Shoreham Beach Vegetation Walk and June Group Meeting

On a very sunny Friday 17th June, some 20 members of Ferring Conservation Group met at Shoreham Fort mainly to look at plants growing on the vegetated shingle, one of the few places in the country where this eco-system is found.

Led by Graham Tuppen members were able to find 16 of the 18 plants on their list, including Sea Kale, Red Valerian, Common and Tree Mallow, Yellow Horned Poppy, Vipers Bugloss, Kidney Vetch, Silver Ragwort, Purple Toadflax, Thrift, and Starry-headed Clover. Surprisingly, given the sunny weather, the only butterfly seen was a painted lady but several wall and sand lizards were evident.

The speaker at the Group’s June meeting was Kevin Newman, a local historian, tour guide and author of a wide range of books on Sussex. His subject was ‘Scrumptious Sussex’, taking members on a tour of the county East and West, showing images of historic pubs, hotels, restaurants and breweries and telling fascinating stories about Sussex specialities of food and drink, and the people who consumed them.

As in Worthing town’s motto, ‘From the earth fullness, from the sea good health’, Kevin pointed to Sussex agriculture and Sussex fisheries as what sustained the county and its many visitors past and present. Eating and drinking was always important for social occasions and celebrations, as a picture of a VE Day street party showed, and an essential component of the attraction of resorts like Brighton and Worthing.

Seaside fish and chips, he said, was brought to Britain by Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe, and the first curry house in Britain was opened in Brighton, as well as the first fast food establishment and the first rooftop restaurant. And the popular dessert, ‘Banoffee pie’ was invented by Ian Dowding, a chef at a restaurant in Jevington, East Sussex, in 1971.

Brighton, he said, was always an important centre for food and drink – for its fishing as well as its prodigious consumption. Long before its seaside trade, the by the Prince Regent (later George IV).

After the talk, Graham Tuppen showed slides of the vegetated shingle at Shoreham Beach, which a number of Group members had visited the previous day (please see above).

Ed Miller concluded the meeting with an update on the planning issues in and around Ferring: Including the six housing estates that developers propose for the green gaps, the commercial development up McIntyre’s Lane as well as a new application for a house in Grange Park – to be built in three storeys and in a totally unsympathetic modernist design, both overlooking and overbearing on its neighbours.

 

A Sussex Scrapbook – a talk by Christopher Horlock

Ferring Conservation Group was delighted when Chris Horlock stepped in at very short notice to speak at their monthly Group meeting on 27th May. With an illustrated talk entitled ‘A Sussex Scrapbook’ Chris regaled members with an enchanting mix of anecdotes regarding famous people with a connection to Sussex, details of local historic buildings and landmarks, local traditions and folklore as well as traditional ‘health cures’, legends, tales and mysteries. Chris cleverly linked these stories to paint a vivid picture of the attitudes, beliefs and outlooks of the generations that lived in our cherished county in years gone by. As a much respected local historian Chris contributes regularly to Sussex Life and is the author of several books on Sussex history. As a natural story teller Chris has graced the airways on radio and has also appeared on television. Chris began his talk with interesting details of the Priest House at West Hoathly on the edge of the Ashdown Forest. It was once owned by Henry VIII and now has over 170 culinary, medicinal and household herbs planted in the garden. There are witch marks scratched into wood in several places in the house including the front door and on the beam above the main fireplace. These are known as apotropaic marks dating back to the 17th century and were believed to prevent witches from entering the house. Set into the ground outside the front door is a rough slab of iron which is waste from a local furnace and this was also believed to serve the same purpose (witches were commonly believed to be scared of iron).

The Long Man of Wilmington was the basis of another of Chris’s many stories. This giant figure is 235 feet (72 metres) tall and stands proudly on the steep slopes of Windover Hill near Wilmington, East Sussex. The origins of the Long Man are unclear and it was once thought to have been from Neolithic times but it could be as late as the 16th or 17th century AD. From a distance the figure seems to have been carved from the underlying chalk but the modern figure is formed from white-painted breeze blocks and lime mortar. With many other facts and stories relayed to his captivated audience Chris brought his talk to a conclusion by raising a chuckle with the photograph of a sign seen on the front gate of a Sussex property: ‘Trespassers will be Composted!’

