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2nd April 2019 – Rock-pooling at Peacehaven

It was a cold, blustery and showery day in April when over a dozen brave souls joined Sarah Ward and Nikki Hills from Sussex Wildlife Trust for a spot of rock-pooling in Peacehaven. From the cliff-top car park, Sarah began her briefing, explaining that this coast was part of the West Beachy Head Marine Conservation Zone and an ideal spot for rock-pooling due to the wave-cut chalk platform that formed the beach.

As Sarah reached the Health and Safety part of her preamble, and perhaps the gaze of one or two of us drifted out to sea, a cry of 'Dolphins!' rang out. All eyes turned seawards and, sure enough, a pod of at least twelve common dolphins were passing from West to East. They seemed to be in two separate pods and one or two were engaging in dramatic leaps to keep us fully entertained. We watched for a few minutes and Sarah said, "Well, we might as well pack up and go home now as I don't expect we'll see anything today to match that".

Of course we didn't pack up and, when we made it down the steps to the beach, Nikki led a group exploring the small strand line. Others were focused only on exploring the rock pools and strode out onto the slippery, seaweed-strewn foreshore, scuttling around like crabs towards the edge of the receding sea.

Back at the strand line, Nikki found a bundle of common whelk egg-cases which are fairly abundant on the beach and can even be found on the cliff-tops after stormy weather. She explained that they are also referred to as sea-wash balls as they were used as washing sponges by sailors of yore.

I was slightly sceptical about this so I later gathered up a couple of large balls of these egg cases and took them home to try it out. I expected the egg cases to break up but they held together very well and could make suitable environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic shower sponges if you don't mind the slight seaweed smell. Nikki also informed us that each individual egg case that makes up the cluster has a number of embryos inside and the largest or first hatched sets out to eat its siblings!

Also on the strand line a couple of ray or skate egg cases were found. One was identified as a Thornback Ray.

On the chalk foreshore, there were numerous chalk boulders of various sizes with neatly cut holes. I'd noticed these before but never given them much thought. I supposed it to be a naturally occurring phenomenon or perhaps the work of a madman with a drill. I was informed that the holes were made by a clam-like mollusc called a common piddock, Pholas dactylus, whose shy and sensitive nature drives them to construct then hide deep within these holes.

We found several other creatures that afternoon:

Chitons which are marine molluscs and look like nautical woodlice.

Sand Mason Worms or at least the tiny tree-like structures that it creates out of grains of sand and fragments of shell.

There were Broad-Clawed Porcelain Crabs and a number of juvenile Shore Crabs which, we were told, moult as many as ten times in the first year.

Of course there were thousands of barnacles and limpets clinging to the rocks. The limpets feed on algae or seaweed growing on the rocks using their rasping tongue known as a Radula. Apparently the radula is covered in tiny but incredibly tough teeth that are now reckoned to be the world's strongest biological structure knocking the silk of spider webs into second place!

There were Grey & Flat Topshells, common periwinkles and flat periwinkles, Littorina obtusata, that come in various colours including bright orange, yellow and green.

We also saw Netted Dog Whelks, Hinia reticulata, which are active predators feeding on barnacles or muscles by boring through their shells. They then inject the victim with enzymes and suck out the resulting 'soup'.

We found Bryozoas or moss animals, tiny aquatic creatures living in colonies forming mats on the bottom of rocks, Beadlet Anenomes, Actinia nodosum, and, after the dolphins, the highlight of the day was a Nudibranch, Gnoiodoris nodosum.

The only fish identified were the common blenny or shanny. Sarah told of the occasion when she and Nikki took out a school party of young children and she attempted to pick up a blenny. The blenny wasn't feeling like being picked up so it sank its tiny teeth into her finger, drawing blood. Sarah screamed that it really hurt. Nikki calmly told her that it didn't really hurt very much at all. "Yes it does!" protested Sarah until it dawned on her that Nikki was trying not to alarm the children.

Having been bitten by a blenny myself, I agree with Sarah. Although small, it has very strong jaws and a really painful bite!

Eventually, as the wind & rain set in, we decided to head home for a much needed hot cuppa.

Paul Watts

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16th April 2019 Report of a visit to Woods Mill

On a dull, but fairly mild spring day, 10 of us arrived at Woods Mill Nature Reserve, the headquarters of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, for a short talk about the reserve and then a guided walk. Michael Blencoe gave a light-hearted overview of the history of Woods Mill covering the period from its first mention in the Doomsday Book up to its 50th Anniversary as a Nature Reserve in 2018. The mill and surrounding land has apparently had a varied history, and apart from being a working flour mill for centuries it has also been a private house and a tea room. Its last private owner was Dr Smith and upon his death in 1966 the land and buildings were willed to the Sussex Naturalist Trust which later became the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

We learned that much of the land at Woods Mill has been landscaped and modified by its various owners so many of the ponds and streams are either additions or changed from their original state. Because it was a private house for a considerable period there are also a number of trees and plants that are not native. Despite this there is an area of untouched ancient woodland and some reasonably pristine meadows.

During the walk round the reserve Michael Blencowe told us what existed in the various areas though we were not fortunate to see everything.

The birds were clearly very active and we saw from a distance a swan on the nest and the boxes that have been installed for kestrels and barn owls, these birds have been productive in previous years and it is thought that they are currently sitting on eggs. We also saw or heard blackbird, robin, mallard, little grebe, wren, black cap, chiffchaff, willow warbler, chaffinch, long tailed tit and a stock dove. Woods Mill is a site frequented by nightingales and turtle doves but we were not to see them this time.

