained that dog whelks had been in decline, mainly because of the anti-fouling paint used on the hulls of boats. The paint was not toxic to the whelks, but damaged their habitats. However, since the composition of anti-fouling paint had been changed the population of dog whelks had started to increase again - bad news for the mussels we saw which are predated by dog whelks drilling holes into their shells to feed on them! Two types of anemone were spotted in the rock pools - the beadlet anemone (Actinia equina) and the strawberry anemone (Actinia fragacea) - as well as encrusting orange sponges (Porifera sp.) on the sides of the gullies. The zig-zag hydroid, Dynamena pumila, was also seen. A couple of fish were temporarily caught and examined, including a 15 cm blenny (see photo below). As we approached the foot of the mid-shore we could see that it had been extensively eroded and weakened by piddock borings. Gerald remarked that this posed a problem on the offshore reefs as it makes them more vulnerable to damage by the anchors of fishing boats.

After a fascinating and informative morning, and with the tide coming in, we made our way back to the upper shore where Joyce Austen found a dead prawn which Gerald did not recognise. He took it away for identification and later advised it was Processa edulis crassipes, a new record for Newhaven.

I’d like to thank Gerald for a very interesting and enjoyable trip and for sharing his extensive knowledge with us. He has a website reflecting his interests at: http://www.chelifer.com/?page-id=1932 which members may like to explore.

Peter Austen

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26th April 2016 - Spring Migration at Shooters’ Bottom and Birling Gap

Derek Barber joined me at 06.00 on a very cold but strikingly clear morning to search for interesting birds in preparation for the first walk from Shooters’ Bottom at 07.00. In the event, by the time the first group had assembled we had a rather smaller gathering than usual but optimism and enthusiasm prevailed – and this was assisted by the fact that it gradually turned into a glorious morning to be out and about. As I had located the tawny owl earlier, hiding in dense leaves in the Horseshoe Plantation, we thought it prudent to return immediately while there was chance of re-locating it – and sure enough it showed very well just inside the woods. This was a propitious start to the morning and all present were very pleased that this long-staying bird had been so obliging. Returning to Shooters’ Bottom, we gradually assembled a reasonable list of all the usual species to be expected in this sort of chalk downland along the coast. The second group met at Birling Gap at 10.00 and were rather less fortunate with the tawny owl but otherwise also enjoyed a good selection of birds. In total, 42 species were recorded during the first session with a number of good birds also noted by the second group.

Among the highlights of the morning were a party of 6 yellow wagtails flying in off the sea and 3 wheatear for the first group – with another 6 more wheatear for the second group in the fields to the north of the coastal road. In addition to these very recent arrivals, there was also a steady trickle of barn swallows coming in off the sea throughout the morning. Corn buntings sang vigorously for both groups from the wires and fence posts around the entrance to the farm occasionally flying to show their dangling pink legs with feet carried well below the undercarriage. As so often at this location, a male peregrine was continually on patrol over the cattle pasture between us and East Dean village but rather less expected was a cuckoo flying through having also probably arrived that morning. Both of the SNHS groups spent some time at the Plantation, and particularly in the more sheltered eastern side of the wood, where we were fortunate enough to see a number of blackcap, at least six willow warblers and a migrant goldcrest amongst others.

Rather to our surprise, we also enjoyed excellent views of the early spider orchids which appeared to be in somewhat larger numbers than seen in recent years. Moreover, after the wet winter some spikes were also considerably taller than usual with one in a particularly sheltered spot reaching almost 3 inches in height. Around the bottom of the slope to Belle Tout we also found a fair number of early purple orchids in full flower. A search for the bee orchids in the same area failed to produce any specimens but it was rather early for these. The real star of the morning, however, was a truly magnificent male black redstart observed on the entrance track to Hodcombe. This bird was discovered as we searched for adders warming themselves in the sun. The black redstart showed exceptionally well for all those in the first group and truly was a delight.

Overall, then, rather a better and more productive morning than some we have experienced in recent years - or is it more appropriate to say endured? In pleasant conditions, there was just about enough to maintain the interest and beyond the various birds there were orchids to enjoy although butterflies and dragonflies were largely conspicuous by their absence. Finally, a word of special thanks again to Derek Barber for the generosity of spirit which has prompted him to take a day off work in order to assist me on these walks ever since I ruptured my Achilles tendon over two years ago. His skill in finding the birds and his equally important ability to get other members of the group on to them has certainly enhanced the quality of these walks which in every other respect depend so much on the wayward vagaries of the weather, the capricious state of the migration and the ability to call upon a lavish store of good luck.

