10th April 2018 – Geology of Beachy Head

On a rather cool and misty day, twelve members of SNHS met at the kiosk next to St. Bedes, Eastbourne. Led by Ken Brooks of the Hastings & District Geological Society, an expert on the chalk, we took the cliff top path towards our destination, Cow Gap.

En route we stopped at Whitbread Hollow, a U-shaped valley (or coombe) created by solifluxion, a process whereby ice-age permafrost had fractured the chalk through freeze-thaw action, eventually causing the unconsolidated, saturated rock to slowly slip down towards the sea, creating the valley. We also noted the contorted trees, wind-pruned in the direction of the prevailing wind, and Jenny Wistreich pointed out that this is where the game of Quidditch was filmed for the Harry Potter films, although the mist prevented us from seeing the blue plaque hovering above the pitch!

Further along we stopped at a point overlooking the beach, and, using a diagrammatic model, Ken explained that the repeated bands of gault clay, greensand and chalk visible on the beach were caused by rotational slipping, where the underlying Gault Clay, when saturated, facilitates the rotational slipping of the overlying rocks into a near vertical position. Subsequent erosion by the sea planes off the overlying slumped material, leaving a wave-cut platform showing a gault/greensand/chalk sequence. Further slippages lead to repeated sequences of gault/greensand/chalk. This repeated sequence puzzled early geologists and was not resolved until the first half of the 20th century, when it was finally realized it was a planed-off surface of a series of repeated rotational slips. Further evidence of this slipping could be observed looking up at the cliff, where stepped ledges could be seen at various stages of slippage, as well as the backward sloping angle of some of the lower ledges.

On reaching Cow Gap we descended to the beach where both the Lower Chalk and blocks of the underlying Upper Greensand could be observed. Ken explained the nature of the chalk and some of the fossils it contains. The chalk itself was laid down during the Upper Cretaceous period between 98 and 65 million years ago. At the time of deposition temperatures were in the range of 20–30⁰C, considerably warmer than today. There were no polar ice-caps, and warm temperate vegetation extended up to latitude 85⁰ North. At their maximum, sea levels were around 300 m higher than today, and the chalk sea covered most of the UK, apart from the Scottish Highlands, and extended right across northern Europe into Central Asia. Over the last 65 million years much of the chalk has been eroded away, although deposits remain around the globe, including those that form our iconic cliffs along the south-east coast of England. Historically the chalk has been divided into three groups – the Lower Chalk, Middle Chalk and the Upper Chalk – but work by Professor Rory Mortimore of the University of Brighton has shown that there are nine distinct groups in the chalk, the differences between these groups attributed to tectonics (the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates), temperature, and a process known as Milankovitch Cycles, where the Earth’s distance from the Sun and tilt of its axis varies over time, altering the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth and leading either to a die-off of marine organisms or an increase in algal blooms. These changes are visible in the sequences of the chalk. The same fossils found in the chalk cliffs of Sussex have also been found in the chalk deposits of Europe and Asia, allowing geologists to confirm the existence of the same beds over thousands of kilometres. Ken also showed us SEM images of coccolithophores, tiny single-celled phytoplankton (algae), made up of minute calcium carbonate plates called coccoliths. It is these plates, only a few microns across, that are normally found in the fossil record, and the chalk is composed of countless billions of these tiny skeletons. Ken also explained that the flint in chalk was formed by the chemical precipitation of silica from the breakdown of skeletons of dead organisms such as sponges and diatoms.

The chalk marl (Lower Chalk) found at Cow Gap is packed with fossils, mainly the remains of sponges, standing proud of the softer chalk, and black phosphatic coprolites (fossilized poo!). There is also extensive fossil evidence of burrowing by bivalves and other marine creatures, a process known as bioturbation. As we walked east towards Beachy Head we observed more fossils embedded in the chalk, including fine examples of the bivalves Spondylus and Inoceramus. Some good examples of pyrite (fool’s gold) were also found where they had been selectively sorted around a rock by tidal action – when broken open these showed their characteristic radiating structure. Ken also demonstrated the scratch test whereby we could tell the difference between calcite (scratch leaves white mark) and the much harder silica (scratch leaves grey mark). We continued to the headland from where we could see the Beachy Head lighthouse and the chalk deposits higher in the sequence – the much whiter Middle Chalk, overlain by the Lewes Chalk and Seaford Chalk.

At this point we turned and retraced our steps to Cow Gap and back along the cliff path to our start point, and as we did so the mist finally cleared and the sun came out – Oh well!

Peter and Joyce Austen


SEM of coccolithophore; a tiny single-celled algae, the plates of which make up the chalk. Image: Dr. Jeremy Young (NHM, London), 2009.

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17th April 2018 – Coach outing to Wisley

A full coachload of us set off at 9am and enjoyed a pleasant drive to Wisley, arriving a little after 11 am. There we divided into two groups for a guided tour of the garden. Our leader was knowledgeable and so enthusiastic that the tour lasted longer than expected at just over two hours.

