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.


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.

Presentation on Ferring’s WWII defences including the Pill Box

Some pictures of the recent excellent presentation by committee member Pete Coe on Ferring’s WWII defences, and particularly the Pill Box on Patterson’s Walk. This included an update on its current joint restoration project with Ferring History Group, which is progressing well.

For information, Pete has also written a book on the subject which should be published before Christmas with all proceeds going to the restoration fund. Watch out for more details of the exact publication date and how to obtain a copy.

Ferring History Group and Ferring Conservation Group – (A Joint Project to clear and make safe the Pill Box on Patterson’s Walk)

As one of the few remaining Pill Box beach defences along the West Sussex coastline, this strategic structure was erected by the Royal Engineers in 1941 as part of the beach defences known as the coastal crust. Ferring lies in the middle of the West Sussex section of the German invasion plans, code named Operation Sea Lion.

It was felt by both Groups that it would be worthwhile to dry out and make the Pill Box safe inside as it would be of interest to residents and to local school children, especially year six pupils as WW2 is taught as part of the National Curriculum.

The steel entrance door had to be opened and a new lock fitted before the nine inches of water that covered the floor could be removed. As the water could not be pumped out it was tested to ascertain its source and it proved that this was rain water, and had not been flooded by seawater during high tides.

With guidance from Ferring Conservation Group committee member Pete Coe, himself a former officer of the Royal Engineers, a line of volunteers each with a bucket met on Patterson’s Walk on the morning of Friday 28th July. Under Pete Coe’s direction a human chain was formed between the Pill Box along the beach towards the sea and the muddy water was removed and bucketful after bucketful was passed along the line and dispersed along the beach.  Grateful thanks go to West Worthing MP Sir Peter Bottomley and Arun district councillors Mark Turner and Lesley-Anne Lloyd together with the many other volunteers, including one of the youngest members of Ferring Conservation Group, 11 year old Eoin Kearns, whose strength and enthusiasm matched that of any of the adults present.

Once the roof had been properly sealed the next stage of the project was to open up the bricked-up embrasures where the guns were mounted and install either vandal-proof glass or Perspex. This will enable visitors to appreciate the view the soldiers had from inside the Pill Box.

As well as leading the practical work Pete Coe will continue with further research with assistance from Martin Mace the author of Frontline Sussex: Defence Lines of West Sussex 1939-1945 who was also one of the volunteers helping with the practical work on the 28th July.



The Changing Chalk Partnership – Part 2 (History and Heritage in the South Downs)

Gary Webster, a Heritage Officer with the National Trust, on his second visit to the Group delivered part 2 of The Changing Chalk Partnership. This time around Gary focused on the human history and archaeology of the downland of East Sussex. He recalled the geology of the Downs, the remnants of the huge chalk dome that covered most of south-east England, and the flints found  in the chalk that served as tools for the Neolithic settlers over 5,000 years ago, enabling them to clear the forests and begin some sort of agriculture. Their ‘causeway enclosures’ are still visible in aerial photographs. The Bronze Age farmers who followed them buried their leaders in great hillocks of soil and chalk, the ‘barrows’ that are to be seen all over the East Sussex Downs.

Gary went on to show the hill forts of the Iron Age, the Roman camps and villas and the early Norman castles, and running quickly thorough the Saxon settlements, the agricultural revolution of the 18th century and the military occupations in both world wars. All these had let their imprint on the landscape. He was leading a project in East Sussex to locate, map, identify, monitor and protect these ancient monuments, using volunteers. This was giving a great deal of enjoyment to the volunteers and making an important contribution to conservation.

Pete Coe gave an update on the work to conserve Ferring’s WW2 Pill Box on the seafront – earlier in the day Ferring’s own ‘Monument Monitors’ formed a human chain along the beach from the Pill Box towards the sea and the volunteers managed to remove 800 litres of rainwater from the floor of this important structure, to enable further work to be done.

Graham Tuppen gave his regular report on local wildlife, highlighting the 19 species of butterflies identified by Ferring Group members on Cissbury Ring for the Big Butterfly Count. Graham also reported on a colony of wall lizards sighted at West Worthing station.

Ed Miller gave the planning report – the Goring Gap now safe from the developers and some good decisions by Arun District Council and the Planning Inspectors on appeal.