There were a number of spring flowers including primrose, bluebell, wood anemone, moschatel, common dog violet, cuckoo flower, white dead nettle, hemlock water dropwort, daisy and dandelion. The blackthorn was coming to the end of its flowering period and must have been magnificent, but the sallow was in full bloom and attracting insects.

Despite the overcast day, there were still insects visible including bumble bees, wasps, hover flies, dark bordered bee fly, and representing the butterflies we saw small numbers of brimstone, orange tip, peacock, small tortoiseshell, red admiral, and comma. The holly blue and speckled wood butterflies were present but not visible.

For me, being a sucker for things that are small and fluffy, the highlight was finding a pair of wood mice who had made a neat little nest under a reptile refuge.

This visit to Woods Mill was a good reminder of what a lovely area is encapsulated within the nature reserve and what an excellent variety of things there is to see. Our thanks go to Michael Blencowe for giving us an enjoyable and informative guided tour.

Marion Trew

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30th April 2019 – Belle Tout/Shooters Bottom – Spring Flowers

On a fairly pleasant morning about 26 of us met up in the car layby nearest to Belle Tout. Chris Brewer began by pointing out a mass of cowslips and saying that as the object of the walk was to see spring flowers we could all now go home! He said that if some members did not wish to do the whole walk there would be an opportunity to turn back later on before a steep climb.

We set off in the direction of Horseshoe Plantation. Flowers seen during this part of the walk were bluebells (native), bulbous buttercup, burnet rose, common storksbill, cow parsley, dog violet, early purple orchid, germander speedwell, glaucous sedge, ground ivy, hoary cress, milkwort, wayfaring tree, and wild mignonette. We also saw some very small early spider orchids thanks to David Palmer who had marked out their position earlier in order to make them easier to spot.

A small copper and a speckled wood butterfly were also seen in this area. And a bloody nosed beetle which Chris handed round in a collecting pot for all to see before releasing it.

We then crossed over the road and proceeded to Cornish Farm seeing and hearing a skylark on the way.

Alexanders, bird’s- foot- trefoil (not in flower yet), common vetch, dove’s- foot cranesbill, hedge mustard, poppy, red dead nettle, and ribwort plantain were among the plants noted. Also a corn bunting was seen. We continued through a fenced in track, fortunately separated from two magnificent bulls although they appeared fairly docile. We saw a number of brown-tail moth caterpillars which are best looked at but not touched because their hairs can cause anything from an unpleasant irritation to, in extreme cases, loss of sight should a hand then touch an eye.

We reached the dew pond and saw reed mace. Also water crowfoot which Chris took a sample of in order to examine later to see which one it was. At this point in the walk several people left to go back to the carpark. Continuing on we then saw lesser burdock, musk thistle, and small nettle. Just before a steep climb three more decided to take the opportunity to turn back. At the top we paused to admire the view back towards Horseshoe Plantation, and the young lambs. Noted were common chick weed, common field- speedwell, field madder (out early), field wood rush, goat’s-beard, scarlet pimpernel, shepherd’s purse, sweet vernal- grass in flower, and the remains of a hairy violet. Also a number of St Mark’s flies no doubt encouraged by the weather warming up during the morning.

On the last leg we saw burnet rose in flower (early), and wood sage. A linnet was also seen. In an area called Bullingdean we all looked hard for the early spider orchid which proved elusive until an eagle eyed member spotted one. This is also a prime site for the moon carrot although it was too early to see any signs of it. Just before arriving back at the car park we all looked for the lady orchid but without success. Last sighting of the morning was a small heath butterfly.

Our thanks go to Chris for, as always, a most informative and enjoyable walk.

Susan Painter

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14th May 2019 – Dawn chorus walk, Abbot’s Wood, Arlington

Although I was scheduled to be joint leader of this walk, Derek Barber soon demonstrated both his unerring mastery of birdsong and the benefits of younger ears and by the end we all owed him a considerable debt of gratitude for making this walk such a success. Before the event, we were both apprehensive about the number of members likely to turn out at 05.00 hrs. It was thus both a relief and a pleasant surprise when we found ourselves joined by no fewer than 23 eager participants; a party which included a visiting Australian birder and a few local non-members. Perhaps inevitably, wood pigeon was the first species recorded but the cormorant flying over minutes later was less predictable as the second species of the day. Great spotted woodpecker soon followed and this obliged with the full repertoire of its sharp brief contact note as well as its regular staccato bursts of drumming on a dead branch to advertise its presence. A treecreeper on the edge of the car park was rather less cooperative in that its high-pitched song was heard continuously, but it took some time before it showed itself above our heads. All of the commoner members of the tit family followed along with the commoner thrushes – blackbird, song and mistle thrush. It was not until 05.25 that we heard our first blackcap singing its heart out while concealed in the middle of a large bush. This truly is a great songster and this was one of several which performed for us throughout the morning. A goldcrest soon followed, typically singing its delicately simple little song from the top of a tall conifer.

Although this was very pleasant and Derek’s commentary on the various species and their songs was informative it was not until 05.50 that we finally located our principal objective – a nightingale singing in deep cover just beside the path. The hesitant opening whistled notes are a distinctive feature of this complex song pattern and from the sound of it this was a mature adult bird which had practised his song and extended his repertoire to attract a mate. Younger males have less complex song and this makes them less likely to attract a mate – as such, they are the most likely to be singing after dark later in the season. Some time was spent searching for this highly elusive and ventriloquial songster and many (but alas not all) members of the group had at least a fleeting glimpse of another nightingale during the morning.

