FCG Southdowns Bird Walk 31st October 2017

With ideal weather conditions on our side members of Ferring Conservation Group met at Michelgrove Lane on the Angmering Park Estate, in the hope of seeing a variety of bird life.  We were not disappointed. This private estate extends to over 6,750 acres and is owned by the Trustees of the late Bernard, 16th Duke of Norfolk with its origins going back to the Norman Conquest.

As we made our way along the lane towards Harrow Hill, pausing to hear the distinctive call of Pheasants, we sighted both male and females foraging in fields along with Jackdaws and Ravens. As a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew past we noticed Hazel catkins, Blackthorn berries, commonly known as Sloe, wild Rose-hips, Field Maple, Dogwood and Ash lining the edges of the lane. Walking further up the Downs a Buzzard could be heard calling and then appeared on the horizon pursued by two Crows. A shrill call alerted us to a Skylark perched on telephone wires, a Corn Bunting, several Meadow Pipits, a chaffinch and a Song Thrush were also seen in the vicinity.

After negotiating two stiles and a particularly slippery footpath, Black Patch Hill came into view and Common Gulls, Partridge, including Red-legged Partridge, Stock Doves and Woodpigeon were seen in distant fields, and silhouetted against the skyline three Buzzards were seen perched in a tree. As we turned to make our way back we were rewarded with the sight of two Red Kite circling high above us pursued by Crows, and a Kestrel hovering over a field searching for prey. Having once again found our way back to the lane a Chiff Chaff and three Goldcrest were spotted in the bushes. As we neared our starting point a Stoat crossed the lane directly in front of us and quickly disappeared into the undergrowth, adding yet another interesting sighting to our morning.

Together with the more common birds we noted some 25 species as well as several Red Admiral butterflies along the way. We thanked our guide, Clive Hope, for an enjoyable and informative walk and we all agreed this was a worthwhile exercise.

A Walk around Horsham

On a blustery October morning around 20 members of Ferring Conservation Group met at Horsham Museum for a guided tour to discover some of the hidden secrets of this historic town with our guide for the day, Patricia Hall. This walk followed the trail in the book written and beautifully illustrated by Patricia about Horsham, entitled ‘Armchair Walks in Sussex’.

Patricia began by explaining that the name Horsham comes from ‘Horse Meadow’; a place where horses, cattle and sheep could graze in clearings in the forest.

The impressive Town Hall was our first stop and Patricia captured our imaginations as she described a scene from Elizabethan times when the ground floor was an open arcade and various stalls selling poultry, butter and such like produce was known as the ‘Market House’. The upper floor was where the County Court sat. The ten small ‘holding’ cells in the basement still exist although their windows are now bricked up. The Market House was rebuilt in 1812 by the Duke of Norfolk and his coat of arms can be seen on the front wall.

As we turned into the entrance of Pump Alley, one of several narrow alleyways, we noticed the hinged, wooden letter box on the wall at the site of Horsham’s first Post Office. It was here that letters could be handed directly to the postmaster who sat behind.

We retraced our steps and turned into a pretty road called ‘Causeway’, Patricia pointed out a wall plaque on number 8 Causeway which commemorates the War Hospital Supply Depot. This was established in 1915, during the First World War, to collect materials for hospital use to send to war zones in Europe.

Jane Hayman from the Group said “As we strode along Patricia encouraged us to turn our attention to the skyline and note the many diverse styles of architecture which makes this lovely town so special. We were also made aware of the many houses in the Causeway that employ large slabs of sandstone in their roofs extracted locally and known as Horsham Stone or Slates’.

 The Museum is not only a beautiful medieval timber-framed building but also houses many fascinating artefacts. The Blazing Saddles room at the rear displayed a variety of bicycles, an old fire engine and also the unique ‘Pentacycle’, invented by a Horsham business man but unfortunately it was not a success. Crime and Punishment is the theme to another of the exhibitions, displaying keys, handcuffs and truncheons from the County Gaol which was demolished in 1845. As we turned into Morth Gardens we noticed the pretty cottages and then turned right into Denne Road and pass Drill Hall and the Lychgate to Denne Road Cemetery on our way to St Mary’s Church. The tall church spire is 156 feet high (nearly 48 metres) and has over 50,000 shingles (wooden tiles) as these are lighter than traditional tiles.

Once again we retraced our steps and headed along the Causeway back to the Museum and completed our walk at our starting point. As we thanked Patricia for a very enjoyable and informative walk, we all agreed that Horsham is indeed a lovely town with considerable historic interest.

FCG Members and Beavers Group – Beach Walk June 2017

In June, 3 members of the Ferring Conservation Group met up with the Beavers associated with the 2nd Worthing Scouts on the beach at Sea Lane.

