Record Centre News

Harassed by the Rattle of the Steam-Plough

Cattle at Amberley Wildbrooks
Recently I was looking at William Borrer’s The Birds of Sussex published in 1891 and one passage particularly struck me: he seemed to be worrying, in a 19th century context, about similar things to conservationists today. Here is the passage in full:

The many changes of the last half-century have greatly interfered with ornithology in this county as in others. The whole of Sussex is now intersected with railways, not only inland but along the coast, nearly the whole of what may be called the maritime district being traversed by a line of rails extending from Brighton to the extreme western limit of the county, the whistle of the steam-engine taking the place of the Wildfowl and the Wader. The estuaries, formerly abounding in these species, are now far more disturbed by traffic than they used to be; and much of the marshland has been brought under cultivation. The last of the grand morasses of the western division, the Amberley Wildbrook, is converted into so-called smiling meadows, re-echoing with the lowing of cattle instead of the hollow boom of the Bittern and the croak of the Heron. The Downs too, once the peaceful haunt of the Bustard and the Lapwing, or disturbed only by the shepherd and his flock, are now to a great extent broken up by cultivation, and harassed by the rattle of the steam-plough. The cliffs have in many places been scarped down, or shattered by the engineer, thus destroying the favourite resorts of many wild birds. The inland aspect of the county, too, is much changed from what it was in former times. Where are the splendid stretches of heather? the sedgy bottoms? and where are the Black Game?

Interestingly Amberley Wildbrooks seems to be in fairly good condition as grazing marsh, and one might hear the hollow boom of the bittern again when it is at Rye Harbour and elsewhere. Herons are not uncommon and the number of nesting lapwings is increasing. There also seems to be plenty of heathland, though not as much as in Borrer’s day, I am sure. However, The Crumbles, an area of vegetated shingle and scrub to the east of Eastbourne, is now a huge housing estate. It was, according to Borrer, a habitat much favoured by the Dartford warbler and well known for many other species of plant and animal. It may also be some time before we see the bustard and the black game (black grouse) in Sussex again.

Borrer also uses the term ‘ancient woodland’:

There is a small portion of the ancient woodland called Charlton Forest, situated on the north slope of the Western Downs, the only part of them which still has native timber.

Adastra Seminar 2007

The Sussex Biological Recorders’ Seminar has grown and grown in size every year. 2007 was the 18th seminar held with nearly 200 people attending. The first seminar, in 1989 had just a handful of attendees but some of those are still attending the seminar 18 years on. It is a brilliant day with a buzzing atmosphere that could only be found at Adastra Hall. You can view photos taken on the day on our Adastra Flickr photo page.

Adastra 2007

The mood of the day was set by Henri Brocklebank’s vibrant record centre update. Henri reviewed the year at SxBRC telling of the exciting projects that had taken place during 2006 and how the data that SxBRC holds is growing in quality and quantity (although quality is most important of course).

Our first guest speaker of the day was Helen Roy from the National Ladybird Survey, based in Cambridge. Helen’s talk was about the Harlequin Ladybird, which is the “most invasive ladybird on Earth”. Helen fascinated the audience with talk of this sex-mad, cannibalistic species that is populating the UK at an alarming rate, threatening the UK’s native ladybirds on the way. The project aims to record the advance of this species, so please send in your records via the project’s website.

Nourished by tea and biscuits, the audience was ready to be shocked by Arthur Hoare’s talk about the aliens that live in Sussex; alien plants that is. Each time a picture of an invasive alien plant appeared on the big screen, rumbles of disdain rippled through the audience. Arthur spoke eloquently of how Sussex habitats, especially waterways, are under threat from these invasive species. It is important that we record these species in order to help monitor and control them.

Tea and talk at Adastra 2007

After that, Barry Kemp reminisced about 20 years of the Sussex Amphibian & Reptile Group. Barry covered the projects that they have been involved in and instigated, including “toad crossings” and getting the public enthused about the newts and frogs in their garden ponds. The amount of records that SARG has helped generate, and the projects that they have achieved in Sussex, is remarkable.