After this, it was the turn of the corvids to make their presence known with jackdaw, magpie and jay all being located. The walk concluded at around 08.45 with an extremely showy garden warbler which sat out in clear sight for at least 15 minutes singing vigorously. Although this species is striking for its complete absence of memorable plumage features, its characteristically incessant “babbling brook” style of song is captivating and this was an appropriate call with which to end. In total we recorded 34 species of bird and throughout there was plenty of birdsong to keep us interested, but as both leaders agreed, the dawn chorus in 2019 is a fairly muted affair compared with the cacophony that one would have expected from a comparable walk 30 or 40 years ago which we first started birdwatching. Notwithstanding this somewhat gloomy contextual point, however, all participants judged this innovation to be such a success that it should be a candidate for regular inclusion in the SNHS schedule.

Bob Self

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4th June 2019 – Coach outing to Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

We are usually fortunate with our outdoor events in having mostly dry if not fine weather. Unfortunately, however, our coach outing this year proved to be an exception as it started raining from more or less when we boarded the coach in Seaford all through to after we returned in the afternoon. Despite this everyone was good humoured and determined to see as much as they could during the morning walk. This was led by Chris Bentley who said that we were unlikely to see many insects because they had more sense than we did!

On the way round we saw salsify, which is now doing well, and viper’s bugloss. After passing some building work which was going to become the new Discovery Centre, which would also house a café and a shop, we entered a hide. From here we looked out at an area which used to be made up of ridges but has now been completely flattened and artificial islands created. This new and improved change in habitat had encouraged avocets to nest and this year there were more than 50 pairs. There were still a few avocets around, including one on a nest, but Chris thought that a lot of birds had lost their nests, although hopefully not as bad as last year when foxes had been responsible for the destruction of many. Also seen were curlew, little egret, a group of grey lag geese, black headed gulls, herring gulls, oyster catcher, red shank, skylark, a few starlings, ring plovers (a few pairs nesting to the left of the hide), sandwich, common and little tern. Also a whimbrel lunching on a frog. Chris remarked that it was quite stressful working on the Reserve because one became so involved with the welfare of the birds.

Continuing on we noted hemlock, sea kale, yellow horned poppies (the horn is the seed pod), shingle herb robert, sea beet, sea spurge, red valerian, ivy leaved toad flax, Rottingdean sea lavender, wild parsley, and biting stonecrop. Also a cream-spot tiger moth. Then we saw the Rye Harbour Wood – just one sycamore! The electric fences kept out foxes, badgers and also visitors with their dogs. These fences were also rabbit proof and protected plants like sea pea, also seen, were now growing well. As some grazing is necessary every so often the rabbits are allowed back in. We then entered a second hide from where we saw cormorants, black headed gulls on nest, two white headed gulls, little egrets, a young Mediterranean gull, sandwich terns, only one on a nest compared with only a couple of weeks ago when there had been many; Chris thought that perhaps the gulls were to blame.

On the way back some bee orchids were seen. Back at the coach it was unanimously agreed not go ahead with a further walk that had originally been planned for the afternoon and after a break for lunch we set off back to Seaford. In spite of the inclement weather we had an enjoyable day out and many expressed the wish to return albeit on a better day.

Susan Painter

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11th June 2019 Cradle Valley

About 20 members gathered for a walk on part of National Trust’s Frog Firle Farm lead by ranger Dave Morgan. It was fortunately one of the dry days of the week. The rain over the previous week was a blessing as orchids, one of the attractions of Cradle Valley, were finally appearing.

To get to the valley we proceeded down a part of the bridlepath through dense hawthorn and blackthorn where the species in evidence were woodland plants including enchanters Nightshade and ferns including male fern. Surprisingly there was a single red star-thistle in the middle of the track. This is a critically endangered species, normally most abundant behind Tile Barn at the bottom of the hill.

Coming out of the shadow we reached a bank adjacent to Alfriston Road which rewarded us with our first orchids – common-spotted and fragrant. A little further down is a spot known for late-flowering burnt orchids but they had yet to appear (3 days later they were showing!).

At the bottom of the path Nat Trust has incorporated a North facing bank into this part of the site because of it being a good habitat for orchids and fragrant and a few pyramidal orchids were in evidence here.

Down in the valley itself the site is of 2 distinct parts. On the South side is unimproved chalk grassland, part of the Seaford to Beachy Head SSSI. On the North side is former arable land which has reverted naturally to chalk grassland. It is believed that it was last ploughed earlier than the 70s as one of our members rode horses in the valley then and it wasn’t arable. It is slowly improving with a more diverse range of plants. Fragrant orchids were showing here in some numbers; anecdotally this is fairly recent.

Walking along the valley were many typical chalk grassland plants including cowslips, greater knapweed, eyebright, wild thyme, fairy flax, germander speedwell, common rockrose, horseshoe vetch, greater knapweed, viper’s bugloss, mouse-ear hawkweed, hoary ragwort, greater knapweed and the uncommon bastard-toadflax. There was also the bright blue germander speedwell, oxeye dais, bladder campion, white campion, birds-foot trefoil and, notably in the old arable land, yellow rattle – a hemi-parasite of grasses which weakens the coarser grasses and encourages greater diversity.

