Brilliant start to the 2015 Bird Safari Season

Author Mike Russell
Senior Conservation Advisor

brent geese / John East

brent geese / John East

Blessed with a beautiful sunny, but chilly, start the first Bird Safari of the year to Medmerry got off to a flying start where (for some people) the best sighting of the day… was a mammal! Two mammals to be precise as a there were a couple of brown hares boxing each other; this was the first time many of the party had actually seen this occurrence.

Medmerry is this wonderful new reserve at Selsey, created out of the flood defence alleviation project and is now managed by the RSPB. On the bird front, stand out moments were the skeins of up to 2,000 Brent geese moving around the fields, their evocative calls filling the skies, with 100 curlews hidden amongst them. Also large numbers of lapwing in flight were a lovely sight, their alternating dark and light wings glinting in the sun.

A lone green sandpiper probing in the mud and a superb fly-past by a female red-breasted merganser were also memorable and it was wonderful surprise to pick out three spoonbill on some of the newly-flooded meadows. The light enabled us to see the colourful males of wigeon, teal and shoveler, while close-up views of gadwall enabled me to convince some doubting sceptics that they too have a wonderfully subtle plumage.

At the end of the day, a number of reed buntings coming into roost into nearby hawthorn thickets was a real treat, but the best was saved until last when we were all able to admire a stunning kingfisher sitting patiently close-by.

Not a bad end to a fabulous day, made even better by some excellent cake contributed by our ever-expanding group of bakers!

An additional day at Medmerry has been added to the programme, Thursday 19th February, details on the course page of the Trust website.

red-breasted merganser / John East

red-breasted merganser / John East

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January Blues

Author Ronnie Reed
People and Wildlife Officer Seven Sisters Country Park

rain / Kathy McEldowney

rain / Kathy McEldowney

I am not sure whether it is just that Christmas has now slipped passed again, or the rain lashing against the window but there is definitely a sense of the January blues hanging around

Maybe it is due to that bloated sensation of excess that Christmas leaves behind; should I really have eaten all that Christmas cake? Or maybe it is a sense of guilt; should I really have spent all that money? Or perhaps the depression goes a little deeper.

January is a time of reckoning, a time of reflection, a time to take stock and to make new resolutions. It is a time for looking back on the old year; assessing the last twelve months. It is also a time for looking forward ready to make changes that will improve our lives and hopefully the world around us. January represents a cross roads.

It is the time of year when it seems possible to change the little things and even the big things around us even if we know it doesn’t work that way.

What would I like to change?  Rather naively I would like to change the mind set that says happiness comes from possessing material things because our headlong race to have more and more has led us to plunder this amazing world we live in.

My January blues started on Black Friday, an American innovation that is designed to make us spend large amounts of money in order to be happy by buying as many ‘things’ as our bank accounts allow. Do you really need a 52 inch television screen? Then came endless Christmas advertisements encouraging us to spend, to gorge ourselves on food, to make our loved ones happy by buying them the latest iPad, computer game or smart phone. Once we had got over the Christmas blow out we hit the January sales.  How often do you need to replace your sofa

The depression really settled in as I drove around Sussex over the holiday period. A trip up to Broadbridge Heath left an imprint of a moonscape where the countryside is being cut up to build an enormous housing estate. Where had the green fields gone? Another journey took me around Haywards Heath and Bolnore and there is something deeply sad and poignant about the dormice runs stretched above the ring road to allow these creatures to cross between the houses into the tiny scraps of ancient woodland the developers have spared. Once the fields and the woodlands have gone, they have gone for ever. People need homes but so does wildlife and at the moment it seems we are winning the competition for space and every other thing is losing out. Surely there must be a way to balance these needs better?

Equally every time we buy something, whether it is a can of beans, a new car, a computer game or a litre of petrol it has an impact on the world in which we live. We gain something but somewhere down the food chain something else loses out.

So my resolution for 2015 is to buy less, to stop and think whether I really need it. I started with the January sales and didn’t leave the house and I have managed to resist the rather nice jacket hanging at half price in the window of a local dress shop. It is only a small step but if everyone did it maybe we could change the world.

