Current Volunteer Large Project Activities (Summer).

Volunteer work parties are engaged in weekly project days at a woodland pond in Reeds Lane, Sayers Common until the autumn.

The work consists of:-

  • clearance of fallen and overhanging trees and brush,
  • clearing the pond of unwanted vegetation,
  • removing the leaf silt that has accumulated over many decades,
  • planting indigenous pond plant species and,
  • creating hibernaculums for the indigenous amphibians to use for winter hibernation.

The overall pond area is punctuated by banks, trees and smaller accumulations of residual water. This shows clearance progress on the largest pond.

Anyone wishing to be added to the group’s Register of Interest to become a supporter or to volunteer to join the working parties should contact Michael Nailard giving name and contact details. No membership fee is required. Group activity information and annual news sheets will be periodically circulated to all on the Register. Email:  dralianmarine@aol.com        Telephone: 01273 834001

Project days are selected according to the weather forecast and majority volunteer availability. An advisory email is circulated to all volunteers prior to the day selected for them to attend if they wish.

A number of group tools are always available on site but often volunteers prefer to bring their own. Suitable rough clothes, gardening gloves and sturdy footwear are recommended. A pair of gumboots might occasionally be required. Any sun or insect protection etc. that you normally require should be brought with you and used as necessary.

Current Volunteer Large Project Activities (Winter)

From October until April each year working parties undertake meadow restoration and brush clearance activities at Pond Lye SNCI.

The same procedures and requirements listed for the Sayers Common woodland pond project days apply for this work.

The work period is through months of colder weather so suitable warm clothing should be worn.

Volunteers work at a rate and effort they are comfortable with. Many different work roles are undertaken to give volunteers a choice of activity according to their preferences.

Whatever task is undertaken is helpful to the overall progress of the project.

Start times are always quoted in project day notifications and some volunteers will be in attendance for the whole day for others to join according to the time they can spare. However short the time you can give it is helpful as work shared is work halved for others during your period of attendance.

Students from Plumpton College join us for a project day.

Supporters News Sheet 2015-16

MASSIVE COUNTRYSIDE BIODIVERSITY STUDY COMPLETED

The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group has finally achieved completion of the biodiversity study commenced in October 2004. In January 2016 the last activity for digitising the survey results and uploading to the SxBRC database was achieved.

The biodiversity study commenced in late 2004. With countryside under increasing development pressure, people of Hurstpierpoint & Sayers Common who valued their rural surroundings and wildlife looked for ways to protect it and a meeting was arranged with representatives of leading local groups, MSDC and the local Parish Council, to find ways to achieve this.

To protect the local countryside full knowledge of it was required so a volunteer group was formed to undertake a Phase 1 Habitat Survey to achieve this. That was the start of The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group and the task quickly began. Michael Nailard became the Chairman and the coordinator of the task.

Michael Nailard was elected Chairman

A public meeting was held to rally like-minded people to assist with this project and 120 enthusiastic people attended with 60 people volunteering to help with the study. Some volunteered for support activities with the remainder just wanting to be kept informed of progress. Survey training was given by the SWT. With such support the task was estimated to be achievable in 18 months, however, as with all volunteering activities, once the reality of the hard work dawned enthusiasm evaporated and 24 volunteers remained. Further training sessions were arranged to maximise their knowledge to equip them for the task ahead.

The volunteers were formed into teams of 2 to 4 people and a team leader appointed to liaise with the project coordinator. A 5-document process was created to cover each of the landowner areas consisting of the SWT Guide to conducting a Phase 1 Habitat Survey, a landowner consent form, an OS survey location map, a survey result data collection map, and a related species data note sheet.

All completed sheets were required to be returned to the coordinator on completion and passed to a skilled computing volunteer for an electronic record to be created. Feedback was to be fed back to the survey group leaders on the effectiveness of their data collection for electronic recording and any modifications required for subsequent surveys.

 

The initial concept and projected timescale for completion was quickly adjusted when difficulties presented themselves. The first was the identification of landowner ownership areas as data protection legislation prevented this being readily available. Footpaths could only allow access to a very small number so access consent was required. This ultimately resulted in the coordinator roaming the area knocking on doors to identify ownership land parcels and then tracing the owners, a large number of whom lived outside the area and had to be approached through housekeepers and caretakers. This became the most difficult part of the process with nearly two hundred land areas eventually identified and many landowners less than willing to co-operate without a lot of persuasion. Some of these visits took many hours to convince owners of our altruistic intentions. Some owners were abroad, some absent, some sitting on land with developer’s options on it and were primarily interested in profit and not the countryside, some saying that they would be in touch when they had spoken to their spouses before signing and not contacting the coordinator again, which caused him up to 6 return visits to overcome this reluctance, and one who refused to co-operate for two years until persistence through mutual acquaintances finally made him relent. This slowed the exercise dramatically. This face-to-face contact process did achieve one positive outcome however, which was to allow the coordinator to become known to each landowner and for a mutual trust to develop. This was to prove vital for permission to undertake future projects