He began by briefly explaining the origins of the garden. In 1804 John Wedgewood, the son of Josiah Wedgewood, and six other keen gardeners founded the London Horticultural Society. One of the members was Prince Albert who occasionally provided financial support because the Society was hopeless at accounts. In the mid-1850s the name was changed to Royal Horticultural Society, and in 1903 the RHS moved to its present location – it was said at the time that because of its remote position not many people would come! Nowadays it is the second most visited paid garden after Kew.

At the start we admired the oak tree which is 235 years old and unusual in that the branches cross into each other. On the way round some of the facts imparted were that there are over 110,000 crocus, over 4,000 roses, 140 different types of pear and 400 types of apple, and one of the longest mixed borders in the country. Also of interest was the Wollemi tree, thought to have become extinct in Australia but rediscovered in 1994. Also seen were date, banana and olive trees. Our guide also mentioned that trials of plants are conducted at Wisley with the successful ones being given an Award of Garden Merit (AGM). He also pointed out grass art where a tulip pattern had been created in the grass using a Victorian lawn mower. On one particular day when a survey was carried out this proved to be the most popular out of all the attractions at Wisley! Later on we were able to see for ourselves grass art being carried out in another part of the garden. We saw the alpines in the glasshouse, the vegetable garden, the rock garden, and the greenhouse opened in 2007 by the Queen. What was striking is that the garden is very labour-intensive, although extremely well kept by a staff of 90 plus volunteers.

Looking ahead to the future, Wisley is in the middle of an extensive refurbishment. There will be a new welcome centre and many of the old buildings, including a purpose built laboratory built during the 1st World War, will be replaced. It is hoped that the new science laboratory currently being built will provide facilities for secondary as well as primary children who are currently catered for.

We ended the tour by looking at a larch, the oldest tree in the garden, which is over 235 years old. Afterwards we were free to wander round at leisure until 4 pm when we set off for Seaford, arriving shortly before 6pm. Certainly a most enjoyable and interesting day, made even better by the kind weather.

Susan Painter

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1st May 2018 - SNHS bird walk around Seaford Head

Following our now well-established pattern, Derek Barber and I met the first group of rather more enthusiastic birders at 07:00 and then the second larger group of 20 assembled in the South Barn carpark at 10:00. Overall, both walks were conducted in glorious weather, which made it a pleasure to be out and about, but in all honesty one would have to concede that bird numbers were relatively low and rarities (or even scarce species) were conspicuous by their absence. Both walks began well, however, with the appearance of several very handsome wheatears around the dung heap just west of the South Barn. By the end we all had good views of three magnificent male wheatears resplendent in their blue and buff summer plumage accompanied by three almost equally attractive females and all performed well at relatively close quarters.

By the time we got to Hope Gap the first common whitethroats had also made their presence felt with repeated song flights from the top of the low bushes and a fair number were recorded along the path, as were several chiffchaff and up to 20 willow warblers. Indeed, despite the general paucity of birds, it was clear that there had been a minor fall of willow warblers overnight. By the time we reached the middle of the track down Hope Gap we had also scored with a superb lesser whitethroat and although this was seen by only a few members of the group, at Hope Bottom we all watched another from close quarters. As this was a much more confiding bird we were each able to see the subtle silver-grey and white plumage that makes this such an enchanting species - and incidentally one of my favourite British.

At the bottom of Hope Gap we watched the resident rock pipits and stonechats, while over the cliffs there was the usual mix of fulmars and kittiwakes among the gulls and jackdaws. Scanning close inshore, however, we picked up three whimbrels, several noisy oystercatchers and three passing bar-tailed godwits while further out there were five distant gannets flying in line, easily distinguishable by their large size and shape, their striking white plumage and prominent black wing tips. Best of all, however, while watching these we also discerned the menacing shape of a dark phase Arctic skua flying in a typically determined manner low over the sea. This was the first skua ever recorded on these walks but alas it was seen by only a few of the more experienced birders.

As we made our way across the meadow towards Harry’s Bush a common buzzard suddenly exploded from the trees and spent some time circling overhead before drifting off towards Friston Forest. Finally, Derek spotted the bird of the day in the shape of a truly lovely male whinchat, which was happily viewed through the telescope by virtually all of those present. From Harry’s Bush it was also possible to see several of the now extremely familiar little egrets on the lagoon on the other side of the river - and there was time to reflect on the fact that this now common bird in Sussex was only 30 years ago regarded as an extreme mega-rarity in the UK. All in all, then, while admittedly not a particularly memorable birdwatching experience, in such superb weather it was an enjoyable enough way to spend a few hours and the discovery on the clifftop of a small patch of flowering early purple orchids still in pristine condition only added to the general sense of well-being.

Bob Self

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15th May 2018 – Lewes Railway Lands

About 12 of us met the Ranger, Thyone Outram and Education Officer, Milly Hawkins at the entrance to the Reserve, on a warm and sunny day. We started with a quick tour to the Linklater Pavilion with Helen Meade (the Programme Co-ordinator). The Pavilion is a purpose-built information and education centre for the Reserve, with a range of sustainability features (including a grass roof!). A series of aerial photos showed how the Reserve had developed since its inception in 1995. More information about the Reserve can be found at

Heading out into the Reserve, we started at the Mound – an artificial feature designed to give a good all-round view of the Reserve. We observed the stand of Black Poplar (Populus nigra), which is the most endangered native tree species in the UK; an intensive replanting programme is underway under the supervision of Kew.