And maybe it would stop raining!

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Better Habitat = More Birds

Author Barry Yates
Reserve Manager Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

lapwing and golden plover / Barry Yates

The New Year is a good time to reflect on the long term changes in the wildlife that we are managing at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. It’s also the time to start writing our annual report for the Environment Agency land which forms the southern part of the Nature Reserve and is leased to Sussex Wildlife Trust.

In the graphs below three periods have been chosen:

1995-2002 = the years when Rye Harbour farm was arable and the electric fences on the Beach Reserve were not so effective.
2003-11 = arable ceased when EA bought the farm for the sea defence improvements and the new fences provided safer roosting sites, especially for golden plover and several new pits were created to build the new sea defence.
2012-14 = after the sea was let in to recreate the saltmarsh habitat and many new islands were created.

…and the mean monthly peak counts of birds for those years plotted. It is clear that there has been an increase in these birds… and the habitat is still getting better every year!

Lapwing and Golden Plover

L-graph

GP-graph

These two wading birds are the most numerous birds at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve for most of the winter and they have benefitted from the habitat creation on the southern half of the reserve. Clearly it’s a better place now for both species and their large swirling flocks entertain visitors and provide a regular snack for peregrines. The big difference between these species is that one breeds here and the other doesn’t.

These two species are closely related and in mild weather both feed at night, so spend much of the day roosting and trying not to be a peregrine snack. During icy weather their main food of worms is unavailable and so they have to spend more time feeding during the day and do not form their daytime roosts. In prolonged freezing weather most individuals of both species fly south and west to warmer areas. You can never guarantee the big flocks will be here, but they often are … now.

Shelduck

shelduck-graph

Another species that should benefit from the saltmarsh creation is the shelduck because it feeds by filtering out the snails and shrimps in mud and there is now a lot more mud. The winter and spring numbers are up, but the summer figures are yet to rise…

Little Ringed Plover

lrp-graph

What was once a bird seen only on migration has become a regular breeding species. It has really taken to the new pits that were dug to create secondary sea defences, where they are easily overlooked…

Redshank

redshank-graph

The breeding numbers have fallen, but for the rest of the year numbers have risen. Their favourite food is the Corophium shrimps and we have found densities in the new saltmarsh channels of 10,000 per square metre! These waders don’t usually breed until they are 2 years old so I am expecting an increase in breeding numbers soon…

Avocet

avo-graph

The habitat improvements have coincided with a national expansion of breeding avocet and the new islands, saline lagoons and saltmarsh has been ideal for this species. Lovely as these birds are their increase may not be so good for other species, because when they have chicks they chase away all other species that feed in the same places, including redshank, lapwing, little ringed plover and shelduck.

 

These aren’t the only birds to have benefitted (and there are losers like corn bunting) but I have had enough of spreadsheets for one day.

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Mike’s Mergansers Great Day Out

Author Mike Russell
Senior Conservation Advisor

brambling / Dave Kilbey

brambling / Dave Kilbey

A day in the sun, with great company, great birds, a never-ending supply of great food, a great way to start the New Year is by taking part in the Sussex Ornithological Society’s Annual Bird Race. Masquarading  under the name of ‘Mike’s Mergansers’, Jan Jupp, Lesley Milward, Mike English and myself set out on Friday 2nd January to see how many birds we could see or hear in, around and between Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserves.

Arriving at Ferry Pool at Sidlesham, Jan’s brilliant sausage and bacon butties set the tone for the cuisine that kept us going throughout the day. Walking from the car park we started to pick off some of the common species, but before we got the viewing point over the Pool, 3 chiffchaffs, the first of many during the day, flitted in front of us and a Cetti’s warbler belted out its song from a nearby bush. The Pool had it’s usual array of wildfowl, including 2 ruddy shelduck of dubious origin, which nevertheless went down on the list, while in amongst the hordes of Canada geese we managed to pick out a tundra bean goose; now that is a good bird! I had hoped for more wader species here, but we ended up with 4 including a very close-by black-tailed godwit.

