A Presentation by The Marine Conservation Society 26th January

Chiara Agnarelli, a local volunteer with the Marine Conservation Society, gave a talk to our 26 January meeting, highlighting the many threats to the sea’s wildlife, the world’s food supply, its function as a ‘carbon sink’ and its value for recreation. The main threat, she said was the increasing pollution from litter and sewage, but other problems like over-fishing of many species and ‘bottom trawling’ which scraped the sea floor, killing vast numbers of small animals and plants.

The Marine Conservation Society, founded in 1983, aims to work with governments, businesses and communities to reduce pollution, maintain edible fish stocks and keep our seas and beaches as pleasant unspoilt facilities for recreation. It works by influencing, campaigning and invigilating every aspect of damage to the marine environment, and by direct action with local amenity groups in Beach Cleans and cleaning the rivers and streams that often carry litter and other pollutants out to sea. Individuals too were being encouraged to reduce their own impact on the sea – by buying only responsibly-caught fish, avoiding single-use and unrecyclable plastic, and being careful with what they flush down the toilet.

Chiara said it was a long, hard battle to stop the unnecessary damage to the sea and its wildlife and there were many setbacks, but it was very good to see the number of conservation groups along the Sussex coast making such an impact. In West Sussex alone some 560 volunteers collected nearly 14,000 pieces of litter in 2022 and the figures for 2023 were expected to show much more being done.

David Bettiss said Ferring was doing its bit as the Conservation Group’s beach cleans and litter picking from the Rife banks were regular, well organised, and very well supported and it was good to hear of so much work being done at county and national level,

Graham Tuppen reported on work being done at Warren Pond to protect and enhance its wildlife, including a hibernaculum for over-wintering animals and insects, and on the bird life all over Ferring. He said the Big Garden Bird Count at the end of the month was expected to show a good number of Waxwings.

Ed Miller gave an update on local planning issues: the application for 47 houses in the Kingston Gap would almost certainly be refused by Arun DC and he was confident that the Persimmon appeal regarding the housing estate on Chatsmore Farm, would finally be dismissed following the Public Inquiry in February.

 

2024 Clean Up dates and Community Project Day on Thursday 1 Feb

The four Clean Up dates for 2024 have been arranged and details are included on the Beach Clean Dates section of this website. This year, there will be the Rife Clean in March, 2 Beach Cleans in May and September, and for the first time a Village Centre Clean in July.

The February Community Project  morning will be be held on Thursday 1 February, and this will cover some more work on the Village Green. If you can help out just for an hour, please meet near the public toilets there at 10am, and if you have them, please bring any combination of a trowel, secateurs and a lopper.

More good work at Warren Pond

Following on from our Community project morning at Warren Pond in November, on a frosty and cold January morning we carried out some more useful practical improvements there to benefit the habitat.

Firstly a Hibernaculum was constructed on the north side of the pond near to the fence line of Florida Road. This is basically an underground chamber that amphibians and reptiles can use throughout the winter to protect themselves from the cold, so this could benefit frogs, toads, newts and lizards. The chamber was dug to a depth of around 50cm, and then filled with some hardcore, then old tree branches and logs, and covered over with an amount of soil which had been dug out to create the chamber. The final result looked like a raised mound, and access by the wildlife can be gained in the gaps left betwen the logs and also some pieces of guttering which will act as walkways.

During the digging, we fould an amazing total of SEVEN Stag Beetles, all of which were alive, and one large grub or larvae. All of them were carefully returned to their underground habitat for another day.

Nearby to the Hibernaculum we also started constructing a “dead hedge” – this is an upright structure consisting of woody garden cuttings contained within vertical wooden stakes, so it forms a perpetual hedge. This can be added to over time as it slowly rots down and will provide a great habitat for small birds such as Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks, as well as many small mammals again.

More sensitive work to improve the habitat is planned in partnership with the Parish Council in the months to come, and thank you to the good people who helped out on the day.

Warren Pond update

We held a very well attended Community Project morning at the pond at the start of November, and carried out a good amount of bramble and vegetation clearance on The Warren side of the pond. Thank you to all those who helped out and we managed to fill up the skip as usual.