Bob Self

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10th May 2016 – Outing to RSPB Pulborough Brooks Nature Reserve

Undeterred by the rain 27 of us boarded the coach near the Martello Tower by 9.30 am and after a pleasant journey arrived at the Reserve around 10.30am. After a break for coffee we met up in the lecture room for a talk by John Oliver who, amongst other tasks, looks after the volunteers.

He began with a history of the site, going back to 2500BC. There is evidence of early settlement by man, including the discovery of tools used in the Bronze Age, and barrows. In 45AD after the arrival of the Romans Pulborough became a main trading centre, second to Chichester. During the 1500-1900s ditches and water meadows led to ideal habitats attracting wildfowl and birds. In 1960 there was a decline in wetland wildlife due to farming methods and a flood relief scheme. Some birds ceased to come. In 1985 the RSPB became interested and purchased the site in 1989 despite there being no birds! From 1989 onwards water control devices and a cattle grazing regime were introduced. In 1992 the reserve was opened to the public. Numbers of birds increased rapidly, eg pintails, by 1994 the reserve had become a site of national importance and in 1999 it was designated an SSSI. Coming right up to date, in 2016 the total area covered is 1174 acres and a modern visitor centre has been built to replace the former dilapidated building.

John then went on to talk about the management of the site. Ditches have been dug as part of the water management effort to attract damselflies and wildfowl. This is always ongoing work because not only can nests be washed away during flood times but so can current ditches. Highland cattle have been introduced to graze, replacing the English Whites. One of the challenges has been that In the 1930s a number of pine trees were planted which greatly restricted the variety of species. In 2010 a clearance took place in order to convert these areas back to heathland, and spraying was carried out last year to kill the bracken. Lots of heather is now around which is good, including the bell heather which had been lost and has now come back. Other successes include the reappearance of the woodlark and the discovery of the protected Ramshorn whirlpool snail. An arable seed mix is sown to attract buntings and some weeds have been left too. Electric fences have been erected to protect lapwings from foxes and other predators – although the lapwings sometimes choose to nest outside the protected area! A balance needs to be struck between woodland areas and cleared areas in order to attract a greater variety of species.

John then took us for a “stroll” through the seasons and the enormous variety of species to be seen throughout the year, far too numerous to list here.

There are now 1.2m members of the RSPB. All in all there are around 170 volunteers helping to care for the Reserve, including looking after the footpaths and fences, conservation work, and hosting visits from children who are the future. There are hides dotted around, a flagship super nature reserve and trails, nature watching/viewpoints, nature events and activities, play and picnic areas. There is, of course, the visitor centre. Finally, a gift shop and café with covered terrace provide profits which are ploughed back into the Reserve.

After lunch the weather kindly relented and we divided into two groups for a two hour guided walk around the Reserve with Andy and Graham as our guides. They were both very knowledgeable and pointed out the birdsong of nightingale (unfortunately, there are fewer pairs each year) who sing for territory and a mate. Once they have paired up they stop singing. We also heard blackbird, blackcap, chaffinch, gadwall, garden warbler, green finch, song thrush, willow warbler, and wren (an extraordinary number of notes per second) singing. We saw blackcap, blue tits, bullfinch, chiffchaff (now overwintering), cormorant, green woodpecker, lapwing, linnet, little egret, nuthatch, peregrine falcon, young robin, shelduck, shoveler, whitethroat, and wren. Also seen was the habitat of the solitary bee, newts, and an orange tip butterfly – very kindly remaining still for a photoshoot! Plants noted were dog violets, greater stitchwort and primrose.

Unfortunately we did not see any adders – apparently they save their venom for prey so if they are disturbed by humans will probably give them only a dry bite.

The time passed all too quickly and we had to set off home for Seaford, arriving back at around 5pm. Our thanks go to Paul Baker and Prue Cooper-Mitchell for all the planning involved in arranging the Society’s outing to this reserve which ensured that the day was both enjoyable and informative.

Susan Painter

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24th May 2016 – Barcombe Mills

On a lovely sunny day, around 30 of us walked up the Ouse from Barcombe Mills car park to the Anchor Inn and then back down the disused railway line. It’s a walk of about two and a half miles but because there was so much interest en route it took the front runners two and a half hours and some of the others three hours to get round. There is a range of habitats on the walk, including riverbank, meadow and woodland, and a slightly different range of flora from our chalk downland walks - this part of the Ouse valley is an area of alluvium underlain by Weald Clay (with thanks to Colin Whiteman for this information).