Having spent 45 minutes there and with 40 species under our belts, expanding now a bit to accommodate a delicious ham and cheese croissant, it was time to move on so we headed north to West Dean Woods and in the road just before we got to the reserve, flocks of birds were zipping across in front of us. A number of finches were picking up seeds, mainly chaffinches, but also there was a single goldfinch, the only one we saw all day, but more surprisingly, a couple of brambling. Both redwings and fieldfares were moving through the trees alongside, and by the time we left West Dean all 5 resident thrush species were safely gathered in. Annoyingly missing out on the local little owl and hawfinches, we did get most of our woodland birds we expected here, including often difficult species such as treecreeper and marsh tit. By now Lesley, our raptor queen, had got her eye in and found us a distant red kite and the first of many buzzards. A further 21 species added here.

Next stop Iping Common and fortified by Mike’s wife’s wonderful home-made chocolate éclairs, we set off in search of the great grey shrike, which sadly we didn’t get despite the best efforts of a local dog walker who we saw in the distance waving and calling frantically and we dismissed as someone calling her dog. By the time she caught up with us and told us that the shrike has just flown over her and perched nearby, it had disappeared again. Still, a good array of heathland species were ticked off including stonechat, yellowhammer, linnet and more surprisingly reed bunting while a pair of lesser redpolls flew into the trees by the car park, just as we were leaving, with the total now having reached 69.

Onto Burton Pond now, thankfully picking up house sparrow on the way and indulged in a wonderful lunch of Jan’s superb home-made quiche, my rough and ready beef sandwiches and Lesley’s selection of exotic fruits, well bananas and satsumas anyway. New birds were getting harder now, but without moving from one spot we managed to add 7 new species, including a lovely male sparrowhawk that drifted over our heads in the sun, 3 more ducks, gadwall, pochard and tufted, a grey wagtail flew over our heads and we managed to sort out 2 common gulls amidst the flock of black-headed gulls.

Waltham Brooks now, a lovely place to spend a sunny winter’s afternoon, but we were wondering what new birds we might see here. Chiffchaff numbers were in double figures here, but no time to stand and admire them, and we desperately scanned the edges of the pools for snipe but to no avail while all the pintail had gone AWOL. Tantalisingly, Lesley thought she might have seen a harrier, but had disappeared before the rest of us could get on with it, so we had to make do with just 2 new species here, little egret and a pig-like squealing water rail.

By now, the sun was starting to slowly sink in the west, so there was one more stop on the way back to Jan’s and only involved a very slight diversion via Burpham! 39 Bewick’s swans were a very nice sight, though sadly the 3 black swans weren’t allowed, but a single corn bunting, both red-legged and grey partridge and lastly a blob in a field that manifested itself into a short-eared owl was our final bird.

I had anticipated between 75-80 species so 84 in total was a pretty respectable total, nothing really common missed out, a few unexpected species and a couple of frustrating misses. We didn’t fall out, probably ate too much and had a good laugh; all in all what you expect in a Bird Race.

Hopefully, we raised a few pounds for conservation and if anyone would like to still like to sponsor us, it is not too late, please contact me at mikerussell51@yahoo.co.uk.

sparrowhawk / Neil Fletcher

sparrowhawk / Neil Fletcher

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New Year’s Bird Race

great grey shrike / Paul Marten

great grey shrike / Paul Marten

Author Mike Russell
Senior Conservation Advisor

Every new year the Sussex Ornithological Society organise an annual bird race in Sussex where teams aim to record as many species as possible within the County in one day between the 1st – 14th January. This year I have assembled a crack team of Russell Bird Course graduates to take up the challenge, so on 2nd January, Jan Jupp, Lesley Milward, Mike English, and myself, under the name of Mike’s Mergansers, are going to set out to record what we can.

We shall be recording on Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserves, well we might just count anything that passes over our vehicle between reserves! Many teams take part in this with some travelling all over the County while others confine themselves to either a single reserve or parish, some use public transport or what they can record from their bikes. I anticipate that, with reasonable weather and not too many New Year hangovers, that we might record something like 75-80 species. We haven’t yet decided on our route but it is likely that we will gravitate towards the west, so reserves visited are likely to include Ferry Pool, Levin Down, Stedham and Iping Commons, Burton Pond, Waltham Brooks and even Woods Mill!