At the far end of the valley was a magnificent display of hundreds of fragrant orchids.

Up the slope was the 4th orchid species of the day - bee orchids in an area where they were seen in numbers (60+) last year.

The find of the walk (at least for botanists!) – Field Fleawort (Tephroseris integriflora). This was found by Janice Reynolds, who decided to have a rest on the bank of fragrant orchids while others climbed the slope in search of Bee Orchids. Janice has seen this plant only once before near Brighton. It appears to have last been recorded locally in the 60s/70s. According to Plantlife - "Classified as ‘Endangered’ and is included as a species “of principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity” under Section 41 (England) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006." A week later it had gone over and was much harder to see.

In addition to plants insects in evidence included butterflies - common blue, small heath, red admiral, painted lady, speckled wood and a number of adonis blue - together with cinnabar moth.

We went back to the car park via the bostal on the other side of Alfriston Road but this proved, unusually, to be of limited interest as cattle had been grazing the area recently. At the top was a fine display of seaside (aka slender) thistle.

A few hardy souls went in search of white horehound, another uncommon chalk grassland plant. It was found in the sheep field just south of the car park.

A very enjoyable and rewarding walk through one of Seaford’s gems.

Chris Brewer

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25th June 2019 - Knowlands Farm Walk

What a morning! White admiral, white-legged damselfly, purple hairstreak, silver-washed fritillary, large yellow underwing, red-legged shieldbug, red-eyed damselfly, black and yellow long-horned beetle, and that’s only some of the insects. Add on some plants – greater birdsfoot trefoil, marsh thistle, nipplewort, marsh bedstraw, honeysuckle (food plant of white admiral), thyme-leaved speedwell, wood forgetmenot – and it’s not difficult to appreciate everyone’s enthusiasm for the Knowlands Farm site.

20 members and a visitor were met by Nick Lear, owner of the farm, by the farm lake (yellow-centred white water lilies and a range of damselflies) at 10.a.m. After brief H+S preliminaries from Paul Baker and a reminder to heed ticks from Chris Brewer, Nick introduced the site; a broadleaved, coppiced woodland of approximately 300 acres, including a pasture field devoted to conservation, a grasshoppers paradise, and a disused railway embankment. Nick would be concentrating on insects, mentioning in particular butterflies, the white admiral and the silver-washed fritillary, although he wasn’t sure at this stage that the latter was yet present. As usual what we might see would be weather-dependent.

In partial sunshine and relatively high humidity, the party set off into the woods with high expectations.

They would not be disappointed. By 10.15 we’d all ticked white admiral to general excitement, and by 10.30 a fritillary, likely the silver-washed, had, in Nicks words “a brief meeting with a painted lady and then flew off”, sadly very rapidly leaving some doubt about its precise ID. The straggling group wandered along wide, often bramble-edged rides through recently coppiced areas, over stiles into and out of conserved pasture, past a badger sett, along part of the embankment of the dismantled Sheffield Park to Lewes railway line, and finally beside a very large wheat field back to the farm.

But this is enough of my ramblings. Enjoy the lists of species seen, mainly courtesy of Chris Brewer and Mike Kerry.

Plants (CB)

Greater birdsfoot trefoil, Common birdsfoot trefoil, Marsh thistle, Grass vetchling, Crested dogs-tail, Bent – probably common, Smooth tare, Perennial ryegrass, False brome, Field rose, Dogwood, Hornbeam, Pedunculate oak, Birch, Meadowsweet, Wood dock, Nipplewort, Marsh bedstraw, Cleavers, Hedge mustard, Hazel, St John’s wort perforate(?) Agrimony, Foxglove, Great willowherb, Wild privet, Herb robert, Hoary ragwort, Gorse, Germander speedwell, Ragged robin, Redcurrant, Wood forgetmeknot, White water lily, Honeysuckle (food plant of the white admiral), Aspen, Green alkanet, Reedmace, Heath speedwell and Thyme-leaved speedwell.

Insects, spiders and reptiles (MK)

Butterflies & moths:

Silver-washed Fritillary, Purple hairstreak, Meadow brown, Painted lady, Ringlet, Large skipper, Marbled white, White admiral, Speckled wood, Red admiral, Common blue, Silver Y, and Large Yellow underwing.

Hoverflies:

Sphaerophoria sp., Myathropa florea (Batman hoverfly), Episyrphus balteatus (Marmalade hoverfly), and Xylota sylvarum.

Odonata:

White legged damselfly, Blue-tailed damselfly, Azure damselfly, Common blue damselfly, and Beautiful demoiselle.

Hymenoptera:

Bombus terrestris (Buff-tailed bumblebee), Bombus lapidarius (red tailed bumblebee), Bombus vestalis (Vestal cuckoo bee), Apis Mellifera (Honey Bee), ?? Cryptocheilus affinis (Spider hunting wasp) – awaiting confirmation.

Beetles:

Malachius bipustulatus (Common malachite beetle), Oedemera nobilis (Swollen-thighed beetle), Rutpela maculata (Spotted longhorn beetle), and Pollen beetle.

Other:

Meadow grasshopper, Common green grasshopper, Dark bush cricket, Froghopper and Dolichopus sp. (Long legged fly).

Spiders:

Pisaura mirabilis (Nursery web spider), Evarcha falcata (Jumping spider), and Pardosa sp. (Wolf spider).