To follow on from that the Parish Council (who of course own the pond) arranged for a tree surgeon recently to carry out the heavier and more involved tree, bramble and vegetation clearance work, especially on the Florida Road side and also more on the west bank. Below are a “before” and a couple of “after” pictures so you can see the progress that has been made, and it has really opened up the views of the pond and the wildlife that visits, including the foxes.

The water levels are very high which meant that the tree surgeon (who has done an excellent job) couldn’t access all the weeping willow and brambles, some of which was under the water surface, even though he did some of the work from his canoe. He intends returning to complete the work in the Spring when hopefully the water will have dropped, and the whole pond project is in fact an ongoing one to be continued over a number of years. We hope to construct a Hibernaculum soon there to benefit reptiles and amphibians, including the resident Great Crested Newts, as well as carrying out some small scale tree planting plus wild flowers on the banks and margins. We are also reinstating some birds nest boxes.

The main principle though is to maintain the pond and its surrounds as a wildlife sanctuary. As I’ve said many times this is one of the very few truly wild places in the village and desperately needs to be preserved as such for the benefit of the varied wildlife that call it home or frequent it.

Worthing Buildings Lost and Saved

Ferring Conservation Group welcomed the Worthing Society to its November meeting, for a talk given by its Chairman, Sue Belton and Committee member David Clark. The Society much in common with our Conservation Group, is striving to preserve and conserve all that is best in our environment, and is a valuable member of the Protect our Gaps Alliance. It also reflects what we do in our History Group, in researching and presenting the town’s history but its main focus is on Worthing’s buildings – past, present and future – and the talk was entitled ‘Worthing’s Buildings, Lost and Saved.’

Sue said far too many historic buildings were demolished in the1960s and were replaced by extremely unattractive buildings and multi-storey car parks. This trend continued into the 1970s but was challenged by a redoubtable character, Mrs Pat Baring, who campaigned to save what was left, and founded the Worthing Civic Society in 1973. Among the fine buildings that were lost was the old Town Hall (built in 1836), the Theatre Royal in Ann Street (18th Century), Grafton House, the Esplanade Hotel (where Oscar Wilde wrote ‘The Importance of being Earnest’), and the 17th Century ‘Selden’s Cottage’ but the biggest planning disaster of all was the demolition of half the High Street leaving only two or three of the old town houses.

But although much had been lost a lot more had been saved.  There were 212 buildings on the Statutory List and another 750 on Worthing Council’s local list. The Worthing Society was involved in saving much of this built heritage, working closely with English Heritage and the Borough Council. Beach House was one of its successes, along with the Dome Cinema and Stanford Cottage (now a Pizza House), where Jane Austen had written the unfinished novel, ‘Sanditon’. Now the Society was much involved with preserving these and other historic buildings but was also regularly consulted by the Council on planning applications and its redevelopment schemes like Teville Gate and Montague Place.

The talk was followed by tea and hot mince pies, and the usual update on local wildlife and planning applications and appeals, including the dismissal of the appeal on Lansdowne Nursery, one of the cases which the Protect our Gaps Alliance had taken up and won.

FCG 2023 Charity Christmas Cards

Our 2023 charity Christmas cards are now on sale. The image on the card this year is an excellent and atmospheric photograph of a Winter Sunset on Ferring Beach, taken by Mary Coe. The cards come in a pack of 10, and once again cost £5 per pack, with all proceeds going direct to Chestnut Tree House Children’s Hospice.

They will be available at our next Group meeting at Ferring Village Hall on Friday 24/11, and then at the Village Christmas Fair also at the Village Hall on the afternoon of Saturday 2/12. In addition they’ll also be on sale at Pinkerton’s Newsagents in Ocean Parade.

Our October Meeting

Wilder Landscapes

Fran Southgate from the Sussex Wildlife Trust gave the Group’s October meeting an interesting presentation on Sussex landscapes and the efforts of the Trust to ‘re-wild’ them.  Much work had been done on the Trust’s own reserves (1,900 hectares/4,700 acres) but this was only 0.5 per cent of the areas of the two counties. More effort was going into persuading landowners and farmers to manage their land in more traditional ways which allowed native species to survive and create biodiversity. Trees and hedges added to the landscape, and less use of insecticides helped pollination, and of veterinary treatments like ivermectins (for worms) avoided harmful effects on wildlife.

