FCG’s First Beach Clean of 2019

Over forty willing volunteers met at the Bluebird Café car park to carry out Ferring Conservation Group’s first beach clean of the year with help from the youngest volunteer to date, Sophia, at almost three years old. The group spread along the beach as far as Sea Lane with some volunteers working along the shoreline while others concentrated on the foreshore area. The usual items were collected, mainly small pieces of plastic, fishing line, nylon rope etc., plus a small number of larger items. The small items collected are just as important to remove as these can easily be ingested by marine life as well as wading birds. The strangest item found was an arrow head in the beach hut area and it is hoped that no living thing was used as target practice. Unusually there were many cartilaginous shark skulls found entangled in seaweed along the shoreline – the skeleton of these sharks are made entirely from cartilage.

FCG’s Bluebell Walk in Clapham Woods

On a morning that was bright and clear, but a bit chilly, members of Ferring Conservation Group recently travelled the short distance to Clapham Woods (just off the Long Furlong road) for a woodland bluebell walk ably led by Group committee member, Graham Tuppen.

Setting off across the fields by the village church, the group was soon in the woods, where the display of bluebells and particularly wood anemones could be seen in all their glory. The bluebells were probably a week or so from their best, but the anemones were undoubtedly at their peak and formed a dense carpet. Plenty of other woodland plants were identified, including the delicate greater stitchwort, dog’s mercury, wild strawberries, lords-and-ladies, dog-violets and even the first flower spikes of early-purple orchids. It was a most enjoyable guided walk, and in addition to the plants some magnificent tree examples were seen including a massive beech tree, which it was estimated must be hundreds of years old.

The group was also lucky enough to hear and see a variety of woodland birds. Many of these were the usual suspects, such as blue tits, robins and pheasants, but a number of nuthatch were heard calling throughout the walk and eventually seen in the oak tree in the car park. The prize for the best sounding bird though must have been the mellifluous song of the mistle thrush.

A visit to these woods, especially at this time of year, is fully recommended as a welcome escape into our local natural environment.

FCG’s Clean Up of the Rife

Ferring Conservation Group’s annual clean-up of the banks of the Rife took place on Saturday 23rd March. Around twenty five members, including two keen junior members, met in the Bluebird Café car park and as in previous years once the usual litter pickers, hi-vis jackets and black bags had been issued the group formed two teams with each team working in parallel along the east and west banks.

Owing to the exceptionally early warm weather this year, the nettles along the banks had already grown making it more of a challenge to spot litter in the foliage but this didn’t pose a problem for Eoin Kearns, the youngest member of the Group, as his keen eyes found many items and he soon completely filled his sack. Around twenty bags of litter were collected in all, with the majority of items found on the east bank in the bushes and down the footpaths. Along with the usual types of litter a child’s cushion and a pair of shorts (probably discarded by a playful fox) were collected and signs of spring were seen along the way including a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly and a Bumblebee.

The Rife in Ferring is a haven for wildlife including Little Egrets, Moorhens and Water Voles, also many wildflowers can be found along the banks making this area an important wildlife sanctuary. Therefore it is important that all visitors respect this and take their litter home with them or place it in the bins provided in the Bluebird Café car park or at Ferring Country Centre.

FCG Visit to Pagham Harbour

At the end of March, a party of Ferring Conservation Group members made their way to the Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve for their annual spring time visit and in order to savour all that the area has to offer in terms of wildlife and tranquility. The day was led as normal by member and local bird expert, Clive Hope, whose skills allowed us to spot and identify a large variety of birds and other animals.

In total, a very impressive 40 different bird species were seen around the area of the North Wall, including some which had just arrived in the country after their migratory journey. One Chiffchaff for example was seen and heard in the top of a tree, both singing loudly and catching insects at different times.

Many of the usual suspects were found, including Curlew (a large flock of over 30 seen in an adjoining field) Black Tailed Godwit, Redshank and Little Grebe amongst others, and views of Buzzards and Kestrels as well. The strident call of a Cetti’s Warbler was heard several times, a couple of Mute Swans treated us to a low-level fly past before landing on the nearby water, and several Grey Herons were seen moving in and out of the regular Heronry nest site. We even saw a Roe Deer moving across the fields to the north.

After a couple of hours taking in the sights, we repaired to the nearby café for a spot of lunch before a brief visit to Pagham beach where some of the highlights were Great Crested Grebe and a close-up Brent Goose swimming near the water’s edge. On the way home, we noticed a large number of signs put up by local people protesting at plans to build housing estates in this precious area. What an absolute tragedy this would be for such a special place with the likely harm to the wildlife that it attracts. We do have something in common with Pagham though, as it seems that we in Ferring are also constantly under attack by predatory developers!