Butterfly Count at Cissbury Ring

On Tuesday 18th July members of Ferring Conservation Group, led by Clive Hope,Graham Tuppen and Jackie Hall, met at Cissbury Ring to take part in the Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count.

Gatekeeper Butterfly

It was a lovely sunny day, with only a gentle breeze, so the conditions were favourable and in all 19 varieties of butterflies, 3 of moths, with numbers of some species well into the 20s. The Group saw Large, Small and Marbled White, Brimstone, Small Copper, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Common and Chalkhill Blue, Brown Argus, Speckled Wood, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Wall Brown, Dark Green Fritillary, and Small and Essex Skipper Butterflies, and 6-Spot Burnet, Silver Y and Common Crimson and Gold Moths.

The wildflowers were many and varied, and birds spotted included Goldfinches, a Kestrel, Red Kite and a young Redstart.

The Group also saw the New Forest ponies that grazing freely playing an important part in restoring the iconic features of the landscape. The ponies eat away at dead grass and overgrowing shrubs which help to make space for wild flowers and allows wildlife to bloom.

Everyone agreed that the event was a delightful 2 hours of gentle exercise in a lovely setting with great company.

(Photographs courtesy of Peter Dale)


A Sussex Scrapbook 2

On 30 June Ferring Conservation Group had another talk by Sussex historian Chris Horlock – on some of the curious things to be seen in the county’s churches and graveyards, on village signs, in records of its folklore, old recipes and health cures.

He began with St Bartholomew’s Church in Brighton, an enormous building, in brick. A photograph of it under construction in 1874 showed how it dwarfed all its neighbours, including all other churches in the town. Rather dull on the outside, the interior was a ‘High Church’ masterpiece of architecture and decoration – more like a cathedral than a parish church. He went from there to possibly the smallest church in England at Lullington, near Alfriston, a mere 16ft by 16ft. And on to Isfield. Burton, Boxgrove, each with curious features, and the gravestone at Walberton depicting a tree falling on the deceased and our own carrier-pigeon memorial in Worthing.

Chris moved on to Sussex health cures, including mistletoe tea, red flannel dressings, keeping a potato in your pocket, swallowing live frogs and ‘bumping the corpse’ to revive the apparently dead; then to some enigmatic village signs and some very strange recipes. It was a fascinating collection of photographs, facts and anecdotes from the Sussex heritage that needs conservation just as much as its countryside and wildlife.

Also, very enjoyable was the news from the Court of Appeal, only a few hours earlier, that Persimmon had lost their case on Chatsmore Farm – their last opportunity to overturn Worthing Council’s refusal of the developer’s application for a 485-house estate in the north Goring Gap. Ed Miller said this was a landmark judgment which would protect the other green spaces along Littlehampton Road.



Barn Owls and the Sussex Barn Owl Study Group

On a return visit to Ferring Conservation Group Stuart Card gave an interesting and informative presentation, this time on Barn Owls and the vital work that is being carried out by the Sussex Barn Owl Study Group under the umbrella of the Sussex Ornithology Society.

Stuart shared his enthusiasm for this attractive little owl and began by advising members that populations had declined (it is believed that changing agricultural practices and the development of barns and old buildings could be the cause of this) while the introduction of owl nesting boxes is helping the species and encouragingly they are now recovering.

Stuart advised the audience that it is crucial to maintain ongoing and consistent monitoring of the Sussex Barn Owl population. The Study Group regularly ring birds and record their nest sites and are always on the lookout for volunteers to help erect new nest boxes. With around 90% of Barn Owls now breeding in nest boxes stringent management will enable these charming birds to thrive and increase in number.

Barn Owls are avid hunters and scour open grassland for small mammals such as voles, mice, shrews and rats assisted by their incredible long-distance vision, sensitive hearing and silent flight. Female Barn Owls are larger than males and usually breed between March and August (this usually depends on food supply). Around 4 to 6 eggs are laid, hatching just over a month later and chicks are ready to fledge at around two months old.

Graham Tuppen took to the floor after a break for refreshments with news that he had ventured up to Highdown Gardens and had been amazed at the flowers of the Handkerchief Tree with its beautiful white flowers on display, his photograph did indeed look just like handkerchiefs hanging on its branches. Graham reported that Comfrey was growing amongst the Cow Parsley on the banks of the Rife and the Blackthorn and Hawthorn were in bloom. Yellow Flag Iris were in the Lagoons and Marsh Orchids were on display in this area too. A Mallard Duck with 4 ducklings were seen plus Moorhens with their young but sadly there had been a report of an injured Little Owl in the Plantation. There had also been a sighting of 3 dolphins around 200 metres out to sea off the Bluebird Café area of the beach.

