Monday, 11 July 2011

Downlander Walks take advantage of the new Public Access Rights to the land

Firle Beacon and Seaford Downs walk

Yesterday, Saturday 9th July, about 20 of us set off on an arduous walk from Newhaven, Sussex’s only industrial town, on a walk that ended up in the Sussex village of Bishopstone.

The church at Bishopstone is the oldest in Sussex, having been built at the time of the Anglo-Saxons in the 7th century with a Norman tower added later. The old village was always very rich and the church interior and its stained glass windows and artifacts reflects that.

The walk was over 8 miles and quite arduous, going up and down hills and valleys. The sides of valleys, untouched by farmers, displayed an incredible variety of wild flowers and orchids. We spotted a kestrel and a similar bird whose name I’ve forgotten.

These walks were organised by the Downlanders group and Brighton Unemployed Centre obtained funding in order to ensure that Hollingean residents in particular were able to take part by providing a minibus to and from the walks.

Enclosed are photos from both walks starting with the Lewis Priory ruins. The notes below are from eco-socialist Dave Bangs. Enjoy!

Tony Greenstein

Notes from the Vale of the Brooks walk, south of Lewes
11th June 2011
Dave Bangs

Things went well, with 37 walkers (by my rough count) and sunshine, though lowering skies and a squally shower half way through interrupted our picnic and forced about half of the raincoat-less of us to return early.

I’ll try and get a map out that makes sense of the following account…which is followed by a list of our main wildlife sightings.

We had a good meander, walking through the newly re-opened Lewes Priory ruins at the start and then out across the brooks to the Upper Rise and through Rise Farm. I got the wind up several times seeing farm staff out fencing and lookering the stock, but none of them took any interest in us. We walked south east onto Pool Bar Wall and explored a brook edge there…then along Pool Bar Wall, with its sheltering Hawthorn bushes, south to the Ranscombe Cut meander, before sitting down to picnic on the edge of The Shine.

After some of us left, the rain stopped (of course!!) and we debated whether to risk walking on through a field of Sussex bullocks. I decided not to…and so we backtracked a bit, then crossed to the Lower Rise, which we skirted. We then walked west down Sutton Wall towards Iford as far as the Celery Sewer, passing by the new wildfowl pond with its colony of tree nesting Cormorants…very Jurassic Park…Then on again towards Iford down the Wall before cutting across the fields to Norton Wall and turning back eastwards again.

We tried to cross back to the Upper Rise across the meadows, but another herd of frisky Sussex bullocks made us think better of it…so we backtracked again onto the Wall and circled round the problem cattle, to return across to the Upper Rise and on to Lewes. At the station we met the community bus debouching its passengers…mostly made up of our member Chris Smith’s friends returning from his 60th birthday walk around Firle Beacon !! Very nice.

We saw a Brown Hare in a mown hay field at Pool Bar.

We saw the following birds…

Great Spotted Woodpecker: in the Priory Ruins. Perhaps twenty Cormorants: nesting in old Hawthorn bushes on a pond island just west of the Lower Rise. Heron: several seen taking off from the reedy drains. Meadow Pipits: several pairs in the tussocky grassland within the cut off Ranscombe meander. Skylarks; especially near the Ranscombe meander. Swifts: a party of four, and others singly, near Pool Bar and Norton and Sutton Walls. Several Little Egrets. Yellowhammer: heard by Philip, and Whitethroat: a juvenile seen, and others heard. Reed Buntings: a succession of handsome males in smart black caps and white collars. Reed Warblers: heard all along the drains, and several glimpsed. Lapwing: about twenty seen from Sutton Wall, taking off. Pied Wagtail: one seen at the Upper Rise. One or two Linnets. We saw three raptors: at least one Buzzard, a Kestrel near the Lower Rise, and a Sparrowhawk seen diving into a hedge at the Upper Rise. There were also Great and Blue Tits and Greenfinches along the reedy and more scrubbed up drains, and many Starlings and the odd Crow around the cattle herds.
The Dragon and Damselflies were hunkering down a bit because of the grey weather, but we did find one long ditch with many Blue-tailed and Azure/Variable/Common Blue Damselflies. One male Emperor Dragonfly was on patrol.

We found a freshly emerged Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet moth. We saw several Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, a couple of Common Blues, and the occasional Meadow Brown, too. Little white China Mark moths flitted low over the water. Their larvae make tiny sleeping-bag-like-cases, like Caddis flies.

Young Roesel’s Bush-crickets, with their yellow collars, were abundant along the grassy Walls.
There were many noisy Marsh Frogs in the drains and we had good sight of them along the Celery Sewer amongst the Duckweed as we leaned over a bridge. My desultory pond dipping came up with a few Three-spined Sticklebacks, some Back-swimmers and Saucer Bugs (don’t let them nip you…it really hurts!!) and a few Water Snails.

I noted the following plants…

A stand of the scarce Lesser Bulrush at Pool Bar Wall. The similar-looking Grey Bulrush and Sea Club-rush along some brackish dykes near to the river. Scattered False Fox Sedge and some Greater Pond Sedge along Pool Bar Wall. Celery-leaved Spearwort on a muddy field edge at Pool Bar. Common Water Crowfoot, Water Forget-me-not, flowering Water Cress, and Tubular Water Dropwort in the Celery Sewer. Yellow Flag along Sutton Wall. Meadowsweet and Common Reed, Phragmites, both in flower for the first time this year. Frogbit flowering, with Fool’s Water-cress, in the Ranscombe meander, where one section was entirely chocked by alien Azolla, Water Fern, like a thick, turquoise green carpet. Green Intestine Algae, Enteromorpha intestinalis, in the more brackish ditches near the river. Other drains were dominated by Ivy-leaved Duckweed, which is the best place to hunt for Great Silver Diving Beetles, though we were a bit late to find those (though I did try). We found several stands of Water Plantain, but it is too early for them to be in flower. I couldn’t find Wild Celery, though I looked. A solitary Deadly Nightshade plant was growing out of the concrete by the A27 underpass.

Much of the brookland outside of the SSSI between Iford and the Lower Rise is in very poor condition, still cropped with cereals and fodder Rye Grass, and with all the ditches neglected and chocked with Reed and Nettle, fenced with rusting barbed wire, and drying out. That was a depressing sight…just like the bad old days before agri-environmental schemes. However, parts of the SSSI are in very poor condition, too, and Swanborough Grange’s brookland has a small airfield within it…How do they get away with such abuse of nature ??

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