We then proceeded to the artistically-designed reed beds, where we could hear (but not see) reed warblers (Acrocephalus scirpaceus). Plants in the area included Jack-by-the-Hedge, or garlick mustard (Alliaria petiolata). This species is the food plant for the orange-tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines), which always lays a single egg near the flower – and we found one! Nearby, there were numerous mating pairs of the dock bug (Coreus marginatus).

Moving on to the grazing meadows (not part of the Reserve), our attention was drawn to the extensive drainage ditches. These had been found to contain a number of rather rare water beetle species, and management had been designed to encourage them (eg by dredging the ditches a few at a time, so there would always be suitable habitat). We didn’t note any beetles, but there were a number of other species. The most obvious inhabitants of the ditches were marsh frogs (Pelophylax (formerly Rana) ridibunda), which were croaking vociferously during our visit and were easily seen. This is an introduced species and is the largest European frog. It has become widespread throughout Kent and East Sussex and is a voracious predator (this may explain the absence of beetles!).

A number of dragonfly and damselfly species were patrolling the ditches. We identified both males and females of the broad-bodies chaser (Libellula depressa) and the azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella). We were also fairly certain of the hairy dragonfly (Brachytron pratense).

Amongst the plants in the ditches, we found frogbit (Hydrocharis musus-ranae), celery-leaved buttercup (Ranunculus scleratus), a water-crowfoot, probably the thread-leaved water-crowfoot (Ranunculus trichophyllus) and fool's watercress (Apium nodiflorum).

Returning via the former allotments, we made one last discovery – horseradish plants (Amoracia rusticana), growing by the side of the path.

We are very grateful to Thyone and the Railway Lands Trust for a very enjoyable and informative visit.

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29th May 2018 – Abbots Wood

On an overcast day with the threat of a thunderstorm 18 of us met up with Stuart Sutton, a Wildlife Ranger for the Forestry Commission. He told us that this had been an ancient woodland site for about 600 years. Between the wars many of the native trees were cut down and after the 2nd World War under the Duke of Devonshire’s ownership conifers were planted so that when the Forestry Commission took over ownership in 1954 the wood was very dark. As it is no longer permitted to plant conifers in an ancient woodland, this has created the challenge of how to get revenue from the trees now being planted. Most of them like oak, cherry, hornbeam and small leafed lime take many years to grow before there is any monetary return and although hornbeam is very slow growing it will nevertheless have to be coppiced to get some revenue from it. In future it may be possible to introduce wild service trees since they provide good quality veneer after a relatively short time.

Stuart has been working in Abbots Wood for 24 years and has seen many changes in that time. To begin with there had been no deer; now there are such large numbers of roe (native), fallow and muntjac deer that they need to be culled. Before we set off he warned us to watch out for timber lorries although we were likely to hear them before we were seen!

We began by walking along the east/west ride where we soon saw a speckled yellow moth, and a longhorn moth. Once trees have been coppiced fences are put round them for protection from deer. Roe deer eat bramble, fallow deer graze grass areas, and muntjac deer eat anything. However, nothing attacks bracken which is now a problem although its presence may lead to the reintroduction of the high brown fritillary which died out in the seventies. Another problem is squirrels which strip cherry and oak trees, and eat birds’ nests. The Forestry Commission control rabbits and deer but not squirrels. A mulcher is now hired which reduces trees into woodchips, a quick fix in winter but it cannot be used when birds are nesting. They also try to avoid killing any dormice but the mulcher is being used for the benefit of all wildlife. Because the ground is turned over they get solitary bees and wasps. Stuart mentioned that nightjar numbers have declined and there was a solitary pair of turtle doves last year.

We then went through an area which was cleared 3 or 4 years ago. It is beginning to develop as a wildlife meadow, although the bracken is growing too much despite being cut in February. We saw soft rush and lesser spearwort, and heard a blackcap. Numbers of garden warblers are good. Stuart pointed out a squirrel’s drey and a survey will be conducted this year to establish whether there is a buzzard’s nest among a group of larch trees. If so the trees cannot be felled because there will be an exclusion area.

He pointed out the track of a young roe deer saying that they will go round wet areas wherever possible because they do not like wet ground. We then passed by a Douglas fir plantation planted pre 1954, where brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) and elder were seen. Crows used to roost here and there used to be firecrests. Now the firs which will eventually probably blow over, are just being retained for birds like goldcrest and siskin.

Continuing on we saw ash trees with die back. This is a windblown fungus which can’t be stopped although Stuart has the hope that some may win the battle. Nearby we saw a dark bush cricket nymph and a common spotted orchid.

Next, we stopped to look at an area where spiked rampion had been growing, one of only half a dozen sites in East Sussex. Six years ago 50 plants were planted protected by fencing from deer and rabbits. Despite deliberate management the numbers had dwindled down to none last year but the reasons remain unclear.

Later Stuart showed us a trick with a wood ants nest. He irritated them with a bluebell and they sprayed formic acid which turned the bluebell pink.