She said nature conservation was moving away from a focus on individual species and towards a restoration of ‘ecosystems’, recognising the interdependence of plant and animals in food chains and in keeping soils fertile and farm animals healthy. The free movement of wild animals was particularly important, and the Trust was working with many agencies and landowners to create wildlife corridors across the two counties – with some success already. There is now a corridor from Climping to Horsham, including the Knepp estate where rewilding has transformed the landscape while sustaining viable agriculture.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

 

Stag Rut (photo by Paul Lindley). One of many great illustrations from Fran’s talk,

 

  The Trust is also involved in conservation of Sussex rivers and the coastal waters. There are 145 km/90 miles of chalk streams under protection, and beavers have been reintroduced in other rivers, to help with flood control by building their dams. The underwater landscapes off-shore were hardly thought of a few decades ago but now we know that the kelp forests are under attack by trawlers, and the Trust is involved with groups like the Littlehampton Kelp Divers, to find way to protect this asset.

Responding to questions, Fran stressed the message that while food production, housing needs and public health were bound to make demands on the landscape, they could all be managed more carefully and in ways which allowed more of our natural wild landscape to survive.

Graham Tuppen gave his update on local wildlife, including the large numbers of smooth-hound sharks recently washed up on Goring and Ferring beaches, and Ed Miller reported on the three current planning appeals and the changes in Government policy which meant they would almost certainly be dismissed.

Holly

Holly, by Michael Blencowe for Sussex Wildlife Trust

I’m sure you’ll agree that these are crazy times, folks. Back in Ancient Rome they had a festival – Saturnalia – which saw their society turn upside down for a week each December. It seems Saturnalia’s traditions of chaos and mayhem are now the daily norm for us Brits but, as we career towards Christmas, we have another thing in common with Saturnalia. We will soon be paying our respects to the Holly tree.

Holly has been celebrated in many traditions over the centuries because, as a native evergreen, its vibrancy in the dead of winter could easily be mistaken for immortality. Holly was the sacred tree of Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture. In pagan tradition, the Holly King ruled over the Oak King from Midsummer to Midwinter. Holly was easily adopted by Christians, who saw many links between the tree and the life of Christ. Today, Holly remains a centrepiece of our Christmas decorations, cards and cakes.

Each Holly tree is either male or female. While both produce delicate white flowers in May, it’s only the female Holly that bears a berry as red as any blood. When these berries are produced in profusion, it’s taken to be a sign of an oncoming hard winter -although in reality it’s the outcome of a successful spring. Holly’s prickles provide protection for nesting birds, their flower buds are food for the Holly Blue butterfly’s caterpillar and their ripe berries are essential for thrushes.

If you’re after a tree filled with folklore then Holly must take a bow. So if you’re planning to deck your halls with boughs of the stuff this Christmas, here’s a quick user guide. First off, never cut down a Holly tree – that’s guaranteed bad luck, a superstition which has spared many Holly trees from the woodsman’s axe. And make sure you leave Holly trees in your hedgerows to prevent witches from running along the top. If you bring Holly into your home at Christmas, it’ll help protect you from those pesky festive faeries. Only female Holly leaves under your pillow will allow you to predict your future in your dreams. Oh, and don’t forget to get rid of your Holly decorations before Twelfth Night (but don’t burn them, that’s bad luck too). Holly trees will protect you against lightning strikes (I’m not sure if this has been scientifically proven so don’t blame me if you still get zapped). And don’t eat the berries, they’re poisonous, but if you have smallpox you can drink an infusion made from the leaves.

Stick to those rules folks and you’ll have a peaceful Christmas. Me? I’ve had enough of the state of the world today. I’m going to pour some wine, put on my toga and pretend I’m in ancient Rome. Somebody pass me my fiddle.

Sussex Wildlife Trust is a conservation charity for everyone who cares about nature in Sussex. Founded in 1961, we have worked with local people for over half a century to make Sussex richer in wildlife.