Then the only thing standing between the audience and their lunch was Sarah McIntyre. Sarah is from the RSPB and did a presentation about the Reedbed Habitat Action Plan and how she is coordinating a pioneering project to restore and create reedbeds in Sussex. This project has been helped immensely by the records that have been generated by Sussex recorders over the years. It is hoped that many invertebrate and bird species will benefit from this habitat’s improved condition and expansion in Sussex.

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Over lunch, the recording community caught up with each other, discussing latest projects and new Sussex species over a piece of quiche. The atmosphere was lively and the audience was hesitant to sit back down again for the afternoon session, although they were glad they did.

Attendees returned to the “open-mic” slot, which is a short session where delegates can publicise their projects and request for volunteers. Here is a run down of each of the sessions:

Laura Bristow – Sussex Mammal Group

Sussex Mammal Group has been relaunched and is currently looking for volunteers to get involved in mammal surveys, including Otters and small mammals. Training will be given, so no experience necessary. Please contact Laura if you are interested.

Roy Ticehurst – Friends of Bedelands LNR

The land around Bedelands Farm LNR is under threat of development, and Roy is hoping to get some ideas of how action groups against development can work together. Please contact Roy if you have any ideas.

Mary Parker – ElmAware

Elms are still present in Sussex and Mary would like anyone who is out and about and sees an Elm with a brown patch on the canopy to report it to her please.

Richard Cowser – Sussex Ornithological Society

The BTO Winter and Breeding Bird Atlas 2007-2011 surveys will be starting in the winter of 2007/2008 and the SOS is hoping to get volunteers to cover all Sussex tetrads. There is a training day at Plumpton College. If you would like to get involved please contact Helen Crabtree, the SOS coordinator.

Henri Brocklebank – Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre

Every year the SxBRC presents the Sussex Biodiversity Recording Award. This is £1,000 which gets divided up and shared among recording schemes or individual recorders who need equipment, training, etc. to aid recording in Sussex. Awards of up to £200 will be given to successful applicants. If you would like an application form please contact Penny Green. The closing date for applications is 16/04/07.

Paul Pendlebury – Exotic Reptile Recorder

Paul would like to hear of any sites which may have a viable breeding population of terrapins.

Stephen Savage – Shoreham Beach Nature Reserve

Anyone interested in recording on Shoreham Beach please send in records as they would be useful to help find out more about this interesting habitat of vegetated shingle, which is especially good for invertebrates.

Barrie Watson – Barn Owls

If you find a dead or injured Barn Owl please contact Barrie as soon as possible so that he can try to determine whether a nest that needs attending to. If the Barn Owl has a ring around its leg please make a note of the number and report it to him. Also if you hear of any Barn Owls that may be threatened with development or barn conversions etc. please let Barrie know so that he can put mitigation in place.

Ali Wright – Veteran Tree Project

Ali is conducting a Veteran Tree Project and would be pleased to receive any records of veteran trees. Please contact Ali Wright for details of what information is required. If you would like to volunteer for this project, no previous experience is required and training will be given.

Paul Harmes – Sussex Botanical Recording Society

If you are a botanist, but not necessarily a member of the SBRS your records are still welcomed; please contact Paul Harmes who would like to hear from you.

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The first speaker of the afternoon session was Sam Bayley, a Horsham District ranger based at Warnham Local Nature Reserve, and a keen moth recorder. Sam’s talk was about a year of moth recording and was depicted with lots of beautiful moth images. 2006 is said to have been the best year yet for moth recording in Sussex, with lots of exciting species turning up in Sussex such as the awe-inspiring Death’s Head Hawkmoth and the impressive Clifden Nonpareil. As Sam said, if you weren’t excited by moths in 2006, you’re never going to be.

Next in the programme, a double-act of Robin Pepper and Sam St Pierre from the Sussex Ouse Conservation Society. They spoke of the macro-invertebrates that they have been methodically surveying in the Ouse tributaries in order to monitor the water quality.

Projects on display at Adastra 2007

The audience took a tea break before the whirlwind of Tony Whitbread, from the Sussex Wildlife Trust, hit the stage for the grand finale. Tony spoke of how ecology on a landscape scale is happening in Sussex and how biological records are helping make decisions about land management over larger areas. Linking networks of rides and connecting woodland were investigated to help the movement of different species’ populations across large tracts of land in Sussex.