Demoiselles and other insects - The planned focus of the walk was common birds and wild flowers but I think for most members the insects were the highlight and, particularly, the banded demoiselles we saw along the river. Conditions were near perfect for them - dry and sunny with a very light wind. We also saw, amongst other things, orange tip and brimstone butterflies, common blue and large red damselflies and hairy dragonflies. (And we could see garlic mustard, which orange tip caterpillars feed on in June, throughout the walk.)

Flora - As organisers, Paul and I had a really great opportunity to see how the flora had developed over the past month. We saw quite a swift change of wild flowers from predominately lesser celandine, bluebells, sweet and dog violets, ground ivy, ramsons and cuckoo flower in April /early May to a much wider range later in the month. Three common buttercups (bulbous, meadow and creeping), cow parsley, comfrey, crosswort, greater stitchwort and red campion could be seen in profusion on the 24th May, and the cranesbills, mouse ears, vetches and creeping tormentil were beginning to appear. Fumitory, woody nightshade and ragged robin had come into flower over the past few days.

On the riverside, we saw lots of hemlock water dropwort – an umbellifer which looks like wild celery but is to be avoided as all parts of the plant are poisonous. Near the weirs, there was also a small patch of large bitter-cress. (It is worth mentioning that the spring is probably the best time to explore the riverbank. Later in the summer Himalayan balsam takes over. )

In the woodland area behind the old oil mill (it used to produce cattle cake from linseed) we found the remains of moschatel, quite a common plant but unusual in that it has five faces, which gives it its common name of Town Hall Clock.

Fungi one fungus was spotted on an Ash by the river near the old oil mill - King Alfred’s Cake (Daldania concentrica). As you might guess from the name, it is a round, burnt- looking, black, inedible fungus. It commonly grows on ash or beech but can be found on other trees.

Birds - One of the wonderful things about walking in the countryside at this time of the year is the birdsong. The birds are not always easy to see but you can certainly hear them, including the distinctive song of wrens and yellow hammers. Of those we did see, the hobby, barn owl, grey wagtail, kingfisher, mute swan cygnets and swifts stand out.

And lastly, the ones that got away - On 3rd May when we were doing our first check on what we were likely to find on the walk we spotted two hares in a field to the east of the old railway line. They were probably in the vicinity on the 24th but the vegetation had grown so much in the interim that they wouldn’t have been visible unless disturbed – and we didn’t see them again.

There is a list of some of the flora and fauna you can see in the Barcombe Mills area in April and May here Barcombe Mills species list - with thanks to John East of the Eastbourne SWT Group for the listing for April 2015.



Anne Fletcher

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7th June 2016 – Milton Gate

On a sultry day, 19 of us managed to cross the A27 safely to meet on the North side of the main road on the track opposite the road to Milton Street. We followed the Wealdway northwards till we met the stream as it comes out of the hillside. We avoided wading through the marshy ground but doubled back to wander down the valley towards the Cuckmere river. Our route had passed round the boundary of the old Wilmington airfield. This had seen action in the first world war, and was a commercial airfield between the wars. However, because the land was so good for agriculture, it was ploughed up during the second world war for food.

By all accounts the highlight of the fauna was the nest in the middle of an oak tree of a buzzard. We only saw one fluffy grey chick, but it was quite active in crawling around in the nest. The adults were way up in the sky presumably looking for its lunch. It was not the best weather for butterflies, but we did identify 6 including a painted lady, probably the one I had seen the day before.

Probably the best of the flora were the magnificent yellow flags which were at their very best. Much admired was the reed-bed from which we could hear but not see warblers. The hemlock water dropwort was very much in evidence along with other wet-loving plants.

Alas, the fish I saw in the river on my recce the day before were nowhere to be seen. From my photographs others were able to identify the grim-looking 15-20-inch thick-lipped grey mullet, but my photographs were not up to identifying the 24 strong shoal of another species of equal size.

With the hint of a thunderstorm coming our way we retraced our steps to the A27, but not without inspecting the hedgerows where we found various beetles, flies and a mysterious non-climbing plant whose flower looked like bryony - only to discover later it was only spindle. We all safely crossed the A27 again.

Colin Pritchard

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21st June 2016 - Whitbread Hollow

Once again for this walk the weather improved from Monday and the overcast morning to produce a mostly sunny afternoon with some breeze. 29 of us, including a few visitors, met near the refreshment kiosk at the western end of the Eastbourne seafront road. Some people were concerned that we were going straight up on the steep start of the South Downs Way. I assured them that we were not.

As we assembled there were jackdaws around us and a beetle landed on someone's hand. It was later identified from photographs as an orchid beetle (Dascillus cervinus). Soon after we set off a cyclist passed us pushing his drop handlebar bike, which seemed a little strange considering the terrain ahead. Offshore a tug was towing a floating restaurant (or houseboat) back and forth. Near the school sports field we came across a group of young people sitting on the ground (a different sort of wildlife!).