After a break for tea Graham Tuppen presented the Nature Notes slot updating members on local wildlife sightings and happenings. Graham paid tribute to Tricia Hall who had devised and presented this slot for the past eight years and acknowledged that he indeed had big shoes to fill. Graham began by showing a photograph of the shingle beds along Patterson’s Walk, which Tricia regularly tended, along with the boat at the top of Sea Lane which was looking pretty with many Red and White Valerian. Also the lagoons had many Yellow Flag Irises and along the banks of the Rife Marsh Orchids and Twayblades (an easily overlooked orchid recognisable by their two large leaves and yellow/green flowers) were thriving. There have been several types of orchids seen in the vicinity including Bee Orchids. Three Painted Lady butterflies (a migrant butterfly from Morocco) were seen during the recent Beach Clean (at which very little litter was reported). Graham was delighted to inform members that masses of tadpoles were seen around the footbridge area of the Rife and Clive Hope reported having seen three Bee-eater birds over Angmering.

Ed Miller concluded the meeting announcing that there had been no further planning news with the exception that Worthing BC had received consent for a Judicial Review into HM Planning Inspector’s decision to allow the Chatsmore Farm planning application.

 

My Summer with Swifts, Swallows and Martins – a talk by Paul Stevens

Ferring Conservation Group were delighted to once again welcome Paul Stevens into their midst, this time in a new role as an Ecological Consultant after leaving his post as manager at the WWT Arundel.

Paul has a passion for Swifts, Swallows and Martins and began by explaining the distinctive differences between these beautiful little birds. The Swallow has a forked tail with long tapered feathers and a black head with a red chin strap. Swifts have shorter, forked, tails but confusingly they look quite similar to Martins. However, they are dark brown all over while House Martins have white bellies and rumps. Swifts are the high-fliers and spend their lives in the air sleeping, mating and drinking on the wing and avoid coming anywhere near the ground. Swifts enter their nests via little slots leading into cavities within roofs, buildings or cliffs. These noisy birds can be seen swooping or gliding at high altitude and they are particularly noisy and active around nesting colonies.

Swallows dart and glide, often low to the ground and tweet and chirp from perches. They are fond of barns and other outbuildings. They look for a ledge or a beam among roof timbers and they then build a cup-shaped nest of mud that’s difficult for predators to spot. They can be spotted flying low to the ground over lowland fields and meadows but especially near lakes and rivers where there are lots of insects – they also make good use of wet mud for nest building.

House Martins have shorter wings than Swallows or Swifts and are more active in the mornings and evenings usually in flocks, fluttering in and out of house eaves, chirruping softly. Like Swallows they collect mud to build cup-shaped nests but mostly go for outside eaves rather than inside beams. Wetlands and lakeshores are popular with House Martins who like to prey on flying insects such as midges, mayflies, damselflies and dragonflies.

To support his enthusiasm for these fascinating birds Paul has crafted artificial nests which he has secured to false eaves on his house near Bury, West Sussex – these nests are available for the public to buy and can be purchased directly from Paul to encourage these important migrants.

Paul showed several videos of chicks in the nest all taken from cameras sited at his house including a stunning photograph of a Swallow at sunset.

After a break for tea Ed Miller took to the floor and a short AGM took place with all existing committee members re-elected unopposed, with the exception of Tricia Hall who sadly had to resign due to ill health.

The Nature Notes slot was taken by Graham Tuppen who gave news of local bird sightings such as Wheatears, White Throats, Willow and Reed Warblers. A Great Skewer, White-tailed Eagle and White Stork had all been spotted in the vicinity as well as eight or so ducklings on the Rife. Two seals had been seen at Goring and David Bettiss had discovered a hedgehog in his garden. Sadly a Smoothhound Shark member had been washed up on Ferring Beach. A walk to view the Bluebells in Patching Woods was led by Graham earlier in the week and had proved a great success, with masses of Bluebells evident as well as Wood Anemones and Early Purple Orchids.

Ed Miller concluded the meeting with the alarming news that a possible five new housing estates had plans either already submitted or in the throes of being so – Chatsmore Farm (which had gone forward for a Judicial Review), Roundstone Farm (gone to appeal) and Rustington Golf Centre (new plan reduced to 126 properties). There were applications expected imminently for Highdown Vineyard (112 houses) and for Lansdowne Nursery (72 houses).

