Scrumping!

hedgerow harvest / Alan Price

hedgerow harvest / Alan Price

Author Fran Southgate
Wetlands Officer

I confess, I’ve just been caught red handed, carrier bag open with a trail of ripe damsons spilling behind me. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know what possessed me ‘guvner’ is about to tumble apologetically out of my lips and then I realise that… actually I’m not 12 any more, I’m 40, and I’m not sorry at all. In fact, it’s that guilty pleasure of knowing that I’m foraging nature’s free spoils which gives me such a great sense of illicit pleasure! Just the mere mention of the word ‘scrumping’ tends to bring a big smile to my face.

At this time of year, the hedgerows are dripping with fruit, nuts and seeds as the autumn days start to draw in. There are blackberries, plums, damsons, sloes, cherries, elderberries, cobnuts, greengages, bullaces, apples, pears and much more, just tumbling off the trees. It’s a time of year when nature truly shows its abundance, as it helps all the various bugs and beasts to prepare for a long winter – ourselves included.

It saddens me slightly to see so much free food going to waste (and it has to be said, I do like my food!!), so there are times when I just can’t stop myself scrumping, and then when I’ve had my fill of fruit cakes and coulis’, distributing these forbidden fruits to friends and family. Many people often don’t know that they are allowed to take the fruit from the trees and hedges in public places, or they don’t know which fruits are edible, and so you often see splattered masses of squashed and wasted fruit lying on the ground as if in some kind of autumn fruits murder scene.

I know the fact that there is so much free food in the hedgerows is heralding the start of autumn – which for me is always slightly tinged with sadness at the replacement of long, warm, summers evenings, with short days and frost on my windows. However, one of the best things about scrumping is knowing that the rich damson jam that I’m now pouring into jars, and the bramble whisky that’s mellowing in my larder, will be there to bring back delicious memories of sunnier times when I open them on a cold rainy day in winter.

In the mean time I’ll make sure that I save some of my scrumpings for the birds, and then I’ll take pleasure in kicking off my shoes and devouring my apple and plum crumble as I watch them enjoying scrumping too.

I checked with WildCall, the Sussex Wildlife Trust information service, for their advice on collecting fruit and they said ‘Under Common Law everyone has a right to collect the fruit of plants, providing that you are not trespassing on private property and that the plant is not specifically protected for example if it is on a SSSI. Also this law assumes that you are collecting the berries for personal use rather than for sale or commercial use.

Picking wild food can be a fun and tasty outdoor activity that we can all take part in. But please remember to forage responsibly and leave plenty fruit for others to enjoy, including wildlife! Many birds and mammals will already be trying to fatten themselves up on berries and nuts ready for winter, we wouldn’t want to deprive them.

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Our wildlife wild ride

Author Sue Curnock
Nature Tots Officer

peacock / Nigel Symington

peacock / Nigel Symington

It’s working! We’ve been turning our garden wildlife-friendly, riding the success/failure roller coaster for three summers with white knuckles and dirty fingernails.

Early efforts involved ludicrously expensive purchases from the garden centre, sketchy knowledge and a cavalier lack of preparation. Unsurprisingly, our first attempt at a wild flower meadow (fondly imagined picnics among the bobbing poppy and cornflower heads) was a dismal failure. A bucket full of attractively packaged seed strewn on hastily mown sward yielded only reinvigorated grass, docks and a solitary but much-admired white campion. Hmm, could we be doing something wrong?

Bent but not broken, we started asking questions and taking advice, and it turns out the Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife gardening web pages are pretty useful too. This time we (well, mostly Mike to be fair) lifted the grass, dug a wide trench and raked it to a fine tilth before scattering the wild flower seeds. We’ve watered them regularly and hey presto they are growing! So is the grass, but it’s a more equal battle now.

We’ve had a go at all sorts of wildlife friendly schemes and it’s a huge thrill to discover a creature has moved in. Last year we invested in bee houses and dutifully placed them in shady spots with artfully arranged bowls of sugar-water and moss – not a sausage. We read a tip about putting an old mouse nest inside (‘luckily’ we found one when clearing out the wood store) so this year’s des res was suitably smelly and some very busy bumblebees moved in before the ‘for sale’ sign was down.

Now we’ve got slow worms in the compost heap, a hedgehog has taken up residence in the stick jumble and there’s an abandoned mound of logs rotting down at the bottom of the garden; perhaps they will tempt some interesting beetles in a year or so. We’ve left the nettles and brambles alone in the far corner and were very excited to see a silken tent full of caterpillars chomping away on the tender nettle tips in May. I like to think the peacock butterfly I saw later on came from there, but may be kidding myself.

