Reports 

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 (www.sussexwidlifetrust.org.uk/what-we-do/living-seas/sussex-shoresearch) – 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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page updated 21st September 2018