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.