 

 

The White Stork Project

We welcomed Lucy Groves, a conservation biologist with a special interest in movement ecology to our March meeting. Lucy is currently employed by the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust as the project officer for the White Stork Project, and is based at the Knepp Castle Estate.

Lucy began by sharing her enthusiasm for the Stork Project which is a pioneering partnership working together to restore a population of breeding White Storks in Southern England after an absence of several centuries. A number of private landowners, namely Knepp, Wadhurst and Wintershall, located in West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey respectively are helping to establish a breeding population of free-living White Stocks in Britain once again.

This project is being carried out in partnership with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, Cotswold Wildlife Park, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and overseas at Warsaw Zoo. The named estates have constructed purpose built predator-proof pens covering about six acres each. A total of 166 rehabilitated wild-fledged White Storks from Poland, as well as a number form Northern France, have been released into these pens over the course of the last three years, in order to establish local breeding populations.

Lucy was keen to update the Group with the progress so far at Knepp and was delighted to announce that in early April 2020 five eggs were confirmed in a nest built high up in an oak tree with the eggs hatching in early May.

The project has fitted GPS trackers to a proportion of their released birds and these devices collect data to help determine home ranges, habitat choice, foraging strategies, distance moved per day etc.

White storks are particularly associated with the county of Sussex. For instance the Saxon name for the village of Storrington was originally ‘Estorchestone’; meaning ‘the village of storks’. A pair of white storks still features on the village emblem.

After a break for refreshments David Bettiss delivered Trisha Hall’s Nature Notes session and it was encouraging to hear that several species of butterfly had been seen locally; Commas, Tortoiseshell, Brimstone, Red Admiral, Small Whites, Orange Tips and Holly Blue. The Red Kites were thriving and as many as eleven had been spotted high above Beachy Head and it is thought that they have new breeding territories. Many waders had already returned to their breeding grounds in Europe. Chiff Chaffs are the first migrant birds to be seen here when five were sighted in the vicinity of the Rife, along with Green Finches. To the delight of local birdwatchers a rare Desert Wheatear had been reported on the Goring Gap and plenty of frog spawn and tadpoles were evident in the lagoons by the Rife – David also has a newt in his garden pond. Pretty yellow Celandines were plentiful throughout the village especially in Clover Lane, and magnificent Magnolia trees in full bloom were gracing many gardens. The Blackthorn was in bloom locally and Arun DC have confirmed wildflower beds were to be seeded in the public green spaces throughout the village.

Ed Miller concluded the meeting with the devastating news that Persimmon Homes had won their appeal to HM Planning Inspectorate and had now been given the go ahead to build 475 homes on the Chatsmore Farmland at the Northern Goring Gap – although this may be challenged by Worthing BC in the High Court. It was likely however that other large scale planning applications may be revived in view of this decision. The Highdown Vineyard planning application has already surfaced again and a Public Consultation had been planned in the Village Hall on 30th March. There has been a back-garden development proposed for a property on the corner of Sea Lane Gardens and Greenways Crescent, and a property already undergoing renovation has submitted a planning application for a 4-bed house in its back garden.

 

 

 

For the Love of Birdsong

As an RSPB Project Manager by day and Wildlife Gardener in his spare time, Adrian Thomas has always been aware of Birdsong as the natural soundtrack to our lives. It can evoke an emotional and powerful sense of time, place and season and it is not just a highly accurate way to identify and find many birds, but also a great source of joy to many nature lovers.

Adrian opened the Group’s first meeting of 2022. He is the first to acknowledge that identifying which bird is making which sound can seem a challenge, and he is keen for us to explore ways that we can learn to train our ears to get to grips with this.

Over time Adrian has made recordings of bird sounds from all over the UK and was dismayed at the constant background of ‘sound litter’ – planes, motor bikes, farm generators and sheep, to name but a few.

He explained that as we have few adjectives to describe sound a sonogram can help us learn to identify songs by ear by showing how the frequency (pitch) goes up and down, as well as the length of notes.  He encouraged members to appreciate not only the beautiful song like sounds of a bird attempting to attract a mate, but also the more intriguing sounds; such as the difference between a bird attempting to defend a territory – also to distinguish between different species.

