Skip to content Skip to navigation

Blog

On the trail of the Duke of Burgundy in West Sussex - Michael Blencowe

Tuesday, 16 August 2016
Photo credit: Neil Hulme

This year Sussex Butterfly Conservation was delighted to work with the Arun & Rother Connections (ARC) project to deliver a series of butterfly walks. This Heritage Lottery funded project has been busy restoring and reconnecting wildlife habitats along the two West Sussex rivers as well as connecting local communities to their local environment and wildlife.

As part of the project I ran a series of identification workshops and walks. After a few wash-outs last year I had promised myself that all the events in 2016 would coincide with perfect weather and I was off to a great start when temperatures hit 24 degrees on May 8th - dare I say it was too hot? A team of keen lepidopterists joined me in Sutton Village Hall for a lesson in butterfly identification. After a gallop through all 45 Sussex species (who wants to be indoors on a day like this?) we headed out into the sunshine. There's some great countryside around Sutton; a great outdoor 'classroom' to get to grips with some of our more common species and their food plants, as well as a chance to have lunch amongst the bluebells.

On 15th May I led a walk on Graffham Down. Graffham resident Jim Kirke announced on the Graffham Village Facebook page "If you have never seen Michael Blencowe get excited, this Sunday is your chance". He was referring to the possibility of us seeing the Duke of Burgundy which Neil Hulme had discovered on the Graffham reserve a few days earlier (at least I hope that was what he was referring to). Up on the Downs I gave a quick introduction to the Duke before we all began our search. It was Margaret Newton who made the momentous discovery. She asked Graffham Down Trust's Paul Dimmer if he had a picture of the Duke and Paul showed her the butterfly on his identification chart. "Oh, so it's a bit like that one there then" Margaret said, indicating a small butterfly perched in front of them. No doubt everyone in Graffham village (and probably Petworth too) heard Paul's shouts echoing around the South Downs and we all hurried back to where Paul was pointing at a Duke. Fantastic news that the Duke is back on Graffham Down and Jim was right; 30 people got to see me get very excited.

At the end of June Colin Knight led a walk around Iping and Stedham Commons – the Sussex strongholds for one of our rarest butterfly species; the Silver-studded Blue. Many of these beautiful butterflies were seen as well as other wildlife; Common Heath moths, Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies, Green Tiger Beetles, Slow-worms and Woodlarks. 

I ran another Arun & Rother Connections butterfly identification workshop on June 25th at the fantastic Warnham Nature Reserve – but my luck with the weather was running out. It was apparent that 2016 was not a great year for butterflies and the weather on the day didn’t help!

By July 10th my luck had finally run out. My walk on Graffham Down was a wash-out marked by an endless downpour. However a few brave souls joined us and South Downs National Park’s Bruce Middleton delivered a fascinating commentary on the flora of the reserve. 


Let's get physical! by Simon Price

Tuesday, 1 March 2016
Himalayan Balsam - Simon Price

Having never really been involved in voluntary work before, I decided to volunteer my time for the ARC project. Not being in work and struggling to change careers this was an ideal opportunity for me to give something back after working in stressful professional jobs and to improve my chances of finding suitable work by showing I’m using my time well.

I volunteered to help remove Himalayan Balsam from West Chiltington Wood, attending on three separate days. The range of people I met varied from schoolchildren on a community day to members of an IT firm called Rackspace on a team building exercise, as well as many regulars. I ended up coming away from the day with some free Ethernet cable, just by chatting to one of the Rackspace managers Nathan, an example of the goodwill surrounding the day.

The work of removing Himalayan Balsam, an invasive non-native species which out-competes other plants, can only be described as weeding on a mass scale. Very easy to remove with long stems and shallow roots, the ‘balsam bashing’ work is strangely addictive and satisfying.

I subsequently volunteered for a heathland restoration day at Graffham Common and at West Chiltington. There is much to learn about the sites, plants and their history including Gallows Hill at Graffham which sounds like a hammer horror film. I will continue to help and I would heartily recommend volunteering for ARC and its projects even if you can just spare one day, because the feeling of self-satisfaction you come away with cannot be beaten.