Reptiles:

Marsh Frog, Slow Worm

If you get the chance, pay a visit to Knowlands Wood. A public right of way passes between the farm buildings and through a corner of Knowlands Wood, but Nick seemed relaxed about genuine natural history enthusiasts wandering off-piste through this delightful landscape, to reap the benefits of the bountiful wildlife.

Thanks to Mike Kerry, Chris Brewer, Colin Prichard, Paul Dixon and Paul Baker for contributions to the species lists and/or the photographic record.

Colin Whiteman

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6th July 2019 - Outing to Wisley

On a warm bright Saturday morning we set off by coach at 9am from the Martello Tower and after a pleasant journey arrived at Wisley at 10.30am. It has been undergoing a massive refurbishment over the last few years which is still ongoing, including the science laboratory currently being built. The new entrance area leading up to the recently opened Welcome Centre is lined with 100 ornamental cherry trees Prunus yeodensis and is most impressive. After going through the Welcome Centre you enter the area known as the ‘village square’ with its café and restaurant which in turn leads you into the heart of the gardens with the extensive lawns and trees of Seven Acres. All very different to our visit last year when this whole area was under construction.

This time there was no guided tour and so, armed with a map, everyone set off in different directions in anticipation of a great deal to see. Some would head off to the heather landscapes, some to the riverside walk or to the bird hide. Whatever we chose we were not to be disappointed.

In the Glasshouse we were fortunate that this was the first day of an exhibition on fuchsias which were well displayed in raised beds so that the pendulous blooms could be clearly seen. The glasshouse is also home to different climate zones that have been created in order to grow a wide variety of plants and trees from around the world.

Going outside, also worthy of note is the exotic garden and the climb up through the rock garden to the nearby viewpoint was well worth the effort. Close by there is an alpine meadow and a bit further on the Bowes-Lyon Rose Garden was looking at its best. It was interesting to see a thriving vegetable garden combined with a border of bedding plants.

Before leaving Wisley it was possible to look round the new and greatly expanded Garden Centre.

All too soon it was time to leave at 4pm. A good journey home arriving back in Seaford at 5.30pm. A most enjoyable day, made even better by the glorious weather.

Susan Painter

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9 July 2019 - Report on a visit to Crowlink Dewpond

An impressive group of us met at the National Trust Car Park at Crowlink and headed through the village to the Dewpond nestling in the fields below. The pond had been choked by invasive Crassula weed but was cleared by NT volunteers in 2018. This had led to a dramatic improvement in its condition and to the suggestion that this would be a good place for a Society meeting. Natasha Sharma of the National Trust led the event.

There was indeed a good diversity of wildlife in the pond, including many newts (tad-poles and adults), dragonfly nymphs, water bugs, water beetles and pond snails. We set about trying to identify our finds and ended up with an impressive list. The highlights of the day were Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) and Screech Beetle (Hygrobia hermanni); the latter really did make a loud noise when picked up! We also found three different species of Water Boatman (Neonecta glauca, N. maculata and Corrixa punc-tate), the nymphs of two dragonfly species (Sympetrum striolata and Aeshna mixta), a Water Scorpion (Nepa cinereal) and Smooth Newt (Triturus vulgar-is).

It is possible to assess the health of freshwater ponds by the presence or absence of key indicator families. The nymphs of dragonflies are indicators of high quality, whilst water bugs, water beetles and mayfly larvae are also found in medium quality water. Our collec-tion indicates that the pond is indeed in good condition. However, it was clear from the amount of surface weed and sediment in the pond that there is nutrient run-off from the sur-rounding fields, leading to eutrophication; in addition, the Crassula weed has not been eradicated and will again clog up the pond if left unchecked. In a relatively short time, these factors will lead to a reduction in biodiversity unless action is taken.

In addition to the pond assessment, we also made observations on the adult dragon-flies around it, the numerous birds using the pond as a convenient source of fresh water, and the plants and butterflies in the surrounding fields. Chris Brewer and Janice Reynolds kindly led the land-based produced a list of species found.

Two species found on the day needed expert assistance in order to be identified - Four-lined Horsefly (Atylotus rusticus) and Downland Robberfly (Machimus rusti-cus). These are both rather scarce species, demonstrating the biodiversity value of this site.

A list of all species found on the day can be found here. Our thanks to Natasha for leading the event and putting together the list of species from the pond area.

Jim Howell

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23rd July 2019 – Old Lodge Nature Reserve

22 SNHS members assembled in the small car park of the Old Lodge Nature Reserve, in the heart of Ashdown Forest, at 10.00. They were introduced to leader, Derek Barber, by Paul Baker who also briefly ran through the main health and safety issues. Derek outlined the key focus of the walk – dragonflies and damselflies – and the nature of the route to be followed.

While the emphasis would be on Odonata it would be worth keeping an eye out for birds and butterflies.