In a totally heroic effort on my part, I will attempt to tweet my way around the reserves during the day, so you can follow our progress and share in our delight and despair at any one given time! (Follow Mike on Twitter here)

This is a fundraising event for the SOS who use these funds to support conservation projects across the County and the Sussex Wildlife Trust has been a beneficiary of many donations for land purchase or projects, the latest being £15,000 towards the heathland management at Graffham Common, as well as £17,000 for a little tern recovery project for the RSPB at Pagham Harbour. If you would like to sponsor us on our quest, please contact me at mikerussell51@yahoo.co.uk, any donation will be very welcome or you might like to sponsor us per species.

Let’s then hope that the great grey shrike at Iping hangs around until January, there’s an influx of short-eared owls at Waltham, that woodpeckers don’t decide to hideaway for a day, and will we find a house sparrow? I’ll let you know how we get on in the New Year.

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Naked (Christmas) Lunch

Author Michael Blencowe
Lewes Community Wildlife Officer

Michael Blencowe looks at the un-natural history of a bird that will temporarily be one of the commonest species in Sussex this Christmas. This article originally appeared in the ‘Christmas Feast’ themed issue of Viva Lewes.

turkey / Mark Greco

turkey / Mark Greco

Post-modernist author William Burroughs named his infamous 1959 novel after “a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork”. Like the drug-fuelled characters of ‘Naked Lunch’ 76% of us will soon be itching for our festive fix from a bird which has taken a strange, disjointed trip through time and space to settle between the sprouts and potatoes. So, before you start gobbling this Christmas, allow yourself a frozen moment with the defrosted, oven-cooked, gravy-coated bird perched on the end of your fork. Let’s talk turkey.

There are just two species of turkey in the world.The stunning iridescent ocellated turkey is confined to the Yucatan peninsula while the commoner wild turkey has a wide range that extends from the sun-baked savannahs of central Mexico north through the oak forests of the United States.

The wild turkey is a monstrous, spectacular bird. The huge males prowl the forests, their ruffled black feathers billowing like a cloud of volcanic ash. From this darkness erupts a bare blue reptilian head with lava flows of red, warty skin dripping from it.These grotesque, leathery skin-flaps – the snood, wattle and caruncle – inflate with blood and are used to impress and entice females.

This extraordinary animal was revered by primitive people who plucked its feathers for ceremonial rituals. Centuries ago one population of wild turkey from the hills of south-central Mexico was tamed. By the time the Aztecs ruled the roost they wore turkey, ate turkey and prayed to Chalchiuhtotolin their turkey god. A civilization devoted to blood, fire and feathers.

The invading Conquistadors soon put a stop to all that and the victorious Spaniards returned to Europe from their Aztec conquests with ships laden with gold, silver and turkey. Not long after (allegedly in 1524) turkeys landed in England where some geographic confusion about their country of origin gave the bird its name. Soon these supposed Turkish delights were being carved and served to the wealthy. Henry VIII may well have been one of the first Brits to enjoy a turkey for Christmas lunch (and then no doubt spent the rest of the afternoon asleep in front of the jester).

In England the turkey’s domestication continued. In eastern counties specialist poulterers developed breeds such as Norfolk Black, Cambridge Bronze and the Broad Breasted White; the bird that we eat today.

In 1620 the Pilgrim settlers headed west across the Atlantic and, in a ‘coals to Newcastle’ scenario, shipped these brainwashed bird breeds back to their native North America. Here they proudly presented them to the bemused native people who for centuries had been enjoying the rich, dark meat of the larger original wild turkeys. It must have been like aliens landing outside the Harvey’s Brewery in Lewes and giving us a small glass of weak lager. The strange, circular odyssey of the turkey was complete.

