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 Of the three applications north of the A259, two had been refused and one withdrawn by the applicant.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.!Ao7-AMX6cu_Xg5IRFFE7lJoNBTsSwQ

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.

Group Meeting – 31st January 2020

For the first meeting of 2020 Ferring Conservation Group, with a near record attendance, welcomed back Lee Morgan from Lutra Wildlife, a British Columbia based travel and Ecotourism Company offering guided natural history and wildlife holidays. On Lee’s second visit to the Group he gave a fascinating presentation entitled ‘The Natural History of the Canadian Rockies (Beyond the Roads and Rails).

Lee explained that to optimize your chances of spotting the iconic wildlife of the Canadian Rocky Mountains a lot has to do with luck and being in the right place at the right time given the vastness of the area. There are certain places where animals are known to frequent, but part of the magic is that you never know when you are going to see something. Many tourists to the region make the mistake of trying to cover a large area to see as much as possible not realising that this would entail hour upon hour of driving with little time to take in the spectacular scenery, let alone get close to any wildlife. Lee advised the audience that the best time of the year to witness wildlife in their natural habitat is during the slower tourist seasons of spring, autumn and winter. This is when many of the animals move to lower elevations and near towns for mating rituals and food. As an example he informed the audience that during the elk rutting season from mid-September through October the bulls concentrate in the lower elevation meadows to fight over females. The bulls are extremely aggressive at this time so it is advisable to keep your distance.

Autumn is also the time when bears are actively foraging as they need to put on as much fat as possible before going into hibernation. Bighorn sheep are visible all year round but autumn and winter are the best times to spot the males as they are actively searching for mates.

In the spring as the snow begins to thaw in the lower valleys, the wildlife can be seen foraging for grass along the road sides. You may see female elk grouped together in meadows with their new calves. Bighorn sheep and deer start to bring their young to the grassy areas as well. The odd bear can sometimes be seen as early as mid-March but most will start to come out of hibernation in late April.

As summer approaches the temperatures rise and this causes wildlife to head higher up the alpine terrain. Lee commented that, surprisingly, the lesser visited Jasper, Yoho and Kootenay National parks can offer some of the best opportunities to see wildlife. These parks have a lower level of tourist traffic and a more varied habitat than the area of Banff.

Lee illustrated his presentation with a series of stunning photographs.

Ed Miller took to the floor to give an update on planning issues by advising the Group that the application for an additional property in the grounds of Elm Lodge, Tamarisk Way had been refused by Arun DC. There are two new applications: at 40, Little Paddocks to demolish the existing property and build 2 x 3 bed detached chalet bungalows and a 3 bed residence has been proposed at the Equestrian centre alongside Littlehampton Road. The office block at McIntyre’s Lane and the extended delivery times at Quercus Nursery have not yet been decided.

Tricia Hall concluded the meeting with her popular Nature Notes saying that it had been reported on the television news that a byelaw is to be introduced to prevent trawlers from entering the kelp bed areas along the Sussex coast .This will hopefully result in these vitally important regions recovering over time. Tricia also reported that the National Big Bird Watch revealed that sparrows were the most plentiful bird seen followed by bluetits in second place.

Group Meeting – 29th November 2019

For the last monthly meeting of the Group in 2019 Ian Everest came along to enlighten us and also create some nostalgia with a fascinating film and narration of life on a Sussex downland farm. Ian’s interest in the history of Sussex farming dates back to his childhood, which was spent living on a 1,000 acre downland farm on which his father worked.

In his teenage years Ian worked on farms in the Ouse Valley before attending Plumpton Agricultural College. After further practical farm activity, he worked at a farm animal-disease research centre before entering into farming-related commercial activities.

His talk looked at life on Manor Farm, Bishopstone, during the 1950’s and is based on a cine film made by farmer John Willett. After attending the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester, John was keen to start modernising the farm by adopting new techniques and acquiring modern machinery.  His father was reluctant to change with the times, and the film gives an interesting insight into the demise of the old ways of farming practices and the gradual change with the introduction of modern labour saving machinery.

More than thirty men were employed on the farm at harvest time but reducing to twenty at other times of the year. It was a tough life with little financial reward for the workers, but the men were highly skilled in many aspects of their work. Skills not learnt at school or college, but passed down to them by their forbears.

