Simply the Best

Phil Winter’s dramatic capture of a tawny owl was voted ‘Simply the Best’ as the winner of Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Photography Competition. His prize is £150 cash, kindly donated by The Ecology Consultancy.

Tawny Owl / Phil Winter

Tawny Owl / Phil Winter

But Phil nearly didn’t enter his winning image, luckily his wife persuaded him it was the best shot for the calendar. Phil said ‘I have others that show the tawny owl with a mouse or vole, and even a shot with a small rabbit. Another has the owl with a mole. My wife insisted that if the calendar was hanging in our kitchen, none of the above would be appropriate when she was cooking the dinner!

Phil told us more about his tawny owl photography project, “I had set a camera trap to record the time a fox came past my hide. When I checked the camera in the morning, there was the tawny on a perch in front of my hide. The perch was put there for photographing buzzards so it was a surprise to find the tawny perched up.

You can see more of Phil’s owl photo on his Flickr page.

Runner-up was awarded to James Bryan’s atmospheric photo of early winter in the shadow of the Downs. James will receive vouchers, kindly donated by hiSbe – how it Should be supermarket

Second Frost / Jim Bryan

Second Frost / James Bryan

James recalled “when I took this photo I managed to get my car stuck in the field. The only way to get back on the road was to drive down past the barn and hope I could get out that way! Fortunately, I was able to and made my way to work

Maxwell Law’s grass snake swims into third place, winning a meal for two kindly donated by The Old Tollgate Restaurant & Hotel, Bramber.

Grass Snake / Maxwell Law

Grass Snake / Maxwell Law

Maxwell said “I took this photo at Pagham Harbour, I was in camouflage low by the pond waiting for bathing birds, and got a real surprise!

An online calendar featuring all the 12 finalists will be available monthly throughout 2015.

Congratulations to all our winners and a huge thank you to everybody who entered and voted in this year’s competition.

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Halloween Badger Pumpkin Stencil

Author Richard Cobden
Digital Media Officer

Download the Sussex Wildlife Trust badger stencil here and create a wild decoration for your Halloween pumpkin.

Lets get started

Let’s get started

How to create a pumpkin badger

group

1. Print out the badger stencil

2. Tape the stencil in position

3. Use a pen or awl to mark the BLACK parts of the stencil design on the pumpkin

4. Use a sharp knife to scrap off the pumpkin skin in the selected area. Adult supervision is needed for this part

5. Hollow out the rest of the pumpkin and insert a tealight candle

6. Wait for it to get dark and then enjoy the glow of your pumpkin badger

Pumpkin badger

Pumpkin badger

What other nature-inspired designs can you create?
Now over to you, we’d love to see your wildlife pumpkin designs so please post them on the Sussex Wildlife Trust Facebook page.

Click here to help badgers in Sussex

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Ivy

Author Michael Blencowe
Lewes Community Wildlife Officer

ivy / Mark Greco

ivy / Mark Greco

The all-in-one nature reserve, kebab shop and goblin scarer.

The flowers which have filled our countryside and gardens with colour and have provided our insects with nectar will have shut up shop for another year. But there is one plant that is only just revealing its flowers, opening up for business long after the others have closed their doors.

Your nearest ivy will now be coming into bloom; flowering with bobbly explosions of pale green

For our insects ivy is the kebab shop of plants; it offers welcome nourishment for those that like staying out late in the year. And, like a kebab shop, you’re going to find a funny old mix of characters queueing up for one last meal before they head off to sleep for the winter. Beautiful butterflies dine alongside wasps; queen bumblebees jostle with lowly hoverflies and our ivy bushes literally buzz with life.

swallowtail moth / Michael Blencowe

swallowtail moth / Michael Blencowe

The importance of ivy to the wildlife of our towns cannot be understated. Aside from this vital late season nectar supply ivy’s evergreen leaves also feed caterpillars – including those of the holly blue butterfly and the elegant swallow-tailed moth. These leathery leaves also provide a hibernating site for brimstone and comma butterflies. On cold winter evenings the ivy serenades us with the chirp and chatter of an invisible starling and sparrow choir roosting in its waterproof warmth. Its black berries keep visiting winter thrushes fuelled and in the spring it is a nesting site for robins and wrens. Ivy covers a blank brick wall with a piece of living graffitti. It’s a nature reserve that has spread itself across our villages, towns and cities.