Today Britain remains a nation of turkey addicts. Ten million of them were eaten here last Christmas. So on Christmas day stop staring at your fork and satisfy your Christmas craving – get it while it’s hot. It’ll be cold turkey for us all tomorrow.

wild turkey

wild turkey

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My Wild Winter

My Wild WinterDespite being the coldest and darkest time of the year, there’s a wonderland of wildlife experiences waiting to be had during the winter months – so wrap up your young ones in preparation for their wildest winter yet!

Grab your gloves, pull on your wellies and immerse yourselves in The Wildlife Trusts’ brrr-illiant route to spending time with nature this Christmas. My Wild Winter is an online wildlife and activity guide jam-packed with ideas and information, complemented by places to go and things to do. All will help families to explore nature and wild places, at home or on days out over the festive period. There’s also a reading list from which young readers can choose some great nature-inspired books – perfect for curling up in comfy chairs over Christmas.

Exploring nature at a young age can bring a lifetime of pleasure and winter offers a multitude of wildlife experiences to be had – build a shelter for yourself and a nest box for a bird, muck about with snow, ice and in the dark and identify wildlife from the tracks and signs they leave behind. Look out for deer, foxes, rabbits and different types of bird prints.

My Wild Winter activity guide is our free downloadable guide to wildlife, habitats and activities to look out for and try this winter. It includes:

Places to go
Our nature reserves are great places to visit all year round, with loads to see and do in winter. Try a frozen wetland for a chance to see secretive bitterns. Be amazed by flocks of winter waders at the coast. Explore a woodland under snow and look for fox and badger footprints. And don’t forget to stop at one of our cafés to warm up afterwards!

Things to do
The Wildlife Trusts across the UK run hundreds of events every year, from guided walks and talks to bat detecting, bird ringing and photography courses. There are also hundreds of regular children’s groups where young ones and families can try pond dipping, wild camping and much more! Browse our events calendar to find an activity taking place near you and explore our interactive map which contains more than 200 regular children’s groups across the UK.

Spotting sheets
Ducks, geese and swans all visit the UK in winter. Look out for large flocks of migratory geese, especially at the coast, and starling ‘murmurations’ where hundreds of birds swoop through the sky together before settling down to roost for the night. Tick off the wildlife you see this winter with our spotting sheets. They may help to identify different species or you may like to challenge yourself to find different kinds. There’s a wide choice to choose from here, including a special winter spotting sheet.

Activity sheets
Ever wanted to try plaster casting or discover animal tracks and signs? Need a bird feeder or nest box and would like to make your own? Fancy creating your own ice decorations? Try our easy-to-use guides for loads of winter nature activities here.

Help winter wildlife by making your own bird food and feeder – watch these great videos from nature nut Nick Baker and he’ll show you how.

Nick said: “On frosty mornings, wrap up warm – don thick socks and woolly hats – and head out on a bracing birdwatching walk. Bird movements can be seen pretty much anywhere we care to look in winter, from the nut feeder to the wild open estuaries. Winter can be bleak but it can also be beautiful and there’s something about the sharp sometimes biting air which is so invigorating! When you’re home, warm up with a hot chocolate, then bake a bird cake and watch the garden birds come to you. Prepare a feast and watch them flock in!

#wildwinterdays
Follow and share tips and inspiration on twitter and facebook using the hashtag #wildwinterdays.

Competition time
As part of My Wild Winter, The Wildlife Trusts are running a competition to win a break at Center Parcs. Everyone who takes action for wildlife between Fri 19 Dec and Sat 31 Jan 2015 – whether it’s making bird feeders, providing water for garden wildlife or putting up a nest box – could be in with a chance of winning the break, just by sharing a picture via facebook, twitter or instagram using #wildwintersdayscomp. Visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildwinterdays for details.

