11th April 2018 - ASHCOMBE BOTTOM WALK

This was the first walk of the 2017 summer season, and an adventurous one at that. When we suggested a woodland walk to start the season, Lee Walter of the National Trust immediately suggested Ashcombe Bottom wood. The challenge was where to park, and how to get from there up to Blackcap in a reasonable time and without everyone being exhausted. The answer was to park in Plumpton Bostall, and for Lee to provide a shuttle service to transport everyone up to the ridge.

The walk was due to begin at 10.30, but members all arrived early as requested, and all 19 members gathered at Blackcap ready to begin by 10.45. Lee told us a little about the history of the wood, before we began the route - inspired by talk of unexploded shells. The wood is a very special place, and originally part of three estates. It has been owned by the National Trust since 1992 and has existed on this spot for hundreds of years. There are chalk grassland areas, but also acid soils supporting bracken, which is unusual for this area. Much of the wood has a history of grazing and coppicing, but many trees have been left untouched to become ancient relics.

We quickly made the acquaintance of an impressive vintage oak, already in the region of 250 years old and with a massive lower branch, broken but still attached, rooting and throwing up new stems. Lee conjectured that in perhaps another 250 years this would be the new vintage oak, with a direct link to the past and a new location just a few feet from the original. The N.T. policy in this wood is to allow trees like this to pass through their natural cycle of growth and decay without interference. Mature trees that have fallen in past storms remain where they fell, and are often regenerating.

There were glades, and evidence of past sheep folding. Green hairstreak and grizzled skipper had been seen here recently, but didn’t appear for us despite the sunshine. It is a wood of many seasonal interests, with silver-washed and dark green fritillaries appearing later in the year along with white admirals.

We paused to admire a huge coppiced ash tree on a Parish boundary and reflect on the incidence of ash die-back. Lee felt that there was a good chance that many of the older trees would have a natural resistance, even though it was mainly young growth that was affected. We saw veteran hawthorn too, festooned with honeysuckle, and in at least one instance with ferns growing from its branches. Nightingale and willow tit had been recorded here, and we saw a long-tailed tit.

The ground cover was very varied, with bluebells in flower in established swathes, but also in many smaller relict patches which weren’t flowering. Would they gradually die out or thrive to form colourful areas in a future Spring-time? The natural order – whatever that turned out to be – would be allowed to prevail here. Patches of moschatel verified the ancient nature of the wood, and other plants which were noted included ground ivy, common dog violet, barren strawberry, greater mullein, primrose, cowslip, herb robert and garlic mustard. There were very few butterflies about, but we did see bee-flies and Chris and Mike found a nursery-web spider which proved to be a first for this area.

Three Parish boundaries go through the wood, and consequently much of it has been common grazed land, classified as Relict Wood Pasture. Over-grazing was common in the past, and some massive coppiced hazel stools were evident, the younger straight stems being used for fencing and hurdle-making, and the older twisted trunks for firewood.

There has been a tradition of pheasant shooting in the wood since 1940, and the N.T. have allowed it to remain, working with them to minimise adverse impact and improve woodland conditions. Even so there was too much bramble in places, and this WAS subject to some control.

We saw a large area of old and neglected hazel coppice, which had been used for sheep fencing. Lee pointed out the lack of new seedlings, which was partly due to shading-out, and partly to deer grazing. There were dormice resident in this area, which were being checked and monitored. Apparently the nest boxes were also popular with wood mice, bats and blue tits. Nearby we were shown an unusual small stand of aspen, not yet in leaf. No-one seemed to know when or why they had been planted here. The whole wood is very isolated, and Lee is hoping that ways can be found to create corridors to other wooded areas, to allow species to emigrate and immigrate and prevent species senility.

Towards the end of the walk we were taken to an area which the N.T. had coppiced, creating a sunny glade. The hazel had been used to make fencing which protected stools from grazing and allowed a succession of new growth. Already the ground flora included cowslip, and was popular with beeflies.

Our final detour was to visit Simon. This turned out to be the biggest tree in the wood. An ancient oak, somewhat fancifully named after Simon De Montfort, who fought the Battle of Lewes and whose troops could have camped in the wood and made the tree’s acquaintance. However, the Battle of Lewes was in 1264, 753 years ago, and the tree is probably not that old, even if it is an impressive specimen.

After the uphill walk back at the entrance to the wood, it was time for a quick rest before descending from Blackcap to the cars by the main road. This time it was downhill, and several members took advantage to walk, and take in the superb views to the North.

A spectacular end to pretty successful first walk.

Paul Baker

return to top


2nd May 2017 - Birding walk: Seaford Head

After more than our share of disappointments at Shooters Bottom and Birling Gap, this was our first walk at Seaford Head and the outcome more than justified the decision to change the venue to somewhere which held something for every interest. The pleasure was enhanced substantially by some glorious sunny weather which by the end of the morning was almost too hot – a phrase rarely to be found in previous accounts of walks around the wind-blasted heath further east. As usual, I was joined by Derek Barber who provided his customary good-humoured expert support.