Another factor which slowed progress was the further reduction of surveyors due to the protracted time-frame for completion and the difficulty of data collection. The remaining surveyors were keen and were becoming very knowledgeable and the data required for a Phase 1 habitat survey was too basic for their ability. It was also evident from the time it was taking due to their availability time constraints that this would be a once-only exercise and it was desirable to maximise the amount of data collected. It was then it was decided to expand the survey to what was termed a Phase 1.5 study with data collected on all they could identify within each survey area at the time of their visit. All species queries were referred back to the coordinator who together with some local botanical experts, provided confirmation. This ultimately increased the survey accuracy and expanded our knowledge of our local countryside considerably.

Peter Heeley, a survey group leader collecting biodiversity information.

 

A drawback quickly encountered was the difficulty the electronic recorder had with the creation of an electronic record and so any required surveying amendment feedback was not forthcoming.

The first volunteer found it too difficult and was followed by a succession of others who also eventually gave up. Our last volunteer made some progress when the study was finished but moved away before it could be capitalised on.

The biodiversity study was therefore completed without this feedback benefit and allowed some personal interpretations of data recording to develop amongst the survey groups without informed correction

This ultimately would cause problems when the data was finally computerised. The survey was eventually completed 6 years later but had succeeded in surveying all the countryside within Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common and produced a comprehensive habitat/species record.

With all data collected in paper format and the last electronic recording volunteer finally giving up on the task two years after survey completion, we now faced a problem of creating an electronic record which would be compatible with eventual transference to Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre to provide protection to the areas of our local countryside that required it. With so many unsuccessful attempts to digitise these results, the coordinator realised that the only way to get this done was to employ professional recorders to ensure that all the years of volunteer survey effort would not be wasted.

Grant funding was therefore sought for this to happen and Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre was approached for a quotation for their experts to tackle the task. The group fortunately managed to obtain funding from several external funding providers including the South Downs National Park Authority, Mid Sussex District Council and Hurstpierpoint & Sayers Common Parish Council.

Pat Kean & Georgie Shepherd from one of the teams of surveyors that undertook re-surveys to clarify data.

This digitising exercise threw up some recording method anomalies from some of the earlier surveys which SxBRC referred back to the coordinator to clarify.

The required clarification took a further year with many re-surveys from the survey groups, the coordinator and a local botanist to achieve.

This gave further opportunities to increase the data collected and the value of the exercise. Finally all was re-submitted to SxBRC and some very able and helpful staff members provided all that we wanted to create for our records and to input the data into their database.

Tremendous relief is felt by all that this gigantic exercise has now been completed and all the valuable effort from many dedicated volunteers for many years has been worthwhile. Thanks are extended to all surveyors and the Record Centre staff for their considerable and very valuable effort in this respect.

All this information is now on the SxBRC database as well as in the group’s own archives and will provide the evidence required to help protect valuable areas of countryside from future damage.

Botanist Dr. Rosemary Thomas, who provided valuable species identification expertise, pictured with Michael Nailard

CREATION OF A GIGANTIC MID SUSSEX BARN OWL CONSERVATION AREA

We are fighting to allow this lovely owl species to survive

The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group has been fighting hard to save the endangered barn owl since their plight was discovered locally in 2007.

The initial installation of boxes in areas of suitable natural habitat provided an area within Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common Parish which provided roosting and breeding opportunities to help them survive.

This area was progressively enlarged over subsequent years with additional boxes provided whenever the opportunity presented itself as the success of this initiative increased.

Twice yearly visits to each box to perform maintenance activities in the winter and check for breeding pairs in the summer has yielded  very encouraging results.

Almost all the boxes either have barn owl pellet evidence of regular usage or contain one or two resident owls.

A small specialist team of licenced group volunteers assumes responsibility for their welfare and keeps a detailed record of all boxes and occupants. Regular liaison with landowners who kindly allow boxes to be erected on their land ensure all visits are sanctioned and that they are kept informed of results.

This year it was decided that a further boost the survival prospects of the barn owl was needed which would provide a larger area of survival opportunity for them. This was to give them more of a foothold in our Mid Sussex countryside and to offset the increasing damage being inflicted upon their territory by large scale building development.

To achieve this it was decided to hugely expand barn owl conservation into a much larger section of the Southern Mid Sussex countryside and adjacent areas to assist their survival. A grant was obtained and many additional boxes purchased. Landowners were approached and permission gained to spread into carefully selected areas.