But despite all the life it supports ivy has a reputation as a killer, its roots sucking the life from the trees it surrounds. This isn’t true; ivy manufactures its own nourishment just like any other honest plant.

And we can’t forget an important service that ivy provides for us humans. For centuries ivy has protected us from house goblins. Bringing ivy into your home as a decoration this christmas (the time when goblins are apparently at their most pesky) will ensure that your festive season passes without a burnt turkey or a blown fairy light.

Next time you’re passing your nearest ivy bloom grab your camera and have a look amongst the butterflies, wasps and hoverflies for a new ivy customer and a new arrival to our shores – the ivy bee. These attractive, harmless bees were first recorded in the UK in Dorset in 2001 and have since spread all across the south coast. There’s more information on finding, identifying and reporting them here.

ivy bee / Michael Blencowe

ivy bee / Michael Blencowe

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Special Sussex Fish

Author Fran Southgate
Wetlands Officer

brown trout / Jack Perks

brown trout / Jack Perks

As the rain falls outside, its not such good weather for us humans any more, but its good weather for ducks, and for some of our most mysterious fish! For reasons as yet unknown, Sussex is home to some of the largest sea trout in the UK. Sea trout and brown trout are the same species (Salmo trutta) but for reasons not really understood, some brown trout develop special marine adaptations. The sea trout breeds and spends its early life in freshwater rivers, before migrating to the sea and returning as an adult to breed.

The majority of adult sea trout spend one to three years at sea before returning to our rivers. Fish which spend one winter at sea are around ten times the weight of brown trout of the same age which remain in the river. It is not known how far they travel at sea. They may swim hundreds of kilometres over the continental shelf or to the Baltic Sea to feed, but they have a strong homing instinct which draws them back repeatedly to the river of their birth.

We know that populations of our sea trout on the Ouse, Arun & Rother rivers in Sussex are notably “special” and appear to be of a much greater average size than other UK populations. The reasons for this are unknown but could be linked with rich local feeding grounds or unique genetic features. It is possible that the pure, clear water of our chalk and greensand streams help to create a special environment for our sea trout to thrive in.

There may even be two (or more) distinct genetic strains of sea trout in Sussex which have evolved since the last ice age. Some adult trout return to the Arun as early as May. Sussex Ouse sea trout spawn later in the year, typically from around the last week of November until mid February. We don’t know why or if this is important.

At this time of year, both populations of sea trout are at their peak, and will be making their annual breeding journeys up to their spawning grounds – often over just a few days. So it’s a very good time to keep an eye out for them. Look out for their silvery form darting up rivers, jumping up weirs and for their ‘redds’ (dents in river bed gravels which they make before they spawn). Perhaps in time we will discover what drives these mighty fish to make their special trips back to our Sussex rivers.

Click here for more on the Trust’s wetlands work

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Sussex Great Geosites

Seven Sisters / Chris Mole

Seven Sisters / Chris Mole

Author Olle Åkesson
Marine Officer

The Geological Society recently asked for suggestions of the UK’s best geological sites. This week, after several hundred submissions and a public vote, the top 100 Great Geosites were announced.

In the Coastal category it will probably come as no surprise to find out that the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head made it onto this list. The iconic cliffs and lighthouse are popular tourist attractions and featured on everything from mugs to posters.

You might not know that the chalk, which seemingly disappears under the shingle beach extends out to sea and forms some of the best and biggest chalk reefs in Europe. Thanks to various animals such as piddocks and worms that bore into the reef they are covered in crevices and teaming with life. The reefs are part of the Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone and protected by UK law.