We rely on the support of our members. Please consider joining us. Your membership will help us challenge decisions that threaten wildlife, care for more than 30 nature reserves, and inspire the next generation about the wonders of the natural world. It’s easy to join online at sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/join

Slugs

Slugs by Michael Blencowe for Sussex Wildlife Trust

I’ve had a strange fascination with slugs since I was a little boy. Back then I believed that they were homeless snails that had lost their shells. It turns out I was right. Sort of. The whole eviction process had started as far back as the murky Mesozoic when some land snails cast off the shackles of a shell and evolved into slugs for some truly independent living. Sure, shells are great for protection and will help you to avoid drying out but they’re clunky and require calcium to construct. Without them you can roam anywhere and (to namecheck another mollusc) the world’s your oyster.

The slug’s shell has never been completely lost — a fragment remains hidden under their skin, a tiny, shrunken souvenir of their snail ancestry. Another link to their slimy dynasty is that all slugs, like all snails, are both male and female. As hermaphrodites, they possess both sets of sexual organs and this means that, if the situation dictates, they can go it alone and simply self-fertilise to produce their offspring. A true state of independence. Self-fertilisation creates a clone – or in a slug’s case hundreds of clones – but the problem with inbreeding is a lack of genetic variability. Clones all possess the same weaknesses. An entire slug population can be wiped out by the same parasites and pathogens. To produce varied and resilient offspring, most slugs go in for the more old-fashioned approach of finding a partner for a quick rustle in the undergrowth.

But one garden slug species has turned this chore into art – a flamboyant celebration of a lack of independence. The spotted and striped Leopard Slugs start their performance by chasing each other around a tree, giving each other sonic, sensuous strokes and cheeky nibbles. Then they climb, shimmy along a branch, and descend on a rope made of their own mucous. Here, hanging in mid-air, the slugs evert their sexual organs, entwining them to create a moonlit globe. This graceful, balletic trapeze performance must be one of the most mesmerising sights on our planet. If you search hard enough, you can find beauty in the strangest places. Still, if I was strolling through the woods at night, I’d hate to walk into it face-first.

Sussex Wildlife Trust is a conservation charity for everyone who cares about nature in Sussex. Founded in 1961, we have worked with local people for over half a century to make Sussex richer in wildlife. We rely on the support of our members.

Please consider joining us. Your membership will help us challenge decisions that threaten wildlife, care for more than 30 nature reserves, and inspire the next generation about the wonders of the natural world. It’s easy to join online at sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/join

Dolphins and Porpoises off our shores

This was the subject at Ferring Conservation Group’s September meeting, very well presented by James Milton of the Sussex Dolphin Project, based at Shoreham seafront.  Their mission is to protect local dolphin species through research, awareness and education to restore and increase the population of these fascinating marine mammals. He began with some excellent video footage of Bottle-nosed dolphins following a boat from Newhaven, swimming and leaping into the air. James said dolphins and porpoises can be seen from the shore, all along the Sussex coast and often within 20 metres of the shore but the only way to see them at close quarters is from a boat, and the Trust arranges regular boat trips between May and October out to their favourite locations, including near the Rampion Windfarm.

Dolphins and porpoises belong to the same group as whales, ‘the Cetaceans’ and he told us that the Orca, or ‘Killer Whale’ is really a dolphin species. Dolphins are much more common in our waters than porpoises, and the most common dolphin species is the ‘Bottle-nosed’. They are air-breathing mammals, taking in air when on the surface, or in their leaps, hold their breath while submerged and expelling it through a blow-hole in their head, just like whales. They eat Cod, Whiting and Pollack, and sometimes squid and crustaceans, finding their prey, by echo-location and communicating with each other by ‘clicking’ signals,

The only real threat to their survival is the ‘Super-trawler’, that can be up to 130 metres long, with gigantic nets, catching fish of all sizes and throwing the unwanted species, including dolphins – dying or badly injured, over the side, or selling them to be made into pet food. The Sussex Dolphin Project joins other conservation groups in pressing the Government to regulate super-trawlers more effectively – existing regulations are easy to evade.

We learned a great deal from this talk, including the different outlines of bottle-nosed dolphins and Harbour Porpoises, the only porpoise to be found off our coast.  The Bottle-nose, and the sickle-shaped dorsal fin is very distinctive for our dolphins; our porpoises are smaller and stockier, have more rounded faces and a triangular fin, and they usually swim alone. After this talk Graham Tuppen gave an update on local wildlife sightings, Ed Miller on planning applications and appeals, and Pete Coe on the Group’s practical conservation projects.