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Wild Youths

Youth Ranger in action

Youth Ranger in action

Author Tom Forward
Gatwick Greenspace Partnership Community Project Officer

What a year it has been for both our Wildlife Rangers (12-16s) and Youth Rangers (16-25s) groups! These great young people have been out there in all weathers and got hands-on in 20 different practical projects which reflect the ‘people & wildlife’ focus of our work. I won’t list everything we’ve done but to give you an idea…

  • Building a wildlife pond
  • Laying a hedge
  • Surveying for reptiles, small mammals, dragonflies & butterflies
  • Removing invasive species from woodlands
  • Clearing birch and willow scrub from heathland
  • Creating a woodland path way
  • Constructing wooden saw horses
  • Managing a Forest School site to make a safe and sustainable setting for our Nature Tots
  • Visiting school groups
  • Harvesting wild flower seeds to bring on in our wildlife garden and plant out in local school grounds
  • Using organic methods to grow fruit and vegetables
Examining the catch in a mammal trap

Examining the catch in a mammal trap

However, for me there were some stand out highlights and achievements this year to reflect on. Firstly, on a bright and chilly day in March the Youth Rangers set up base in one of the conservation areas belonging to Gatwick Airport and assisted the site ecologist Rachel Bicker with a small mammal survey. This involved checking longworth traps, processing any small mammals and constructing stands for selective live trapping of harvest mice. The Youth Rangers learnt how to set and check traps, and identify and record species (we caught bank vole, wood mouse, yellow-necked mouse and common shrew) while also gathering biometric data. Secondly, the Youth Rangers managed to plant an incredible 150m of native hedgerow in on a nature reserve in Capel in one session! An outstanding achievement!

We had fun with the Wildlife Rangers too and our final session of the summer holidays involved an evening firing up the earth ovens we had built to cook pitta pizzas, while enjoying using bat detectors to pick up common pipstrelles overhead and checking the Robinson’s MV trap to discover what moths were about.

Motivation to join our groups is varied whether it’s to gain valuable practical experience to enhance prospects of a career in conservation; complete volunteering or skills elements of Duke of Edinburgh awards; carrying out tool safety and habitat work to support Environment BTech studies in college; giving something back while in between jobs; or a placement as part of a university course, the young people we work with are gung-ho and not afraid of a bit of graft.

Our Wildlife Rangers meet up Fridays weekly during the school holidays squeezing in 12 sessions each year and the Youth Rangers meet Wednesdays weekly during term time for 35 sessions annually. Young people attend from across the Gatwick Greenspace project area and get stick into tasks at our base in Tilgate Park and at sites belonging to our partners too.

So here’s a BIG THANKS to all of you who joined in and worked really hard this year! I am already looking forward to 2015!

For more info on how to get involved please visit Youth Groups page at www.gatwickgreenspace.org.uk

Youth Rangers tree planting

Youth Rangers tree planting

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Major Projects in 2014

tree planting / Tom Forward

tree planting / Tom Forward

Author Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

As 2014 draws to a close it might be nice to look back and see what we’ve done over the past year. What was 2014 like and what were some of our major projects?

The Sussex Wildlife Trust carries out a wide range of work in many different areas so it is impossible to cover everything in a short blog.  However, perhaps it is worth highlighting just a few projects – with apologies to all those I miss out!

Click here to see Sussex Wildlife Trust Projects in more detail

We will never achieve any nature conservation if people do not care for nature.  So the starting point for all our work is to inspire, educate and motivate people about nature.

Our Wildlife Rangers and Youth Rangers are good examples of how we connect young people (from ages 12 to 25) with nature.  In this programme they can get their hands dirty learning conservation skills and work as volunteers to help improve local green spaces.  In a similar vein our Forest Schools programmes have been extremely valuable linking children with nature through bush craft type activities and at the very young end of the spectrum our Nature Tots events hope to spark a very early interest, maybe with mum or dad in tow as well.

Sussex Wildlife Trust Youth Rangers at work on the Craven Estate in Brighton

We work with local communities around Sussex, with the help of funding from a range of partners. The Gatwick Greenspace project had its 20th anniversary this year, a project that is only possible because of support form Local Authorities and Gatwick Airport. Our Access to Nature project, funded by BIG Lottery, enabled us to work with communities in Hastings and in Brighton & Hove, a funding stream that has sadly come to an end now. But support for a project in Worthing (Wild about Worthing) has enabled us to move forward there and a charitable trust has enabled us to link with communities in Lewes as well. In addition, projects with intriguing names like “Growing Forward”, “Nature Train” and “Wellbeing in the Wild” have all been supported by funds from unusual sources in order to engage with different groups of people.  The key point in all these is the linking of people to nature, doing activities to enhance nature and in the process gaining all sorts of personal benefits.