The boxes have been installed and The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group Barn Owl Conservation Area now embraces the countryside of 14 rural settlements including Hurstpierpoint, Sayers Common, Goddards Green, Ansty, Twineham, Albourne, Blackstone, Woodmancote, Newtimber, Poynings, Pyecombe, Clayton, Hassocks and Keymer.  It is hoped that this effort will considerably improve their survival prospects and create the wide expanse of countryside they require to flourish.

The box locations have been chosen with care and mounted only in areas that provide the best opportunities for delivering the prey required to sustain them. All known installation parameters and species requirements have been religiously adhered to throughout the conservation area.

A special vote of thanks is given to the committee member, Graham Stafford and the dedicated team of volunteers whose hard work made this possible and raise the number of boxes in our wide network to 41. Thanks are also extended to the landowners who allowed their land to be included in the scheme. Without such help the barn owl would be struggling to survive due to loss of natural roosting and hunting opportunities.

This considerably expanded conservation area is indicated on the maps below and all boxes provided by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group are inspected and maintained on a regular basis. The detailed records collected are subsequently submitted to the national Barn Owl Conservation Network to enable national monitoring of population numbers to be carried out.

The blue outline shows the barn owl conservation area created by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group.

Amended Mid Sussex District map to show the yellow area of countryside providing sanctuary for barn owls.

The specialist team of volunteers led by Michael Nailard and Alan Murray installing barn owl boxes.

The winter maintenance visits and the summer breeding inspections to each box are now a much bigger task as a result of the zone enlargement but this will be duly accommodated in the yearly schedule of our specialist team. The maintenance visits last year (2015) found roosting barn owls and/or pellet evidence of use in almost every box visited. Unfortunately, due to a food shortage resulting from the poor breeding year for voles and mice, this did not materialise into increased brood numbers later in the year.

Tremendous support was given by the farm owners at this farm in Twineham who aided the required clearance work to make the location perfect and provided the team with a Gator terrain vehicle to transport tools and equipment across fields to the chosen location. Mike Setford and Alan Murray are pictured loading up to depart at the end of a busy day.

One of two roosting barn owls leaving a barn owl nesting box during a recent maintenance visit.

Our 2015 summer inspection found a large number of owl pairs in the boxes but few were laying eggs as they have the sense not to breed if food to feed the young is not available.  This was the situation nationally and resulted in a very poor breeding year for barn owls.

The adult owls stayed in the boxes for most of the summer and the normal post-brood moult was commenced early, littering many of the boxes with feathers. An adult female owl found with young in one of our boxes this year in the south of the area was wearing an identification ring on its leg which had been fitted by our visiting team 8 years before in the north of the area. This provided further evidence of the value of this conservation initiative which provides sanctuary and breeding opportunities for barn owls in our local countryside and sustains their population.

BAT CONSERVATION

Volunteers toured each woodland to examine the boxes manhandling heavy ladders over great distances.

In 2009 scores of bat nesting and hibernation boxes were installed in our local countryside to assist dwindling bat species to survive. Each year they are cleaned and inspected by a licenced team of volunteers. The 2015 inspection revealed bats occupying boxes in most of the woodland locations.

The two main species found were common pipistrelle and brown long-eared bats.

All boxes were cleaned out for future use by bats. Some were found to contain slugs, spiders, bird’s nests and the occasional hornet’s nest. The latter was avoided if hornets were seen flying in and out.

The boxes were checked for damage and box fixing security.

The task was difficult and protracted but essential to keep up-to-date records of bat populations.

The results are submitted to Natural England and the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre.

This initiative is boosting hibernation and roosting opportunities to increase population numbers.

Many bat species have already disappeared from the area due to lack of roosting and foraging opportunities. Hopefully this decline has now been reversed.

 

Steve Tite, John Maskell, Tony Bright and Mike Setford contributed considerably to this very physical annual task of assisting Michael Nailard with inspection of the boxes.

This box was typical of those found containing bats with two pipistrelles clinging to the rough interior walls.

DORMOUSE DISCOVERY

The dormouse investigation being conducted by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group in woodlands in Hurstpierpoint & Sayers Common has been rewarded by the discovery of dormice in one of the southern woods. All woodlands are being progressively checked for their presence by installing temporary nesting structures. Most found with nests in have been created by wood mice to date as dormice are very shy and notoriously difficult to find. Often the only evidence that can be found is through the shells of nuts they have consumed as they have a distinct way of chewing them.

A dormouse nest after being hurriedly vacated by its occupant.

Now that their presence has been identified permanent boxes are being installed to assist their precarious survival, as they only remain in the south-east of England.

All woodlands with a dormouse presence will have boxes fitted in the same way. Grant funding has been obtained to facilitate this.

Although we have come face-to-face with these delicate creatures, recording them photographically has proved impossible as they move at the ‘speed-of-light’ before the camera shutter can operate. We do however have some lovely pictures of the nests they have just vacated. They have even eluded the movement operated camera placed near the nests after discovery.

