The group was formed and undertook a Phase 1 Habitat Survey across the whole of the Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common Parish in 2004 to learn about the local countryside and discover what protection was required to safeguard it.
The survey took 6 years to complete due to the vast area of countryside contained, the number of volunteers available to undertake it and obtaining permission from the 200 landowners before work was allowed to begin in their locations.
In 2006 the group was re-configured with a new constitution to allow work to be undertaken to address some of the areas of conservation concern being identified by the biodiversity study and in 2007 a project was undertaken to install 18 barn owl and 12 tawny owl boxes to assist local owl populations to survive.
By this time a degree of trust had been forged between the Chairman of the Group and landowners through previous contact in the Habitat Survey and they proved willing to give permission for the group to undertake projects on their land. Grant funding was obtained to achieve this.
The project was a great success especially for the endangered barn owl with nesting and roosting occupancy occurring as soon as they were erected.
This compensated for the deficiency in natural nesting opportunities found due to lack of suitably hollow trees and the number of domestic barn conversions occurring to previously agricultural grain storage buildings.
In 2008/2009 a bat conservation project was embarked upon to assist the dwindling bat species in our area after sufficient grant funding had been obtained. Scores of nesting and hibernation boxes were mounted in woodlands throughout the parish. It too proved a great success.
In 2010 a second owl box conservation initiative was undertaken as a result of the success of the first one and an extra 7 barn owl and 3 tawny owl boxes were erected to expand the area of owl conservation.
These were also extremely successful and the resident owl populations have benefitted considerably as a result. This initiative was funded by public donations. Further boxes were subsequently erected also funded by voluntary contributions.
Additionally in 2010 further bat boxes were erected by the group in a small monitored natural area within the parish at the request of those overseeing it. It also provided and erected individual bat boxes requested by members of the public for their own properties.
In 2011 the group focussed on a valuable Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI) within the Parish of Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common. The area had been designated an SNCI in 1992 due to the distinctive flora that flourished there. Since this initial date the meadows had progressively disappeared under a jungle of blackthorn and bramble. The Habitat Survey had revealed that a few of these species were still surviving but needed help.
The group immediately embarked on a project to clear the invading brush and re-establish the meadows to their former state.
The task was so difficult and labour intensive that the project was categorised as an ongoing one with a further section cleared each year and all cleared areas cut annually to prevent brush re-growth. The cleared areas are slowly but progressively re-establishing themselves and the project continues.
In 2011 also it was noticed that the amount of rubbish being deposited in parish country lanes was becoming very unsightly and posing a severe threat to local wildlife. A team was formed to progressively tour the lanes and remove the litter. This work was undertaken annually during the summer months until 2016 when due to its continuous work requirement the task was transferred to Hurstpierpoint and Sayers Common Parish Council as a more appropriate provider of the service.
Additionally, in 2011 the group obtained 100 trees and planted them in two locations within the parish to increase the amount of woodland in the local countryside. These trees once planted were nurtured for two years through periods of extreme drought. Many 5 gallon drums of water were transported weekly to each location during these periods to sustain them until they had become established. Their well-being is being continuously checked.
In 2013 group members checking bat boxes in woodland in Sayers Common discovered a large overgrown pond which was in danger of disappearing beneath brush and fallen trees. The group sought and obtained permission from the landowners to restore it and obtained guidance from a professional pond consultant. The pond consultant was employed by the group to initially train volunteers and give advice and a project was begun to clear the pond and re-stablish it as a distinctive wetland feature to benefit wildlife. This too is a long-term undertaking due to the amount of heavy work required and has been continuing each year since then. The area already cleared has benefitted the local wildlife populations noticeably.
In 2013 also, the group embarked upon a project to identify areas where endangered dormice still survived and to provide nesting box support for their dwindling populations. The search area is vast and the project is proceeding yearly by exploring different measured sections until it progressively has covered the whole of the parish countryside. Where dormice are discovered the tubes are being replaced with permanently fixed boxes.
A similar project was undertaken in 2013 using movement operated cameras to determine whether the endangered water vole population had survived since the last recorded sighting in 2007. No survivors were found but the hunt is continuing.
In 2014, landowner permission was given for the group to create its own entrance into the SNCI and to form a small parking area to assist the volunteers in their conservation effort. A new gate was erected with surrounding fencing and an area cleared for parking. It proved expensive but has aided our ongoing work considerably.
In 2015 it was decided to expand the barn owl survival area still further to provide an increased area for species survival. This would also off-set the recent building development incursions into valuable areas of parish countryside that were used as foraging habitat by barn owls.
Grant funding was obtained and 16 additional boxes were purchased to be installed in Sayers Common and more remote regions of our parish. Some are also to be provided in the adjoining villages of Albourne, Twineham, Poynings, Pyecombe, Hassocks, Clayton, Keymer, Blackstone, Woodmancote and Newtimber.
It is hoped this will further enhance survival prospects for this endangered species and generally benefit the local Mid Sussex countryside’s wildlife survival potential.
With each breeding pair requiring a hunting territory of 2 kilometres in radius, this wider area will now be covered by a total of 41 barn owl boxes to provide the sanctuary necessary for them to flourish. All boxes are mounted in areas where the natural habitat is suitable to provide the prey to sustain them. With the installation of the owl, bat and dormice boxes and each of the countryside improvement initiatives there is an ongoing annual maintenance requirement to ensure they continue to be successful. With the owl boxes each one has to be cleaned out, repaired and painted during the winter months. Spread over huge expanses of countryside this is a significant task to achieve. During the summer months an inspection of each is required to identify the number of breeding owls and young produced in the boxes. All owls are ringed and recorded by the small specialist team of qualified people who religiously undertake the tasks and keep occupancy records.
Similarly with the bat boxes they all have to be checked and recorded for occupancy and cleaned of birds nest debris annually to ensure they continue to be suitable for bats. The inspections are undertaken by a small team of qualified people and a leader licensed to undertake work with endangered species. With the high number of nesting and hibernation boxes installed across the parish countryside this also is a mammoth task.
The dormice tubes have to be erected in suitable locations to establish whether a population exists and these require to be checked every 2 weeks from April to November. This too takes a considerable amount of time and is performed by a specialist team who can identify where each box has been mounted within woodland and hedgerows.
It can be seen therefore, that for each project embarked upon there is a continuous maintenance requirement created afterwards to ensure they continue to be successful. These activities are seasonal and must be performed within allotted time-frames to adhere to individual wildlife species breeding periods. This creates a heavy constant annual work requirement to ensure each activity is accommodated.
It also creates a significant maintenance and tool/equipment replacement cost which the group strives to achieve through grants and voluntary public donations.
To allow all supporters to belong regardless of age or financial income, the group charges no membership fee but instead asks for voluntary contributions towards this conservation work at annual talks and meetings from anyone able to afford it. This allows all to be involved and be kept informed of the well-being and news of all that is going on in their local countryside.
An annual news sheet is issued to all registered supporters to detail all group activities and achievements. The public talks given and those provided by the group to individual organisations/groups on request also provide this information.