At the end of the day Henri Brocklebank chaired a plenary session in which many questions were directed at Tony Whitbread, enough to fuel another seminar just based on landscape projects.

Many thanks to everyone, including the audience, who made this yet another successful biological recorders’ seminar. See you next year.

New SSSI for Kent and East Sussex

The first Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) to be designated specifically to protect water voles has been announced by English Nature.

The 9,000 ha Dungeness, Romney Marsh and Rye Bay SSSI [view a map of the area] unites eight existing sites (Dungeness, Walland Marsh, Cheyne Court, Romney Warren and North Lade in Kent; and Camber Sands and Rye Salting, Rye Harbour and Pett Level in East Sussex) and also includes 2,300 hectares of newly notified land. It is the largest shingle foreland in Europe – remarkable for its shingle beaches, sand dunes, grazing marsh and patterns of shingle deposits and soils.

The new SSSI is one of the best in Britain for invertebrates, supporting many rare and scarce species associated with shingle and sand dune habitats and wetlands. The site is home to Britain’s only population of the Sussex Emerald Moth.

As well as telling the story of how the area’s unusual coastline has formed over the past 5,000 years, the habitats on the site are of national importance, and the shingle beach and its wetlands are internationally recognised.

More details can be found on the English Nature website.

Wildlife Weblogs

Our Rare Species Inventory coordinator, Patrick Roper, has been busying himself (where on earth does he find the time?) over the last few months with a series of fascinating, enlightening and beautiful weblogs dedicated to biological recording. If you’re unfamiliar with the term “weblog”, or “blog”, then have a look at this comprehensive article about weblogs on Wikipedia. If you’re interested in wildlife and recording, be sure to bookmark these sites (or subscribe to them via a news-reader) and visit regularly as they’re updated almost daily and are an intriguing insight into the work and thoughts of a naturalist. They also provide us with some particularly innovative ideas that anyone can try, even in an urban environment. Here’s a brief description of each blog:

Ramblings of a Naturalist

A regular, illustrated wildlife diary. As an ecologist and biodiversity researcher and recorder, Patrick visits a wide range of rural and urban habitats mainly close to his home in Sedlescombe near Hastings in East Sussex. Ramblings of a Naturalist covers the full spectrum of wildlife, from mammals to microbes. As well as details of encounters with England’s flora and fauna, details of where to see species of interest are often given. Visit Ramblings of a Naturalist.

The square metre at TQ 78286 18846

Since September 2003 Patrick has been studying a square metre of rough grassland and the immediate surrounding area in his garden. By May 2006 over 700 species of plants and animals had been identified and there are many more as yet unidentified and, of course, undiscovered.

Observations from the square metre are often surprising and unexpected and the project reveals how much we still have to learn about the dynamics of biodiversity. The daily detailed scrutiny of such a small area also triggers many reflections on our relationship to the other species with which we share the planet and how better to understand both them and ourselves.

The Square Metre also comments on management issues and techniques many of which are similar to challenges faced in biodiversity conservation on a larger scale. Visit The Square Metre.

Windowbox Wildlife

In November 2005 Patrick bought a small windowbox, filled it up with supposedly sterile John Innes No. 2 compost, added a log, a rock and a tiny pond and then left it in a convenient position out doors to see what wildlife would colonise it. Part of the purpose of the project is to show that if a windowbox is the only “wilderness” you can have access to, nature can still generate many surprises and challenges.

Windowbox Wildlife reports on the developing flora and fauna of this smallest of nature reserves and comments on management issues and techniques. Visit Windowbox Wildlife.

Other Local Weblogs

There are several other local weblogs covering areas in Sussex, such as RXWildlife, which covers the coast between Rye and Bexhill and contains some lovely photography. Andy Phillips, creator of RXWildlife also keeps his own personal “wildblog”, called Roof-top Observatory detailing the wildlife he sees from (and in) his roof-top observatory in St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex. Just goes to show, you don’t need to be in a rural environment in order to find fascinating natural treasures.

If you know of any other local wildlife websites, or weblogs, do let us know.