There’s a rainwater butt on the patio and a food digester in the flower bed leaking its fetid fertile gloop among the never-looked-so-good roses. It’s a mystery how something so eye-wateringly unpleasant can produce blooms so fragrant they make you want to weep with joy.

We’re so pleased to have blue tits in our nest box again – I love watching them fly back and forth with beaks stuffed full of juicy treats while we dine ‘al fresco’ at a respectful distance. I’d really recommend taking a look at our wildlife advice pages if you would like to have a go at making your own garden a little more wildlife-friendly.

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Woods Mill Comes Up Trumps

black arches / Michael Blencowe

black arches / Michael Blencowe

Author Mike Russell
Senior Wildlife Advisor

I know I’m biased having worked at Woods Mill for nearly 30 years, but this is a cracking little nature reserve at the moment, as witnessed by a small but very select group who came on the recent Summer Special Safari.

Proceedings started with Michael Blenchowe showing us the contents of a moth trap set the previous night and, although it wasn’t a brilliant night for moths to be active, 23 species represented a reasonable catch of which black arches, peach blossom and iron prominent were probably the pick of the bunch.

turtle dove at Woods Mill / James Langiewicz‎

turtle dove at Woods Mill / James Langiewicz‎

Out on the trail, we were soon getting superb views of definitely the star of the reserve at the moment, a turtle dove. Woods Mill is a hot spot for this lovely, but fast declining bird, and every time I go out on the reserve at the moment there is a huge camera lens trained on a turtle dove, but they don’t seem to mind too much. Young birds seem abundant, with a number of young green woodpeckers around, a juvenile kestrel learning its hunting skills in the big meadow and the three young little grebes, from their from second brood, all thriving on the lake.

Without the fish, the lake is now a really flourishing habitat for all sorts of wildlife. Emperor and brown hawker dragonflies were patrolling the lake, while newly emerged common and ruddy darters launched themselves off their favourite perches if anything flew remotely near them.

On an evening visit last week I have never seen so many bats flying over the lake, at least two dozen, all picking up insects emerging from the lake, something that never happened when all the fish were here.

It was great to see both banded and beautiful demoiselles still active on the reserve and a butterfly treat was a clouded yellow flying low over the meadow.

All in all a pretty good safari again and Woods Mill really is a great place to visit at the moment.

Spaces still available on the following safaris
August 21st Pevensey Levels
September 2nd Seaford Head

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Shellfish Season

Author Olle Åkesson
Marine Officer

native oyster / Donna Tomlison

native oyster / Donna Tomlison

You wouldn’t notice it by looking at the fish counter in a supermarket and not much is said about it, but just like vegetables and fruit different seafood is seasonal and should be eaten or avoided depending on the time of year.

Months without a ‘r’ is an old adage which often comes up when eating shellfish. The theory is that warmer waters means a greater chance of toxic algal blooms in the sea and being filter feeders, shellfish accumulate these toxins. In UK seas the blooms are less common and areas harvested for shellfish are carefully monitored for water quality, so if you’re buying them from a shop you don’t need to worry. In reality many shellfish species put their energy into breeding during the summer so the meat inside the shells shrink. As a result you should avoid them during the summer to get the best quality and ensure that the existing shellfish are able to breed and safeguard the stocks.

Native oysters, now considered a delicacy, used to be poor man’s food in the UK and in the beginning of the 19th century they were a common dish. Since then their stocks have declined due to overfishing, pollution, parasites and invasive species. Many UK stocks are now in severe decline or completely gone. In an odd turn of events their fate may actually come down to higher demand for them, not less. At present most oysters sold are actually pacific oysters. These are hardier, grow quicker and are easier to produce in aquaculture than the native oysters. To preserve the native oyster, some people say, we need to eat more, increase the demand and make it economically viable to grow them and boost their stocks.

Mussels is one of only two species (the other is arctic char) on the MCS’ Good Fish Guide that has the lowest and most sustainable rating. Farmed mussels are mostly grown on ropes using naturally settled mussels and as they are filter feeders do not require any feed input. In fact they actually purify the water as they feed.

To find out more about which seafood to avoid and when, you can have a look at the Good Fish Guide and their guide to Seasonal Fish.

Mussels / Making Waves Project

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Road building – it’s yesterday once more!