A short distance after the path down to Cow Gap we turned inland on a steady gentle ascent to make the return round the back of Whitbread Hollow. We admired a stonechat. There was a splash of colour from a patch of viper's bugloss on the hill. A few of us spotted a female pheasant further up the hill with 2 or 3 young ones. They soon disappeared from view behind some bushes. It was about here that my wife discovered her watch was no longer on her wrist. She turned back to look for it, and then Colin Pritchard asked if anyone had lost a watch. Thank you, Colin!

Bob Self expressed a desire to see a bee eater or an azure winged magpie. The nearest we got was the blue flash on a jay's wing in the distance. We watched a tree pipit repeatedly ascending and parachuting back down. There were several rabbits taking advantage of the empty school playing fields.

The much spread out group started to arrive back at the refreshment kiosk just as it was closing for business at 4:30 p.m. - but there was one more bird to add to the list:- the scary owl with swiveling head on top of the kiosk. Thanks are due to Paul Baker for acting as back marker and to Colin Pritchard and Mike Kerry for providing their photos on-line for members to access.

Also noted:-

Sainfoin, salad burnet, hedge bedstraw, dropwort, mignonette, yellow wort, thyme, agrimony, hemp agrimony, rosebay, green alkanet, white bryony, wood avens, dog rose, purple vetch, burdock, honeysuckle, cut leaved geranium, silverweed, selfheal, eyebright, dropwort, bladder campion, greater knapweed, juvenile stonechat and adult, chaffinch, goldfinch, magpies, swallow, 2 swifts, martin, long tailed tit, common carpet moth, silver Y moth, cinnabar moth, burnet moth chrysalis, meadow brown, small tortoiseshell, small skipper, large skipper, common blues, female Oedemara nobilius beetle.

Peter Hammond

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5th July 2016- Frog Firle Farm

Twenty nine turned up on a grey, cool morning for a guided walk led by Lee Walther and Dave Morgan of the National Trust. Frog Firle Farm is unique amongst the National Trust properties in Sussex for its range of habitats. It encompasses chalk downland, improved grassland, a flood plain and within the lowland areas, ponds, managed drainage ditches and reed beds. In addition the farm has interesting archaeology resulting in habitats caused by man’s manipulation of the landscape. The variety on this farm allows for a wide range of insects, birds, and plants.

At the start of the walk we looked at two ponds close to the farm buildings; one of which is deemed to be old and the other was dug in the 1960’s. The older pond collects water that flows through the farmyard on its way from Cradle Valley, the water is full of nutrients yet the pond water remains clear and on our day was bounded by rushes in flower. This is one of only two sites in Sussex to have the red-eyed damsel fly though it didn’t show itself whilst we were there. Equally conspicuous by its absence was the sedge warbler and moorhen, though a reed warbler was heard. The second pond is overgrown with reeds but the NT has plans to open up clear water areas within the reeds to make a variety of habitats – something to look forward to. A blue-tailed damselfly was seen here.

From the ponds the ground drops to the river; the recent rain had resulted in luxuriant growth and a plethora of meadow flowers and thistles. We were charmed by goldfinches and saw our first butterfly - a meadow brown. The reed beds and drainage ditches beside the river apparently provide the greatest biodiversity on Frog Firle Farm, supporting a wide range of insect life, though the poor weather meant we only saw a marbled white butterfly and a blue-tailed damselfly. The birds were also being shy and though there was a single mute swan, a number of corvids and reed bunting and reed warblers. The mallards, herons and little egrets were initially notable by their absence though eventually two egrets and a grey heron were seen.

The area between the river and the drainage ditch enabled the identification of a large number of plants including many of the common grassland plants and several species of buttercup including the celery-leaved buttercup. There was also frogbit, fine-leaved water dropwort, water forget-me-not, knapweed, knotted hedge parsley and a good number of red star thistles.

As we left the river to climb up in the direction of High and Over there was a possible sighting of a dark green fritillary. More positively we can claim to have seen dog rose, white bryony, vervain, rest harrow, fairy flax, thyme, self-heal, black medick, hedge bedstraw, bird’s-foot-trefoil, ragwort, silverweed, field madder, bladder campion, lots of viper’s bugloss together with slender thistles and a number of hover flies which we could not identify. We saw three snowy ink cap fungi, one in pristine condition.

When the sun broke through the clouds the marbled white butterflies started to fly along with a honeybee, a number of bumble bees including the common carder bee and the red tailed bumblebee and some micro moths.

