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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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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Page updated 31st July 2019