Due to their differing ideas on running the farm, John and his father did not always see eye to eye, so the filming sessions had two purposes. Curiously one was to keep John occupied and away from his father (!) although it was soon apparent that the farm labourers worked much harder during the making of the cine film.

Sadly the farm was eventually split up and sold but some of the farm buildings still exist and have been converted into residential premises.

After attendees enjoyed tea and mince pies Tricia Hall and Graham Tuppen took to the floor to jointly present the popular Nature Notes slot. The renowned broadcaster and natural historian David Attenborough is supporting a campaign to help save the kelp forests off the Sussex coast. Kelp is the name given to a group of brown seaweeds; usually large in size and these plants are capable of forming dense aggregations in underwater forests.  Tricia and Graham were keen to inform members of the damage that has been caused to this most vulnerable biodiverse environment. According to one estimate, globally it can absorb about 600 million tonnes of carbon a year, twice as much as the UK emits annually. This campaign was launched by the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority to introduce an inshore trawler exclusion zone to help the kelp regenerate.

An impromptu collection in aid of the Woodland Trust appeal to ‘Plant a Tree to Save the World’ resulted in attendees donating £90 which will be matched from Ferring Conservation Group’s fund.

Ed Miller concluded the meeting with planning news and advised members that a revised planning application had been submitted by the owners of Elm Lodge in Tamarisk Way, Ferring for an additional property to be built in the back garden. Also the proposal for 465 homes to be built on the Northern Goring Gap is expected soon.

Group Meeting – 25th October 2019

Kate Bradbury, an award winning author and journalist was warmly welcomed to Ferring Conservation Group’s October meeting. Kate is the author of several books including ‘The Wildlife Gardener’ and is the editor of the wildlife pages of BBC Gardener’s World Magazine. She regularly writes articles for newspapers and often appears on BBC Spring and Autumn Watch programmes.

Kate is passionate about organic, wildlife-friendly gardening and can see the potential in our gardens for preserving many species. She gardens on a small patch of land in Brighton and delights in the wildlife it has attracted in a relatively short space of time. Her many tips include growing native plants (just one native tree can support hundreds of different species – providing flowers for pollinators, leaves for caterpillars and then seeds or fruit for birds in autumn). Kate explained that non-natives have a great role in gardens too – especially for pollinating insects, but it is the natives that attract the leaf munchers, such as caterpillars, that also need leaves to assist breeding. Being at the bottom of the food chain these invertebrates are vitally important to anything from hedgehogs to frogs, toads, newts, birds and bats. In a small garden Kate recommended forget-me-knots, primroses and foxgloves as ideal plants to attract pollinators and if you have the room for a tree, a Silver Birch or standard Hawthorn would be ideal. If a small pond is viable then it should be shallow for insects to breed and pebbles should be placed on one side to create a beach, so that birds and bees can drink from the water’s edge.

Graham Tuppen took the floor at the second half of the meeting to deliver the Nature Notes slot. He informed the audience that the lagoons by the Rife were at last full from the recent rainfall and went on to report that the wet fields had attracted plenty of wading birds and gulls. Parasol mushrooms were abundant along the Ilex with the flowering ivy keeping bees busy and were attractive for hoverflies and wasps. Also many acorns were evident as well as seed from sycamore and hawthorn trees; again very helpful for wildlife. Graham also reported the sighting of a seal in the sea near to the Bluebird Café.

Planning news concluded the meeting with Ed Miller reporting that the planning application submitted by Worthing Council for the erection of beach huts along the seafront in Goring-by-Sea, had been withdrawn. The two warehouse units proposed on land adjacent to McIntyre’s Lane had been refused by Arun DC, along with the additional house in the back garden of The Old Flint House within the Ferring conservation area. Ed also advised that Arun DC had received a new application by Peugeot for an advertising sign on the forecourt of their garage along the A259. It was also reported that according to Persimmon’s architect, present at the public consultation afternoon held on 7th October at the Assembly Rooms in Worthing, the submission of an outline planning application to Worthing DC and Arun DC for 465 homes in the Northern Goring Gap was imminent.