Ashdown Forest / Chris Mole

Ashdown Forest / Chris Mole

Author Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

Nostalgia is not, as they say, as good as it used to be. The current push for new roads seems to harp back to an imagined golden age when, it was thought, all you had to do was invest in infrastructure and everything would then be fine.

Indeed, if I remember correctly, around the mid 1990s there was a proud boast of the biggest road building programme since the Romans left. So, as there seems to be some attempt to live in the past again, perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves of the level of environmental damage that would have resulted from this previous rush for roads.

Going from east to west the list of devastation seems almost unimaginable today:

First at Rye there were proposals for a major road changing the character of the old town and extending across Rye Harbour. This would probably have impacted on a Special Area for Conservation – an internationally important wildlife site appreciated by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year.

Then a road was proposed to run the length of the beautifully tranquil Brede valley, devastating the wetlands there before sweeping through the ancient woods north of Hastings and carving across the Combe Haven Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Then there was a proposal for a dual carriageway running across Pevensey Levels and through our own nature reserve. Again Pevensey is an internationally recognised wildlife site and one of the most important wetlands in the whole of Britain, to say nothing of its historical interest and landscape quality.

Further west there were proposals to run a length of dual carriageway from Eastbourne to Lewes through what is now the National Park.

Then we got to Worthing and proposals for a dual carriageway cutting through the Downs and passing under Cissbury Ring – a fantastic Iron Age Hill fort and also a nationally important wildlife site. The quiet setting here would have been destroyed in a futile effort to push traffic away from Worthing itself.

A little further west and of course there was a cluster of proposals to run a dual carriageway through the largest ancient woodland on the coastal plain in order to build an Arundel bypass.

It didn’t stop with the south coast trunk road either. A recognition that this would drive congestion elsewhere meant that proposals for new roads throughout Sussex came thick and fast.

“Improvements” to the A24, A23, A22 and A21 going north–south, some of which have now happened some have not. But a dual carriageway was going to be run through Ashdown Forest, the biggest heathland in the south east, appreciate by thousands and again internationally important for wildlife.

An A272 upgrade was proposed, that would have impacted at several places, including our own nature reserve at The Mens near Wisborough Green and driving up traffic through several villages.

There were even suggestions for an ‘outer’ M25 running roughly through the middle of the Weald of Sussex to relieve the pressure on the current M25.

I suspect that half the people reading this today might say that it couldn’t be that bad these days. The other half might feel that a road building programme like this is a good thing. We need roads, so wildlife, once again, will have to be compromised. But look again at the ever expanding list and, even ignoring the destruction of rural Sussex, you don’t see a solution, you see a treadmill. What starts as just a little bypass here and there ends up as a treadmill with travel increasing and congestion getting worse. Road building is not a solution – it is a politically expedient waste of public money.

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Magical Morning at Malling Down

Author Mike Russell
Senior Wildlife Advisor

silver-spotted skipper / Dave Sadler

silver-spotted skipper / Dave Sadler

A flurry of butterflies, a kaleidoscope of butterflies, a shimmering of butterflies, all appropriate phrases for describing what those attending one of our summer safari special to Malling Down experienced this morning.

At the right time of year and in the right weather conditions, there can be no better place to look for butterflies than this Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserve outside Lewes Town Centre, and we certainly hit the jackpot this morning. Top of the bill were the blues, the specialist butterflies for chalk downland. On the way to ‘the spot’, we came across freshly emerged common blues, dazzling in their own right, but even these were eclipsed when we got to the south facing slope and the sun emerging from behind a dark cloud encouraged dozens of Adonis blues and chalkhill blues out to feed and look for a mate.

Newly emerged Adonis blues are just an astonishing azure blue colour, the brightest of all our butterflies and for the people who had never seen them before, well I could audibly hear breath being taken away. The much lighter chalkhill blues can’t quite match the Adonis for sheer beauty, but is a pretty special insect in it’s own right, and it was great to see so many of these downland specialists on the wing at the same time. A fourth blue butterfly, which isn’t really blue at all, the brown argus was also seen.

Another downland specialist and Malling Down is now probably the top spot in the country to see this species is the silver-spotted skipper and again we were treated to some wonderful close encounters with them.

Altogether we recorded a total of 21 different types of butterfly, more than one-third of the entire butterfly species in the UK. Not bad for a three-hour safari!

I’m running a number of these safaris during the summer, click for details:

 

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How much water would hydraulic fracturing need?

Sussex stream / Sandra Manning-Jones

Sussex stream / Sandra Manning-Jones

Author Ian Hepburn
Head of Conservation

Simon Dixon writes (as a contributor to the multi-author ‘River Management Blog’) about the possible risks to country’s water resources in ‘Fracking and River Management’.