Our route now took us across the road into Cradle Valley where we were treated to a stunning display of downland flowers. Of particular interest were the orchids including the burnt-tip orchid, the pyramidal and the fragrant. The range of plants growing in this valley is huge and it is not possible to mention all but notable were: Round-headed rampion, perforate St John’s-wort, agrimony, field scabious, kidney vetch, ladies bedstraw, hedge bedstraw, ox-eye daisy, rest harrow, scarlet pimpernel, common field speedwell, eyebright, wall and germander speedwell, chalk milkwort, an unidentified vetch, dropwort, yarrow, salad burnet, dwarf thistle, bird’s-foot-trefoil, squinancywort, bastard-toadflax, common mouse ear, herb robert, and goat’s-beard.

In addition to the plants we saw a six-spot burnet moth, a cinnabar moth, a small heath butterfly and an Essex skipper butterfly and there were several common red-headed soldier beetles, and the swollen thighed beetle; this later being interesting in having very obvious swellings at the top of his thighs. Flying overhead were several swifts and we had a brief visit from a buzzard.

Even on our return to the farmyard there were more things to see and we added to the list giant burdock, hedge convolvulus, figwort, mallow and black horehound.

Lee and Dave are to be thanked for giving us an interesting walk and leaving us with the lasting memory of the swathes of flowers cloaking the hillside of Cradle Valley.

Marion Trew

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19th July 2016 – Seaford Head

On a very pleasant bright and sunny start to the morning, 25 members and visitors gathered at the South Barn CP, to meet up with Sarah Quantrill the Sussex Wildlife Trust Ranger for the Seaford Head Nature Reserve, for a walk around a part of the reserve, to let us know what is being done to improve the chalk downland grassland habitat.

After a brief introduction, we proceeded down the pathway which leads to the coastguard cottages. Within a few yards a carabid beetle was spotted on the concrete. We continued onto the area where the British White Cattle were, this part being fenced off so that they graze only a part of the reserve. The hope is that the cattle will remove any strong growing grasses such as tor grass, although they tend to avoid eating this, and other encroaching scrub such as bramble. There are two areas or compartments which are grazed alternately. Rabbits also graze the area and some is mowed or cut manually by volunteers; it is then raked in order to reduce fertility so as to encourage wild flowers over grasses. Most of the cutting and scrub clearance work is done between September and March to avoid disturbing nesting birds.

Russian vine weed and cotoneaster, escapees from gardens, are also an issue in the western area of the reserve adjacent to the golf course and behind the houses along South Way.

As a result of this scrub control a wide variety of chalk downland flowers can flourish in the shorter sward. Bird’s-foot-trefoil, wild thyme, common milkwort, fairy flax and dropwort were among the plants found.

We then continued down to Hope Gap and up Hope Bottom to discover more varieties of flowers such as red bartsia, scarlet pimpernel and common centaury.

By the time we got to the top it was getting very warm. By the track at the top wall, barley grass was noted to our outing as was a comma butterfly.

Some of the flora and fauna seen that morning are listed below: Birds: wren, chaffinches, magpies and two linnets. Butterflies and moths: meadow browns, gatekeepers, marbled whites, small whites, red admirals, small heath, a forester moth, six spot burnets, mint moth and a barred toothed striped moth. Insects: a broad centurion soldier fly. Plants: eyebright, burdock, St John’s wort, hogweed, ground ivy, clover, wild basil, lady’s bedstraw, pineapple weed, woody nightshade, common stork’s-bill and creeping cinquefoil.

At the end we thanked Sarah for giving us a most informative and enjoyable walk.

Alan Major

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2nd August 2016 - Makstakes Common

The Met Office forecast was pessimistic – heavy rain overnight with lighter precipitation persisting into the morning with at least 20% probability. But eleven SNHS members assembled in Markstakes Lane, South Chailey, to brave the elements. We were met at the gate in the flint wall (TQ398183) by our leader, Dr Jackie Hutson, who briefly outlined the plan for a morning at Markstakes Common, an area of ancient woodland. (Jackie is one of nine ‘Friends of Markstakes Common’ who meet regularly on Mondays for conservation work.) In contrast to our familiar alkaline environment around Seaford, Markstakes Common lies on Weald Clay which accounts for the more calcifuge flora. It also explains the muddy pathways, following the overnight downpours, and the presence of pools (with their three species of newts) and other damp habitats.