In the Adventurous category appeared a more unusual site: Mixon Hole. This is an underwater gorge about 25 – 30 metres deep situated just South East of Selsey Bill. It is thought that in Biblical times it was the mouth of a river leading into Chichester and that Romans used it in 43AD to bring supplies into the city. Since then the coast has erroded and left the gorge behind. It is even more unusual as other, similar features, have been filled in with sediment and gravel while Mixon Hole has remained clear. Its soft clay walls are constantly eroding and home to a variety of marine life including crabs, lobsters, snakelocks anemones and lesser spotter catsharks. There is so much life and unusual species that Mixon Hole is part of the recommended Marine Conservation Zone Selsey Bill and the Hounds.

Mixon Hole

It is really encouraging that these underwater sites are being recognised. Hopefully it is an indication that the old adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is no longer applicable to the marine environment.

To become a friend of a Marine Conservation Zone click here

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What’s Happening to our Hedgehogs?

Here is a Guest Blog from Broadwater-based Hedgehog Street Champion, Catherine Amey

hedgehog / Alan Baldry, Hedgehog Street

hedgehog / Alan Baldry, Hedgehog Street

We know that hedgehog populations are in decline. The reasons are complex and research is ongoing but what is becoming clearer is that habitat fragmentation is a pressing issue. The increasing use of impenetrable fencing around gardens, which reduces the movement of hedgehogs between gardens, has almost certainly lead to fragmentation of urban hedgehog populations and is likely to have contributed to declining numbers. Other issues affecting the urban environment include increased traffic and use of pesticides.

In more rural areas of Sussex, it is likely that the decline has similar roots to the widespread haemorrhaging of farmland biodiversity – industrial farming destroys plant diversity, and thus invertebrates, and everything that eats them. The landscape is being simplified on many scales. Due to agricultural intensification, there has been around a 50% decline in hedgerows in rural Britain since 1945. Hedgerows provide ideal locations for hedgehog nesting sites as well as being important movement corridors. The scale of the loss of hedgerows will certainly have had an impact on rural hedgehog populations.

The best thing you can do to help? Link your garden with others. We can make hedgehogs’ life a little easier by removing garden barriers within our control – for example, by making holes in or under our garden fences and walls for them to pass through. The gap need only be 13x13cm or 5 inches square and so will be too small for most pets.

Other simple tips include:

  • Avoid slug pellets (they are poisonous to hedgehogs)
  • Create hedgehog friendly garden features such as log piles and compost heaps
  • Check any piles of wood or garden refuse for a nesting hedgehog before burning a bonfire.

More information is available from www.hedgehogstreet.org or you can contact Catherine Amey at: catherine@redgraphite.co.uk

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If you go down to the woods today

mud monster / Matt Deering

mud monster / Matt Deering

Author Ronnie Reed
People and Wildlife Officer Seven Sisters Country Park

It’s October, half term is looming; time to take a walk through the woods to smell the damp earth, kick up the leaves, collect conkers or beech nuts, look for fungus and enjoy the quiet of the trees as the birds and animals settle down for the winter. But venture into Friston Forest over half term and you may be disappointed. There might be a lack of wildlife; the squirrels may have headed for the trees, the birds might have flown and the rabbits might be hiding safely underground. You might however spot some wildlife of a different kind; very noisy wildlife.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust is tempting a two legged species out into forest, away from its normal habitat of computer screens and television to enjoy autumn beneath the softly changing colours of the trees. For those who come along on Thursday 30 October and follow our trail from the Visitor Centre into the forest there is a big surprise waiting.

We are setting up a fire site beneath the beech trees, and offering lots of things to do. There will be a chance to try your hand at fire lighting, an opportunity to build shelters, and there are lots of things to make with a distinctive Halloween twist. It’s that time of year when we frighten ourselves with spiders and bats; so why not make your own out of wood or clay, or weave a web catcher from willow, create your own spooky witch on a stick or mould mud into monsters on the trees.