Without more ado the party set off along the gentle gradient of the partially wooded, north-eastern edge of the reserve. Coniferous trees yielded goldcrest and Derek picked up the call of a less common Dartford warbler, while a bullfinch and whitethroat also made brief appearances, but this late in the season bird song and display is less likely to be heard or seen and other wildlife soon attracted more attention. Butterflies listed here

  • Red Admiral
  • Meadow Brown
  • Comma
  • Ringlet
  • Small Heath
  • Large Skipper
  • Small Skipper
  • Gatekeeper
  • Holly Blue
  • Brimstone

were those that your scribe managed to note down from everyone’s observations. But the highlight of the walk, reached near the base of a steepish hillside, was undoubtedly the dragonflies and damselflies, thirteen species in all, including four of Derek’s targets, Keeled Skimmer, Small Red Damselfly, Emerald Damselfly, and the Golden-ringed Dragonfly. The latter performed two circuits of the group, with its mating partner in tow, before disappearing down the small heathland stream at the furthest point of the walk. Prior to this climactic conclusion, the 5 small ponds, no more than a handful of metres in diameter or length, visited on our way down the slope, revealed a treasure trove of brightly coloured insects, quartering the water, sometimes rapidly and aggressively, or clinging stealthily to the emergent or shoreline vegetation. These simple lacustrine scenes attracted the rapt attention of the audience as cameras and binoculars were trained on the exciting variety of species: Broad-bodied chaser, common darter, emperor, azure damselfly, large red damselfly, brown hawker, southern hawker, beautiful demoiselle and, not east the black darter, unexpectedly early at this site according to Derek. Meanwhile some sympathy was expressed for a meadow brown butterfly whose wings floated, apparently bodyless, on the surface of a pond while a, presumably, full-bellied Smooth Newt drifted about underneath.

Odonatan appetite eventually sated, the party wound its way slowly back up the hillside to the car park, where all expressed their genuine appreciation to Derek for a morning well spent. Even the failure of the pheromone lure to attract a relatively rare White-barred Clearwing Moth did not significantly detract from a most rewarding walk in ideal conditions.

Colin Whiteman

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6th August 2018 - Moth trapping at Abbots Wood - It is the quality that counts

For the last two years our Moth Event held on Seaford Head has had good results particularly on the western side of the Nature Reserve. This year, at the request of Stuart Sutton the Ranger in charge of Abbots Wood we agreed to try a different venue and run several moth traps overnight in Abbots Wood. Unfortunately Steven Teale, our leader and mentor on previous moth trap events, was unexpectedly taken ill and we were then faced with either cancelling the event or trying to run it ‘in-house’. We chose the latter and on the evening of Monday 5th August several members met in Abbots Wood to set up four traps in the area around the car park. As the moth traps can’t be left unattended four of us then spent the night in the wood, two sleeping in a motorhome and two in their cars.

At 11.00pm we checked the traps and had a very disappointing collection of moths though there were substantial numbers of Shield Bugs and Caddis Flies. Our confidence that overnight more macro moths would be attracted to the actinic and mercury vapour lights was not well founded and in the morning results could only be described as poor.

Twenty four members arrived for the opening of the traps and Michael Blencowe and Bob Foreman (from the Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre) came along to help with identification, particularly of the micro moths. We had been hopeful of a good number of moths given we had both actinic and mercury vapour traps set in a large glade in woodland, however the number of macro moths in all traps was poor and almost unbelievably only one moth was caught in the Skinner Trap. There doesn’t seem to be an explanation for this as the weather was favourable for catching moths, we had a variety of traps and we were in a large open glade surrounded by mature woodland.

The event felt unsuccessful though we did find a few macro moths that were new to most of us, however towards the end of the session our ‘experts’ found a moth in one of the traps that excited their interest. Unfortunately before they could positively identify it, it escaped and flew to a nearby oak tree but Michael Blencowe was not to be frustrated and climbed up onto one of our tables so he could net the moth. It was then identified as the Dark Crimson Underwing, a rare Red Data Book species. This moth is known, uncommonly, in Hampshire but not in Sussex and the fact that we then found a second individual may indicate that it was not an aberrant visitor but might possibly be breeding in Abbots Wood.

An excellent ending to our event.

The list of moths identified can be found here .

Marion Trew

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20th August 2019 - Ouse Valley Nature Reserve – Leader Andy Mitchell

We set off from Tide Mills car park at a cracking pace just after 10am on a beautiful sunny day in fairly calm conditions after the windy, squally weather of late.

It was lovely to see the field to the left of the cycle track generously sprinkled with sunflowers as it had obviously been sown with meadow flower seeds to attract the birds. A large flock of sparrows flew down to feast on rich pickings.

As we left the cycle track to enter the Nature Reserve, just near the beautiful old iconic elderberry tree, a brimstone moth settled on the path ready to have its photograph taken.

Arriving at the long bird hide fence Andy told us about the original expectation, 20 years ago, that the fields had been planned to act as a flood plain and create shallow lakes for water birds and waders. Unfortunately apart from in short periods of heavy winter rains the underlying ground has not been impermeable so the water just drains away. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust will be carrying out surveys to advise on how this might be addressed. As we were watching, a flock of about 50 curlew flew down to the second field beyond the bird hide as we looked across towards Denton. Two kestrels were also seen. Turning then to look towards Tide Mills and the coast, Andy pointed out that the path follows naturally raised ground which would have been the original shore line before the change in the course of the River Ouse.

We continued walking past a wooded section which would lead us quickly to the much disputed new road being built to the Newhaven Eastern Port area. This is where the new road bridge over the railway is being built and there will also be a new foot bridge to Tide Mills, doing away with the old level crossing gates’ access. There was a dispute as to who owned the small section of land on the footpath where the new roadworks are, where a nesting box for a barn owl had been located on a tree. It appears the construction company made an executive decision to fell the tree. The nesting box was relocated and this was pointed out to us, but sadly the owls have not returned.

As we looked across from behind the fence with the noisy construction traffic on the other side, we could see the very large area of Nature Reserve that has been taken over. This area will be used to locate several hundred new homes. Much discussion ensued as it was felt by some members that this factor would have a huge impact on the area, with the probable large increase in dog walkers, which in turn would affect wildlife.