RESTORATION OF A SITE OF NATURE CONSERVATION IMPORTANCE

Our project to restore Pond Lye SNCI was resumed in the January 2015 and continued until May when it was discontinued to allow wildlife to breed and flora to bloom for summer. Teams of volunteers worked ceaselessly throughout this period removing swathes of overgrowing blackthorn and bramble.

The work was hard and uncomfortable dealing with the unforgiving thorns and spiky cuttings but despite this tremendous progress was made.

Steadily the former meadow is being restored to its original condition and last year witnessed a further large step towards achieving this goal.

Our own volunteers were occasionally assisted by other teams of helpers from Plumpton College and Brighton. This effort is reaping rewards and each year further meadow quality is being restored to this valuable natural location.

At the end of each season of clearance work, teams of volunteers cut the meadow to ensure that previously cleared areas remain in good condition and not subjected to regrowth of brush. Special thanks are given to Graham Stafford, Nikki Sanger, Keith McKenzie, John Kentsley, Peter Shepherd, Alan Murray, Tony Bright, John Maskell and Mike Setford for their continuous hard work throughout the clearance season each year.

Volunteers removing bramble and blackthorn to restore former meadowland.

Volunteers from Plumpton College arriving to assist with the SNC1 meadow clearance task.

WOODLAND POND RESTORATION

We achieved a giant leap forward in our restoration work on a woodland pond in Sayers Common this year. A determined work effort by volunteers exposed a further huge expanse of pond from the surrounding woodland that had buried it beneath layers of fallen trees and other debris over recent decades. The work is difficult and the terrain is unforgiving but the volunteers battled on to achieve a magnificent end-of-season conclusion. The reward is plain to see in the pictures below with an ever increasing attendance from reported visiting wildlife.

This pond is now a huge attraction for local wildlife.

Result of a huge volunteer effort in difficult terrain.

Some volunteers taking a well-earned lunch break following a hard morning of clearance work.

CPRE SUSSEX AWARD FOR OUR CONSERVATION WORK

Award for Countryside & Wildlife Conservation Projects.

Michael Nailard & Alan Murray receiving The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group Award

In October 2014 (since the last news sheet) the Chairman Michael Nailard and one of our leading volunteers Alan Murray attended a CPRE award presentation at Firle Place, near Lewes. to receive an award that had been won by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group for the outstanding work done on countryside and wildlife conservation projects to improve the natural habitat in Mid Sussex.

It was presented by Lady Egremont and followed visits by judges in July to witness the difference that this work has made to the local natural environment and the survival prospects of wildlife species.

The Chairman was subsequently asked to give a talk on the group’s work at their Mid Sussex District Conference held in Haywards Heath in March 2015 which was well-attended by their supporters.

The group’s work is felt by CPRE to be in keeping with their prime objective of protecting the countryside and the overall rural environment.

 

COUNTRY LANE LITTER CLEARANCE

Our local countryside is being abused by thoughtless people dropping litter and fly tipping. To combat this, a team of group volunteers led by Hilary Pulham tour every local lane in the summer months clearing this debris. Over 50 bags of litter were collected during 2015 by the hard working volunteers.

Without this effort value of the lanes would deteriorate, become very unsightly and be extremely dangerous for wildlife. An example of this was a field mouse previously found trapped inside a Coca Cola can. It had entered attracted by the sweet smell but was unable to get out until released. Glass and scrap metal are also deadly to them and are often found in verges and hedgerows. This activity provides tremendous benefit to the welfare of our countryside and wildlife and compliments the other more mainstream conservation work undertaken by the group.

Old cycles found in country lane ditches.

Inconsiderate fly tipping.

THE GROUP 2015 ANNUAL PUBLIC TALK WAS CANCELLED

Each summer in August The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group normally hold a public talk supported by a visiting well-known speaker. In 2015 this had to be cancelled due to the intense work load being created by our conservation activities and because Hurstpierpoint high street was closed for a month for modifications.

This was unfortunately the second year of cancellation due to critical group work activities needing to be addressed. The talk creates months of preparatory work and simply could not be included in our task programme with priority needing to be given to the conclusion of our 12 year biodiversity study. The many conservation activities undertaken by the group also have to be given priority as they include a maintenance and inspection responsibility to ensure they remain effective. These are season specific work requirements and have to be scheduled to fit between other commitments. This has created a full year intensive work programme so additions like talks and AGMs have to be creatively managed to be included.

The public talks are however, of extreme value to our group to allow publicity to be given to our most recent activities and to recruit supporters, so last year’s cancellation was disappointing. Future events will be duly considered for inclusion in our programme according to activity priority.