Click HERE to find out about the latest volunteering opportunities and try it for yourself!


Volunteering - by Sathiapama (Sathi) Sivapragasam

Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Sathi - third from left

Volunteering after retirement is an excellent way to achieve new things and use your skills. I chose to volunteer part of my time doing some outdoor activities. Firstly I got involved with activities such as coppicing, scrub clearing, hedge laying and various land management activities through the South Downs National Park. It gave me a sense of purpose and I learnt about the importance and diversity of many plants, insects, birds and wild animals.

I also got involved with two activities from the ARC Project. One was pulling and clearing Himalayan Balsam to allow native wild plants to grow back and support the native insect life. The other was restoring heathland. I pulled and cleared rhododendron seedlings and pine saplings which have invaded the heathland and so prevented some birds from using heathland habitat. I thoroughly enjoyed taking part in these activity days and I am looking forward to future events.


Becoming a Guardian of the ARC- by Julie Singleton

Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Water Vole

I first learnt about the ARC Explorer app when I attended an ARC water vole surveyor training event at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Arundel, back in May. During a fascinating day of talks and fieldwork, Fran Southgate of the Sussex Wildlife Trust gave us an introduction to the app which was launched earlier in the year by naturalist and broadcaster Chris Packham. Chris encouraged us all to get out and explore whilst enjoying the benefits of new technology and you can see his inspiring speech here: http://arcexplorer.org.uk/chris-packham-launches-the-arc-app/

It was clear from the start that this app was more than just an easy way to record wildlife. This was a chance to take part in ‘citizen science’ in an easy and accessible way. The data recorded is passed on to the Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre via iRecord and will assist those working in conservation in the region. As someone who cares deeply about wildlife and conservation issues, this seemed a perfect way to ‘do my bit’ for the local area.

I downloaded the app and got started straight away, capturing a variety of species including the star of the show, a water vole, which was swimmingly furiously to get away from the group of enthusiasts on the bank! Some of the other volunteers had also downloaded the app and we spent an enjoyable afternoon recording species with the app, whilst searching for piles of water vole poo!

When you discover a species that you want to record, you can easily browse through a variety of categories on the app including: Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Fungi, Insects, Mammals, Plants, Reptiles and Trees. When you find your species you can take a photo of it or choose one from the library of images on your device to upload. Further information can be added, including notes on what you have seen, and then you click ‘post’ - it’s as simple as that! Your photo will then show on the feed on the ARC Explorer website where other users can like and comment and you can even share on Facebook and Twitter!

I have taken the app along with me to various places including Pulborough Brooks, Binsted Woods and along the beautiful River Arun and recorded a variety of species there including grey heron, nightingale, cowslip, bluebell, red campion and common frog amongst others. It’s great to have a lightweight and portable recording device to take along with me and it’s so easy to use that it doesn’t detract from enjoying your surroundings. I also admit that it gets rather addictive as there is an added incentive of reaching different levels as you increase the number of species you record. I have two badges to go to reach the next level and I’m waiting for the rain to stop today so that I can get out there!

Other features include five trails with mapped routes that you can follow, so you can easily plan a hike and enjoy the beauty of the Arun & Rother valleys. It’s a great way to discover the wealth of wildlife on your doorstep.

Finally, if that wasn’t enough, there is the chance to become the ‘Guardian of ARC’ by being the first person to record all the species (currently 275). Why not take up the challenge and start recording today?  It could be YOU. Download the app free of charge from the App Store or Google Play at: http://arcexplorer.org.uk/download.

 

Happy recording!


