On a sunny but cold and windy day around 25 members of Ferring Conservation Group enjoyed a visit to Arundel Wetlands Centre. Originally built on an old watercress farm the Centre covers 65 acres and is nestled in the scenic South Downs with views of Arundel Castle. With steep woodlands stretching along its rear boundary and with the River Arun and a historic water mill stream alongside its borders, it is truly a stunning location.
The Arundel Centre supports a rich array of British Wildlife as well as a large collection of international wildfowl. This is due to the centre benefitting from a pure water supply that is naturally filtered by the layers of chalk which are part of the South Downs landscape.
Visiting and resident British species include many small birds, such as reed and sedge warblers, 11 species of bat, cuckoos, dragonflies, grass snakes, swans, bee orchids to name a few.
A safari boat ride can be taken through the reed beds to hopefully glimpse a kingfisher or water vole.
Our Group was fortunate to be guided around the Centre by Paul Stevens, the reserve manager. Paul began by explaining that the reed beds held a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status but our chances of spotting a water vole for instance on that particular day were slim because of their dislike of wind.
On our arrival at the Lapwing hide we were rewarded by the sight of an adult bird with 2 chicks around 5 to 6 days old foraging for food on the island. As we left the hide we spotted a Buzzard circling above and in another direction were House Martins gliding and flitting who are welcome summer visitors. Our tour then progressed along the board walk over the reed bed and here we stopped to listen to Reed, Sedge and Cettis Warblers.
The many ducks and geese waddling around keeping a very watchful eye on their young also enhanced our enjoyment of the day. So with our thanks to Paul for a very interesting and informative tour our members made their way back to the Water’s Edge Café overlooking the Arun Riverlife Lake for some welcome refreshment.
Planting up the herb bed
A ‘Medieval’ Herb Bed
As a contribution to St. Andrew’s Church’s 1250 anniversary, FCG have constructed a herb bed based on a cartwheel design. The bed is on the village green and is just in front of the children’s playground. The bed is for fun but we hope to provide informative labels and the herbs have been selected for their attractiveness to bees and other insects.
We have planted medicinal herbs which were made into tonics, potions, purges and salves (ointments). Feverfew, for example, was used to treat headaches and was also for joints and digestive problems. It is also a good nectar and pollen source for bees.
Dyeing plants were those from which the medieval housewife extracted dyes for colouring cloth. Woad was an important source of blue dye and was used to colour clothes and tapestries and was also a pigment for blue paint.
A thousand years ago homes, of both poor and rich people, were remarkably smelly and dirty. Strewing plants were those that were scattered on floors, with rushes or reeds, to mask smells and keep insects at bay. The rushes and reeds helped to soak up all manner of spilt liquids (animals usually shared the homestead), but, were often only changed twice a year! Lavender was strewn on floors for this purpose and was supposed to repel moths. It was also a personal scent and was used in baths when one was lucky enough to get one!
We have planted many culinary herbs which were used in cooking and most of these are familiar to us today. These had important other uses as well so the medieval housewife had to be very knowledgeable. It was her duty to sow, plant and tend her garden. Mint, for example, was an aid to digestion and was made into a sauce. It was also used for cleansing wounds, as a cough mixture, and was added to vinegar to make a mouthwash. It also deterred vermin.
We are grateful to Benton Weatherstone who gave us free bricks for the construction, Ferring Nurseries for the compost and Culberry Nurseries at Angmering for their advice and providing many of the herbs at very reduced prices.
Please come along to see our herb bed and watch how it develops. When it is growing well, we may even allow you to snip a few herbs for your own use as long as you promise to pull out half a dozen weeds at the same time!