Beavers are the youngest members of the Scout movement, and are aged between 6 and 8 years.  They are given the chance to take part in a wide range of activities, including working on Badge and Challenge awards, to gain recognition of their achievements. Our meetings were intended to support them in this goal.

At our first meeting, on a very windy day, there were 14 Beavers. Working in pairs, they were set on a Treasure Hunt to find a variety of natural objects on the beach. This was taken on with great enthusiasm, and led to demonstrations of their knowledge of a shoreline environment. Each pair then turned their shells, seaweed, cuttlefish bones and egg cases into ‘portraits’ with some amusing results.

Our second meeting, with much better weather, saw the Beavers kitted out with hi-viz jackets, rubber gloves, litter pickers and sacks. They worked in teams of 2 and made their way along the beach picking up litter. They then sorted the litter into different materials. They talked about what they had found, the materials the litter was made up of, and the danger that this presented for our environment.

These events were good fun, enhanced by the keen interest shown by the Beavers, and the reassurance that young people know and care about their environment. Ferring Conservation Group were pleased to help out and enjoyed themselves as much as the Beavers!.

Visit to Warnham Nature Reserve July 2017

On 11th July, 10 members of Ferring Conservation Group met at Warnham Nature Reserve near Horsham. It was pouring with rain, but, undeterred, our guide Jacob Everitt, ecologist and reserve warden for Horsham D.C., netted a Common Blue Damselfly roosting by a pond and gave us a lively demonstration of its anatomy. He showed us how to handle damselflies and dragonflies, their differences and life cycles. We now know the difference between pterostigma and antehumeral stripes!

Fortunately the weather improved and we set out across the meadow to identify the many wild flowers and Jacob netted a Black-tailed Skimmer so we all had an in-hand view of a dragonfly. Few butterflies were about, but a perfect Small Copper was found. The star plant was a Broad-leaved Helleborine, a large member of the orchid family. Little was seen in and around the dipping ponds apart from an accommodating pike. We completed our visit with snacks in the cafe and a brief look for birds from the hides. A brand new hide is closed because a pair of Reed Warblers  built a nest right in front of the viewing area. When the babies have fledged the hide will be opened to the public.

Patricia Hall

Highdown Nature Walk July 2017

Around 15 members turned up on a rather hot day to look at birds, flowers and butterflies.We met at the Highdown car park and set off round the top of the gardens, with Tricia Hall in charge of identifying wildlife. 

The grass meadow was alive with grasshoppers and many meadow brown butterflies, plus a few burnet moths. Assorted wildflowers were present, and as we reached the western edge, the number of pyramidal orchids semi-hidden in the grass rose, with a good patch behind the commemorative bench at the western edge. We proceeded through a gap to the hill above the covered reservoir, which last year had been a magnificent sight due to thousands of pyramidal orchids, but this year, unfortunately, Southern Waters’ contractors have regularly mown it, and all have been cut. (Next year Graham plans to contact them in advance to remind them of their undertaking to leave the majority of it uncut between May and September).

There were still a number of the orchids around the outer edge of the reservoir, and also clovers, birds’ foot trefoil, eyebright and meadow vetchling within the grasses.

Around the lower edge of the reservoir the plants included agrimony, hemp agrimony, St John’s wort, selfheal, red campion and vervain. Some gatekeeper butterflies were seen as well as meadow browns, common blues and also more 6 spot burnet moths. Chiff chaffs and whitethroats could be heard.

The party split into 2 groups, one going down the track, the other through the rough meadow (the one which has been threatened with eco-yurts) in the hope of seeing some late bee orchids still in flower, but only seed heads could be found. Some pyramidal orchids were visible, and a few seed heads of marsh orchids. Several marbled white butterflies were seen, and some cinnabar moth caterpillars.

The party reunited to go through onto the public meadow above the sports field, and common mallow, meadow cranesbill and scabious were noted. A kestrel, sparrow hawk and red kite were spotted.

The trip was rounded off with a visit to Highdown cafe for refreshments.

 

Ferring Conservation Group Orchid and Bird Walk 13th June 2017

A group of 20 members from Ferring Conservation Group, and Shoreham District Ornithological Society turned out on Tues 13th June in glorious sunshine to walk along the Rife from the Bluebird Cafe up to the Ferring Country Centre with the aim of enjoying the varied wildlife, expertly led by Tricia Hall.

Notable trees and shrubs, some in flower, included Elder, Hazel, Sea Buckthorn, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Wild and Guelder Rose, and a sizeable patch of the shrubby herb Deadly Nightshade.

Flowers along the Rife itself included Comfrey, Cow Parsley, Willow herb, Meadowsweet and Horsetail.