Delivering Improvements on the River Ems

Friday, 5 June 2015
Looking downstream from Racton Park Dell towards Deepsprings

Ses Wright, Arun and Rother Rivers Trust (ARRT)

The River Ems flows into the coastal town of Emsworth to the west of the Arun & Western Streams catchment. The Deepsprings to Racton Park Dell reach of the Ems has been proposed for restoration works by Portsmouth Water. This work forms part of the National Environment Programme (NEP), whereby the UK Government sets targets and objectives that ensure that water companies meet European Directives, relevant national targets and their statutory obligations; the Environment Agency has been involved in this particular NEP project and supports the proposed works.  The Arun & Rother Rivers Trust (ARRT) working in partnership with the Wild Trout Trust (WTT) have been asked to help plan and deliver these works in summer 2015.  The proposed works aim to help re-establish a more natural river regime over an approximate 300m reach of chalk stream which will function over a wide range of flow conditions. The key objective is to create a sinuous channel with varied bed morphology capable of supporting an enhanced diversity of flora and fauna in what is currently a heavily modified channel due to previous historic land uses. Portsmouth Water currently augment late summer and autumn flows along the mid-low reaches of the Ems to ensure a perennial flow from just upstream of the town of Westbourne. The Ems is a natural winterbourne with some of the upstream reaches naturally drying out during dry summer months as the groundwater springs subside after autumn/winter rainfall.  The Ems is currently graded as being of poor ecological status due to abstraction pressures and man-made obstructions that limit fish passage up and down the system. The prospects for augmenting flow to offset abstraction pressures through this reach in combination with channel shape modifications provides opportunities for restoring a high quality chalk stream capable of supporting a healthy and diverse ecology.


Balsam pulling bonanza!

Thursday, 4 June 2015
Image by John Dominick

Lorna Beaumont – Conservation volunteer

The words ‘invasive species’ conjure up images of man eating aliens or skin stripping ants not the pretty Himalayan Balsam plant. However, invasive it most definitely is! Around 10 of us headed out into the wilds of Monkmead Wood recently on a wrangling mission which would leave the plants in reluctant heaps and our muscles aching for days!

Our fearless leader, Sarah, explained that Himalayan Balsam outcompetes native plants because of its aggressive seed dispersal and also furthers erosion due to the plant dying back over winter, leaving the river bank unprotected.

Heading down into the woods equipped with only sturdy gloves and sugary treats for elevenses, we were ready to start our balsam pulling mission. From the point of view of someone who spends most of their time in front of a computer, a day of physical activity, getting muddy and coming home with leaves in my hair was exactly the volunteering day I needed. As we attacked a section each, the chattering and chirruping of robins, wrens, song thrushes and occasional yaffle of a green woodpecker  provided a motivating soundtrack to our work.  We joked that we should approach this stuff much like a cyclist would approach a steep hill, with our heads down and don’t look too far ahead! Due to the very short roots, it is easy to dislodge and add to a pile but there is just so much of it.

The woody call of a cuckoo and some chiffing and chaffing break me out of my reflection on the beginnings of this fast spreading weed and I wonder what things people are doing now that will be cursed by conservationists one hundred years down the line. In full flower, this plant is beautiful and was originally given to people to mimic the orchids in the greenhouses of the rich. But as the river bank crumbles under our feet and a sea of Himalayan Balsam stretches as far as the eye can see, the destruction is clear.

My fellow volunteers that day all had different reasons for helping out, one was doing a course at Plumpton college and gaining experience by volunteering one day a week. A few of us used this as an opportunity to volunteer for a day, a chance to join another team doing something completely different from our day job and a couple just came along to do something fun. What we all shared though was a love for nature and an understanding of the need to protect it. We left feeling tired and happy that this persistent weed was a little less strong than when we had arrived. But there is still a LOT of work to do and the friendly ARC team need your help! Spending a day in the woods surrounded by nature, interspersed with a lot of laughing and also helping a good cause..what is not to like?


Easebourne School Orchard

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Petra Billings, Sussex Wildlife Trust

Everyone loves orchards! They have so many associations. Fruit trees provide a rich and valuable food source for wildlife, from the nectar of apple blossom to the fallen apples which support winter birds like fieldfares and redwings; from the bats which roost in old tree trunks to beetles such as the splendid noble chafer which lives in old pruned wood or woodpecker holes. The lovely names of old apple varieties such as Sussex Mother and Golden Pippin tell their own tales and winter festivities such as wassailing to bless the old trees for a good cider apple harvest bring communities together.

