Purple Emperor by Michael Blencowe for Sussex Wildlife Trust

In any book on British butterflies, you’ll find our 58 species segregated into social ranks: the common browns, the blue-collar blues, the working-class whites. But turn the page, past the lepidopteral lower-classes, and you’ll find a butterfly so unique, so magnificently majestic, so breathtakingly beautiful that for centuries British naturalists have bowed before it. Draped in resplendent robes of iridescent amethyst, obsidian, and ermine the Purple Emperor has to be one of the most impressive animals on our island. In July the purple reign begins.

Aside from an alluring appearance, Emperors also possess that combination of rarity and elusiveness which has elevated them into an almost mythological figure: a butterfly bigfoot. How a large, shiny, purple butterfly manages to exist undetected in our countryside is down to an arboreal existence. Purple Emperors spend almost all their time on lofty thrones high above our woodlands. If we’re lucky we may glimpse the glide of a wide-winged silhouette as we stare sore-necked and squinting at the Sycamore skyline. Up there, in their canopy kingdom, Emperors compete in a power struggle for territory and males gather for summer tree-top tournaments. Their wings flash as they clash in acrobatic aerial jousting, and they spar and spiral high into the Sussex skies. The Emperor’s ferocity and fearlessness in the defence of his realm are famous. Butterflies, bumblebees and other insects get a battering if they trespass and, incredibly, bemused birds (including Sparrowhawks, woodpeckers, gulls and herons) also receive a warning wing-slap.

Emperors don’t lower themselves to feast on flowers like other butterfly riffraff. The Emperor sups sugars by quaffing only the finest honeydew distilled by aphids in the treetops. Yet, in complete contrast to its aristocratic high life, the Emperor has some dirty habits which drag him down to the filthy forest floor. To get his majesty’s mojo working he requires a mid-morning meal of minerals, which he obtains by probing his proboscis into the most disgusting muck he can find. Dog poo, used nappies, dead animals, sweaty feet – nothing is too repugnant. It’s like finding the King rummaging through the bins at the back of Tesco.

The female Empress does not have the shining sheen or horrid habits of the Emperor but she too descends to lower levels searching shady Sallows for a place to lay her eggs. Camouflaged caterpillars munch from August to June before giving rise to another distinguished (but disgusting) dynasty.

Recently, the Emperor has extended his empire eastwards. Once a butterfly of north-west Sussex it can now be found all across the north of the county and has been reported around Uckfield – there have even been rumoured sightings in the very heart of Brighton – so keep your eyes to the skies.

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

Village Green Community Project morning

We recently held our monthly Community Project activity, and this time we returned to the Village Green. Thank you to those members who helped out but we could always do with a few more if you’re able to help. It’s only for an hour or so, and always on the first Thursday of the month, starting at 10am. We publicise the location to meet every time, and this is via our regular e mails to registered members and also on this website. It’s a very friendly time.

Here are a few photos of the work we carried out on the Green – tidying up the beds leading from Ferring Street and uncovering the line of Rosemary bushes there, as well as working on the herb bed and shrubs by the playground and finally the shrub bed on the Rife Way side. It certainly looks a lot better there now.

The Sea Lane boat

At our most recent Community Project morning in May, the boat at the foot of Sea Lane received some much needed refurbishment due to it being overwhelmed by weeds and some inappropriate plants. The project was originally initiated some years ago by our late member, Tricia Hall, and it was always the intention to focus on maritime plants due to the location of the boat close to the sea, rather than the usual annual bedding plants seen in such displays.

On the day, the old plants were dug out and sorted, with the strongest being retained, and the top level of old compost and shingle was removed. This was then replaced by new compost and pea shingle, both very kindly donated by local businesses  – Ferring Nurseries and Benton Weatherstone – to whom we’re very grateful. Finally, the original plants were replaced, together with another couple of new plants again donated by the nursery, and we hope they will now thrive without unwanted competition, whilst being attractive to pollinators.

We also plan to install a small plaque on the stern of the boat to indicate that it is maintained by volunteers from Ferring Conservation Group.

Swifts by Michael Blencowe

Parish Magazine Article June 2024

Swifts by Michael Blencowe for Sussex Wildlife Trust

These are uncertain times. Who knows where this planet is heading? But since the start of May I’ve been looking to the sky for a sign of reassurance: the return of the Sussex Swifts from Africa. Ted Hughes expressed it perfectly: “They’ve made it again / Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s / Still waking refreshed, our summer’s / Still all to come.”

Swifts may not look like much – they’re basically two wings and a mouth – but it’s hard to explain their abilities without making them sound supernatural. Swifts are all about flying. They feed, scream, and mate in the air and bathe in the rainclouds. At night they switch off half their brain, switch on cruise control and fall asleep amongst the stars. If they had their way they would never come down. But there’s one little flaw in their plan: eggs don’t float. So, for just a few weeks of the year, they begrudgingly swap the open skies for a cramped nest under the eaves where they raise their young. The problem is in recent years most of these little gaps have been lost to renovations and modern architecture. The destruction of their homes is one of the reasons why Swift numbers have fallen. They are refugees on the wind.