With a further feather in his cap (please excuse the pun!) Adrian helped to create the RSPB music single entitled ‘Let Nature Sing’ which was released in 2019. It proved extremely popular and reached number 18 in the charts and was given regular airtime on Radio 2.

Tricia Hall took to the floor after the customary break for refreshments and reported that Water Rails had been spotted on the Rife as well as two Little Egrets. Also Cattle Egrets had been breeding at Pagham Harbour. Tricia reminded members to count the birds that visited their gardens for the period of one hour over the coming weekend and to record their findings on the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch website. The results would contribute to this important nationwide survey and is an important indicator as to the state of our key breeding and non-breeding bird populations.

To conclude the meeting Ed Miller advised members that the Public Enquiry into the Persimmon planning application at the Chatsmore Farm site on the North Goring Gap had now closed but he warned that the Inspector’s decision could take some weeks or possibly months.

 

 

Rewilding ‘A Personal View’

Neil Hulme MBE, a member of the Knepp Wildland Advisory Board, opened the last meeting of the year with a fascinating presentation on his personal view of Rewilding. This independent role gives Neil an insight into how existing and future opportunities can benefit nature to help preserve precious countryside and wildlife. Neil’s vision is to restore ecosystems, letting nature take the lead, whilst creating opportunities for new nature-based economies. Neil explained that landowners, by setting aside large areas for nature, through to the smallest wildlife-friendly city garden, can all play an important role in leaving a positive legacy for future generations. Connecting up habitats by providing wildlife bridges can help wildlife move and disperse naturally, allowing them to adapt to climate change and build resilience. Marine ecosystems are just as important to restore and Neil gave an excellent example with the Sussex Kelp Restoration Project off the South Coast. As from March this year the nearshore seabed is now protected from bottom-towed trawling gear, and there is evidence that in this short time the kelp is already showing signs of a good recovery.

Neil used the Knepp Castle Estate as a prime example of letting go and allowing nature to take over. Several species of bats plus Turtle Doves, Nightingales, Ravens and Peregrine Falcons for example are all evident within a few years of starting the project. To help finance the upkeep of the Estate eco-tourism has been embraced by conducting on site vehicle-based safaris and walking tours along with camping facilities.

After welcome cups of tea and customary mince pies, Tricia Hall gave the Group news that a Kingfisher had been spotted by the Rife, north of the bridge by Ferring Country Centre and similarly a Water Rail in the same vicinity. Also a Snow Bunting had been seen on the beach at Worthing opposite Marine Gardens and also a Grey Seal had been observed swimming unusually close to the shore.

Ed Miller took to the floor briefly to conclude the meeting, with news that the two planning applications for housing on Rustington Golf Centre and Roundstone Farm had both been refused by Arun District Council. Of the three applications north of the A259, two had been refused and one withdrawn by the applicant. The two applications to add a further storey to houses in South Ferring were both approved.

British Alstroemeria and the UK Cut Flower Industry

To open their October meeting Ben Cross, from Crosslands Flower Nursery in Walberton near Arundel, came along to tell members and visitors about his mission to challenge the UK’s dependence on imported flowers and to promote British grown Alstroemeria. Ben began by explaining that more than 90% of the UK’s cut flowers are shipped in from overseas at considerable cost to the environment. They mostly arrive from the Netherlands although a surprisingly significant proportion originate in Kenya.

Ben is a fourth generation Alstroemeria grower and when his great-grandfather began in 1936 under the Land Settlement Association (LSA) there were many market gardens established. These small holdings were run as a cooperative but recruitment to the scheme ceased at the outbreak of World War II. Crosslands are one of the last larger growers left in the UK producing Alstroemeria in a full colour range all year-round, with over 50 varieties and sustainability remains the backbone of their operating model.  The added bonus is the British flowers last for at least two to three weeks in a vase and are sold at half the price of supermarket ones.

At Crosslands no chemicals or plastic are used on the flowers or the packaging and therefore the carbon footprint of British grown flowers is a lot less than imported ones. Ben is also spearheading a campaign to improve labelling on flowers sold in the UK.