The blog highlights not just the risks to water resources that we know will have to be managed, in particular ensuring that the ‘fracking mix’ doesn’t contaminate aquifers used for water supply and that the contaminated waste sludge from fracking is properly treated either on-site or tankered off to be dealt with elsewhere. It also recognises that this water-hungry activity (the clue’s in the name) has to get its supply from somewhere. Water UK (which represents ‘all major UK water and wastewater service suppliers’) speculates that while public water supply sources (which will include rivers) and direct abstraction from groundwater are the likely sources, some sites could require water to be brought in by tanker.

Whatever the source of water for hydraulic fracturing operations, this all means potential impacts on our rivers and streams. In Sussex this includes risks to the more than 135km of chalk streams that flow through our countryside and the chalk aquifers which support them – a significant proportion of the UK (and European) chalk streams and rivers habitat.

Quite what the impacts of fracking activity might be on water resources seems impossible to assess currently. This presents a dilemma. We need to be sure that river flows are safeguarded to avoid damaging the existing function of our river ecosystems. Equally important, we need to avoid restricting the opportunities to repair already degraded rivers. Not to do so would be reckless and negligent and could place at risk the range of services we get from them – including a substantial proportion of our drinking water. We need to be sure that relevant authorities are taking proper account of the potential demands of the industry which is poised to exploit our onshore shale gas and oil resources.

The Government assures us that there are adequate mechanisms in place to safeguard our environment from the consequences of fracking operations. For water these include permits issued by the Environment Agency for any proposed water abstraction and the safe disposal of waste. But that doesn’t address the issue of how much water could be available to the shale oil and gas industry. So here’s a suggestion: Government and its agencies ought to be estimating what resources could be made available to the industry. That turns the issue into one of managing demand and not one of meeting any demand on water resources. A novel approach to the way we manage our natural resources? Not really: that’s sustainability, a word that appears less often in public policy, or has become transmuted to mean something other than the intentions that Gro Harlem Bruntland and her colleagues on the UN World Commission on Environment and Development wrote of nearly three decades ago in ‘Our Common Future.

It seems to be good timing to promote this idea. Government and its agencies – specifically the Environment Agency, are right in the middle producing the second series of plans to improve the ecological status of the country’s water resource: rivers and streams, lakes, intertidal and near-shore coastal waters and groundwaters; the whole works. This is driven by EU legislation (ask what the European Union has ever done for the environment: part of the answer has to be that the European institutions – and that includes the UK Government as part of the European Council – adopted the Water Framework Directive in 2000).

If the objective to maintain water bodies at (or restore them to) ‘good ecological status’ is placed at risk by the fracking industry’s demand on water supply, then that demand should be curtailed and managed to a level at which it doesn’t pose such a risk. The Environment Agency should be letting the shale gas and oil industry know what water supply could be available for fracking in order to manage expectations.

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There’s never been a traffic jam on the M25!!

M25 / TheRevSteve

M25 / TheRevSteve

Author Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

One of the most worrying features of the current rush for road building is the severe lack of strategic thinking in the proponents.

The solutions put forward are surrounded by the appropriate jargon – “route-based strategies”, “transport infrastructure”, “strategic road network” and so on – but they are all basically knee-jerk reactions. Traffic jams are predicted and a new road is pushed as the answer. Predict and provide in its simplest form.

A bypass here, a dual carriageway there, then it all needs expanding again. Some wish to see the whole south coast with dual carriageways of motorway proportions along its length. Bigger, then bigger again until we have something like the M25 running through Sussex – and after all, as well all know, there has never been a traffic jam on the M25!

Simplistic road building strategies fall apart when you start to consider what then happens. Build a road in one place and the jam just moves to somewhere else – and demands increase for a new road there as well. Traffic then increases elsewhere and again road developments are demanded. Environmental damage is bad in one place, but magnified up by all the increasing demands for new roads and it becomes much worse.

This would be bad enough with a constant level of traffic, but new roads generate new traffic. Even if one location is eased, people will then perceive the slight ease in congestion so will travel more often, so increasing traffic. Those who believe that new roads will reduce congestion are fooling themselves. A few favoured locations may be relieved, but overall the level of traffic throughout Sussex will increase.

Bear in mind also that many are proposing these roads specifically to drive an increase in traffic. Road building is wanted in order to “unlock areas for development” – to enable more of the countryside to be built on. Tarmac over part of Sussex so you can concrete over other parts. Development may be needed, but this has to be carefully designed sustainable development, not just a rush to build roads and houses.