Walking down from South Barn with the 07:00 group into Hope Gap we soon ticked off all the common resident species and a good many migrant warblers which continued calling all the way down the valley. Among them were common whitethroats on top of almost every bush and plenty of blackcaps and chiffchaff. The best was an early pair of lesser whitethroats half way down which eventually showed themselves to everyone. Along the bottom of Hope Gap we encountered wheatear, several barn swallows coming in off the sea and a few meadow and rock pipits which provided the opportunity for a detailed comparison. Although there was nothing particularly special recorded on this part of the walk, participants agreed the effort was worthwhile as there was an abundance of birds and plenty to keep us all alert.

The second group at 10:00 traced a different route via the air navigation beacon and along the cliff edge pass. On the way to the beacon we picked up the first of what would become several wheatears but for many the better find was a large patch of green-winged orchids which were in excellent colour along the edge of the fairway. The clifftop walk offered further wheatears which were watched at close quarters immediately on the cliff edge as well as several stonechats. As I scanned the sea looking for gannets and Mediterranean gulls (of which there were several) I also saw perhaps two harbour porpoises logging on the surface of the sea around half a mile out. They continued to break the surface for some time giving that characteristic slow roll but few members of the group got onto them. Easier to see was the migrating female marsh harrier which flew across the bottom of Hope Gap as we approached – this is a scarce migrant for Seaford Head but it was seen by everyone fairly well as it flew along the cliff edge before disappearing into the lower Cuckmere Valley. The only other excitement was provided by a bird which landed on the cliff top near the steps down to the beach at Hope Gap. This gave every appearance of being a water pipit but the photographs proved inconclusive and it will not be submitted. Water pipit thus remains a “hypothetical” for Seaford Head. The walk ended at the mouth of the Cuckmere River where several little egrets were joined by a grey plover, a single bar-tailed godwit and a migrating whimbrel.

The total number of bird species for the morning came to a satisfactory 53 – but this was more than just a bird walk as we recorded two foxes, two harbour porpoises, two species of orchid (green-winged and early purple) and several species of butterfly including green-veined white, small tortoiseshell, common blue and brimstone. Overall, a very gratifying conclusion to our experiment with a new venue and best of all, there is the real prospect that when we reassemble in September we might actually find something unusual.

Bob Self

return to top


9th May 2017 - Mallydams and Hastings Country Park outing

A full coach load of us set off for Mallydams, which is the smallest RSPCA rehabilitation centre for wildlife. Firstly, we were given an introductory talk by Richard Thompson, wildlife rehabilitation team manager. He began by explaining that Mallydams was given to the RSPCA in 1961 and that for about twelve years the appointed warden was left virtually alone to manage the centre. Then the RSPCA built a field study centre where adult groups and increasing numbers of schoolchildren could visit. In 1999 the original building had been replaced and by 2003 up to 30 children were able to stay.

On average about 3,000 animals are treated every year. Mallydams deals with all kinds of animals and birds and in an overview of a year at the centre Richard mentioned grey and common seals, badger and fox cubs, bats, stoats and weasels, baby voles, garden lizards, hedgehogs, dormice, mallards, herring gulls, red throated diver, peregrine falcon, barn owls, night jars and skuas, and Northumberland puffins. Richard stressed that Mallydams is a rehabilitation centre and not a sanctuary. Once an animal is able to cope in the wild it is released but if unable to do so it will have to be euthanased. Imprinting is not permitted so in order to avoid too much human contact puppets are used to handle/feed wildlife. It was disturbing to learn that many injuries are caused by man – for example, oiled birds, road casualties, fishing litter, roof netting, shotgun wounds, and wild bird trapping (mainly goldfinches).

Most animals are ringed or fitted with radio tracking before release in order to monitor movements and learn survival rates. These have greatly improved from the early days often aided by cooperation with many other European countries. (A herring gull called Monty has, since release, turned up in places as far afield as Eastbourne and Ostend.)

After the talk Richard gave us a guided tour of some of the buildings, starting with the reception area where the details of every animal is put on the data base and cards issued for every one giving details, treatment etc. rather like a human patient. There are a number of rooms, ranging from isolation cubicles, bird drying room to the animal kitchen room. There are aviaries, indoor pools and an outdoor pool for seals. What came across very clearly was the dedication and passion for the job.

The coach then took us to the Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve. After lunch we all gathered around the exhibits in the small Visitor Centre, which had been opened up especially for our group, where Murray Davidson, environment and natural resources manager at the Borough Council, began by saying that the building had become inadequate and that European funding had been secured to rebuild the Centre using straw bales. He continued by giving a short talk and then took us to a nearby viewpoint. He told us that in 2000 Hastings Council incorporated a farm and land (formerly leased to a tenant farmer) into the Country Park to form what would become the Hastings CPNR, bringing the whole area under Council control. The reserve comprises 853 acres and is the start of the High Weald of sandstone, a unique area surrounded by chalk to the East and West. Designated an SSSI and an area of outstanding natural beauty this is a very important site for bumblebees and plants like clover are grown to provide a nectar source.