By the lake, dug by hand, we heard a reed warbler over a noisy song thrush. In order to protect the fish it has been decided to clear some of the water lilies and a sluice may be installed to create two types of water habitat. Nearby we looked at an area where a mulcher will be used this coming winter to remove tree stumps in order to encourage heather, mainly ling, to grow. Then before doing a detour through rough ground to see dragonflies in one of the 5 dragonfly scrapes, albeit without success, a great spotted woodpecker was seen.

On the fritillary ride we hunted for the pearl-bordered fritillary and the small pearl-bordered fritillary, spotting one pearl-bordered fritillary. Pearl-bordered fritillary prefers woodland clearings and bracken habitat while the small pearl-bordered fritillary favours the edges of rides. Both nectar on bugle. Abbots Wood and Park Corner Heath are the only places in Sussex for fritillaries.

Towards the end of the walk two nightingales were heard using a contact call; and ragged robin, wood euphorbia (both native) and orpine, (native ancient woodland plant) were seen. Also hornets and a possible sighting of a malachite beetle.

All in all Stuart proved to be a very knowledgeable and interesting leader and everyone came away having learnt something new.

Susan Painter

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12th June 2018 - Riverside Park, Newhaven

On a cloudy morning, 25 of us met up with Virginia Pullen of East Sussex County Council to walk round Riverside Park, Newhaven. Virginia gave us a very interesting talk about the site at an indoor meeting in January 2017 and this walk was by way of being a follow up.

Riverside Park is predominantly located on a brownfield site, the area having been used for landfill in the decades between 1960 and 1980. Behind the football pitch and play-area is a wide range of habitats spread over about 2 hectares. The low lying areas next to the river have a role in the flood defences for Newhaven and in this area there are reed beds, drainage ditches, salt marsh and ponds. Unfortunately some of the ditches have been affected by seepage from the landfill site though there is no information as to whether this has significantly affected the ecology. However, there is not a lot of methane on the site. As the ground rises there is old meadowland, banks covered with scrub and then a central area where the landfill site has been capped off with a thin layer of soil brought from out of the locality. The site is an SNCI (Site of Nature Conservation Interest). Its mixed soil types mean that there are many plant species to be found there and it is good for birds and grass snakes but, so far, not for amphibians.

The first thing you see on the way in is a children’s playground – the site is well used by locals – and the second some metal sculptures with cut out shapes of birds etc. We followed a largely metalled track around the site in an anti-clockwise direction. Initially, the path is lined with trees planted about eight years ago and there was a wide variety of flora, including red campion, teasels, elder in flower, poppies, fodder vetch and weld. Perhaps the most striking thing on the first part of the walk was the profusion of hemlock, looking a lot like cow parsley but over 6 feet tall and very poisonous. Virginia explained it may have come in with the soil used to cover the tip and rather than try to eliminate it, they were aiming to help people understand which plants to be wary of.

There were a lot of nettles by the path some of which had been cleared (by contractors) to reveal comfrey. In other places, rabbit grazing had made space for white campion and tormentil and we also found bee orchids and cinnabar moths. By this time, we were just to the west of the incinerator.

Mike Kerry had done a couple of reconnoitres of the site and commented that he saw more on the reconnoitres than on the day. However, he did see two bees - Bombus pratorum and Bombus lapidaius - on bramble; plus Volucella bombylans (a bumble bee mimic hover fly) and a snipe fly. A number of birds were seen or heard including Cetti’s Warbler, green finch, whitethroat, green woodpecker and a kestrel.

At the north end of the site, there are wet lands and, following scrub clearance, ponds will be created, hopefully encouraging toads and other amphibians. This is the only part of the site where there is no risk of leaching from the old tip and therefore the only place it is possible to put in ponds. There is also an owl box nearby.

Further on we saw viper’s bugloss and there was considerable speculation on its name. Accounts vary but one suggestion is that the name refers to a time when the plant was used to treat snake bites. We also saw yellow-wort, fleabane and patches of sedge. (Chris Brewer later identified the sedge as the club- rush Bolboschoenus maritimus (Sea Club-rush) which has a triangular (triquetrous) stem. Club-rushes are apparently not members of the Rush (Junceae) family but members of the Sedge (Cyperaceae) family and not all members of the sedge family have 3-angled stems. Common Club-rush has a round stem.)

Crossing the site towards the west we saw scrapes created to see what grows there, large patches of bird’s foot trefoil and a bird hide. And on the way back we spotted figwort, honeysuckle, horseradish, mullein and mullein moth caterpillars.

Altogether a fascinating tour of an area over half of us had never visited before, but one many people thought they would return to for its interesting variety of habitats and flora.

Anne Fletcher (with thanks to Marion Trew for the second paragraph).

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28th June 2018 - Moth Event

In late June eleven members joined Steven Teale for an evening with the moth traps. The event fell in the middle of a long, hot spell of weather and we were hopeful of a mild, still evening giving good conditions for moth flight. Sadly this proved not to be the case as it turned out to be cold and windy. This year we had chosen to locate the traps on the eastern part of Seaford Head Nature Reserve, placing four traps by the scrub bordering the western edge of the ‘cow grazing area’ and one trap in a clearing in the scrub. We expected the bushes to shield the traps from the prevailing westerly wind and hoped that as the location was at the boundary of two habitats we would attract a variety of moths.