Interest in conserving our heritage apple varieties is reviving as shown by the number of community orchards growing up around Sussex. One such project is a new orchard at Easebourne Primary School. New Head Johnny Culley and parent Melanie Moss have been working with Petra Billings from the Sussex Wildlife Trust and Angela Ward the local South Downs National Park ranger, to plant a very special orchard at the school. A wide mix of heritage fruit trees were selected, including twelve different apple varieties, three crab apples and Victoria plum, which is of Sussex origin. The trees were planted by the children of Year 5 and their families who turned out on a cold February morning armed with gloves and spades and a great deal of enthusiasm. The project was funded jointly by the West Weald Landscape Project, a conservation project led by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the South Downs National Park Authority.

Apart from the fun of the planting day, there is a serious side to the project. The children are learning not only about the importance of fruit-growing but of the value of orchards for wildlife and their role in local history, for example Golden Pippin is one of the earliest English apples available and goes back to the early seventeenth century. As the trees grow, the orchard will provide a first-class learning resource with all sorts of opportunities for comparing the growth of different varieties and the fruit they bear.
 

Traditional orchards are a priority wildlife habitat for conservation. It was wonderful to see just how much the children enjoyed planting the trees and their interest in them.

Johnny Culley said

‘The children were very excited to be involved at the start of this tremendous project. I am told that we can hope to have the first fruit in three years and the children will enjoy matching the shapes, colours and tastes to the various exotic names attached to the young trees that they have planted. We are very grateful to the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the South Downs National Park Authority for funding this wonderful initiative and I would also like to thank one of our parents, Melanie Moss, who has been working on the orchard project for over a year and without whom the orchard would certainly not have happened.’

Image by Petra Billings from the Sussex Wildlife Trust


Chris Packham Wildlife Walk

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Rachel Dowse, ARC Social Media and Marketing Assistant

As first days go, it wasn’t bad.

I was starting an internship doing the social media marketing for the ARC Explorer app, and I was getting to start out by going on a walk with Chris Packham!

We started by gathering outside the RSPB Pulborough Brooks visitor centre to hear an inspiring welcome talk, against a beautiful backdrop of blue skies and fast moving clouds, reflected in the still wetlands water across the valley, and our first interesting bird sighting of the day: a kestrel! Chris’s talk was great, focusing on the new role of technology in engaging with nature, and the importance of protecting and making use of reserves like Pulborough. And then we were off.

I had never been to Pulborough before, and was enjoying walking along wooded (and muddy!) paths and chatting to other people on the walk. Our first stop was a viewpoint across an area of marshland. The ranger guiding us soon had a telescope set up, and everyone had fun seeing what they could spot. The app definitely added an extra dimension to the walk, giving a greater motivation to spot and identify the birds, plants and animals we could see. And being in a group meant if you thought you’d spotted something, you’d soon be surrounded by other pairs of eyes helping to look, hoping to snap a picture and get the badge!

The kids were especially enthusiastic and had a great time with Chris Packham helping them identify species, and members of the Say Digital team who created the app showing them exactly how it worked. We spotted several species, including black tailed godwits and two fallow deer.

Then we moved on to a hide looking out over the wetlands, but not before spotting and recording some deer tracks and a robin just outside! From the hide, which was luckily big enough to accommodate our large group, we could see lapwing and shelduck, as well as several other species. Chris and the rangers kept busy helping the kids with the scopes, and there was time to film a quick interview with the head ranger about what kind of species you can usually see at this time of year.

Finally we headed back to the visitor centre, with a stop by a field on the way where we saw a fieldfare and some rabbits. It was particularly great how enthusiastic people were for any of the wild animals, no matter how rare or common, they’re all important.