The reserve has a unique habitat: coastal, farmland and ancient woodland. The cliffs are not stable and prone to collapse due to rain saturation. Gorse, originally planted as a buffer against the wind, and bracken have tended to take over. With the aim of keeping these under control and restoring diversity Belted Galloways and Exmoor ponies have been introduced and allowed to graze freely through the glens. Shire horses pulling a roller are also brought in occasionally to bruise the bracken. In one part of the reserve the gorse had to be cut down, much to public displeasure as the site looked like a battlefield. However, twelve months later it is now awash with campion, and grassland and heather are now growing. The Belted Galloways will now be allowed to graze the Fire Hills. Murray said that they were always looking at innovative ways to manage the site.

After this we were free to wander round on our own or join Paul on a walk through the quarry and then Warren Wood. Some of the plants seen were bluebells, germander, herb Robert, horseshoe vetch, red campion, and speedwell.

Time passed all too quickly until we had to leave at 4pm to return. Our thanks go to Paul and Coralie for organising such an interesting and enjoyable day.

Susan Painter

return to top


23rd May 2017 - Exploring Chailey Commons

A good crowd of us had an interesting and enjoyable morning exploring four of Chailey’s five commons, each with their own characteristics, with William Coleman, Chairman of the Chailey Commons Society.

Situated in the Low Weald, the common contains both lowland and sub atlantic heath, and boasts the rare mud snail in its vernal ponds.

We started in Memorial Common, with its commemorative stone, one of the three combined commons, which has both dry and wet heath. Pound Common is named after the large pound which is believed to have been used to impound the animals of commoners who did not pay their dues. Romany Ridge Common has now recovered from the thrashing given by the Canadian soldiers who camped here in the war. Its wet heathland contains bog asphodel. Red House Common has benefitted from a five year programme of clearances which have created openings and firebreaks providing wide views North and South encompassing Ashdown Forest and Sheffield Park. Here we admired the Smock Windmill which is open as a museum some Sundays. It was interesting to learn that it had been moved here from Tide Mills. The yew tree by the windmill is said to mark the centre of East Sussex. We didn’t have time to visit Lane End Common, the most remote common.

Whilst we walked, William shared details of the past and present management of the 169 hectare,SSSI, LNR common with us. Today it is managed by ESCC, with funding from Natural England for the grazing scheme (currently longhorns). They have to ensure that the common doesn’t get overgrazed so they use alternative methods to control the bracken including mowing, flailing and crushing by a working horse. Scrapes, where a bulldozer removes bracken rhizomes, are especially effective and allow the heather seeds to germinate and the heather to become cover for ground nesting birds. A Ranger manages the work which is carried out by contractors, not volunteers.

The common is marked by ancient ridges made by cattle droves which created sunken footpaths. These ridges criss-cross the common and have been mapped. The remaining Canadian trenches have created micro climates and habitats.

The pioneer indigenous tree is the short lived but prolific birch - both pendular and upright, the dominant tree is the long lived oak. Both provide habitats for perching birds including the night jar which cross the common from tree to tree. William entertained us by mimicking the night jar’s call and movements. If you want to see more of William’s antics, you can join a night jar walk on June 13th at 9.15 pm. Full details of this and other events can be found on the Chailey Common website.

We were lucky to have such a knowledgeable guide which allowed us to see many species of flora and fauna. The ones seen included: alder buckthorn, birch (pendular and upright), female brimstone, boletus, broom, buzzard, common cow wheat, common spotted orchid, cow grass, cranefly, crowfoot frog bit, dewberry, elder, elf cup fungus, eyebright, figwort, fool’s watercress, forget me not, foxgloves, frog-hopper cuckoo spit, fumitory, guelder rose, greater stitchwort, heather, large leafed lime, lesser stitchwort, lesser spearwort, marsh cudweed, male fern, milkwort, oak, oak apple, purple moor/marsh grass, red admiral, royal fern, sheep sorrel, small heath, three veined sandwort, ulex minor, wasp beetle, wavy bittercress, wood avens, wood sorrel, yellow pimpernel and a yew tree.

Jenny Wistreich

return to top


20th June 2017 – Cliff End – Geology and fossils of Hastings III

In this year’s visit to Cliff End, east of Hastings, we were joined by Ken Brooks, a local expert who has been studying the geology of the Hastings coastline for more than 40 years and has written an accessible guide to the area “Geology and fossils of the Hastings area”. We met opposite The Smuggler Inn at Pett Level on one of the hottest days of the year! Ken had laid out a selection of locally found fossils and, following my brief introductory talk on the Lower Cretaceous geology of the area (see The Seaford Naturalist, no.172, Nov-2013, p.15–17; no.175, Nov-2014, p.12–14 for summary of geology), he passed them around the group for members to see. Ken had also brought along two fibreglass casts he had made of dinosaur footprints – one of a large iguanodont, and the cast of a smaller predatory theropod dinosaur that would have most likely preyed upon the iguanodonts. He had made these from plaster casts he had taken of footprints on fallen blocks on the beach. Colin Pritchard, who could not attend, also loaned us some fossils found locally by his grandfather, which included a large footprint, vertebra and piece of femur from an iguanodont.