In the lagoons, the show of orchids was not at its best, but good numbers of Marsh Orchid, both Incarnata and Pulchella, were seen, with some Common Spotted, but no sign of any Bee Orchids. However, there were numerous other flowers of interest, from the brilliant yellow Flag Irises to the dainty Water Plantain, and Tufted Vetch, Meadow Vetchling, Fleabane, Yellow Loosestrife, Coltsfoot, Self-Heal and Everlasting Sweet Pea. Grasses, Sedges and Rushes were in abundance.

Birds included Buzzard, Whitethroat, Reed Bunting, Swallow, Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap, but the stars of the show were a group of 4 little Egrets and a Grey Heron all perching in the trees just north of the upper lagoon.

Wildlife in the ponds included Newts (either common or palmate), Froglets, Water Boatmen, Pond Skaters, Whirligig Beetles, tiny Flatworms and a Leech, and several Black-tailed Skimmer dragonflies put on an aerial display over the water.

The butterflies spotted were Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue and Speckled Wood and the moths were Five-spot Burnet and Burnet Companion.

The walk was rounded off with refreshments at Ferring Country Centre.

 

Bluebell Walk in Clapham Woods

On a cold but sunny morning around 30 members of Ferring Conservation Group met at St Mary the Virgin Parish Church at Clapham in search of bluebells and other wild flowers. This flint stone church has stood firm since the 13th century and made a picturesque start as we set out towards the woods.  Our route led us over several stiles, some of which proved to be a challenge but worth the effort as we entered the wood and caught a first glimpse of the abundant bluebells.

These delicate native flowers do not welcome change or disturbance and prefer ancient woods that have lain undisturbed for years. Around 300 hundred years ago Spanish bluebells were introduced into gardens but these soon spread and began to hybridise with native plants to produce tougher varieties with dominant genes. The main visual difference between the varieties is that the native bluebells are slightly smaller, have narrow leaves, a violet bell-shaped flower, drooping heads and a delicate fragrance. The Spanish bluebells are wider leaved, stand erect and have no scent. Their flowers have less of a bell and are more of a ‘hyacinth’ blue. Bluebells have not traditionally been used medicinally but researchers are now looking into their highly effective animal and insect repellent properties, and there are even possibilities that certain bluebell extracts could be used to combat HIV and cancer.

Glorious carpets of bluebells were evident as we strolled along the woodland paths and although their scent was not witnessed at the start of our walk, as the temperature gradually rose their delicate perfume filled the air. Many other wild flowers were present and we eagerly ticked them off on our list of likely sightings. These included red campion, celandines, greater stitchwort, ground ivy, wood anemones, goldilocks buttercups, primroses, early purple orchids, bugle, wild strawberries, wood sorrel and violets. Along the way we caught a glimpse of a red kite soaring high above us through a clearing in the trees, and we could plainly hear an enthusiastic woodpecker on a nearby tree and the cheerful singing of a chaffinch accompanied by the regular rhythm of the song from a chiff chaff.

As we neared the edge of the wood we had a wonderful view of the Downs towards Black Patch Hill, this area has, what is likely to be, one of the most important Stone Age settlements found so far in Southern England. The area to the north-west of Clapham is one of the largest in West Sussex without any public roads. This is mostly due to the efforts of successive Dukes of Norfolk, who owned the land. The Angmering Park Estate which was created after the death of the 16th Duke of Norfolk in 1975, will hopefully keep things this way for many years to come.

There has been a settlement at Clapham since at least the Saxon times and as we turned and headed back towards our starting point we noticed signs of the age-old skill of coppicing and other woodland industries, still practised in the area. We had almost reached the end of our walk when we had our final treat of the day when discovering a quintessential English scene of a field of horses and sheep surrounded by woodland trees with St Mary the Virgin Church to the east and a sea view in the distance. After thanking Graham Tuppen, our knowledgeable guide for the day, we headed to the local café for a well-earned lunch.

 

 

 

Pagham Harbour Visit and Rife Clean

On a cloudy March morning a small group of enthusiastic members from Ferring Conservation Group met at the North Wall end of Pagham Harbour with hope of spotting as many species of wild bird as possible. In this peaceful nature reserve we were soon rewarded with a distant sighting of a solitary Spotted Redshank foraging in a reed bed and were then distracted by the calling of around 200 Black tailed Godwits which landed gracefully at the southern edge of the Harbour. Wigeon, Teal, Moorhens, Coots, Tufted Ducks, Shell Ducks, Little Grebes and a Pin Tailed Duck were all evident in the adjacent pools, and we were entertained by 2 Great Crested Grebes displaying their courtship ritual. Mute Swans were also present to the far north. As a White Tailed Bumble Bee sauntered past, giving us a hint of summer to come, we became aware of the mewing of a Buzzard high above us and the plaintive call of a Curlew as it flew just above the reed beds.