FCG’s Latest Activities

Beach Walk

On February 26th, a glorious sunny day, twelve members of the Conservation Group met at the south end of Sea lane in Ferring for a walk to Goring. An initial excitement was the spotting of a Merlin, our smallest raptor. David Cambell, a local expert, pointed out the bird which was sitting in a tree half way up Sea Lane. This is a very unusual sighting for the Gap and illustrates just how important this green space is for birds.

We set off towards the sea which was a long way off and the going was tricky with slippery rocks and pools of water. We stopped to examine the end of a breakwater which revealed a mini habitat of Spiral Wrack, Cladophora (a green seaweed), Common Limpets, Barnacles, Mussels and Periwinkles. We searched under rocks and collected a variety of organisms stranded on the beach. This flotsam included Ray and Shark egg cases, Cuttlefish ‘bones’, Slipper Limpets and other mollusc shells and the colonial animal Hornwrack which looks like a dried seaweed.

We eventually abandoned our efforts to reach the sea and made our way to the Sea Lane cafe for coffee along the top path. On the return trip, the sea was coming in and so we were able to observe Oystercatchers, Dunlin and Sanderling on the tide line and Turnstones camouflaged against the rocks.

 

Presentation of cheque to Chestnut Tree House Hospice

Artist  Tricia Hall  painted a Christmas card of Ferring for members to purchase at their  meetings. It featured the beach huts in the snow. Many of the cards were also sold by Margaret Metcalf at St. Andrew’s Church after Sunday services. A total of £560 was raised and the cheque presented to Chestnut Tree house Hospice by Tricia and our chairman, David Bettiss. Many thanks to everyone who bought cards and thus contributed to this worthy cause. This is the eighth year that we have supported this charity through the sale of Christmas cards.

Conservation Work

Nine members met on the Village Green for their regular 1st Tuesday of the month conservation work. This session involved the trimming and cutting back of various shrubs and weeding the herb bed. If any other members would like to join this group, they would be very welcome.

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!

Worthing Conservation Volunteers

The above group which carries out excellent practical conservation work around the Worthing area are looking for more volunteers to help them. Their regular work parties start at 10am and end by 3.30pm on the designated day, but they welcome any help at all for however long.

The next work party is on Sunday 17 March at Cissbury Ring, where they will be working with the National Trust warden to maintain the chalk downland flora.

For further details and also to confirm venue and meeting place of each work party, please contact Jay on 01903 762064.

A Walk to identify Ferring Village trees in winter on 4th December

A cloudless blue sky greeted 14 members of Ferring Conservation Group when they met up with Tricia Hall, their guide for the morning, on the Village Green. Tricia set a challenge and distributed a list of eleven trees which she asked the group to identify during the walk. On the Village Green itself an impressive Oak was the first point of interest. These large deciduous trees grow between 20-40m tall and their smooth and silvery brown bark becomes rugged and deeply fissured with age. On the eastern edge of the Green a pretty Silver Birch tree was admired by the Group. This tree looks attractive in all seasons but its wood is of little commercial value in Britain because the trees do not grow as large as they do in other parts of Europe. A Lime tree was noted on the corner of Rife Way and the flowers of this tree are hermaphrodite, meaning both the male and female reproductive elements are contained within one flower.

As the Group walked through Little Twitten recreation ground they stopped at a small Field Maple that was recently planted in memory of Joyce Cooper, a founder member of Ferring Conservation Group. Tricia explained that these trees can grow to around 20m and live for up to 350 years. Before leaving the recreation ground the Group marvelled at a majestic Monterey Pine tree situated near to the eastern boundary. This tree is found naturally in the coastal area around Monterey in California but can be found in milder parts of the UK (where it grows faster than in its native habitat). This is the tallest tree in Ferring and can be easily spotted from Highdown Hill. Within the same copse of trees several bird and bat boxes were sighted and Tricia was pleased to inform the Group that these had been occupied during this year’s nesting season.

The group progressed south along Sea Lane where an Ash tree stood proud on the grass verge parading its many conspicuous winged fruit or keys, which fall to the ground in winter. Another feature of this common tree at this time of year are the smooth twigs that have distinctively black, velvety leaf buds arranged to face each other.  Looking eastwards from Sea Lane a Sparrow Hawk could be seen circling above the field looking for prey and as the Group proceeded southwards a Horse Chestnut and an attractive Maple stood out amongst other trees along the route. A chirpy Robin and several Magpies were making their voices heard at the edge of the field as the route continued into Beehive Lane where a large Scots Pine tree stood next to the bus stop and a row of Poplars stood erect outside of Scotch Dyke Residential Home.

Taking a short cut through to Little Paddocks the Group savoured the tranquility of this oasis in the heart of Ferring and took pleasure viewing the duck pond and surrounding area where Mallards, Moorhens, Squirrels, and a Woodpecker could all be seen in the vicinity. An elegant Weeping Willow at the water’s edge completed the picture. A resplendent Sweet Chestnut tree greeted the Group at their final destination in Ferring Grange. The bark of this tree in winter is particularly attractive as the older trees have fissures which spiral round the trunk. Chestnut blight has unfortunately arrived in the UK recently which causes cankers and can lead to die-back and death.