So what are the answers?

First we have to question a few “truths” we are told. Road traffic is not shooting upwards, indeed some think that road traffic has peaked across the developed world. People are finding other ways of gaining access to their needs and a focus back on roads risks bucking an otherwise good trend. Also I’m old enough to remember nearly 20 years ago we were told that if we didn’t get bypasses round Arundel and Worthing then the economy would collapse. 20 years later we have been through a period of strong economic growth. Sussex did not become destitute. We were told cycling would never increase – it did. People wouldn’t use buses – they do. There would never be more people working from home – there are. Teleconferencing is impractical – it isn’t. And so on.

The truth is, as we’ve learned many times before, you can’t build your way out of the problem. Answers have to be sophisticated not simplistic. They may include some minor on-line improvements to roads, but to ease flow not to add capacity. Improvements to public transport will be part of the mix and, as most journeys are short, cycling and walking are perhaps where some large gains could be made. But the key long term solution is to reduce the need to travel – modern technology, developments in communication, management systems improvements and integrated planning to reduce travel.

We live in a small over crowded part of the country, imagining that there is always unlimited space to expand roads into is a dream world. Building roads to add to the congestion is no solution.

Photo credit: TheRevSteve / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Using Less, Living Better

Richard Cobden

Author Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

With economic development seemingly drifting back into a 1960s model of unrestrained expansion, ignoring the environmental consequences, it is refreshing to realise that there is a large movement now towards a far more strategic approach to development.

In my last blog, I criticised an approach to road building that is based on the assumption that continued expansion will cure our problems. This is a symptom of a bygone approach – prosperity can only be provided by continual physical expansion. We live in an overcrowded county, in a highly populated country, in a world that is living far beyond its ecological limits.  Damage to wildlife is a symptom.

The old-school approach is to carry on regardless and hope we can wrestle just a bit more GDP growth out of a reluctant natural world. To read much in the press one could be forgiven for thinking that this is the only development model on offer. However, as David Attenborough said, continued expansion in a finite world is only believed possible by madmen – and economists!

This old fashioned approach, however, is not the only game in town.  Solutions are being found by people with a much more strategic view about the future and this is exemplified by West Sussex’s Environment and Climate Change Board – an independent board established by the County Council a few years ago.

The approach taken by the Board is summed up in the mission statement “Using Less, Living Better” – a simple but fundamental statement and, when you think about it, if we meet this aim then the world does have a future!  The Board is chaired by Russell Strutt who has now written an excellent blog investigating some of these concepts.  I would very much encourage people to read this, and maybe look at some of the sources he quotes.

Our battle against the environment looks like something we are in danger of winning!  Read Russell’s article for an alternative view.

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Roll up. Roll up for some summer fun

Author Ronnie Reed
Schools Officer

20140724-112853-41333602.jpg

It is 10am and the Pump Barn is eerily quiet. No voices, no laughter. Just pools of sunlight falling across the stone flags and moats of dust dancing in the air. And silence. The doors are open but there are no children streaming in ready to start a visit to the Seven Sisters Country Park.

School is out for the summer.

Perfect. A chance to put feet up on the desk, sit back with a coffee and enjoy the weather. But no! There are stirrings of activity, the barn is being given a spring clean after weeks of school visits. Out goes the serious stuff; the educational displays are on their way to the storeroom until the autumn and we are decorating the barn with bright colours, because we are getting ready for lots of summer fun down here.

It all starts next week with family events and holiday clubs. If you want to prise your children away from their game consoles and computers and the inevitable day time television then this is the place to come. We are running holiday clubs twice a week for those who enjoy being out in the woods and down on the beach. For those who love the idea of fire lighting, shelter building, camouflage, tracking and trailing, pond dipping, rock pooling and hot chocolate round a camp fire the Seven Sisters (and Friston Forest) is waiting for you.

We are celebrating summer with a drop in arts and crafts session in the barn for the whole family with things to make, lots of paint, glue, glitter, scissors, and clay and if the weather is good there is a Dragonfly Trail down to the pond and the chance to dip the cool green waters to see what lives in its murky depths.

Have you ever been rock pooling and not been sure what you have found? Then join us for a walk down to the spectacular coastline here and search amongst the seaweed for sea anemones, clinging limpets, tiny topshells, and feisty crabs and find out more about the amazing world that exists on the shore as the tide goes out.

So let’s get on with cleaning the barn and putting up the summer bunting!

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