Jackie introduced the theme of the walk, vegetation communities based on the National Vegetation Classification (NVC), and outlined the walk on a coloured map. Dominant communities are Oak-Bracken-Bramble/Beech Bramble Woodland (W10/14), Wood Pasture (WP), Bracken-Bramble Underscrub (W25a) and Hawthorn-Ivy scrub (W21). Restoration of the central part of the Common is focussed on heather (Calluna vulgaris). Communities in this area of restoration include U20 (Bracken-Heath Bedstraw), M23/25 (Rush Pasture/Purple Moor Grass-Tormentil Mire), W23 (Gorse-Bramble Scrub) and W25a (Bracken-Bramble Underscrub). The map, which, along with lists of flora and fauna, is available on Markstakes Common website, also highlights a number of notable trees scattered through the wood. In the past the wood was more open, due to grazing and coppicing, which was good for insects. The conservation effort since 2009 has aimed to restore some of the glades in the interests of biodiversity and heather.

The first leg of our walk took us through the Bracken-Bramble Underscrub where saw-wort was noted, one of 36 plants on the Common indicative of ancient woodland. Other indicators of ancient woodland, noted during the walk, included aspen, hart’s-tongue fern, alder buckthorn, hornbeam, holly, wild service tree and lesser skullcap.

Shortly afterwards we crossed the transition from Oak-Bracken-Bramble (W10) to Beech-Bramble (W14). It was suggested that beech was probably planted because this tree does not favour damp clay. Holly has spread widely with the lack of grazing. Apparently holly often shows fewer spines on the upper part of the tree where there is less need for protection against grazing. And did you know; it is also dioecious? (I confess, I had to resort to the dictionary for this one!) Close by, an ancient hornbeam, perhaps 250 years old, is one of 34 trees on the Common that are listed and described for their particular interest.

Soon we came to the bank and ditch defining the boundary with Balneath Wood, the latter sadly reduced in area in the late 70s to early 80s when part was felled (to provide pasture) before woodland protection was enhanced by legislation. Less drastic reshaping of the forest used to be achieved by grazing and coppicing, the latter related to the production of charcoal, and linked to local brick-making using the clay.

Today, Heather Glade has been successfully cleared to allow heather to thrive in place of bracken. Young shoots of heather are protected by cages. Purple moor grass and wood sage are present, together with heath star moss, a pioneer on bare ground.

High Pond is protected from dogs by a recently rebuilt dead hazel fence and needs to be at least partially cleared every 2 years or so.

A bog in an old clay pit revealed acid-loving marsh speedwell and pennywort, some sphagnum and lots of tormentil. A small amount of bell heather (Erica cinerea), caged to overcome the detrimental effect of grazing, was a surprise as it favours drier heaths. Bracken is pulled regularly and this seems to restrict it to 50-60 cm, otherwise, where uncontrolled, it was over 2 m this year.

The Mire also takes much work to maintain its openness but yields sharp flower rush, gipsywort, ragwort, greater bird’s-foot-trefoil, marsh thistle, lousewort and a few sedges. The ancient woodland indicator lesser skullcap also occurs in the mire area.

Elsewhere, squirrels had debarked aspen and apparently also attack hornbeam. Amongst the noteworthy trees was a spectacular hornbeam with several boles in a circle rather than a single trunk. Also observed were devil’s bit scabious, gatekeeper butterfly, red-tailed bee, Sphagnum palustre, and robin’s pin cushion gall, but mouse reedwort evaded us. Further along our route water purslane and angelica were noted.

The ornithological highlight, as we neared the end of our walk, was a grey wagtail doing what wagtails do in its quest for food in the muddy margins of a shallow pool.

And so back to the gate in the flint wall, where Jackie was applauded for her very informative walk, and the party dispersed, thankful that the weather had ameliorated and a soaking had been avoided.

Colin Whiteman

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16th August 2016 - Friston Gallops

Some 20+ members and visitors showed admirable optimism in turning out for a butterfly walk at Friston Gallops in spite of the fact that 2016 is reported as a very poor year for butterflies. Even the advice before the walk that we would see very few butterflies did not dampen anyone's enthusiasm.

At the start of the walk from Butchershole car park we did eventually see a speckled wood as we walked up the ride to the gallops then, as we progressed we actually saw 2 together.

On the Gallops themselves the numbers were extremely low although we did see a fair number of species including Meadow Brown (these indeed seemed to be the most numerous), Common Blue, Small White, Green-veined White, Painted Lady, Small Heath, Brimstone, Brown Argus, Small Skipper and Essex Skipper.

The main target for the morning was the Chalkhill Blue, normally to be counted in the thousands or 10's of thousands and proving a wonderful spectacle. With some effort we did get into double figures (just) but it was a not quite the anticipated display.

Some of the chalk grassland plants, in particular a number of pale autumn-flowering gentians and some impressive clustered bellflower, provided a welcome diversion.

