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.


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.

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.

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.

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’.


Highdown Gardens

Alex New the Plant Heritage Curator at Highdown Gardens came along to the Group’s April meeting not only to educate members regarding the wonderful collection of rare plants adorning the Gardens, but also to bring to life the fascinating history of this valued and unique chalk garden.

To an audience of 90 members and visitors Alex conveyed his extensive knowledge and demonstrating a keen sense of humour enthralled the Group with the colourful story of the many people who have contributed to this special place over the years.

In 1909 aristocratic banker Frederick Stern moved to the area and rented Highdown Tower with the intention of breeding racehorses. Stern married a lady called Sybil and the couple shared their time between the South Coast retreat and London. Soon Stern developed a passion, which eventually became an obsession, collecting plant specimens from worldwide destinations. Stern also commandeered other plant hunters such as George Forrest, Dora Stafford and Frank Kingdon-Ward to name but a few.

Whilst creating many hybrid flowers the couple became expert plant propagators and Stern became a member of the RHS and Sybil a suffragist activist for the Liberal Party. The fame of Highdown Gardens grew and by the 1930s botanists, plant hunters, gardeners, scientists and indeed the Royal Family were regular visitors.

During WW2 Stern became Group Commander of the West Sussex Home Guard and promoted to Colonel. Sybil was awarded the Victoria Medal of Honour (Horticulture). With his vast knowledge of plants Stern became interested in counting plant chromosomes and began learning techniques from scientists and eventually converting the cellar at Highdown into a laboratory.

In 1956 Stern was knighted for his services to horticulture and in 1960 published a much acclaimed book entitled ‘A Chalk Garden’ – passing away in 1967 aged 83 years. In 1968 Lady Sybil donated Highdown Gardens to Worthing Town Council but died just four years later. The couple’s legacy is the beautiful Chalk Garden at Highdown that can still be enjoyed by visitors today.

In recent years more than £800,000 of lottery funding has enabled staff to make significant improvements enabling garden experts to catalogue, preserve and propagate the hundreds of rare species that grow in this important Garden. The welcome addition of a new visitor’s centre and walkways have all been created, along with a wheelchair accessible sensory garden.

A short AGM followed a break for refreshments with Chairman David Bettiss giving thanks to Michael Brown, the Group’s former Membership Secretary, for his significant contribution who has now sadly resigned from the committee due to poor health. The remaining committee members were re-elected unopposed, with Peter Coe being elected as a new member.

A Nature Notes session presented by Graham Tuppen followed the AGM with news of Common Whitethroats, Moorhens, a Water Vole and a Mallard Duck’s nest (just above the water level) being spotted along the banks of the Rife. The first Swallows of the year had been seen. A white Starling was spotted amongst a flock foraging near the Rife (this is caused by of lack of melanin – a pigment responsible for black and grey colouring in the feathers). Graham informed the audience that the Bluebells were all out in Patching Woods and a Nature Walk was planned there on 4th May.

To conclude the meeting Ed Miller was able to advise members that planning applications for a property at The Grove had been refused permission by Arun DC together with ‘Haystacks’ in Sea Lane. The Group were jubilant to hear that the housing estates proposed at Kingston Lane, Kingston and also at Highdown Vineyard had also been refused.



A Presentation by Students from St Oscar Romero School

Ferring Conservation Group were treated to an accomplished presentation by three very able students from St Oscar Romero School in Goring-by-Sea at the Group’s March meeting, accompanied by their teacher Mr Phil Dean.

This event marked the beginning of a joint venture where FCG and the school will work together on projects, learning from each other as they go.

Elliot Meakins, T Chaffer and Robson Seljan are all members of the ‘Fingerprint Ambassadors’ which initially had 4 members and swiftly grew to over 40, all with the same aspirations to work towards a sustainable and environmentally aware future.
Elliot began by explaining why ‘Fingerprint’ and not ‘Footprint’ was chosen. He explained that there are 100 fingerprints in 1 footprint and therefore carbon fingerprints are far more desirable than carbon footprints. Elliot’s message was to take every opportunity to reinforce this in day to day activities, on or offline, social media and in person and to always set an example by your actions.
In Robson’s part of the presentation he was keen for us to take on board and implement energy conservation by switching off lights, sourcing eco-friendly technology in the home and by simply walking instead of using the car. He left us with the disturbing thought that before long there will be more plastic bottles than fish in the ocean!
T’s message was the distressing impact that greenhouse gases are having on the planet, and the race that world leaders are part of to combat or at the very least lower these to a minimum. T’s dream is to live in a world with a nice healthy habitat because the planet deserves our love and care forever and a day.
The students provided an informative and thought provoking window into their vision for a greener future. Their abundant message was that ‘Knowledge is Power’ and with great attention to detail we can indeed turn around our past mistakes and make good and ecologically sound decisions in the future.
Phil Dean then took to the floor to tell members about the John Muir Award scheme that the students were working towards. This scheme focuses on wild places and has 4 challenges, discover/explore/conserve and share. Phil explained that John Muir was the man responsible for the setting up of the country’s National Parks starting with the Peak District in 1951 and finally the South Downs here in Sussex in 2010.
A questions and answers session concluded the first half of the meeting in which the students further impressed members in their knowledge and confidence to tackle everything they were asked. Fingerprints not Footprints badges were awarded to all who posed a question.
After a break for refreshments the popular Nature Notes session was delivered by Graham Tuppen. Beginning with welcome signs of spring, Graham gave news of sightings of Celandines in bloom, Wild Primroses, Wood Anemones and a Nuthatch was spotted along with a Tree Creeper in the Plantation. Also a shy Water Vole was glimpsed along the banks of the Rife. A short but amazing video was then shown featuring a fight between 2 White-tailed Sea Eagles in the sky above the RSPB Pulborough Brooks. This display was between a young eagle that was encroaching on the older eagle’s territory – an interesting addition to this much loved section of the meeting.
Ed Miller drew the meeting to its conclusion with local planning news. He highlighted the fact that there were several planning applications for housing estates still awaiting a decision by Arun DC.