We also have several large landscape-scale projects, improving nature further out in the wilds of Sussex.

Our West Weald Landscape project, part funded by a charitable trust, celebrated its 5th anniversary this year in a major event at Kew Gardens, Wakehurst. This is a significant lowland landscape partnership project aiming to connect ancient woodlands and habitats covering 24,000 hectares in the Sussex Weald. It is perhaps one of the most important areas in England for bats (and other species) and we have plotted significant population improvements as our work has progressed.

Starting off as a project with a focus on otters, our current wetlands projects aim to achieve habitat enhancements at a landscape scale. The Arun and Rother Connections project and the Sussex Flow Initiative are examples of how we are looking at whole river catchments in order to achieve improvements for nature. A recent change, however, has been an increasing recognition that if we improve a catchment for wildlife then it is also likely to improve it for all sorts of public benefits as well (flood risk reduction, soil erosion reduction, improved water resources and so on).

We may forget that about 50% of our wildlife (numbers of species) is actually under the sea.  Our “Making Waves” project is therefore active in engaging with children to encourage them to find out about marine wildlife. Activities include “Wild Beach”, family seaside events and “Undersea Explorers”.

And I haven’t even mentioned nature reserves yet!  Heathland restoration, conservation grazing, woodland management, wetland enhancement and so on.  Major areas of activity with significant funding needs.  But that’s another story!  (Follow our nature reserves link to find out more)

I am very enthused by the range of work we do and the wildlife conservation activities we deliver but we must bear a sad truth in mind. The general trend for nature in England is downwards. We have many good specific examples of wildlife improvement but nature is under massive threat and is unfortunately on a long term decline. We can celebrate the work that SWT, and other wildlife charities, has done over 2014, but this is against a permanent need for us to do more.  And, with the help of our members, supporters and partners, maybe we can redouble our efforts in 2015.

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Catch-up on conservation at Gatwick Airport

Author Tom Simpson
Gatwick Greenspace Project Assistant People and Wildlife Officer

Last week Gatwick Airport was awarded the Wildlife Trusts Biodiversity Benchmark Award in recognition of the protection and enhancement of the airport’s landholdings for wildlife. Providing such services to Gatwick’s landholdings, some 72 acres, is no small task and a great deal of the hard graft has come from volunteers giving up their free time to come out and help.

Volunteers from the Mace Group show off their dead hedge

Volunteers from the Mace Group show off their dead hedge

As the temperature has steadily dropped over the last few months, bizarrely, the numbers of volunteers have steadily increased and Gatwick’s woodlands in particular have reaped the benefits of this conservation drive.

Upper Picketts in spring / Rachel Bicker)

Upper Picketts in spring / Rachel Bicker)

Upper Picketts Woods, located in the land to the east of the railway line, is a typical low weald woodland. The abundance of multi-stemmed hazel in the understory suggests coppicing has been practiced here for some time. This traditional technique of cutting Hazel and allowing it to re-grow produces a healthy crop of straight, strong and flexible poles, and diversifies the woodland structure to support a variety of wildlife – an all-round good practice.

With this in mind we recently set to work on a neglected coppice compartment. Over a three-week period from late October, our volunteers helped to manage a healthy woodland habitat by coppicing hazel stools, grading and sorting the usable poles (into hedging stakes and binders), and creating habitat piles from the left-over brash.

Using a drawknife to remove bark from hedging stakes, which may cause them to rot once in the ground.

Using a drawknife to remove bark from hedging stakes, which may cause them to rot once in the ground.

The Biodiversity Benchmark Award is a great way to round-off the year. It shows just how important the input from GAL and all of the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership’s volunteers has been. We’re all looking forward to building on Gatwick’s conservation credentials as we head into 2015.

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