By dusk there was a strong, cold, north easterly wind, the temperature dropped to around 13 degrees and there was a full moon in a cloudless sky. Not factors that are conducive to moth trapping. In compensation we got good views of the Seven Sisters as night fell and witnessed the complex flight patterns of a substantial number of rooks returning to Harry’s Bush for their night roost.

We had two mercury vapour and two actinic traps in the open habitat and a further actinic trap sited within the scrubby woodland. None of the traps attracted large numbers of moths and some were quite barren. By 10.00pm a small number of micro moths were coming to the traps and half an hour later we had a reasonable number of macro moths. The most common moth was the Heart and Dart, closely followed by the Dark Arches. Our hearts were warmed by good numbers of Small and Large Elephant Hawk Moths, the beauty of their colouring and marking briefly helping us to forget how cold it was.

In addition to the moths our traps also attracted a few crane flies, earwigs, a soldier beetle and a dung fly.

None of the 29 species of moths were new sightings for the reserve and most of those that came to the traps were common.

  • Common Marble - Celypha lacunana (micro moth)
  • Heart and Dart - Argrotis Exclamationis
  • Flame Shoulder - Ochropleura Plecta
  • Dark Arches - Apamea Monoglypha
  • Small Elephant Hawk Moth - Deilephila Porcellus
  • Heart and Club - Argrotis Clavis
  • Large Fruit Tree Tortrix - Archips Podana (micro moth)
  • The Flame - Axylia Putris
  • The Clay - Mythimna Ferrago
  • Barred Fruit Tree Tortrix - Pandemis cerasana (micro moth)
  • Shears – Hada Plebeja
  • Marbled Minor - Oligia strigilis (identification can only be confirmed by dissection)
  • Snout - Hypena Proboscidalis
  • Large Yellow Underwing - Noctua Pronuba
  • Plum Tortrix - Hedya pruniana (micro moth)
  • Common Wainscot - Mythimna Pallens
  • White Plume - Pterophorus Pentadactyla (micro moth)
  • Cinerous Groundling Bryotropha Terrella (micro moth)
  • Elephant Hawk Moth - Deilephila Elpenor
  • Bramble Shoot Moth - Notocelia Uddmanniana (micro moth)
  • Singe Dotted Wave - Idaea Subsericeata
  • London Dowd - Blastobasis lacticolella (micro moth)
  • Mottled Rustic - Caradrina Morpheus
  • Brimstone Moth - Opisthograptis Luteolata
  • Common Yellow Conch - Agapeta Hamana (micro moth)
  • V Pug - Chloroclystis V-ata
  • Brussels Lace - Cleorodes Lichenaria
  • Common Grass Veneer - Chrysoteuchia Culmella (micro moth)
  • Light Brown Apple Moth - Epiphyas-Postvittana (micro moth)

The traps were disassembled around 11.30pm making it hard to make comparisons with the results of the moth event in 2017, when the traps were left overnight. However the numbers of species seen before midnight in 2018 was down by about 45% and whereas last year more than half the species were new records for the Reserve, this year there were no new records.

Marion Trew

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3 July 2018 Gayles Farm

13 members were given a guided tour around Gayles Farm by Dave Morgan National Trust Area Ranger and his border collie Nell. Gayles Farm is one of ten sites managed from Birling Gap.

Gayles Farm was acquired by the National Trust in 2014. It is an investment for the long term; it’s current conservation value is limited. It includes part of Haven Brow, Short Brow, Rough Brow and Brass Point which were previously in private ownership. The South Downs Way is only 80 metres from the cliff edge and with NT now owning the land to the north of the path in the long term it can be moved in land as the cliffs recede.

We first walked through a large flat area, which is uncommon on the Downs, providing spectacular views towards Newhaven. This area is currently arable and was the site of the wartime Friston Aerodrome. Even though it is on the Downs the soil is acidic and had Higher Level Stewardship strips on either side of the track. Plants included Chicory and Sainfoin. The intention is to allow this area to revert to grassland probably to provide hay.

Beyond the arable land is grassland previously grazed exclusively by sheep. This has left the grasslands species poor, although rabbit-grazed areas have more diversity. The intention is to introduce winter sheep and summer cattle grazing as is currently in operation on Crowlink to improve the diversity.

The intention was to graze with cattle this summer but the cattle to be used can’t be moved because of bovine TB restrictions Instead Exmoor ponies have been introduced. There was marked contrast between the un-grazed areas and those where the ponies have been.

Gayles Farm borders Crowlink where NT has managed the land for many years. We passed briefly into the Western end of Crowlink to see what can be achieved by an appropriate grazing regime. The comparison of diversity on the 2 cliff-edge pastures is stark. Crowlink is high quality chalk grassland.

During the walk we saw a variety of invertebrates including Meadow Brown, Gate-keeper, Marbled white, Dark Green Fritillary, Hummingbird Hawkmoth, Small white and Cinnabar moth.