Tricia Hall took to the floor after a break for refreshments to tell the Group all about a recent walk following the RSPB Pulborough Brooks Fungi Trail where she had lead a group of 14 FCG members. While exhibiting many fascinating photographs Tricia explained the importance of these adaptive organisms and the crucial role they play in their ability to digest material by breaking down organic matter, and recycling nutrients. Although the amount of Fungi found was a little disappointing members had enjoyed their walk at this interesting and vibrant time of year.

Ed Miller concluded the meeting by updating the audience with news on the planning front. He advised that although there had been many planning applications submitted on all fronts they were still mainly in the pipeline and remained undecided by Arun DC. Relatively few proposals had received approval although 3 properties in South Ferring were sanctioned for additional upper levels.

 

The White-tailed Sea Eagle Project on the Isle of Wight

After a gap of nineteen months Ferring Conservation Group were at last able to hold their monthly Group meeting.

To open the meeting project manager Steve Egerton-Read from Forestry England had journeyed over from the beautiful Isle of Wight to give a brief history of the White-tailed Sea Eagles and the latest news regarding the reintroduction of this incredible bird.

Steve began by explaining that the White-tailed Sea Eagle is the UK’s largest bird of prey, with a huge wing span of up to 2.5 metres. The wings are very broad and appear more rectangular than those of a Golden Eagle and as their name suggests they have a white tail, a hooked yellow beak, yellow legs and talons along with piercing golden eyes. They were once widespread along the South Coast of England before being driven to extinction by relentless persecution from the Middle-Ages.

Licences were granted by Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage to begin an English reintroduction, in partnership with Forestry England, based on the Isle of Wight.

Re-establishing a population on the South Coast will help link populations in Scotland and Ireland with those in the Netherlands and France.

In partnership with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England, this five year programme has reintroduced six young birds that were translocated from nests in parts of Scotland. It is hoped they will eventually help facilitate dispersal of these birds along the South Coast.  Before their release the youngsters were cared for by a team of experts with dedicated volunteers spending over 500 hours preparing food etc. Once released these birds will take several years to establish themselves and begin breeding but meanwhile their movements can be tracked remotely via the small transmitters fitted to each bird.

The success of this project will be measured when this magnificent bird is accepted as part of the landscape.

After a short break Ed Miller took to the floor advising members of the many planning applications either recently submitted or awaiting decisions:

Ed advised members that there were 2 applications for a third storey to be added to existing properties; 1 demolition and to rebuild in three storeys and 1 three storey rebuild that had been withdrawn but was likely to return. Also three further partial replacement illuminated signs at Yeoman’s car showroom.

In the Angmering area an application for 191 dwellings at Rustington Golf Centre and 76 dwellings at Roundstone Farm are both awaiting approval. An application by Redrow Homes for an ‘Agricultural’ road in Roundstone Farm has been approved by Arun DC.

The Appeal on the Chatsmore Farm/North Goring Gap development by Persimmon has been registered but with no details as yet on the grounds for the appeal.  It was also reported that the Worthing Local Plan is now with HM Inspector for consideration.

Tricia Hall concluded the meeting by updating members on news of local wildlife sightings. Tricia advised members that 28 Egrets had been seen in a field at the back of Kingston Gorse. She suggested that members look in the trees on the west bank of the Rife where several Egrets often roost along with Herons.

Also a number of wading birds have returned including Turnstones, Oyster Catchers, Dunlin and Plover. Although it has been a good year for Dragonflies it has not been the case for Butterflies with only Red Admiral being plentiful and a few Speckled Woods. Tricia had found a pretty Box Tree Moth in her garden. Despite their attractive appearance the caterpillars of this moth have desecrated many Box trees and hedges in the area.

Tricia illustrated her talk with a fascinating photograph of two mating dragonflies and also photographs of her beautiful garden demonstrating how she had created two wildflower beds simply by leaving two areas of her lawn unmown and then scattering a seed mix – she said she was amazed at the number of insects that these attracted.

It was also reassuring to see the high number of wildflowers on Highdown and at Anchor Bottom near Shoreham.

Online Talk ‘Pressing the Pause Button’ by Dr Tony Whitbread

Due to Government restrictions Ferring Conservation Group had to move their usual April monthly Group meeting online.