Although the walk didn't quite live up to the hoped for spectacular of previous years a number of members had not been to Friston Gallops before and were pleased to have been introduced to a new site - with luck when they return in future years the true spectacle will be revealed in all its glory.

Chris Brewer

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30th August 2016 – Lullington Heath

The day was warm and sunny, and fourteen members set out climbing an area of “improved” or “semi-improved” pasture alongside a very rough track. The field itself was devoid of interest save for a few remnants of annual flax but the hedgerow provided small heath, meadow brown and brown argus butterflies. Along the eastern edge of Friston Forest tall chalk grassland flora provided meadow brown, small heath, common blue butterflies and at least three species of bumblebees (terrestris, lucorum and pascuorum), hoverflies, including the common “marmalade” and drone-flies. But the highlight of this area was a spectacular female wasp spider which, while we were studying it, ensnared an “unfortunate” grasshopper!!

Cutting through the edge of the forest we saw vervain and fairy flax, and a couple of rooting shank fungi, so-called because the base of the stipe (stalk) extends into the soil with a tapering “root”.

Lullington Heath national nature reserve is an area of underlying chalk covered with extensive patches of acidic deposits plus adjoining chalk grassland and valley grassland. The resulting flora comprises grassland species such as viper’s bugloss, common scabious, devil’s bit, red bartsia and knapweed, growing alongside ling, bell heather and extensive gorse. We saw a single plant of harebell and a very late dropwort and numerous autumn gentians, many of which had finished flowering. In one area gorse covered with dense webs appeared to be infected with gorse spider-mite. Other flora included burnet rose, wild mignonette, weld, wild basil and betony.

In addition to the butterflies already mentioned there were red admiral, peacock, small tortoiseshell, green-veined white, brimstone, clouded yellow, small copper and small skipper; two silver Y moths also seen.

A long but interesting walk.

Mike Squires

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13th September 2016 - Bird walk: Shooters’ Bottom and Birling Gap.

A total of 12 hardy souls turned out for the 07.00 session at Shooters’ Bottom on a glorious sunny morning and for once there was some recompense for their efforts - and not just because of the unusually beautiful weather. In part our satisfaction was based on the discovery that the meeting had been planned at an ideal time given that the road was closed for repairs from the following week for either four weeks or eight weeks depending on whether one read the signs coming in from Eastbourne or from Birling Gap. The real explanation for the relatively buoyant mood, however, was the surprise appearance of a grasshopper warbler only a short distance from the car park. The discovery was a piece of pure serendipity. Derek Barber had once again joined the group to assist me in finding something of interest and while doing so he played the cricket-like song of the ‘Gropper’ to explain the derivation of the bird’s name. Unbeknown to him, he did so next to a bush which contained a grasshopper warbler and almost immediately it responded to the tape by emerging beside him. It then went on to perform extremely well for 15 minutes or so allowing all present to obtain excellent views of this very attractive but extremely skulking Locustella warbler as it climbed (rather than hopped around) on the edge of the bush. Although a classic LBJ (Little Brown Job) at a distance, it is in fact a very handsome bird with a very distinctive attenuated head shape, delicate stripes along the throat and upper chest and a rounded tail. Several members of the group acknowledged that it was a ‘lifer’ for them – which is always a good indicator of satisfaction levels. Among the other species which caused pleasure were masses of passing swallows and martins and up to 30 yellow wagtails flying overhead (as they typically do at this time of year in preparation for migration). A very attractive male whinchat was also much admired by those who saw it while a common redstart was equally warmly welcomed by its observers. Much pleasure was created by the presence of a sparrowhawk pursuing a very determined and agile linnet and failing to catch it after a prolonged struggle.

The second group of 19 members met at 10.00 at Birling Gap and we made our way to the bottom of the road up to Belle Tout. Unfortunately, the wind had got up by this time and was blowing a minor gale as we headed for the Plantation woodland. In these weather conditions it was extremely difficult to walk let alone look for birds – but by this stage there were few birds to see beyond the ubiquitous stonechats and sadly the tawny owl was not at home when he was needed most. On the other side of the wood, however, the relative calm proved to be a haven for butterflies and in the course of the next hour we found a variety of non-avian treats in the form of small white, small heath, speckled wood, peacock, small copper, common blue, meadow brown, red admiral, comma, silver Y and a hummingbird hawk moth which very obligingly had landed right in the middle of the path. For most budding lepidopterists, however, the stars of the show were the clouded yellows which have been well represented in this area this year despite it being a poor butterfly year generally. To round the day off in style we also recorded red-tailed and buff-tailed bumble bees and common carder bees while the botanists in our ranks were swift to draw attention to the large quantity of devil’s-bit scabious and soapwort along our route. In a desperate effort to find something interesting in bird-like form I led the group up the steep slope to make their return journey to the car park along the cliff top– but failed miserably to find anything at all as we slogged back in the now even stronger wind.