Our achievements as a countryside conservation group are considerable and are a reflection of the volunteer commitment shown by our supporters. The group’s reputation in this respect has grown enormously and become widely recognised, as is indicated by the recent publicity and award. It must be remembered however, that to build on these achievements, we need to accommodate the continuing work responsibility each one brings, which restricts our capacity to embrace new ones without an increase in volunteer numbers.

We therefore would like to appeal to our supporters to consider whether they could give a small amount of time to help practically if they are able. The reward for this time will be a noticeable benefit for our countryside and one they should be proud to have contributed to, however minor this is. If you can help, please contact Michael Nailard. Tel: 01273 834001.   Email: dralianmarine@aol.com

We would like to conclude with a heart-felt thank you to our extremely dedicated and hard-working volunteers who generously give their time year after year to achieving group objectives and fighting for the survival of our local natural environment. Without them we would not have succeeded to the degree we have in this battle.Thanks are extended also to all registered supporters who aid our work with donations or general support.

Supporters News Sheet 2014

BARN OWL PROJECT BRINGS RECORD SUCCESS

We are fighting to allow this lovely owl species to survive

The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group is a volunteer group dedicated to protecting local countryside and wildlife. Since 2007 we have been fighting to conserve our local barn owl population with increasing year on year success. We are pleased to report that this year has been the best yet!

The barn owl is an endangered species which underwent a rapid and progressive 70% decline from the 1930’s due to loss of suitable terrain for hunting and a loss of sites for roosting and nesting. This reflected the progressive reduction in the area of remaining countryside, the reduction in farm land being used for agriculture, the small number of grain storage barns still being used and fewer hollow trees being retained nationally.

We have endeavoured to offset this in our local Mid Sussex countryside with the progressive installation of barn owl boxes in suitable locations in and around Hurstpierpoint and neighbouring parishes.

This has been achieved through grants and voluntary contributions, support from landowners and a tremendous amount of hard work and enthusiasm from a dedicated team of volunteers. It has resulted in 25 barn owl boxes being installed as part of an endangered species restoration initiative. 18 tawny owl boxes have also been erected to assist the survival prospects of a second owl species who although not yet similarly threatened could use all the assistance we can provide to overcome the same problems of diminishing roosting and hunting terrain. Our efforts to encourage the growth of more areas of flourishing rough grassland and prey rich natural habitat benefits them also, and areas where we have worked for meadow restoration is further boosting the survival prospects of both species of owl.

Team members recording breeding barn owls

The inspection team gather to appreciate their success

When undertaking our maintenance visits to every box during the very wet and windy winter months preceding this year to clean and repair them in readiness for summer breeding, we found either roosting owls or pellet evidence of occupancy in almost all of our barn owl boxes. This demonstrates the value this species places in these boxes for their shelter and continuing survival.

This was further demonstrated when we visited them again as part of a licensed team to check for young owls and ring them during the summer months. Despite nesting sites always being territorially well spaced apart, we found a record number of breeding owls and chicks and this has given a tremendous boost to their population number. 19 young owls, 2 eggs and 7 adults were found in various boxes across the local countryside. The total spread of boxes is being further increased in Pyecombe this autumn to give greater survival opportunities to this magnificent owl. Without such help it would perish.

 

RESTORATION OF A SITE OF NATURE CONSERVATION IMPORTANCE

Re-established meadows at Pond Lye

Our project to restore Pond Lye SNCI to its previous high natural value was paused last winter due to the atrocious wet and windy weather we experienced. No brush clearance work was performed apart from a small team of volunteers trimming back the annual regrowth in the previously cleared meadows with brush cutters.

The only other work that took place was in the early months of the year with the installation of two barn owl boxes on trees to the north of the largest meadow. The stand-alone trees were carefully selected and prepared to meet the preferred requirements of the barn owl.

With the excellent habitat created by the restoration of the surrounding meadows we knew that this was a perfect environment to encourage box occupancy and assist their survival.

Several months later we reaped the rewards of our labour with owl pellets found in one box and a female barn owl sitting on 6 eggs in the other. A return visit to the boxes 6 weeks later found the mother and 4 surviving young flourishing on the prey rich meadowland. Their progress had been monitored in the interval between when we had witnessed the female owl flying repeatedly to and from the box with food for her young as they grew. Her flight distances were less than 50 metres from the box and back again with mice, shrews and voles in abundance, readily available in the meadow to fulfil all her needs. This has become a rewarding success for the combined initiatives undertaken by our group.

The new entrance gate to assist our conservation work

Earlier in the year the Chairman of The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group toured the site meadows with the landowner to update him on the nature conservation work our group had undertaken and explained all we were trying to achieve. Our conservation effort only proceeds with landowner approval, so it was a valuable opportunity to discuss all site aspects and share views. The struggle we were having transporting our tools and equipment to the working area was mentioned, which was becoming an increasing distance as we progressed across the site. The landowner was very supportive and kindly offered us our own access point closer to the working area and a small area to park our cars within it. To capitalise on this generous offer we replaced an existing rusty metal and overgrown gate with a new one and cleared the area around.