Following this introduction, we proceeded along the concrete promenade to the beach. We noted that the vandalized information board explaining the 5,200-year-old sunken forest on the foreshore had been replaced, but sadly the sunken forest itself was obscured by sand – these exposures can change from week to week. In contrast to this, a lot of the shingle further up the beach towards the cliffs had been washed away, exposing far more rocks than are normally visible. These newly exposed rocks displayed a wide range of features including:-

dinoturbation (sediment trampled by herds of dinosaurs – most likely iguanodonts);

ripple marked sandstone (formed by wave currents on the shoreline of a Wealden lake);

gutter casts (formed when water carved small channels in the mud of the Wealden floodplain);

beds of the small Wealden bivalve Neomiodon – these can also sometimes be found in the base of gutter casts;

burrows that had been infilled by the creature that made them as it burrowed through the sediment;

and carbonized plant debris in red ironstone, sometimes the source of identifiable plant fronds such as ferns, conifers and cycads.

We also found blocks of the ‘Cliff End Bone Bed’, a fossil-rich conglomerate consisting of grains of quartz and irregular nodules of sideritic mudstone (ironstone), all bound together by a calcareous cement. It contains fish teeth and scales, sharks teeth, reptilian bone fragments and teeth, pterosaur teeth and, very rarely, primitive mammal teeth, and is one of the richest sources of microvertebrates in the Weald. Unfortunately most of the blocks were very water-worn, and identifiable fossils were few and far between.

At the start of the cliffs we stopped to look at the Cliff End Fault, where the section of cliff to the north-east had dropped by around 3 m against the cliff to the south-west (Fig. 1). This was as a result of the African tectonic plate colliding with the European tectonic plate around 40 million years ago, leading to the formation of the Alps in Europe and of the Wealden Dome in south-east England – subsequent erosion has given us the landscape we see today. The fault also illustrated how the hard, rigid sandstones fracture, whereas the softer clays deform. As we traversed the section we saw many more examples of the features we had seen at the start of the walk, as well as evidence of river channels in the cliff face and the occasional dinosaur footprint. The bed of quillworts in the Ashdown Sandstone at the foot of the cliff, so obvious in previous years, was now very eroded, with large blocks of the relatively soft Ashdown Sandstone having been broken away by falling blocks of the overlying, much harder Cliff End Sandstone. At the end of the section in Fairlight Cove we observed Haddock’s Reversed Fault, where lateral compression during the formation of the Wealden Dome had pushed up the rocks to the south-west by around 60 m against the rocks to the north-east. These had slipped back down a little at some point forming a smooth slip plane clearly visible in the cliff face. Sadly, erosion by the sea over the past decade has meant that much of the lower part of the slip plane has fallen away. Before we retraced our steps back to Pett we looked across Fairlight Cove to the extensive coastal defence works that had been undertaken along this section over the last 27 years. In Fairlight Cove itself is a berm constructed in 1990 from Norwegian larvikite to stop the foot of the cliff being undercut by the sea, and in the distance we could see another rock defence constructed in 2008 from French Carboniferous limestone to prevent rotational slipping of the clay cliffs. These two defences were linked together in 2015 by the placement of more Norwegian larvikite.

Peter and Joyce Austen

return to top


Seven Sisters Country Park 4th July 2017

On a bright warm afternoon Mary Benjamin led us on a stroll through the country park looking at chalk grassland. Grass is a primary component of the grassland and within a few metres of the car park we could see at least 6 species of grass even though we were not yet on the chalk.

A little further on we saw pointed snails - Cochlicella acuta - also commonly known as chrysalis snails which climb up the grass stalks. These are common on the downs close to the sea. It was ideal butterfly conditions and Red Admirals, Meadow Browns and Marbled Whites as well as 6-spot Burnet Moths were flying. Also in evidence were the empty pupa cases of the 6-spot burnet moth.

We proceeded up the South Downs way along the old bostal into unimproved, species-rich short grassland. Mary pointed out 2 examples of chalk grassland plants and explained their survival strategy in the nutrient-poor thin soil. First Silverweed which forms a rosette of leaves covered in hairs so that moisture is retained and rain directed towards the centre of the plant. The second was Wild Thyme which has a different strategy sprawling across the ground. As we proceeded up the bostal other chalk grassland plants including Squinancywort, Lady's Bedstraw, Quaking Grass, Rough Hawkbit, Salad Burnet, Bird's-foot Trefoil, Eyebright, Restharrow and Mouse-ear Hawkweed could be seen. Above us a Buzzard was flying accompanied by the sight and song of skylarks.

At the top of the hill we passed through a gate into another field of totally different character. This field was much less diverse, having been an arable field in 1971 with a crop of oats. It was re-seeded in 1972 . The grass dominates and there are fewer flower species, the main ones being Bird's-foot Trefoil, Lesser Trefoil and Dove's-foot Cranesbill.

We descended the SDW back to the track that leads to Foxholes. At the base of the hill he vegetation was lusher, probably explained by a combination of collecting soil and rainwater run-off.

We proceeded a short way along the cycle-path towards the sea where we could see a small area of salt-marsh typified by Sea-purslane, glassworts, one of the Sea-sperrys and Annual Sea-blite. All of these plants have developed methods of coping with saline conditions.