Group Meeting – 27th September 2019

Charlotte Owen from the Sussex Wildlife Trust (SWT) was welcomed to Ferring Conservation Group’s September meeting to tell members and visitors about her role as a Wild Call Officer, which she described as ‘the best job in the world’. Charlotte illustrated her talk with many delightful photographs.

Based at Wood Mills, the headquarters of the SWT, Charlotte mans a helpline for the 1.6 million residents of Sussex answering a huge variety of wildlife related questions. A lot can happen in a year and with between 1500 to 2000 inquiries it is a not only a very busy job but also a very interesting one.

As Sussex is blessed with contrasting landscapes such as the coastline, the South Downs, heathland, woodland and wetlands that attract a diverse range of wildlife there is never a dull moment. The seasons often give a clue to the type of questions posed. In early spring newly emerged hedgehogs, toads, grass snakes, lizards and adders become more active and are easier to spot and can bring forth a variety of questions from the public – such as how to attract hedgehogs into gardens and how to deter squirrels. Also help is requested in solving mysterious footprints in gardens and the appearance of holes in lawns.

Charlotte admits to sometimes using Google to help answer questions and this helped enormously when an email popped into her inbox from a sender asking advice as they had two Black Bears in their garden (unusual for Sussex she thought!). Fortunately the request came from overseas and Charlotte was able to quickly refer the sender to a website dedicated to Black Bears.

After a break for tea and biscuits Graham Tuppen took the floor to deliver the ever popular Nature Notes. Graham advised members that the September working party had tidied the wildflower bed in Little Twitten and the cut grass had been raked up on the verge along Sea Lane with help from volunteers from ‘The Good Gym’. A variety of birds had been spotted including a Kingfisher on the Rife together with a Grey Wagtail. Unfortunately all of the ponds and lagoons next to the Rife had dried up.

Ed Miller concluded the meeting with planning news by advising that the application for the large lit advertising sign proposed by the Peugeot Garage on the A259 had been refused. There were still some undecided applications and also three appeals awaiting decisions by the Planning Inspector.

Group Meeting – 26th July 2019

Bernie Forbes, the current President of the Shoreham and District Ornithological Society, was welcomed to Ferring Conservation Group’s July meeting to impart his vast knowledge of birds and his favourite locations in the county to view them. Bernie explained that lesser known bird spotting areas such as Shoreham Napoleonic Fort, the Downs around Lancing College, Cissbury Ring, the Norfolk Estate at Burpham, Amberley Castle and strangely, old sewage works, were popular areas that attract many varieties of birds. Bernie is regularly accompanied by his good friend and fellow bird enthusiast Dorian Mason, a resident of Ferring and also a member of Ferring Conservation Group, whose many excellent photographs were utilised by Bernie to illustrate his talk.

Bernie has demonstrated his proven track record for finding rare species including the Gyr Falcon and the first and second Pallid Harrier in the county of Sussex. As an active RSPB volunteer and a participant in work around Pagham Harbour Bernie contributes to local bird reports and is also renowned for constructing the many benches and some of the steps and stiles around the area.

Many of Bernie’s sightings have been close to Ferring where he has been fortunate enough to spot Common and Jack Snipe near to the Rife, a Snow Bunting on Goring Beach, a Sandpiper and numerous Wood Lark at Shoreham Airport and a Great Spotted Cuckoo near to Lancing College. He recommended Burpham as an ideal location to see Raptors and Finches and praised the Duke of Norfolk’s Estate near Arundel in their successful efforts to breed Grey Partridge.

After refreshments Tricia Hall discussed her recent holiday in Northern Greece and the many butterflies and birds that she observed there, illustrating her talk with colourful photographs of some of her discoveries.

Ed Miller concluded the meeting with news that the Appeal for the 2 proposed properties in the garden of 21 Ocean Drive had been dismissed. The proposed marking out of part of the Bluebird Café car park had been approved. The proposed property in the garden of Elm Lodge, Tamarisk Way had gone to Appeal and a new planning application had been lodged for a property to be built in the garden of the Old Flint House in Church Lane. This property is 17th Century in part and lies within the Conservation Area in Ferring.