Chris Brewer

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10th July 2018 – Rock-pooling event, Seaford Head

Sarah Ward and Nikki Hills of Sussex Wildlife Trust led eight of us (including one non-member) on a rock-pooling event at Cuckmere Haven – it was scheduled to be at Hope Gap, but unfortunately a major filming activity was going on there, so we had to make a last-minute change of plan.

Sarah explained about zonation on rocky shores, but noted that this was not very evident at Cuckmere, because of the wave-cut chalk platform and the low tidal range.

Cuckmere is part of the Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). Sussex Wildlife Trust are campaigning for the Government to create more MCZs, and invited us to sign a petition.

We were out during the afternoon, to make the most of low tide and the weather was ideal – warm but overcast. One small problem was that there was a lot of silty mud in the water, making it murky in places and the rocks rather slippery. However, there was a lot of interesting sea life to be found. Chitons were out in force, both the Common Chiton (Leptochitona cinereal), and the Hairy Chiton (Acanthochitona crinite). Marine snails were not as evident as they would have been at Hope Gap, but we did see Flat Top Shell (Gibbula umbilicalis), Common Periwinkle (Littorina littorea) and Dog Whelk (Nucella lapillus); the latter is a predatory species, feeding on Barnacles and Mussels. Last but not least of the Molluscs was a Nudibranch, Acanthodoris Pilosa, which is a predator on Bryozoans (which were much in evidence, but difficult to identify).

Beadlet Anemones (Actinia equina) were quite common in the area, and we found one specimen of Sagartia troglodytes, a small Anemone which we often find on the underside of rocks at low tide, although it is more typically a burrowing species.Amongst the Arthropods, perhaps the most interesting we found was a small, yellowish Isopod, identified as Sphaeroma serratum. There were also large numbers of the very small, invasive barnacle, Elminius modestus, which is now widespread at many rocky shores in Sussex; this species originated in New Zealand and apparently arrived in this country in 1940.

Several notable fish were found, most commonly the Shanny (Lipophrys pholis) – our most common Blenny; this can be identified by its habit of curling up the tail into a “U”-shape. We also came across a Goby (there are several species which are difficult to separate). One long, thin fish we found, Sarah thought might be a juvenile Sea Bass (Dicentarchas labras). However, our best find amongst the fish was a Sea Scorpion (Taurulus bubalis) – this species has a very large mouth and is notable for taking on very large prey; Sarah told us about one she captured and was later found to have in its mouth a fish bigger than itself, which it was proceeding to digest externally!

Overall, a very pleasant afternoon, expertly led by Sarah.

Sarah heads up SWT’s Living Seas team and regularly leads “Shoresearch” events ( – everyone is welcome to join in with these but you need to let Sarah know you are coming.

Jim Howell

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17th July 2018 - Vert Wood

Vert Woods Community Woodland lies to the North East of the village of Laughton. It is made up of 173 acres of mixed woodland and is part of a much larger forest consisting of a further 250 hectares that has been designated as a Plantation on Ancient Woodlands (PAWS).

There has probably been woodland here for thousands of years, but many of the native trees were cleared or replanted with commercial soft woods over the last century.

A local philanthropist, Roger Ross, bought the woods in 2015 and a local community group has since then worked to achieve a number of aims, designed to establish a self-sustaining and thriving woodland culture that connects people with nature, now and into the future.

About ten members of SNHS turned up for a walk on July 17th. Top of our hopes were the possibilities of seeing two butterflies: Silver Washed Fritillary and White Admiral, both of these having been seen on a ‘reckie’ a few days previously.

We started by heading Eastward from the meeting point, in fine sunny weather, and were immediately blessed with numerous great sightings of silver washed fritillaries. However, the white admirals were sadly missing.

We retraced our steps back to the start point, and then proceeded to the West, starting a basically square route around Laughton Wood. Soon, however, the weather turned cloudy, and there was a dramatic drop in flying insects. Nevertheless, to our surprise and delight, three white admirals were encountered, although well past their best condition.

Little else of note was seen on the walk, but a fine fungus, Chicken of the Wood, was found, and identified by Jim Howell.

All-in-all I’m sure everyone enjoyed the outing, despite much less being seen than on the reckie walk earlier.

Mike Kerry

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7th August 2018 – Castle Hill Local Nature Reserve: Leader Thyone Outram

14 people turned up for the start which led up from the car parks. We saw a painted lady at the start of the walk and a red admiral at the finish and in between we saw on the scrub land and in some glades that had been cleared some of the wide variety of insects that make this Reserve so distinctive.

Under the management of Lewes District Council paths and scrub have been cleared and some grassland has returned. Once a year tractors come and collect the grass which is used as compost. (Rosebay) willow herb and ragwort are some of the first flowers to appear rapidly followed by a huge variety of plants for the birds and the insects. These two plants were some of the brightest (a red and a yellow) that we saw. The hot dry summer has produced much more muted tones throughout the vegetation. However, there were small indications of more autumn shades in the bramble and ferns for instance.