A little further towards the cliffs we came across Pyramidal Orchids and Tufted Vetch in the taller vegetation.

Proceeding back towards the car park along the concrete track we saw further chalk grassland plants including Wild Marjoram and particularly Greater Knapweed which proved to be a rich nectar source for butterflies and moths including pairs of Marbled Whites nectaring on the same flower. many 6-spot Burnet Moth pupa cases, some with moths emerging and one or two pairs mating.

Further along the track was a Horse Chestnut Tree - Mary demonstrated why it was so-named by showing the horseshoe-shaped scar where the leaf joins the twig.

An enjoyable and instructive walk.

Chris Brewer

return to top


18th July 2017 - Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve

13 members of SNHS visited the Reserve on a day of high temperatures and glorious sun. There was a stiff breeze particularly on the top of the hill which made butterfly identification tricky. Nevertheless we managed to see meadow brown, clouded yellow, painted lady and red admiral before we all gathered for a slide show and talk by Nikki Gammans in the Milking Parlour. We were joined by 3 members of the Park staff, one of whom, Murray Davidson, led our guided walk to the Reserve on 9th May when we had also visited Mallydams Animal Rescue Centre. He briefly reminded us of the sites mixed arable grazing, farmland, SSSI status, biodiversity, protection of habitat and species variety.

Nikki gave an introduction to bees. Bees originally developed from wasps and had a sting. Their genus is Bombus, tribe Bombini. There are 24 bumblebee species. The Queens will hide away for the winter. Unfortunately, bumblebees are in decline and some are even considered extinct in this country at least. There is a project to reintroduce the short-haired bumblebee.

There was then an outline of the 3 types of bees:

Solitary - females carry pollen, there are 230 solitary kinds of bees in the UK, a single female taking over the entire responsibility of making a nest for her family and collecting the food for their development which is stored in small holders. Cuckoo, miner and mason bees share a preference for poor soil for nests.

Honey Bees - there is one species in Europe, 8-12 world-wide, they have a complex society, produce honey, bees wax and royal jelly, there is a queen and worker caste, the grubs each live in a separate cell, the queen does not forage, she lives for about 5 years. She can be pushed out and she takes many bees – a swarm.

Bumblebees – there are 27 species with a queen and worker caste, the queen founds the nest and provisions it, has only one mate, the workers then take over. The queen will hibernate for7 months, the colony only lives 3-5 months.

Domesticated bees have 50,000 workers while Native bees have only 50-400 workers, the colony survives in the former but only the queen in the latter. Disease can affect domesticated bees but the loss of foraging habitat is a serious threat to them. Farming intensification and increased use of pesticides have produced highly fertile soils which are disliked by bees. However, sensitive land management has shown that efficient schemes with flower rich borders have increased yields because of the bees’ active pollination.

The 3 kinds of bees have tongues of different lengths to make use of the various food sources. Open flowers are best for nectar and pollen. “Beekind” suggest the following types of wild flowers in your own garden. Scabious, vipers bugloss, red clover, cornflower, tufted vetch etc.

Bees will make nests in used bird boxes which have been shown to be sheltered and safe. Bee hotels are popular. There can be one or two broods depending on the species. The early migrants may produce two broods. Bees are temperature sensitive.

The widest variety of bumblebees has been found at Rye, Dungeness, Romney Marsh, North Kent marshes, Sandwich and Petts Level. There is a 90% reduction in recorded level of the Great Yellow in 100 years. There is extensive work being done in introducing the short-haired bumblebee. Restoration of good management and water levels, and return of marsh-mallow and marsh-mallow moth show pollinators are returning.

Before we all stepped out to look for bees Nikki told us of the Project with Swedish bee staff and volunteers. Queens are collected for reintroduction here. This scheme is in its 5th year. The DNA of the bees is taken and is shown to be very close to our own bees. They are tested for any diseases and our bee populations are increasing. Nikki brought the bees back in the fridge in her camper van, 100/year. She recommended

We all stepped out to the hedge boundary which was jumping with insects. We saw red and white-tailed, garden and buff-tailed bumblebees and much else. We noted common wasp, and common carder bumblebees and then moved to the wild flower border next to a wheat field where we saw many insects and crickets, Roessels bush cricket being the most colourful.

This was a talk and walk far beyond the time that we could give to it but it certainly showed us something of the complex and busy life of Bumblebees.

Dee Daines

return to top


1st August 2017 – Seaford Head

On a pleasantly warm morning we met up with Sarah Quantrill, the Sussex Wildlife Trust ranger for the Seaford Head Nature Reserve. We set off by walking along the concrete path towards the golf course, on the way spotting a red admiral butterfly, a pied wagtail and two wheatears.

Just before taking the turn to cross the side of the course Sarah stopped to give a brief health and safety talk, including a warning to watch out for golf balls! More seriously she advised us to check ourselves for ticks after the walk. Sarah pointed out where the green winged orchids had flowered earlier, the numbers being down this year. The heath dog violet flowered there too. She explained that management of the whole area was undertaken in conjunction with the golf course manager, and a large part of this involved preventing the scrub from taking over. In order to encourage diversity, cutting down was done in rotation rather than going in and cutting everything down at the same time.