Chairman, David Bettiss opened the meeting and welcomed Dr Tony Whitbread, President of the Sussex Wildlife Trust (SWT) who gave a thought provoking and informative talk challenging the issues faced by nature in the 21st century. Dr Whitbread who retired as Chief Executive of SWT has recently returned to take a leading role as the Trust’s President.

To an attendance of over 30 members Dr Whitbread noted that while the human race was locked up in their rooms like naughty teenagers because of the pandemic, the natural world had flourished; the birds seemed to be singing louder, butterflies were plentiful and the sky seemed bluer with less air pollution. As towns and cities around the world lay in lockdown some animals took advantage of the situation. There were for example reports of goats in the gardens of Wales to penguins in the streets of South Africa. Therefore should we be asking ‘Has nature really blossomed or is it that humans have had the opportunity to observe it in all its wonder’?

Whilst it is generally true that human activity is damaging the environment this negative view is not always the case. Conservation Management, sensitive farming, sustainable forestry as well as gardening and looking after community green spaces are all positive interactions. Dr Whitbread posed the question that if nature is left alone aren’t we just rewilding? Apparently the rebuilding of natural systems and then encouraging it to lookj after itself is not the same as abandonment.

The major worry is that we should not have to wait for a pandemic to allow nature to recover.

David Attenborough gave us the alarming fact that currently 96% of mammals are either human or our livestock – only 4% make up all other mammals.

It is estimated that between 2 and 4 new viruses appear every year as nature has been pushed into its last corners. Whether it is in industrial farms, our destruction of ecosystems or in animal markets these diseases are increasingly crossing the species barriers and infecting humans. Unfortunately pandemics are a repercussion of our destruction of nature and they may now become a long-term feature of our lives unless we change our ways.

Dr Whitbread gave the warning that after we come out of Lockdown our new normal must be different and this is the main challenge to humanity for the foreseeable future. For this to happen we must firstly change our values. We must move away from consumerism and all that it encompasses and adopt higher values where society, empathy, helping and sharing become intrinsic, and our natural assets are cared for. We will need a carbon neutral, zero waste society and this will mean a significant growth in localism, becoming closer to our local place and to our local wildlife.

Having had the time and space to think about our environmental bad behaviour over the last decades we must now turn our full attention to leaving the ‘spoilt brat’ economy behind us. Dr Whitbread empathised that we go back to the old normal at our peril and one of the fundamental ways to make a difference is in the empowerment of women.

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Group Meeting – 28th February 2020

At their February meeting, members of Ferring Conservation Group turned out in good numbers to hear an excellent presentation by their own committee member and wildlife expert, Tricia Hall, on a recent organised trip to the wildlife rich country of Costa Rica in Central America.

They learnt that this country makes up just 0.1% of the world’s land mass but is home to 5% of its wildlife species, with many different climates and habitats which support in the region of 500,000 species of plants and animals. Incredibly, Tricia told the audience that there are around 50 species of Hummingbirds in Costa Rica and more butterfly species than in the whole of North America and Africa. Tricia said that the government had a very strong policy on conservation, saving money on defence and paying landowners to plant trees on their land.

The virtual tour of the country took the audience in an anticlockwise circular journey including both the coasts of the Caribbean and the Pacific oceans, as well as a wide variety of inland areas – the highlight of which was probably the volcanoes of the Arenal area in the west of the country. Some of the wildlife highlights illustrated by some brilliant photographs were such creatures as Iguanas, Caymans, Crocodiles, Toucans, Capuchin and Howler monkeys, as well as Sloths and a wide variety of exotic birds. Amazingly, many of these were seen within the grounds of the hotels where the party stayed.

One very amusing story Tricia told was about their coach driver who had to answer a call of nature behind a tree and when looking up he saw what turned out to be an Eyelash Pit Viper just above him. He didn’t stay close for too long!

It was a most enjoyable and entertaining talk, and was followed by a presentation by Julie Toben from local animal welfare organisation, WADARS, on the recent planning application to develop their rescue and re-homing centre in Hangleton Lane, Ferring. She outlined all the relevant points in the application, and carefully debunked a small number of negative comments made by others. At the conclusion, members voted on how the Group should formally respond to the application, and the 70+ members present voted unanimously to support it as an important and welcome addition to local animal welfare facilities.