They cruised into Sussex in May after a non-stop, long-haul flight from Africa; not that this trip bothered them. Swifts are all about flying. For me, the Swift is the only bird that takes pure, unadulterated pleasure in flying. Other birds fly out of necessity, but Swifts seem to fly for the joy of it, screaming with delight at the top of their little Swift lungs, a shrill cry that is forever associated with English summers.

By the time you read this, a new generation of Sussex Swifts, born in a roof cavity, have crawled to the nest entrance, and bravely launched themselves on their first flights. And what a first flight – they may not land again for two or three years! For these ‘teenage’ Swifts, the skies of Europe and Africa will be their playground. Nothing will tame them. Well, not until they meet a partner and decide to settle down in a roof of their own somewhere. But don’t let this comfortable image of domestic bliss fool you – there’s no taming these Wild Ones.

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

Bluebell Walks

On a warm Saturday 13th April, 12 members of the group met in Clapham Church car park. Led by Graham Tuppen,  we walked through the woods, admiring the bluebells, wood anemones, celandines, greater stitchwort and primroses. Despite searching, no early purple orchids were spotted.

A diversion from the main path took us to a magnificent beech tree, which apparently has a somewhat questionable history, and then to a delightful spot at the woods’ edge overlooking Long Furlong and Blackpatch Hill.

A lot of coppicing has been carried out recently, partially with the aim of encouraging silver-washed fritillary butterflies by improving the habitat for their caterpillars’ food plants. We finished with a look around Clapham Church.

A small group of members met on a delightfully sunny Monday 29th April morning, for a walk to see the bluebells and early purple orchids in Patching woods and part of the Norfolk Estate, again guided by Graham.

The bluebells were still lovely, and the early purple orchids were putting on a great show.

Other flowers spotted in the woods and near the village were greater stitchwort, a few late wood anemones, celandines, wood spurge, red campion, yellow archangel, herb robert, alkanet, some Californian poppies, and speedwell.

Jackie Seymour led the butterfly spotting, with large whites, brimstones, speckled wood, red admiral, peacock and orange tips. An interesting black and red froghopper insect was also spotted.

Birds included a red kite and buzzards. (Photos by Peter Dale and Lynda Monger)

Late April and May events

In addition to the main meeting this coming Friday (26th) at Ferring Village Hall at 2.30pm on the Broadwater and Worthing Cemetery, we have the following events coming up:

1. An extra Bluebell Walk – this time in Patching Woods next Monday 29th April, meeting at the usual place in France Lane just south of the main village at 1030am. We should be seeing some early Orchids there in addition to the Bluebells. Please note there are a number of stiles to cross, and it may still be muddy in places.

2. Monthly Community Project morning Thursday 2nd May – an hour’s work, meeting at the Sea Lane boat at the sea end of the road at 10am. The plan is to dig out and replant the boat with fresh soil etc, plus if time, some work at the Raised Shingle Beds further along Patterson’s Walk. Please bring a spade and trowel etc if you have them.

3. Annual Memorial Visit to Warnham Nature Reserve near Horsham (just off A24 and signposted) to remember our good friends Tricia and Mike Hall – Friday 10th May, meeting there at the opening time of 10am. Please note there is a small entrance fee (cards only) and a coffee shop plus facilities. Please lift share if at all possible.

4. A small impromptu repeat of the above Warnham visit to anybody who can’t make it on that date. This one will be the following week on Thursday 16th May, also meeting at 10am.

5. First Beach Clean of the year – Sunday 19th May, meeting at the east end of the Bluebird Cafe car park as usual at 11am. All equipment will be provided.

A lot going on for your interest then, and if weather might be an issue on the day, please check the website for any updates.

 

Hawthorn

Hawthorn, by Michael Blencowe

You could set your calendar by it. Around the first day of May, our ancestors would step outside to find foamy white clouds erupting across the Sussex countryside; the Hawthorn was blooming, spring was turning to summer. The sight was so visually stunning and so linked with the arrival of May that Hawthorn became the only British plant to be named after the month in which it blooms. Well, the name Hawthorn is derived from the Anglo-Saxon hagathorn (haga meaning hedge). I’m referring to that other name for Hawthorn: May. 

Unlike the impetuous Blackthorn, which flowers in March before it’s even bothered to grow leaves, the Hawthorn is more dignified. It waits until it has clothed itself in undergarments of lobed leaves before it dons a resplendent gown of exquisite white flowers. This stunning costume and perfect timing meant Hawthorn took centre stage at May Day celebrations and it partied with Green Men, Morris Dancers, Maypoles and May Queens. ‘Gathering nuts in May’ actually refers to ‘gathering knots of May’ to make May Day garlands and decorations. Then, in the middle of the eighteenth century, tragedy struck. I don’t know about you, but I get thrown into disarray twice a year when the clocks change. My life would have gone into meltdown in 1752 as our whole calendar changed from Julian to Gregorian, and we lost an entire 11 days. In this new timeline, Hawthorn now found itself late for the party, blooming around May 12th.

