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

*Very shortly after the walk ended Val and Peter Hammond saw an osprey as did a colleague of Alex Stephens. Just before leaving the car layby they also saw a Tortoise shieldbug (Eurygaster testudinaria).

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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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1st October 2019 – Gardening for Hedgehogs

Charlotte Owen told us that she had the best job in the world, that of WildCall Officer in the information and advice service of the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

She began by saying that the hedgehog is Britain’s favourite animal for a number of reasons: it is cute, unique, feisty, friendly, the underdog, and good at pest control.

In the 15m years that hedgehogs have been around they have not changed much and whether African, European or Asian species they are all fairly similar. An ancestor, Silvacola, which is more shrew like and goes back to 52m years ago has recently been discovered.

A few facts about the hedgehog: it has rather small ears, tiny eyes, coarse brown hair, powerful front limbs for digging, long legs, is about 30 cm in length and can move quite quickly when it wants to. It is covered in about 7500 spines which are flattened down when on the move; these are actually hair cells stiffened with keratin. One of the primary functions is defence and when curled up into a ball only badgers can penetrate. Another is to act as a shock absorber if it falls. Hedgehogs weigh up to 1.2kg and live for 2-5 years. They are nocturnal and omnivores. They can be quite aggressive and headbutt each other.

Habitat is often in hedgerows (where the name comes from), pasture, grass and meadows. Gardens in particular are a real stronghold. They have a territory of around 10-20 hectares and when looking for food will move through gardens often covering around 2km in a single evening. If fed they will come regularly.

Around October hedgehogs look for good nesting places to hibernate during winter; good spots are under garden sheds, piles of leaves, hedges, and also human made hedgehog homes. As long as the weather remains mild they will stay active and eat as much as possible, needing to weigh a kilo before hibernation because their weight will drop to 600g or less. Their natural diet is beetles, earthworms, slugs, leatherjackets, and caterpillars but will forage on frogs, carrion or fruit.

They can huddle up together or be on their own and can wake up briefly on a mild winter day to forage. Once hibernation ends they will eat as much as they possibly can and then their thoughts turn to mating which can be a bit tricky although the female flattens her spines and arches her back. After a short gestation period about 4 hoglets will be born, with their spines under the skin, and the ability to roll up from an early age. After six weeks a proper set of adult spines comes through. Most are born in June in well-hidden nests and by July they are learning how to live independently. Sometimes there is a second set of hoglets, and these juveniles will need to be overwintered before being released in spring.

Numbers of hedgehogs in the UK have dropped dramatically from around 36m mid last century to around 1.5m. In rural areas this is due to use of chemicals and the loss of hedgerows on a massive scale in order to create larger fields. There are also many road deaths. Badgers will prey on hedgehogs if necessary with both competing for food. Ways to help are hedgerow planting and field margin management and keeping areas of scrub.

A study of British hedgehogs in 2018 showed that they were quite widespread apart from the Scottish Highlands, with the South West a particular hot spot. In the South East the population of hedgehogs is stabilising or possibly doing better in urban areas but is in trouble in more rural areas.

In urban areas gardens that are too tidy, paved or have plastic grass together with the use of pesticides and dangerous roads outside have all contributed to loss of habitat.

With 15m gardens in the UK there is much potential to make a difference, especially by involving neighbours. One of the most important things is to create hedgehog highways by making small holes in fences to allow hedgehogs to move between gardens, although it is best to speak to neighbours first! Planting a hedge mix of native species is also a good idea. To create a more attractive habitat for hedgehogs, and wildlife generally, allow the grass to grow long in places, let leaves lie, and provide nesting sites, such as access under sheds, or a hedgehog house. A feeding station is easy to make using a transparent plastic box and a couple of bricks on top to weight it down. Dry food such as special ready-made mixes or cat or dog food plus water is ideal, but not bread or milk. The feeding of mealworms, while greatly appreciated, is controversial as too many can alter calcium balance causing bone disease. Wildflowers attract insects, which in turn can be encouraged by setting up bug hotels. While it is a good idea to add a water feature it must not be too deep because although hedgehogs can swim if they cannot climb out they will drown. Other hazards are bonfires and the use of strimmers.

Sussex Biodiversity Centre would be delighted to receive sightings via iRecord which is very easy to use. The most reliable way to monitor whether hedgehogs are around is to use a footprint tunnel trap. Hedgehogs also leave distinctive droppings full of indigestible parts of beetles.

During question time it was established that hedgehogs can climb up steps with difficulty. One member said he had seen a hedgehog climb a 2ft high wall of stone. Also there is not much interaction with squirrels as they are not competing for the same food.

The hedgehog could still become extinct although the tipping point has not quite been reached. However, the importance of connectivity through green corridors not just for hedgehogs but for wildlife generally is being recognised: road verges are becoming more bio diverse, and hedgerows are being replanted.

The meeting ended on this note of optimism.

Further information can be found on

Susan Painter

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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 7th November 2019