A large drainage ditch from the reserve now flows under the new road. There was somewhat wry amusement at the fact that the construction firm had magnanimously built a mammal pathway alongside the diverted ditch under the road - for otters?

Continuing along the new road we were shown two of the five ponds in the reserve. The first one had free access to the public with the expectation that people would enjoy the educational benefits of pond dipping, watching dragonflies and so on. Unfortunately it is used by some of the dog population for swimming. Andy was of a mind to fence it off due to this. Both of the ponds were very choked with vegetation. Andy reported that there are a lot of herons in the ponds which inevitably means a reduction in amphibian population, mentioning great crested newts in particular. The existence of five good ponds and the presence of newts was welcome news.

One of the ponds in particular had a good population of these newts. Regular surveys are undertaken to ascertain numbers, involving late night visits with torches and bottles and early morning starts to do the count.

We walked back into the nature reserve and went into one of the fields which is not open to the public. Farmers use it for grazing but this year this particular field was lying fallow. Someone spotted a small rodent scuttling into the long grass. Formerly this area would have provided ideal foraging for the barn owls which sadly are missing at the moment. There was a fenced off pond, again overgrown. The reason for this was that a year or so ago the cattle could access it and it became a muddy depression, so the fencing has been placed to restore it. Yet again it seemed to many of us that these ponds are not being very well maintained, probably due to lack of finance. Although there didn’t appear to be any out of the ordinary plants in the field, there had been a survey done sometime which indicated there had been a rich variety there.

Another detour off the path took us into an area that has been submerged in wet seasons and this showed some reeds and sedges in the vegetation although the field is currently bone dry. There were also a few small specimens of pink centaury.

Back on the path we were asked if we could identify the large tree by the path, and some of us tentatively suggested “Black Poplar” which was correct. Apparently they are uncommon here and this specimen would have been planted about 20 years ago at the inception of the nature reserve. In fact, three Black Poplar trees were planted by the Society in 2003, and the person commemorated was Kathleen Amoore, of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society, and, it is believed, was also Chair of Seaford Head Management Committee for many years.

As we joined the cycle track and headed towards the car park people were noticing various plants and insects. We saw a white variety of centaury and several clumps of vervain. The flower rich areas are cut each year and the cuttings removed to prevent soil enrichment.

It was an interesting walk even if some stragglers didn’t catch all that was said at the various stopping points - a common problem on SNHS walks! We discovered that there is far more to the Ouse Estuary Reserve than we had realised!

Species observed during the walk included:

BIRDS: Hedge Sparrow (many), Starling (many), Curlew (56), Kestrel (2), Herring Gull

LEPIDOPTERA: Brimstone moth, White Ermine caterpillar, Cinnabar caterpillar, Painted Lady, Green-veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Meadow Brown, Pyrausta despicata

BEES AND WASPS: Buff-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus terrestris, Red-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius, Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum, Brown-banded Carder Bee, Bombus humilis, Common Wasp, Vespula vulgaris, German Wasp, Vespula germanica, Honey Bee, Apis mellifera

HOVERFLIES: Dasysyrphus albostriatus, Drone fly, Eristalis tenax, Marmalade Hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus, Long Hoverfly, Sphaerophoria scripta, Syritta pipiens

OTHER FLIES: Linnmaeya picta, Lucilia caesar agg., Lucilia sericata agg., Musca autumnalis

BEETLES: Harlequin Ladybird

FLORA: Centaury, Pink, Centaury, White, Centaury, Small (quite rare), Bristly Ox-tongue, Vervain, Ragwort, Sunflower, Elderberry, Knapweed, Mallow, Michaelmas Daisy, Fleabane Elderberry and Black Poplar

Mike and Margaret Kerry

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3rd September 2019 – Arlington Reservoir

Ten of us met up in the car park on a pleasantly warm day and before setting off on the walk Alex Stephens, Environmental Officer for South East Water (SEW), gave us an introductory talk. He began by saying that work on creating the reservoir first began in 1969 by cutting off a meander in the River Cuckmere with a dam and work was completed in 1971. The area was landscaped and over 30,000 trees were planted including birch, hazel, oak and wild cherry.

Alex said that SEW manages two large areas supplying 2.2m customers with 23m litres of water a day and involves 9,000 km of pipes. The reservoir is a pumped storage reservoir in which water is stored during the winter and then in the summer is treated before being supplied to customers. All the water comes from the River Cuckmere of which 70% comes from underground aquifers and only 30% from the surface, the two supplies being mixed.

The Arlington Reservoir was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 1980 and was granted SSSI status in 1985 mainly because of the number of over wintering birds here and passage of migrant birds but also because of the wildlife meadows and ponds. He has been working at the Reservoir for the last 20 years during which time the development and enhancement of biodiversity has increased greatly.

Leisure pursuits include walking, cycling and bird watching. Alex also pointed out the trout fishery, with fishing allowed by permit between February and June. There was a bird hide on the way round just off the main footpath. At the back of the dam wall grazing was carried out. Meadows were at the other end which were cut on rotation but in compartments which enables butterflies etc to survive. The woodland was also managed with tree thinning and coppicing. The ponds were also managed. There were a number of dormice with 60 boxes monitored every month. All in all the habitats were a nice mix which complemented each other. There is a balancing act here between the wildlife and the recreational side.