It wasn’t the first time Hawthorn had been cast aside. Superstitions dictated that bringing Hawthorn indoors led to misfortune – even death. This could stem from the fact that Hawthorn blooms release trimethylamine, which gives the flowers that unpleasant smell of cat’s wee and attracts pollinating insects. It’s also a chemical formed in decaying tissue and reminded people of the smell of Black Death – and nobody wanted to be reminded of that.

I remember at primary school being taught ‘Ne’re cast a clout ‘til May is out’. I translated this gibberish into the fact that you should keep your warm clothes on until the end of May. I’ve only just discovered that ‘May is out’ refers to Hawthorn blooming. My clouts could have been cast weeks earlier. But the world has changed since I was a nipper – we’re warming up. For a temperature-sensitive plant like Hawthorn, the blooming times are changing again. Hawthorn is responding to climate change by flowering up to two weeks earlier than it was thirty years ago. It has crept back to bloom around May Day and is now more commonly seen flowering at the end of April. So this May Day, cast your clouts, get out into the great outdoors, and welcome the return of the real May Queen.  

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

Sussex Underwater Presentation 22 March

Ferring Conservation Group were privileged to welcome Sussex Underwater (Eric Smith accompanied by his daughter Catrine Priestley) to their March meeting to enthral members with their enlightening presentation together with beautiful film footage of the results of the successful campaign to rejuvenate the local underwater kelp forest.

It was apparent right from the start what a special relationship Eric and Catrine have with the narration slipping seamlessly between them as they began to set out the chain of events that resulted in this remarkable success.

Eric’s story began in 1959 at just 11 years old, kitted out with just a diving mask and snorkel purchased for 10 shillings from Woolworths, Eric began free diving off the Sussex coastline. During his initial dives he was mesmerised by the abundance of marine life including European Sea Bass, Black Sea Bream, European Lobster and Common Cuttlefish. Sadly, by the end of the century 96% of the kelp had disappeared along with the marine life it supported.

The great storm of 1987 and intensive fishing using heavy trawl nets, which were dragged along the seabed in the area and destroyed the seabed habitats, were mostly to blame. Even before these events Eric was greatly troubled at what he saw – in his words ‘this garden of Eden’ gradually being destroyed, and had begun campaigning tirelessly highlighting the damage this was causing and was later joined by his daughter Catrine. Eric still feels emotional today when he looks back and remembers seeing the bottom of the sea devoid of life and the Sussex underwater kelp forest virtually wiped out.

It wasn’t until 2021 that a new bylaw – supported by none other than Sir David Attenborough – banned trawl fishing in more than 100 square miles of seabed off Sussex. Encouragingly this has resulted in a great improvement of a healthy kelp ecosystem, providing an ideal nursery for juvenile fish and rare sea bream breeding on the sea bed again. This local story is of great importance not only to the UK but internationally too.

A BBC One programme ‘Our Lives; Our Kelp Forest’, (narrated by Chris Packham and now available on BBC iPlayer) outlined this amazing journey – filmed over three years this shows incredible scenes of Eric diving with giant 40-pound stingrays as well as witnessing the return of the mussel beds and is definitely worth watching.

To conclude the meeting Ed Miller took to the floor to update members with planning news:

The Certificate of Lawful Entitlement along with a Premises Licence have both been refused by Worthing BC in regard of the land on the north side of Marine Drive, Goring-by-Sea. The planning application for 47 houses at Kingston Lane, East Preston has been approved by Arun DC and a new application has been submitted for a bungalow to be built in the back garden of an existing property in Sea Lane, Ferring.

Wey and Arun Canal Trust Presentation 23 February

The February meeting had over 80 members and visitors present to hear an excellent presentation from Tony Pratt, a representative from The Wey and Arun Canal Trust. Tony explained that the canal formed the final part of a vital route from London to Portsmouth without going to sea. This became of great military importance, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. Sadly, this was never a commercial success and as railways became the preferred mode of transport for goods, the canal was closed in 1871 and had been little used.

Over 100 years later The Wey and Arun Canal Society was formed which in 1973 became The Wey and Arun Canal Trust. This body of 3,000 members, volunteers and staff have been instrumental in restoring significant stretches of the canal. The Trust has a showcase site at Loxwood, West Sussex where it is possible to book boat trips and where canoeists and paddleboarders are welcome to use the waterway.

The Wey-South Path was one of the Trust’s earliest successes and is a long-distance footpath that runs either alongside or near to the canal route. Along this scenic route an abundance of wildlife can be viewed and also from the canal boats.

After a break for refreshments Graham Tuppen enlightened the audience with news of local wildlife sightings, including Chaffinches, a Brimstone butterfly and a Bumble Bee. The first Newt had been seen and a Heron taking numerous frogs from a pond in a local garden.

 

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.