Our morning was very hot and we saw and heard few birds. Spider webs were seen on the shady side of the ramparts and our first moth, a silver Y, on the sunny side of them. At the top of this slope the walk opened out to show a panorama from Seaford over Newhaven Harbour over the sea and round to the headland. It was a flat calm with gulls sitting on the sea and moving on the sand. We had hoped to see a fulmar but few birds were flying. If we had seen it we would have recognised its straight wings in flight. It lays one egg a year and feeds the chick for 3 months before it is ready to fly. But we didn’t see it. It is easier to see from below the cliffs. It is of the Albatross family.

We skirted the fort and the military installations and headed towards the Coastguard lookout and the radio masts.

In the low grassland on the cliffs we were shown a method of clearly identifying the difference between meadow browns and gate keepers (even allowing for the size and colour changes that seem to occur in their season). A meadow brown has one white spot in a dark circle near the top of its wing; a gatekeeper has two spots in this circle. Good eyesight is needed for identification in flight.

Wild parsley (Pastinaca Sativa) was found. It rather resembles other umbellifers but it has a more yellow appearance and it is severely noxious. Its toxin is Furanocoumarin. A small amount on the skin can produce red scars that can take months or years to disappear. In the eye it can produce blindness. The yellow seeds in late summer can spread rapidly. This is One to recognise and avoid.

Restharrow is a rather sweet looking low growing flower from the pea family and while not exclusively growing on chalk it will certainly indicate its presence. The geology on this cliff area is particularly diverse. In a matter of steps we could move from chalk, to shingle, to acid loving plants, to grassland, scrub and back again in any order. There was a particularly clear example of these different (surprisingly thin) layers on the headland showing up as bands of pastel shades beneath a thin top layer of grass.

Wherever we looked up there we saw many insects - hoverflies, bees, 7 spotted ladybird, common blues, moths, a wall brown basking then making a quick sideways flight and returning to the same spot. They favour very short grass on chalk and are often seen like this one near paths. We were aware of the crumbling cliffs along our coast and stayed away from the edge.

We moved down towards some of the glades looking at thistles. The bristly ox tongue has earned its title along its whole length. The spear thistle is equally well-named. The shape of the leaves is very distinctive. These glades are mown perhaps after 3 years. It was noticed that some plants like knapweed thought to be invasive seem to reach an optimum spread and then die back allowing other plants to gain a foothold. There are puzzling contradictions, e.g. marsh thistle. It was certainly not marshy up in the scrubland. We caught a small shield bug, which preferred to hang upside down in the pot; hard to identify as somebody released it before we could name it. These glades were swarming with insects and crowded with different plants, e.g. hemp agrimony, salad burnet (which tastes of cucumber), sloes, damsons, apples and so on with a rich and varied selection to try to identify.

Some of the members then moved on to look at the new pond. This is normally a padlocked area as pond dipping is not wanted. Rather unexpectedly while excavating the pond a large diameter pipe was unearthed; presumably this was part of this hill’s military past. It cuts across the area and so effectively produces two small ponds. The pond was about a foot deep and has the potential to become about 3 feet total when full to overflowing. Contrary to expectations a broad bodied chaser emerged from an exuviae after 1 year instead of the few commonly believed to be the usual. This is probably explained by the mud or the reeds that have been introduced bringing wild life into the ponds. Water lilies have arrived unexpectedly. We returned down some very welcome steps that have been built to cope with the slopes. We arrived back in the glades and that concluded an excellent morning on the nature reserve with everybody taking back some knowledge of new plants and insects.

Deirdre Daines

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4th September 2018 – SNHS bird walk on Seaford Head

I know, I know: I have said it before (and I somehow suspect I will say it again) but the truth is that although I have experienced some very quiet days on Seaford Head and I have even endured some truly mind-numbingly slow and disappointing days there, I have never ever (ever) been there on a morning as quiet and bird-less as it was on the day selected for the SNHS bird walk this autumn! Fortunately, through some mystical process the membership must have intuitively sensed the gloomy foreboding and only three people turned up to the first session at 07:00 hours at the South Barn – and one of these was Paul in his capacity as the Health and Safety Officer.

The morning began well enough with a party of four yellow wagtails flying overhead and an attractive whinchat near the South Barn – albeit that other than me I am not sure that anyone other than Derek got on the bird in time to enjoy its good looks. But after that the first group was heavy going all the way and only a collective feeling of heroic camaraderie in the face of adversity kept us walking - much in the manner of Scott of the Antarctic. We proceeded down to Hope Gap and followed the track towards the sea during which we recorded a derisory total of two common whitethroat and a single reed warbler – but that was literally almost all we saw until we came upon a party of 30+ blackcaps at the bottom. The highlights of this section of the walk were an adder and a male sparrowhawk doing his usual circuit in search of food. Scanning over the sea we picked up a fulmar with a few curlew and oystercatchers, but most attention was paid to the arrival of three apparently overseas visitors dressed in climbing kit and armed with a six-foot ladder. What they were planning to do with it remains shrouded in mystery – maybe they seriously underestimated the height of the cliffs but it was a rather amusing spectacle. The first circuit finished with three greenshank flying over the Cuckmere.