Finally Chris gave a great summing up speech, and there was just time to film some short interviews with Chris and other participants. A quick photo op, and the day was over. A great experience and a fun way to start working with the Arun and Rother Connections project team.

-

For more information on the ARC Explorer App, visit http://arcexplorer.org.uk/

Photo credit: John Dominick


Unlocking hidden stories

Friday, 16 January 2015
Harriet and interviewees

Harriet Barratt Dorling, Living Memories Recorder

Since taking part in the ARC project in the summer of 2014, I have walked around every day wondering about the stories hidden behind people’s front doors and faces. I was a volunteer on the oral history strand, and had the pleasure of interviewing people in the Arun and Rother region about their memories of the area.

It was striking how much of a role the river has played in local people’s lives, and how its management has affected farmers and householders over the decades – for better and for worse. Projects like this show just how important it is to include the people who live in an area in decisions that shape its future.

My favourite bits, though, were the stories of locals over the last 70 years, from the lady whose garden well was found to be full of gin bottles after she died to the man who sailed all the way from Bury to Amberley Castle in the floods, using an old door as a raft.

The hardest thing, surprisingly, wasn’t so much having the confidence to ask questions, but to learn when to keep quiet. We are all so used to making encouraging noises while someone is speaking that it took real effort to keep as silent as possible so that the recordings were clean. They are, after all, going into the local archives for posterity. I have perfected the ‘silent laugh’ – surely something for the CV.

I am lucky enough to work at the University of Brighton which has its own Staff Volunteering Scheme. Being able to do some of this work in work time helped me to get more involved, but even if you only have a little bit of spare time, I’d really urge you to take part if you are at all interested in hearing people’s stories.

I have got so much out of it – in fact I’ve caught the bug and have gone on to volunteer for two other projects since then, one on the history of the land around The Keep archives centre in Moulsecoomb (much of which used to be used as orchards and market gardens), and one on people’s memories of their toys with the Brighton Toy and Model Museum. I’ve even subscribed to the Oral History Society – and of course I will be getting involved in the ARC project again in 2015!


Horsham River Clean

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Veronika Moore, Project Development Officer, Arun & Rother Rivers Trust (ARRT)

On a rather damp and chilly Thursday morning in early November, an enthusiastic group of over 20 volunteers embarked on a mission to clean up a 400-metre stretch of the River Arun, upstream of the Worthing Road Bridge in the West Sussex town of Horsham.

I was delighted to see such a great turnout of volunteers, many of whom were from the local Horsham Green Gym community group. Around half a dozen staff members from the ‘Arun and Rother Connections project’ partner organisations as well as from Horsham District Council were also in attendance.

We gathered in the riverside park near St Mary’s Church at 10am and after a short introduction and a health and safety briefing, we got stuck in and worked industriously till 1pm (although a short tea and biscuit break was gladly received by all at the halfway point).

The group was split up into teams in order to attend to different parts of the river. Those with chest waders pulled out shopping trolleys and baskets, push bikes, traffic cones, car tyres and other larger items of rubbish that had been carelessly thrown into the river channel. Others were tasked with picking up glass bottles and plastic waste from bankside areas. Another group used loppers to cut back the overgrown vegetation along the riverside path and along both of the riverbanks. It was a great group effort, and a marvellous feeling of accomplishment after seeing the large pile of rubbish that was hauled out of the channel and collected from around the banksides in just three hours!

Thank you to all the wonderful volunteers that participated. Your hard work has helped to improve the condition of the river for people and for wildlife, and to raise the profile of the river corridor as a place to enjoy the great outdoors.

 

P.S.: Judging by the positive comments we received from the local community on the day of the clean-up and the feedback that landed in my inbox from David Jessop, Horsham Green Gym’s coordinator a few days later, the event was a success:

“Horsham Green Gym members were pleased to be able to take part in the clean up of part of the River Arun. Thank you for your assistance in making this possible. I went to have a look at the weekend and I can tell the difference. One of our members lives very close to where we were working and tells me that two of her neighbours mentioned that they had seen us working and were pleased with what had been done.”