Ed Miller concluded the May meeting with a planning update and advised the Group that a planning application had been submitted to Arun DC for rebuild of a property in Ferring Close and at 1, Sea Drive an additional house in the back garden. Ed advised that Persimmon were still awaiting a decision from the Court of Appeal regarding their further appeal.

Ed reported that apart from these it was ‘All quiet on the Western and Eastern Front’.


Visit to Warnham Nature Reserve 25th May

In fond memory of their good friend and knowledgeable Committee member Tricia Hall, members of Ferring Conservation Group met up at Warnham Nature Reserve in Horsham. The Reserve was a special place for Tricia and her late husband Mike, and it was good to have their two daughters, Jackie and Amanda join the Group – it is planned to make this an annual event during the month of May.

Members headed towards the impressive Discovery Hub where Chairman David Bettiss spoke about Tricia’s outstanding contribution to the Group and how much members had learnt from her over the years. It was agreed by everyone that she is sorely missed and it will be a struggle to keep up her high standards.

Led by Clive Hope members entered the first hide to view the numerous bird feeders where a greedy male pheasant alongside a Stock Dove were foraging for loose seed on the ground, Great and Blue Tits, Greenfinches, and a Goldcrest were happily consuming seed from the feeders while Clive alerted the Group to the sound of a nearby Blackcap.

A pair of Great Crested Grebe with two young ‘grebelings’, a Greylag Goose, 4 Heron, a Moorhen, Coots, Mallards, Herring Gulls, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and a pair of Common Terns were all spotted as the Group passed by the millpond.

In the Shelley Wildlife Garden and alongside the boardwalks the Cow Parsley was particularly evident together with Yellow Archangel, Red Campion, Ragged Robin, Greater and Lesser Stitchwort, Bugle and Meadow Cranes Bill. Also Marsh Marigolds, Germander Speedwell, Cuckoo Flower, Yellow Rattle, Hemlock Water Dropwort, Flag Iris and Ladies Bedstraw (these frothy, yellow flowers have sweet, honey-like scent and have many medicinal uses).

At a further hide the Group were greeted by the sight of Reed Warblers, Chiffchaffs, a Song Thrush, a pair of Blackbirds, a Wren, a Robin and a male and female Great Spotted Woodpecker were busy at the feeders together with a Marsh Tit, a Woodpigeon, a Magpie, a Crow and a few Starlings.

As the Group headed back they could hear a loud commotion coming from the direction of the millpond. As their curiosity got the better of them they headed towards it and were rewarded by the fascinating display from a group of Marsh Frogs noisily proclaiming their places in the millpond (to make this noise they inflate two vocal sacs making them look like they are blowing bubble-gum out of their ears).

Members took advantage of the Heron’s Rest Café to enjoy refreshments, and all agreed that Warnham Nature Reserve is indeed a special place and a fitting and peaceful environment in which to remember such a talented couple.

A Walk in Patching Woods to view the Bluebells

On Thursday 4th May 9 members of Ferring Conservation Group, with their trusted guide Graham Tuppen, set off from France Lane into Patching woods to view particularly the bluebells and other springtime flowers. They were delighted to find the native bluebells at their best, forming a delightfully scented blue carpet. There were also Wood Anemones, Primroses, Wild Garlic, Red Campion, Violets, Wood Spurge, Celandines, Yellow Archangel, Dogs Mercury, Lords and Ladies (also known as Cuckoo-pint), and Ground Ivy. They were also delighted to find a good colony of Early Purple Orchids just coming to their best.

Whilst the weather was not sunny enough for butterflies, the Group were fortunate to see several birds including a Red Kite being mobbed by Crows, a Buzzard, numerous Tits and Robins in full song, a Goldfinch and a Whitethroat. A Woodpecker and Blackcap were heard but not seen. A deer was spied in the woods, but only the head was visible above the undergrowth, so the Group were unable to see whether it was a Roe or Fallow deer.

Graham’s plan to extend the walk west and north of the woods was foiled by the path being too muddy to be safely negotiated, but members were grateful that the weather remained dry during the visit.