The picture above shows the new private entrance gate with a group notice board attached to direct volunteers to the correct access point on project days. The entrance is secured with coded locks and chains.

It was erected by a team of dedicated volunteers who possessed the necessary skills to undertake the tasks involved. Our thanks are extended to them for all their hard work and to the landowner for allowing us to undertake it. It has already made our lives much easier. Funding for this work has been provided from group reserves and voluntary contributions. The project work to remove further overgrowing brush will re-commence at the end of September.

WOODLAND POND RESTORATION

Volunteers cutting back the brush re-growth in & around the pond

Our restoration work on the woodland pond at Sayers Common was delayed this summer whilst we awaited a reduction in the water level to remove silt and deepen the pond. This reduction did not materialise so our work resumption concentrated on removing the regrowth of brush and sprouting shoots from tree stumps that had been cleared last year. Many surrounding trees had been blown down into the pond by the high winter winds and were progressively removed to restore the pond to the condition it was in when we finished our work last year.

The clearance of the pond has attracted a large amount of wildlife to the area which has included a pair of herons, dragonflies, frogs, newts, deer, rabbits, weasels, bats, ducks and moorhens. When our clearance is completed hibernaculums will be formed and indigenous aquatic plants introduced.

 

 

DORMOUSE INVESTIGATION

A volunteer checking for a dormouse presence

Following last year’s installation of 100 dormouse tubes in two woodlands to the south of Hurstpierpoint to determine whether we have any rare dormice remaining in our countryside, we have continued this year. The results last year were inconclusive so they were left in position for a second year.

These temporary nesting structures are being frequently checked by group volunteers until November this year.

A number of tubes have been found to be occupied by wood mice but to date no dormouse presence has been found.

If any dormice are found the tubes will be replaced with permanent boxes to assist their precarious survival. They now only survive in the south-east of England.

The tubes are suspended on horizontal branches in woodland and hedgerows. Each year the tubes will be progressively moved to other woodlands until all have been investigated.

BAT CONSERVATION

A bat hibernation box in local woodland

The scores of bat nesting and hibernation boxes previously erected by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group to assist local bat species have continued to achieve encouraging results. The bats are declining due to natural habitat loss caused by the advance of mankind into the countryside, in a similar way to the plight of barn owls. This initiative is helping to reverse the trend and maintain their presence in our local countryside.

Each year we check and clean out all boxes in readiness for future occupancy and ensure sprouting tree growth is removed to allow clear access in and out of the boxes. Woodland flight paths to the boxes are also cleared to maintain access.

A number of boxes attract nesting by small birds and their nests have to be removed at the end of each season. Blue tits are the biggest culprits and can often fill some of the nesting boxes from floor to ceiling with nesting material. This prevents bats from using them so has to be regularly dealt with.

The task to visit every box in all the woodlands where they are installed is a very labour and time intensive task with most boxes mounted at an average height of 6 metres to encourage occupancy. Volunteers are hard pressed to achieve this at the end of each season with all other ongoing project work.

The number of nature conservation activities we undertake stretches our volunteer resource to the limit so we are very keen for additional volunteers to join us. If you can help please contact Michael Nailard. Tel: 01273 834001 Email: dralianmarine@aol.com

POND LYE CAR PARK PREPARATION

A volunteer using the digger to remove blackthorn stumps

The task of providing a new gate and car park area for Pond Lye SNCI took a lot of time and money to achieve.

It was made more difficult by a large number of felled blackthorn tree roots protruding from the ground within the car park area. This would have resulted in some cracked vehicle sumps if they had been left. The stumps therefore had to be removed so that group’s scheduled site visits could take place as soon as possible.

Graham Stafford, one of our volunteers was the mastermind behind this task as well as the gate provision, and used his knowledge and experience to allow us to deal effectively with the problem.

A digger was hired for a day to prepare the car park. This worked well although to complete the task in the allotted time the volunteers had to work extremely hard.  Work continued into the evening to achieve this.

The area was cleared and flattened in a day and stone chips were subsequently added to areas that were persistently damp to prevent any vehicles becoming stuck when wet weather occurred.

 

 

SUSSEX LIVING MAGAZINE PROFILE ON OUR GROUP’S WORK

July Sussex Living

In July 2014 the Sussex Living magazine featured the work of our group as their main feature. Journalist Ruth Lawrence walked around the areas of Pond Lye and the woodland pond at Sayers Common with Michael Nailard and witnessed the nature conservation work the group was undertaking. She was also able to observe the results of the bat boxes installed in a nearby wood and the owl boxes erected in trees within adjacent fields. The tour allowed them to witness a young rabbit plunging into the pond at Sayers Common and swimming for its life away from a pursuing weasel. She skilfully captured this moment in a photograph that appeared in her well-written article.