The second group which assembled at 10:00 hours consisted of no fewer than 23 members. These lucky people enjoyed rather more good fortune than their predecessors as we proceeded up the concrete road towards the radio beacon and then along the edge of the golf course before returning via the cliff edge. Whether these participants recognised that this was ‘better’ or that they were ‘lucky’ in any meaningful sense of the term must remain a moot point. By the time we reached the barbed wire fence on the edge of the golf course we had re-located the whinchat, which performed well in the company of two female wheatears. To add to the interest, we also watched a pair of peregrine hunting in such a skilled and co-ordinated manner that they almost immediately took a pigeon in mid-air, leaving only a cloud of white feathers behind them as they retreated to the safety of the cliffs to devour their prey. The other notable feature about this circuit was the vast number of hirundines to be seen in the sky forming-up into large groups consisting predominantly of swallows accompanied by fairly substantial groups of house martins and a good sprinkling of sand martins. As these birds congregated on the Sussex coast before flying south, there was also evidence of a fairly significant fall of meadow pipits which had just arrived in the area. For all our efforts, however, I suspect that for many the sight of the thriving moon carrot patch at Hope Bottom represented the real highlight of the morning.

In fairness, it should be recognised that this has been a depressing autumn for bird migration throughout this part of the Sussex coast with very little evidence of any significant movements of migrants whether nocturnal or diurnal. For all that, however, despite the paucity of birdlife on the day, the species list still approached 60 – but both Derek and I were painfully aware that it should have been far better given the date. As proof of this proposition, three days later, on exactly the same circuit, I recorded almost constant activity in Hope Gap and Harry’s Bush and this included pied and spotted flycatchers, garden warblers, whinchats, wheatears and yellow wagtails, as well as large numbers of all the commoner migrants and several clouded yellow butterflies. The sight of any one of these species would have transformed the day for all concerned. Let us hope for better next year.

Bob Self

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18th September 2018 – Fungi walk

On 18 September Janet Howell led a group of 14 members from Jevington car park up into Friston Forest and Lullington National Nature Reserve, to explore the ecology and some of the diverse roles fungi play in the environment. The focus of the walk was on ecology and life form rather than species identification. Janet explained that fungi play essential roles in both the Nitrogen and Carbon cycles, particularly in relation to the decomposition of plant and animal material. One of the first things that was apparent was that with the drought it was mainly the fungi associated with tree roots and the wood-rotting fungi that were seen fruiting.

Although no fungal fruiting bodies were seen on any of the horse dung found on the hill, Janet pointed out that this is the habitat of many specialist fungi. Dung fungi tend to have thicker spore walls, to withstand digestive processes. Spores from dung fungi need to land on vegetation accessible to grazing/browsing animals in order to continue the life-cycle, and this in turn is more likely if the dung is dropped on vegetation rather than on the path.

Janet also noted that there are numerous species of fungi hidden within plant species. These “endophytes” have only relatively recently been discovered and their biology is poorly understood. Many have a symbiotic relationship – the fungi benefits their hosts by improving nutrient uptake and, in some plants protecting against herbivores and pathogens.

It was explained that most trees have their root areas increased very dramatically by associating with the hyphae of fungi. Trees need this mycorrhizal relationship for healthy growth. Trees such as sycamore and ash have an endomycorrhizal relationship, and these fungi do not produce large fruiting structures. Others such as beech and oak have an ectomycorrhizal fungal relationship and on the walk many of these fungal fruiting bodies were found. Various Russulas, Boletes and Milkcaps, which all have ectomycorrhizal relationships with the trees we passed, were looked at and discussed.

A number of saprobic (feeding on dead material) fungi were found on rotting wood or in leaf litter. The role of those able to break down lignin causing white rot was discussed. The commonest white rot fungus found on the walk was Lumpy Bracket (Trametes gibbosa). Other saprobes found were Sulphur Tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare), Rooting Shank (Xerula radicata), Common Inkcap (Coprinopsis atramentaria) and The Deceiver (Laccaria laccata). Another fungus found was the Giant Polypore (Meripilus giganteus), which can be a weak parasite (usually on beech), although usually a saprobe.

Leaving the woodland behind, the group ventured out onto Lullington Heath, to a lone Scots Pine tree not far from the edge of the woodland as this was a particularly interesting habitat. The Bolete-type fungus (with pores), Suillus sp. was seen. This has a role in facilitating the establishment and spread of the tree. The other fungus seen associated with the Suillus and the pine was the unusual Copper Spike (Chroogomphus rutilus). Although it has gills it is most closely related to Suillus. Janet was very excited this year to also find a Russula fruiting under this pine tree for the first time. It is likely that the Russula will outcompete the Suillus and we could be seeing this fungal succession occurring over the coming few years.

Also on the walk, lichenised fungi were discussed. Lichens are an association, usually of one fungal species with one or more algal or Cyanobacteria partners. The lichen is named based on the fungal component; it is estimated that up to a fifth of fungal species are lichenised. The importance of the partnership in colonising extreme environments and the threat of pollution was discussed.

Needless to say other fungi and their roles were looked at but this gives you a flavour of the exciting world of fungi that was seen and discussed on the outing.

Janet Howell

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Page updated 26th October 2018