Notwithstanding the various problems and disappointments, it was a generally quite satisfactory expedition with something of interest for all. Overall, a total of 41 members recorded 52 species of bird and at least eleven species of butterfly – which given the conditions was not a bad achievement particularly as quite a few also obtained a birding lifer into the bargain.

Bob Self

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29th September 2016 – Bishopstone Valley/Rookery Hill: Saxon times

On a pleasantly warm morning about 20 of us met up with Graham Kean on the Bishopstone Road just off the A259. In a short introduction to the walk he explained that had we been standing on the same spot 1400 years ago we would have been watching the tide go out; in fact the original cliff lines are visible today. When the Saxons arrived they were attracted to this area because it was possible to sail straight in almost as far as where Bishopstone Church now stands enabling them to start up a settlement. The outline of some medieval strip fields, a very rare sight in Sussex, can still be seen. These enabled everyone to have one or two strips of their own to cultivate, perhaps obtained by lots or by bribery.

We turned onto a footpath leading to a fairly steep hill. At the top Graham pointed out the remains of an Iron Age settlement. This probably consisted of one family farm with one hut and a couple of ancillary buildings. When the Romans arrived the settlement was probably inhabited by the local Romano-British population. There would not have been a grand Roman villa but more likely several timber framed buildings. When the Romans left in about 300 AD the settlement would have become vulnerable to attack and disappeared. About 100 years later when the Saxons arrived the settlement was rejuvenated. It was a good site of defence, although the area was exposed to all weathers and had no immediate access to drinking water. Between 400-600AD there would have perhaps been a hamlet of about 22 buildings. These included: 3 sunken workshops, one of which was used for textiles as looms were discovered, and another one for carving objects out of bone; about 17 Saxon houses and 1 larger building – possibly the head man’s hall.

After climbing further we saw a row of Bronze Age barrows. One important person would have been buried per barrow together with grave goods like beakers and bronze spearheads. The Saxons realised the importance of barrows and set up their cemetery close by. When the houses were being built in Rookery Way various remains were discovered and the area excavated. Once the Vikings arrived their burials were more elaborate with jewellery (for women) and spearheads with shields across their chests (for men) being buried with them. There are 118 individual burials with a spread of ages from very young to old (over 45!). Interestingly there are no signs of battle injury. The first excavation report on the barrows has been published, but the publication of the excavation near the houses is still awaited. As a diversion from this we saw common toadflax, white clover, robins pin cushion, and small nettle (not so common). Later on much interest was shown in some very large groups of ivy bees. These have only been recognised in the UK since 2001.

Back on the road at Norton Graham explained that around 600AD the Saxons migrated to the valley which was protected from the weather and where there was a ready water supply. The main settlement was at Bishopstone with Norton being the subsidiary. Some excavation was done in the mid 70’s and in about 2000 funding was obtained for a research project for four years. As a house platform and flint walls could be seen expectations were high but unfortunately the results were very disappointing turning up only a toilet pit and also a pot! Unfortunately the majority of the settlement is probably hidden under the private gardens of the houses opposite.

Further on by the side of Bishopstone Church pits have been found for making copper goods between 600 and 700 AD. During the 9th century the ownership of land between Beddingham and Seaford was disputed but finally confirmed as belonging to the church. Around this time Bishopstone Church was built. Shortly afterwards many original place names disappeared and new ones like Heighton and Denton came into use. A manor house was built, probably for the bailiff, and produce would possibly have been stored in the large barn. The copper site was dismantled. There was also a round house possibly with a tower – almost unique in Sussex. Despite thorough excavation we can only speculate whether this was a gatehouse or a strong room for storing money. Horseshoes and a harness have also been found: were these put in for good luck when these buildings were constructed? The entire manorial complex was created by church money.

The Saxon Church at Bishopstone is quite a rare survivor. Graham pointed out the outline of where the original building comes to and also the sympathetic restoration work done 5 or 6 years ago. Originally entered from the West end with little chapels coming off on 3 sides a new entrance was created the other side and a tower added about 1200. There is one surviving Saxon window, and an original sundial inscribed to Eadric, unique to Sussex. In the 1680s the church lost their monastic estates which went to the Pelham family who built a manor house which they deserted in the 1800s when they left for ’better’ towns like Lewes and Brighton.

We all thanked Graham for a wealth of information delivered in such an enthusiastic way.

Susan Painter

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Page updated 13th October 2016