 

The article promoted a lot of interest and gained the group some additional volunteers. It also attracted appeals for help in areas as far away as Forest Row and Berkshire which we have pursued to satisfactory conclusions. To see this on line click on the following link:- http://sussexliving.com/giving-nature-helping-hand/

 

 

 

 

GROUP ANNUAL PUBLIC TALK CANCELLED

Each summer in August The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group normally hold a public talk supported by a visiting well-known speaker. This year the event unfortunately had to be cancelled due to extreme time pressure to complete other activities. The talk creates months of preparatory work and simply could not be included in our schedule. It is of extreme value to our group to allow publicity to be given to our most recent activities and to recruit supporters, so it is deeply regretted that this event could not be repeated this year.

WILDLIFE WELFARE

The rescued young tawny owl being transported to a wildlife centre

We continue to pursue the well-being of all wildlife and warmly invite people to contact us when they find wildlife in danger, distress or injured. We get many calls for help or advice. A recent example of this was initiated by a telephone call from a member of the public after they had found a small tawny owl on a busy main road in immediate danger of being squashed by passing traffic. There was no tree in the area that it could have fallen from so it was decided to rescue it and remove it from its perilous situation.

It was carefully carried to the house of our Chairman, Michael Nailard to check for injuries and then when none were found, transported to a local wildlife rescue centre to be raised to maturity without the care of a parent owl. The group funded its rehabilitation costs. It eventually grew into a fine adult specimen able to fend for itself and was released safely back into the wild many months later. We hope this success story inspires others to intervene to help wildlife in need knowing that they can always contact us by phone on 01273 834001 for help if required.

CPRE SUSSEX COUNTRYSIDE AWARDS

Our Chairman was recently contacted by the CPRE Sussex Countryside Trust to advise that The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group had been nominated for the CPRE Sussex Countryside Awards for their decade of project work to improve the countryside and wildlife habitat in Mid Sussex. Judges have since visited to witness the difference that this work has made to the natural environment and the survival prospects of wildlife species. Following the visit advice has been received that this has been selected for an award which will be presented to the group in October this year at Firle, near Lewes.

Supporters News Sheet 2013

A TALK BY MICHAEL BLENCOWE

The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group, a volunteer group dedicated to protecting local countryside and wildlife, invite you to an illustrated talk by Michael Blencowe, the butterfly and moth expert. He is the conservation officer for Sussex Butterfly Conservation who share close links with the Sussex Moth Group. He manages their two nature reserves and is involved with advising landowners across the county how to conserve and protect butterflies and moths. He collects and compiles records of butterflies in Sussex. Michael also works for Sussex Wildlife Trust as their community wildlife officer.

His illustrated talk entitled ‘The Butterflies and Moths of Sussex’ will take place on Tuesday, 20th August at 7.30 pm in the Main Hall at Hurstpierpoint Village Centre, Trinity Road, Hurstpierpoint, BN6 9UY. He provides a fascinating insight into the Lepidoptera of Sussex with some amazing photographs of these beautiful species and facts about their lives and development. You will hear about their habitats, amazing life-styles, fascinating progression through caterpillar and chrysalis stages and the locations they can be found in Sussex. Come along to learn about them and be inspired to protect and save them. With five of our native species now extinct and many others in serious decline they need our help. Entry is free and all are welcome. There is a car park opposite the building.

RESTORATION OF A SITE OF NATURE CONSERVATION IMPORTANCE

The programme of restoration work to re-establish the value of the SNCI area at Pond Lye resumed on October 2nd last year after a summer break, when 22 volunteers joined together to clear the invading brush that had virtually taken over the site since it had received its SNCI designation in 1992.

The extensive invasion of bramble and thorn since then was progressively smothering the distinctive flora previously recorded there and had to be removed. The ultimate aim is to clear the site of all the damaging brush.

Work continued throughout the winter for two days each week and ceased on 30th April to allow wildlife to breed undisturbed. It will resume again in the autumn to begin our 3rd year on this task.

WOODLAND POND RESTORATION

 

A project to restore an overgrown woodland pond in Sayers Common was commenced in May. An aquatic consultant was employed to produce a report indicating the work required to restore its condition to provide maximum benefit for wildlife. He and a staff member joined group volunteers on the first day to demonstrate and train them in the best methods to employ and safety practices.

With the kind support of the landowners the group volunteers have been allowed to attend weekly to progress the project which when finished, will bring enormous benefits to the area’s amphibious population.

Volunteers have willingly given their time to achieve this through weather that has ranged being from very wet to uncomfortably hot.

The initial stage has been for clearance of overhanging trees within the pond and along the banks. This will be followed by pond deepening and introducing indigenous plants to improve the water quality. When light is allowed on to the pond the plants will flourish and the quality of habitat for wildlife will increase. Already the improvement is significant. Hibernaculums are also being created along the banks.