On this part of the walk we spotted gate keeper, speckled wood, hawker dragonfly, rosebay, woody nightshade, and blackcap.

We then walked along ride C, a wide path which was already narrowing despite having been recently well cleared by volunteers. To encourage diversity and improve the profile of the ride when tackling scrub clearance, some parts would be cut and left to grow back, and other parts would be cut and left as lower vegetation. There was also a need to avoid creating wind tunnels. Ideally this work would be done by grazing cattle but it is not practical here. We stopped at an island in the middle of the ride where Sarah explained that the idea was to create a u-shape with low and high growing profile. Unfortunately the green keeper had cut the whole lot down in one go with the flaps down on the machine which left the grass uncollected. SWT volunteers had to remove this to avoid leading to the unwanted result of enriching the soil. It had now been agreed that in future SWT would manage the edges by cutting in rotation over 3 years, each time raking up everything and doing each side separately. We noted agrimony, bird’s foot trefoil, common blue knapweed, eyebright, red tailed bumblebee, carder bee, and small mining bee.

Continuing along ride C we saw the first scallop, cut 4 years ago. Again, the greenkeeper had just flailed the area and then left it – it took volunteers some time to rake and remove. It was this work which drew a comment from a walker of “like Hiroshima in 1945”! There are now 4 scallops, with the intention of cutting a further one this year. The first 2 are being kept clear and the other 2 cut to maintain variety. Colin Whiteman and Paul Baker are monitoring these. Paul said that for the third year now they have been making weekly recording visits to two of them, reporting but not counting.

There was now a long species list. In the first year 250 species were noted, last year there were a few less species in scallop 4, and so far this year 170 species have been noted. They photograph everything and then check afterwards to ensure that identification is correct. Sometimes there is the excitement of recording something unusual. Sarah said that they would use a brush cutter or shears next time leaving an edge – this would involve volunteers on hands and knees removing cuttings and then burning them. At this point Sarah encouraged everyone to have a go at surveying; it was a fun way to learn more and much could be learnt from those who were more experienced. Chris Brewer said that many records are old and need updating. Sometimes nobody had thought about recording something fairly common; an example is rabbits where after many years only one rabbit had been recorded! Just before leaving the ride one of the members spotted a fly with red spots, Eriothrix maculata.

At a view point overlooking the sea and golf course to the west we were able to see over towards the rifle range area where the outline of buildings, including huts, from the 2nd World War can still be seen. The Archaeological Society have found many cap badges and toothbrushes in that area. Sarah pointed out the cotoneaster which spreads everywhere if left unchecked. They had had to resort to spot spraying and then removing the dead stuff. But it continues to grow back and can never be eradicated. Unfortunately there is also a lot of tor grass moving in. The plan agreed with the greenkeeper is that in September this year the area will be grazed by between 15 to 20 sheep which will be moved around and controlled by the use of electric fencing. Sarah said that much of the work to be done was long term – the good news being that SWT have finally been granted the new 25 year lease.

A number of plants were seen including: bird’s foot trefoil, bramble, burnet saxifrage, carline thistle, common centaury, eyebright, fairy flax, hairy violet, lady’s bedstraw, pink clover, perforate St John’s wort, salad burnet, scarlet pimpernel, self-heal, squinancywort, wild thyme, a wayfaring tree, yellow wort, and the seedpods of cowslip. Stonechats were nesting in the area. Also seen were 6 spot burnet moth, female fat thighed flower beetle and a meadow grasshopper. On the way back to the car park we saw hover fly and gate keeper.

We all thanked Sarah for another of her always enjoyable and informative walks.

Susan Painter

return to top


15th August 2017 – Rathfinny

After a stormy night some twenty members and guests gathered and set out in brilliant sunshine for our walk around Rathfinny Wine Estate led by Richard James the manager.

Some hundred and eighty acres of the vineyard are already up and running with chardonnay, pinot blanc, pinot gris, pinot meunier, riesling and a small amount of pinot noir grapes to go into the sparkling wine. The site is ideal for a vineyard as the slope of the valley shelters the vines from frost.

The fruit is grafted high on wire as this makes it easier to harvest the grapes. All harvesting and pruning is done by hand with machines only being used for trimming the tops, weeds at the bottom and the leaves above the bunches of grapes. The runs between the rows of vines have been given over to a six year research project involving the planting of eight different wild flower mixtures to encourage the right sort of insects ie the parasitic wasp which kills off caterpillars and insects that are harmful to the vines. The seed mixtures have been expensive and the long term plan is to harvest their own seed for replanting. One of the main pests is the six spotted fruit fly thought to have been brought into the country on imported fruit to supermarkets. This fruit fly lays its eggs in the grape but causes more problems by exposing the fruit to other diseases. One of the other successful insects on the estate is the potter bee only found at a few other locations, the others being High and Over, two places at Seaford Head and the Isle of Wight. Another nuisance to the vines are badgers who, after a saunter up to the barley fields for worms, stop off on their way home for a dessert of grapes.