180 plus species of birds have been recorded including sandpiper, swallow, ring plover, kingfisher, bullfinch, nightingale, and turtle doves. The week before an osprey had been sighted. 37 species of butterflies had been recorded out of 57. There were also slow worms, grass snakes, and adders which strangely had been spotted near the river.

In answer to a question Alex said that no moth trapping took place because of lack of resources. He then gave out a booklet giving information about what projects are ongoing in order to continue investing in looking after the natural environment. In conclusion he handed round copies of the Osprey Trail leaflet and hoped that we would be fortunate enough to see the osprey.

As a group we then began the two mile Osprey trail round the reservoir. Among butterflies seen were comma, red admiral, painted lady, peacock, and speckled wood. A female darter dragonfly was seen (probably common darter). Among plants seen were bush vetch, common mallow, guelder rose, hemp-agrimony, sloes, woody nightshade, enchanter’s nightshade, hazel with next year’s catkins already forming, mare’s tail or horsetail, marsh woundwort, ox tongue, purple- loosestrife, teasel, small mallow – not that common but well established here - stone parsley, selfheal, sunflower, and vervain. From the bird hide we saw several cormorants, great crested grebe, heron, little gull, sandpiper, and wagtail. Other birds spotted on the way round included coal tit, coot, jackdaw, mallard, ravens, robin, a number of Canada geese, grey lag geese, and yellow wagtail.

A red tailed bumblebee, Sussex Reds cattle grazing and a fox disturbed in the bushes were also seen.

At various places warnings were in place about the toxic blue green algae and this could clearly be seen towards the end of the walk along the edge of the reservoir close to the water extraction tower.

All in all a number of good sightings but not of the elusive osprey*.

Susan Painter

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17th September 2019 Seaford Head bird Walk

Even by the standards of this very frustrating autumn, the SNHS bird walk on 17 September was something of a disappointment. In the brief period between a truly magnificent orange-coloured dawn and meeting the first group of seven hardy souls at 07:00 hrs it was clear that bird numbers were remarkably low. The highlight of the walk down Hope Gap was perhaps a party of 50-60 blackcap moving through the bushes at remarkable speed as if they were a tidal wave. This behaviour was scarcely surprising in view of the fact that the other outstanding sighting for the first group was a very active sparrowhawk which we watched on a number of occasions around the South Barn, later in Hope Gap and then again near Harry’s Bush. A brief scan over the sea also gave us several egrets feeding close inshore – perhaps the best view that was had on these walks. The final stop on the circuit was Harry’s Bush, consisting of mature woodland and scrub, and this provided us with a fair number of non-passerines which helped to bulk out the day’s bird list further. Included in this roll were three black-tailed godwit, little egret, common snipe, greenshank, little grebe, teal and Canada goose all seen from the vantage point above the lower Cuckmere. By the end of the first walk, we had accumulated a total of 45 species.

The second group were in many ways rather more fortunate. Having been the only one to see a common redstart at the top of Hope Gap during our first circuit I did not include this in the total. Fortunately, however, on the second circuit with the 10 o’clock group the bird put in a brief appearance and was added to the morning’s list. Moving down Hope Gap precisely the same thing happened with a garden warbler, which I alone had seen in the first circuit, and which now showed rather better to the whole group. We also encountered a wheatear, a whinchat and two goldcrests as well as two sand martins and small numbers of swallows and house martins. At the bottom of Hope Gap we inspected the thriving patch of moon carrot on the cliff edge, but this time there were no gannets offshore although an oystercatcher was a further addition to our tally. Approaching the South Barn at the end of the walk a very late lesser whitethroat was watched by a small but appreciative audience and this proved to be a very suitable final observation. During the walk we also encountered a migrant hawker, and a single silver Y moth, along with a few small copper butterflies and at least six clouded yellows (the first of the year at this site). We ended the day with a combined total of 59 bird species recorded which, in the circumstances, could be considered to be a fairly commendable effort.

Bob Self

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3rd October 2019 Seaford Head 50th Anniversary Plaque

Seaford Head Local Nature Reserve was established on 1st February 1969 on land owned by Seaford Urban District Council.

The original 76 acres was part of a much larger area bequeathed to SUDC by local philanthropist Hugh Hamilton Stafford Northcote, to protect it for public use. This was essentially what we now recognise as the eastern part of the current Reserve area which is managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust.

It seemed fitting that Mr Northcote was properly recognised as enabling the establishment of the Reserve, and that the 50th anniversary was an ideal time to do it. Seaford Natural History Society was a key player in getting the Reserve established 50 years ago and in its subsequent management, so it was apposite that 50 years later we proposed the erection of a commemorative plaque which acknowledged that debt.

Seaford Town Council agreed to the plaque and its attachment to the wall of South Hill Barn, where it can be easily seen by visitors to that part of the Reserve.

It had been hoped to have the plaque fixed to the wall and unveiled as part of the 50th Anniversary Open Day on 13th July, and although a number of delays made this impossible, we were able to display the actual plaque on our stand and have it unveiled by Chris Lowmass, the Chair of the Nature Reserve Management Committee.

Finally, the plaque is in place, and the photo shows it being admired by the Mayor of Seaford, Cllr Nazish Adil, Chris Lowmass, and Jim Howell.

SNHS are pleased to have initiated the concept of the plaque, designed it, produced the text, funded it, and even attached it to the wall. We hope it will attract the attention of users of the Reserve for many years to come.

Plaque Plaque
 

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Page updated 15th October 2019