DORMOUSE INVESTIGATION

One hundred dormouse tubes have been installed in two woodlands to the south of Hurstpierpoint to determine whether we have any rare dormice remaining in our countryside.

These are temporary nesting structures provided to encourage breeding use within them. They were provided in April and are being monitored every two to four weeks until November.

If any mice are found the tubes will be replaced with permanent boxes to assist their precarious survival. They now only exist in the south-east of England.

The tubes are suspended on horizontal branches in woodland and hedgerows. Each year the tubes will progressively be moved to other woodlands until all are checked. To date no nesting mice have been found in any of the tubes but we are hopeful.

Dormice are generally very sleepy creatures. If the outside temperature remains cold their hibernation can last up to six months. They achieve this by storing reserves of body fat during the summer months. If the food is scarce in the spring they will curl up in a ball and sleep to conserve energy. While awake this nocturnal animal spends most of its time climbing amongst branches foraging for hazel nuts, acorns and blackberries. Hibernation nests are built at ground level under leaves or in tree roots so we have to tread with care.

 

WATER VOLE INVESTIGATION

Endangered water voles have previously been found at Pond Lye SNCI but haven’t been recorded there for some time. To check for a current site presence an investigation was undertaken in May with cameras. Banks were scoured for evidence of holes, chewed vegetation or excreta and movement operated cameras installed in the most likely places.

The water vole is now extinct in many parts of Britain due mainly to the introduction of mink which escaped from fur farms in the 1950’s. Water voles burrow into banks making entrances above and below the water line. Inside the network of tunnels there are usually at least two resting places, each lined with shredded grass or pith from rushes. Sometimes there is an exit a metre or so inland indicated by a ‘feeding lawn’ of closely cropped grass nearby. Aquatic vegetation, grass and small mammals contribute to their diet.

Unfortunately, our investigation revealed no evidence of a presence but because the lake is so large we are being encouraged by conservation experts to repeat the exercise.

BARN OWL & TAWNY OWL CONSERVATION

We have recently installed a barn owl nesting box in a beautiful downland location at Pyecombe at the request of the landowners. Barn owls had been seen in the area but no suitable nesting or roosting habitat existed for them

The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group owl task force selected a suitable location and modified the immediate surroundings to meet the required parameters for occupation. The group continues to widen their area of operation to increase their range of wildlife and countryside conservation. The team will include this new box in their maintenance and inspection schedules in the coming year.

With the mounting pressure on our receding natural environment there is increasing urgency to undertake measures to combat it and our volunteers are continuously striving to meet this challenge. This brings the total number of barn owl and tawny owl boxes provided to 41 which is providing nesting and roosting opportunities for an increasing population of owls.

 

This year generally has been classed as a poor year for breeding barn owls by experts. Despite this our inspection recently revealed an increase in our population with the addition of a number of young owls found in nest boxes to compliment roosting adults found in others. The highest numbers of owls this year were found in the north of Hurstpierpoint in an area threatened by the expansion of Burgess Hill development.

Despite advice being given to the District Council of the high conservation value of this area, wildlife and countryside interests continue to be ignored. The pursuit of economic growth and development of countryside to make money for councils to spend continues to take precedence over all other considerations. When they finally ‘remove their blinkers’ in this respect it will be too late to redeem the calamitous situation we will all be faced with.

The inspection revealed some wonderful additions to our local owl population who were ringed, weighed and measured by licenced operatives. The pictures above show two of these wonderful creatures sensitively being recorded in this way to the south of the A2300 Burgess Hill to Hickstead ring road. Afterwards they were gently returned to their boxes to resume their growth into adulthood. This box contained two male and two female chicks and their mother. It will be a tragedy if they are to be deprived of this area for hunting, roosting and breeding.

BAT CONSERVATION

The scores of bat boxes previously erected by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group to combat the decline of local bat species due to loss of nesting habitat have continued to achieve encouraging results.

The picture to the left shows one of the residents using our bat boxes in a woodland location. This was taken by the licenced person checking for occupancy at the end of last year.

Each year we check and clean all boxes in readiness for future occupancy and ensure woodland flight paths are cleared to enable access. This provides increased nesting opportunities and aids their survival prospects.

COUNTRY LANE LITTER CLEARANCE

Group volunteers have formed working parties to keep local country lanes clear of litter. This improves their appearance and removes potential hazards for wildlife. It further contributes to our overall care of the countryside.

FUTURE PROJECTS

The more people who are able to assist us the more we can do. Each project completed requires effort to monitor and maintain to maximise its effectiveness. This limits our ability to undertake new ones to the extent we would like. If you can help please contact Michael Nailard. Tel: 01273 834001.   Email: dralianmarine@aol.com