After a slow climb up towards the golf course to some spectacular views, Richard pointed out the barley fields which will by 2020-2021 also be planted with vines. There is also part of a field where they have put down rough grass to attract skylarks and there have been twenty nesting pairs this year. Other bird successes have been tawny owl, little owl, barn owl and buzzards all nesting.

On the slopes above the vines the estate has spent around £30,000 clearing scrub and initially will bring in cattle to graze as there is a high percentage of tor grass which is too sharp for sheep to eat. Later sheep will be brought in to graze under the vines in winter. Nine thousand trees have been planted to act as windbreaks and garden waste is put under the vines which helps to keep heat and moisture in the soil. The emphasis at Rathfinny is on a very sound ecological footing with solar panels, waste water recycling and as far as possible sourcing everything from workers to materials within a twenty mile radius. Rathfinny provides a fine example of how working with the environment can achieve great results.

Grace Morrison

return to top


28th/29th August 2017 - Moth Event

The evening of August Bank Monday was mild, windless and there was a clear sky. This was almost perfect for running moth traps and Steven Teale had set up three on Seaford Head Nature Reserve just to the east of the Seaford Head Golf Course. The mercury vapour trap and the two actinic traps were distributed across open grassland and the edges of bracken and scrub in the hope of attracting moths from these different habitats. By the start time of 9.00pm it was almost dark and a good few moths were already being attracted to the lights. About 20 members and guests spent a couple of hours catching, examining and trying to identify the moths that came to the traps.

The following morning about 26 of us met again to examine the moths that had come into the traps overnight and it is estimated that several hundred moths were attracted by the lights. Forty-three species were identified during the evening and the following morning took the count up to 59. A list of the species identified can be found here .

At the time of writing it is thought that 35 of the species identified are new records for Seaford Head Nature Reserve. The moth of the night was the Portland Ribbon Wave (Idaea degeneraria), that until recently has been mainly found in Dorset and is deemed to be uncommon; this is thought to be a first sighting in Seaford. The most commonly seen moth was probably the Setaceous Hebrew Character (Xestia c-nigrum ) which was gratifyingly easy to identify with its distinctive marking, and a close second was the Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba), a large brown or fawn moth with striking yellow hindwings. The distinctive and unusually shaped Angle Shades moth (Phlogophora meticulosa) was also common. Photographs of some of these moths can be seen on the Society’s facebook page.

There was much of interest, including the Spectacle Moth (Abrostola tripartita), who on close examination appears to have rings round its eyes that make it look as if it is wearing goggles; the Garden Tiger moth (Arctia caja) – one of our larger and brighter moths; and the pretty Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata) with its bright yellow wings. We also saw the Spindle Knot-Horn moth (Nephopterix angustella) that is designated as scarce, and an uncommon migrant from Africa called the Scarce Bordered Straw moth (Helicoverpa armigera). The traps not only attracted moths but also several species of flies, ladybirds and wasps. At about 05.30hrs a large swarm of wasps (Vespula vulgaris) was attracted to the traps, stinging Steven Teale several times and causing a certain level of anxiety when the traps were opened later in the morning.

Steven Teale not only identified moths but also provided information about their lifestyles and of particular interest was the Parsnip Moth (Depressaria radiella). The caterpillar of this moth is easy to find because it lives on hog weed and wild parsnip where it weaves a conspicuous silken web around the flowers that are its major food source. It later pupates within the stem of the plant.

It was generally agreed that the Moth Event had been successful and it is planned to run another one in June of next year.

Marion Trew

return to top


11th September 2017 – Birding Walk: Seaford Head

10 members of the Society attended the first walk commencing at 7am on a fine but blustery day. We were soon rewarded with excellent views of an immature whinchat and northern wheatear at the aptly named ‘dung heap’. Unfortunately we could not locate the calling yellow wagtail nearby so moved on to the path heading down to Hope Gap. As the sun hit the slopes bird activity started to pick up. As we slowly walked downhill checking the bushes either side we had around 50+ blackcap, 20+ common whitethroat, a single reed warbler, 2 willow warbler, 5+ chiffchaff, a goldcrest and a very flighty female common redstart. A pair of fly-over ravens are now a common sight in the area but always lovely to see.

As we approached the bottom of Hope Gap there was a large family group of stonechats. Whilst watching the stonechats two birds popped up on the opposite side of the valley and turned out to be a pair of tree sparrows, a rarity not only in this area but throughout the County. At this time we also had a fly-by from an adult hobby.

Oystercatcher, little egret and fulmar were added to the day list as we headed back up hill and circled back round to our starting point at the car park. An immature sparrowhawk, from size a female, was seen a couple of times but a probable lesser whitethroat was very elusive and remained unconfirmed. We also saw a single wall butterfly on the return leg.

11 members of the Society had assembled for the next walk which we commenced at 10am walking the same route as earlier this morning. The ‘dung heap’ now had 5 northern wheatear which showed really well and 10+ meadow pipit. Yet again a yellow wagtail was heard but alas not seen.