We were observed from the north by Herons as they stood like sentries on the top of fence posts and a Cormorant could be seen with its wings outstretched, drying itself in the Spring air. As we walked round to the North West side of the Harbour around 100 Golden Plover could be seen wading in the pools, these birds can be distinguished from the Lapwing by their sharp pointed wings – lapwings have bluntly rounded wings. A less common sighting was the Red Breasted Merganser, these handsome diving ducks are so called because of their long serrated bills, used for catching fish. As the Group headed back for some well-deserved lunch in a local café they were delighted to spot a little Firecrest in a hedge; this jewel of a bird vies with the Goldcrest for the title of the UK’s smallest bird. After lunch, a short visit to Pagham Lagoon resulted in a sighting of Mediterranean Gulls all in breeding plumage. This final sighting resulted in a total of 47 different species of wild birds seen on the day, and proves that this area is a showcase for the wealth of winged wildlife that we are so fortunate to have along the Sussex shoreline.

Later that week and on a cloudy Saturday morning and with a traditional south westerly wind, 20 volunteers from Ferring Conservation Group gathered at the Bluebird car park for the annual clean of the banks of the Rife. The group split into two and armed with black bags and litter pickers they worked their way along the east and west banks heading north towards Ferring Country Centre. It is encouraging to report that less litter was found than previous years but it is disappointing that dog fouling is still a big problem in this beautiful area. Dog owners should be aware that Poo Bins are situated at the Bluebird Café car park at the south end and also at the north end by Ferring Country Centre. The usual type of litter was found; chocolate wrappers, beer cans, bottle tops, crisp packets, including a discarded deodorant aerosol, plus many discarded full poo bags.  It is of course an offence to drop litter (including used poo bags) and the term ‘litter’ can include cigarette ends, chewing gum, or any other kind of discarded waste and this can also be a potential hazard to wildlife. Generally, ‘litter’ is considered to be a bag of waste or less; anything larger is usually recorded as fly tipping.

The above event is in addition to the 3 Beach Cleans that the Group carries out each year, this year they are scheduled to take place on Saturday 6th May, Saturday 8th July and Saturday 16th September (this final event of the year is part of the ‘Big Beachwatch Weekend’ and contributes to the nationwide survey run by the Marine Conservation Society).

Tree Activities

In contrasting weather members of Ferring Conservation Group have been busy carrying out activities associated with trees in the village. On a beautiful, bright and spring like January morning around 20 members congregated at the Group’s Community Orchard situated on the Glebelands recreation ground. The task was to dig compost around the base of the fruit trees to help promote healthy growth and then cover with wood chippings to assist with the conservation of moisture in the summer months and prevent weeds from growing. The compost and wood chippings were generously donated by Arun District Council. The Community Orchard was planted in February 2016 but it will be sometime before apples, pears and plums will be ready to pick and eat.

Later that day in Little Twitten recreation ground a native Field Maple, recently purchased by the Group, was planted by our Chairman, David Bettiss, in memory of Joyce Cooper, one of our founder members who sadly passed away in 2015.

On a very cold February morning a group of members met up at the Little Twitten recreation ground in the centre of Ferring for an “11 tree challenge” walk around the village led by committee member, Tricia Hall.

The group first saw good examples of the locally common Holm Oak, a fantastic Monterey Pine (probably the tallest tree in Ferring and visible from Highdown), Silver Birch and Beech. They also saw the newest tree locally, the native Field Maple as described above.

Our next stop was Ferring Grange, where they saw a fine mature example of a Sweet Chestnut, then a large Cedar in Glen Gardens, before going to the Village Green and identifying there – Horse Chestnut, English Oak, Common Lime and Ash. The final destination was the Glebelands Recreation Ground where a large Sycamore stood proud in the centre, and the walk ended at the Group’s Community Orchard, which had been planted with 19 assorted fruit trees in 2016 (including some Heritage Sussex apple varieties) and was looking in good condition after the previous weekend’s work party had been in action.

As they needed to thaw out, the members who had been on the walk then visited the nearby Ferring Country Centre cafe for a hot drink. The morning showed that the village is blessed with a good variety of significant trees, but some of these in private gardens have sadly been felled in recent years resulting in loss of habitat and a degradation of the street scene. The remaining important trees do need to be protected from unnecessary damage for the benefit of future generations, who can continue to enjoy them. Our woods and trees are also home to more wildlife than any other landscape. Hedgerows, copses, woods and parkland all have a unique character, biodiversity and ecosystem. Together they make up vital habitat links, connecting wildlife across the landscape and helping species to survive and thrive.