Thanking Tricia for a very enjoyable and informative walk, the Group made their way to Kingsley’s Coffee Shop for some well earned refreshment.

 

 

Goring Gap Bird Walk – 28th October 2018

On a cold and breezy October Sunday morning, a healthy turn out of Ferring Conservation Group members met at the sea end of Sea Lane, Ferring for a guided birdwatching walk around Goring Gap with new member and local bird expert, David Campbell.

The morning started with a scan of the beach at a number of vantage points on the Greensward, and a good variety of sea and wading birds were seen and identified. There were Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Little Egret and even a number of Knot all on the beach. Off shore, Brent Geese, Cormorant and Wigeon were seen either flying past or on the sea, and flocks of Goldfinches and Starlings were flying inland probably from the Continent, as well as some Siskin and Linnet.

The group then sought sanctuary from the breeze for a while amongst the trees of the Plantation, and a number of woodland birds were either seen or heard there – Robin, Chaffinch and a very obliging Stock Dove, amongst others.

For the final part of the walk, the group moved back out into the open farmland of the Gap, which is such an important roost for many birds, especially at high tides. A number of gulls were seen, including the impressively large Great Black Backed Gull, and at least one Mediterranean Gull, as well as some Skylarks.

However, the highlight of the morning was right at the very end, when in the distance and at some height, our guide spotted, managed to identify and even photographed a rare Hen Harrier bird of prey roughly above the point where we had started the walk. We then watched it fly northwest across Ferring before disappearing out of sight towards the Rife. This was an unusual sighting for our area and capped off an enjoyable morning, which wouldn’t have been possible without the skill and knowledge of David Campbell. The Group is extremely grateful to him.

Autumn Fruits Walk at Highdown Hill on 15th October

Taking advantage of a glorious sunny and warm afternoon 18 members of Ferring Conservation Group met at Highdown Hill car park. With Tricia Hall as their knowledgeable guide they were led along the upper path and asked to consider the different ways in which seeds disperse throughout the countryside. Tricia explained the various ways that trees and plants attempt to distribute their seeds to maximise their chances of survival. Noting the kaleidoscope of colours, red, russet and yellow as the leaves of Ash, Sycamore, and Holm Oak were changing colour.

As the Group progressed along their route they spotted the long, silky hairs which form the grey tufted balls that are known as Old Man’s Beard that are so conspicuous in hedgerows in autumn. These silky hairs assist in seed dispersal and interestingly the French name for this plant is ‘herbe aux gueux’ – the beggar’s herb. Beggars were said to use its acrid sap to irritate the skin to give it a sore and ulcerated look in order to induce sympathy and encourage a donation from passers-by.

Among the hedgerows the vivid pink fruits of the Spindle, the blue-black fruit of the Sloes and the red Rosehips could all be seen to add to the colourful autumn display. A nearby Robin was in good voice as the Group came across several Red Admiral butterflies resting on a bush enjoying the heat from the sun. Bracket fungus could be seen attached to the trunk of a large Holm Oak tree and Tricia explained that autumn is the time when the fruit of this important group of living organisms releases thousands of billions of microscopic spores into the air to distribute and reproduce. As two Buzzards were spotted circling high above, Magpies and Woodpigeon were seen on the ground foraging for food. The small green catkins of a Hazel tree made an interesting contrast as well as the black clusters of Privet fruit.

Jane Hayman from the Group said ‘we were fortunate indeed to have such a glorious sunny day for our walk and thanks to Tricia we came away with more knowledge of how to identify trees and plants and an understanding of the ways in which they reproduce themselves’.

 

FCG Beach Clean September 2018

Around 30 members of Ferring Conservation Group met by the beach huts to take part in the last beach clean of 2018. Jenny Gritxi, the event organiser, gathered the Group together and explained that the results would count towards, and be submitted to, the Marine Conservation Society’s annual nationwide beach clean. After the necessary health and safety talk hi-vis jackets, black bags and litter pickers were distributed and Jenny directed the helpers to spread out between the stretch of beach between the Bluebird Café and Sea Lane.

Nine year old Lewis Yates was participating as part of his work towards a Blue Peter Badge in Conservation to add to his collection in other categories.

Although few large items of rubbish were found there was still much evidence of small plastic items, many of which were tucked under foliage, pebbles and rocks. The plastic bag charge seems to have had a significant impact from the evidence of this beach clean. Better wet wipe labelling and an awareness of ‘single use’ plastic items will hopefully improve the situation also going forward.

Jenny remarked that a small toy elephant she had found by the shore was similar to others from a consignment of soft toys that were lost at sea when four shipping containers went overboard in rough seas in 2004.