Bird activity on the slopes above Hope Gap was slow but we did find 5+ blackcap, 2 common whitethroat and 5+ chiffchaff. The rising temperature meant that butterflies had warmed up and were now on the wing. There were many common blue, large and small white, small heath (or little Teds as I like to call them), meadow brown, red admiral and peacock. The highlight was the sheer number of small copper with at least 30+ seen, obviously a really good year for this species in the area, certainly compared to last year.

The immature female sparrowhawk was seen again and the stonechat family were in some sort of territorial dispute with a rogue female. A large flock of finches was nice to see and included a high percentage of immature goldfinch and linnet.

It is so lovely to have participants with such a broad interest in natural history on these walks which makes them so enjoyable. Everyone appreciated the rare moon carrot and autumn gentian pointed out to us by the flora experts within our group.

Back at the top of the hill we scanned across the Cuckmere Valley finding little egret, common buzzard and a large group of around 30 curlew. As we returned to the car park a single clouded yellow butterfly was seen briefly.

Our total number of bird species for both walks combined was a credible 54 and butterfly species numbered 10. I would like to thank all those who attended both walks for their company and enthusiasm. It is a great pleasure spending time with you all and I hope to join you again next Spring.

Derek Barber

return to top


26th September 2017- Fungus Foray

From colourful gems glistening in the meadows to the downright weird on the heath, the fungi were out to impress. Eleven of us met with Martin Allison, the County Recorder for Fungi, at Chailey Common. Rain during the week had given good conditions for fungi, but the weather on the day was warm and dry, if rather hazy.

One edge of the sports field adjacent to the car park had large numbers of colourful Waxcaps – red, yellow, orange, cream; even the Blackening Waxcap (Hygrocybe conica var conica) – so-called because it goes black when bruised or with age – was impressive. The number of Waxcap species found is a good indicator of the quality of unimproved grassland – the 6 species we found indicates that this field is indeed of high quality. One of the most colourful of the Waxcaps we found was the Spangle Waxcap (Hygrocybe insipida), whose Latin name definitely does not do justice to its appearance – a two-tone orange and yellow cap and orange stipe.

We also discovered two specimens of Magic Mushroom (Psilocybe semilanceata), which has hallucinogenic properties and is legally restricted. We decided not to investigate this further!

Leaving the sports field, we walked over to the Nature Reserve entrance and very quickly started to find more species, both along the grassy ride and in the adjoining heathland. A large, isolated birch tree yielded several interesting species, including the Ochre Brittlelegill (Russula ochroleuca) and Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus). The latter is parasitic on birch trees and a major cause of death for its host. It was used for sharpening blades (hence its alternative name – the Razorstrop Fungus), lighting fires and for its medicinal properties. “Otzi” the mummified iceman found in the Alps in 1991 had a sample of this fungus amongst his belongings – Swiss Army Fungus!

Also in this area was the Powdery Brittlegill (Russula parazurea). Brittlegills are so called because when you run a fingernail across the gills, they easily break up. Many have brightly coloured caps, but the colour is water-soluble and so quickly fades with rain. Most also react to iron salts giving different colours, so that it is possible to distinguish between similar-looking species by the colour reaction to an iron salt crystal, as Martin demonstrated for us (P. parazurea gave a salmon-pink reaction).

During the morning we found three different species of Bolete. These are toadstools with pores instead of gills. One of these was the Cep (Boletus edulis), sold as Porcini in upmarket places. The other two looked very similar to each other: Martin pointed out the paler cap colour and blue at the base of the stem when cut which distinguished Leccinium cyaneobasileucum from the commoner Brown Birch Bolete (L. scabrum).

Near to the Boletes, we also found Birch Milkcap (Lactarius tabidus). Milkcaps are usually distinguished by droplets of white or yellow liquid found on the gills. In the case of L. tabidus, they are white but turn yellow on a handkerchief, as Martin again demonstrated.

We then found a couple of very fine examples of The Blusher (Amanita rubescens). As the name suggests, it has a reddish tinge, but is quite subdued compared to its much louder relative, the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), which we found a little later. The genus Amanita includes some of the most poisonous British toadstools, including the well-named Death Cap and Avenging Angel.

The “pièce de résistance” for our morning was finding a perfect specimen of Devil's Fingers (Clathrus archeri), looking like a bright red Sea Anemone emerging out of the short grass! Not only does it look dramatic but it also smells revolting – it attracts flies in order to disperse its spores. This species is a native of Australasia and arrived in the UK (Cornwall) after the First World War, probably accidentally carried as spores with wartime supplies. It remains quite rare and localised but is spreading. Definitely the dramatic highlight of the morning.

Returning via a woodland track, a completely different fungal community was found. Highlights included Birch Knight (Tricholoma fulvum), which has yellowish gills and smells of cucumbers, Frosty Webcap (Cortinarius hemitrichus) and Coconut Milkcap (Lactarius glyciosmus) – yes, it does smell of coconuts!

Many species of fungi cannot be reliably identified in the field as they require microscopic examination. Martin took quite a large number of samples away with him in order to work on this. Altogether, approximately 40 species of fungi were spotted and a full list of identified species is available here. Martin's expert leadership of the group ensured everyone had both an enjoyable and informative morning.

Janet and Jim Howell

return to top

Page updated 10th October 2017