If you don’t fancy the scary stuff there are leaves to collect to turn into something beautiful to take home with you, apples to decorate, and mobiles hung with autumn treasures to make.

And then if you are into games why not have a go at some apple bobbing, make your own hoops and try your hand at quoits, or play noughts and crosses with a difference.

If it all gets too much there is a fire to sit around, marshmallows to eat and hot chocolate to drink.

If you want to leave mum and dad at home or mum and dad want to lose the kids for the day there is also our last Wild Woodies holiday club of the year. Come armed with lunch and warm clothes because we are outside, under the trees doing some of the above, hunting for wildlife and cooking up some warming autumn food.

So if you go down to the woods today you are sure of a big surprise.

Click here for more wild events during half-term

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Konik ponies arrive at Friston Forest

Konik pony

Konik pony

Author Steve Tillman
Reserves Officer

The rare breed of pony known as Koniks are joining our long horn cattle within the grazing area of Friston Forest. Up to 11 ponies have been permanently loaned to the Sussex Wildlife Trust by the wildlife charity Wildwood Trust. Their introduction will further enable us to graze this landscape as naturally as possible using a range of different grazing animals.

Konik Polski (Equus ferus) derives from the Polish word for ‘little horse’. The Konik is a descendant of the wild tarpan horse that roamed most of Britain and Europe thousands of years ago, as with many of our native breeds. The tarpan was mixed with a domestic horse in parts of Poland, as scientists were hoping to maintain the tarpans wild and hardy characteristics, thus resulting in the Konik we have today. The tarpan became extinct in Britain due to deforestation and being hunted by man.

Konik ponies

Konik ponies

The Konik is known as a keystone breed, as it has the ability to modify its environment to suit its needs. This can benefit plant and animal species, as the environment will otherwise succeed to woody scrub affecting certain plants and animals that previously inhabited this area. So a keystone species can have a potential positive impact on an ecosystem. The Konik is very resilient to harsh terrain and severe weather, as well as a variety of different forages. It is highly adaptable and will lose condition over winter foraging on reeds and stripping bark from willow and silver birch. They will then improve their condition in the summer when grasses improve and there is more for them to eat.

Long horn cattle at Friston Forest

Long horn cattle at Friston Forest

Find out more about the Friston Forest Grazing Project

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Sussex Wildlife Discs

Are you wondering what to do with your car’s tax disc holder, now tax discs are no more? Well, we have a use for them, you could download and display one of our Sussex Wildlife Discs!

Simply right-click on this link, save link, then print and place in your former-tax disc holder. We have four designs available.

Sussex wildlife disc / Phil Selley

Sussex wildlife disc / Phil Selley

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An epitaph to the ‘Godfather’ of chalk streams

Nigel Holmes

Nigel Holmes

Author Fran Southgate
Living Wetlands Officer

I heard the very sad news this week that a wonderful chap called Nigel Holmes passed away. Nigel was a larger than life character with a mischievous sense of humour, who did more for the health of our rivers than anyone I know. As one of the founders of the River Restoration Centre, Nigel went on to become a nationally respected expert in the conservation of some of our rarer streams and watercourses. In particular we owe him a great debt for having single-handedly walked hundreds of kilometres of Sussex rivers, helping us to put over 135 km of internationally rare chalk stream on the map, and offering us a wealth of ideas as to how we can enhance them for people and wildlife.

Nigel taught me a great deal, in a way that I will never forget, and I hope sincerely that I can help to continue his legacy by carrying on his work on our rare rivers and streams. I considered him to be a friend as well as a peer, and I have some treasured memories of spending days on the river with him, watching his face light up with delight when he found what he described as ‘nationally important streams’ flowing from the chalk of the South Downs.

He will be sorely missed, and we offer his family our sincere condolences.

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