Fungal Reflections

With the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions preventing any group activity in the early months of 2021, we take a moment to reflect on the natural beauty provided by fungi in our countryside and share some of the images we have previously collected. It is not intended to provide identification of individual species which is adequately covered by reference books, but to appreciate the wonderful colours, shapes, sizes and formations they provide.

Generally, fungi are a large class of organisms which have a structure similar to plants but lack the chlorophyll which would otherwise enable them to build up the carbon compounds that are the essence of life. To compensate for this they draw their sustenance ready-made from live or dead plants and animals.

The composition of fungus to enable this takes the form of minute filaments like hairs which are called hyphae. These develop into a cobweb-like net formation of fine, hairy strands which grow through the material that contains the required nutrition. It then extracts this nutrition from it. These strands are referred to as the mycelium. The fungi that we observe are the fruiting bodies that result from the conjoining of two mycelia of the same species when the conditions of humidity, temperature, light and nutrition are met. The resulting mushroom or fungus formation is the part of the organism which develops to form and distribute spores to enable them to reproduce. This stage is seen mostly in the late summer or autumn.

The resulting elegant formations we witness are usually the reason we pause for a moment from our conservation activities to admire and often record them. We take this opportunity to share some of these images with you.


Some grow on wood.


Some grow in soil.


Some species are found only in woodland.







Some species thrive in grassland fields.



Some appear on the trunks of trees.


Generally they all form in soil, woodland or manure.



Some grow under or near different species of plant or tree.


Some require either acidic or chalky soils.












Decaying wood is a good foundation for many species…


….especially if it is damp.




Some have a mat appearance….


….whilst others have a waxy surface.




Appearances can vary considerably.






Some take a blanket form on the bark of dead trees.


Others appear as colourful enrichment to surrounding natural terrain.






There are approximately 3000 species of larger fungi found in Great Britain. They grow in a multitude of shapes, sizes, colours and patterns of growth. They have varying preferred locations for growth and are mostly poisonous to eat. These are a few of the many that we have encountered during our nature conservation activities and photographed.



Owl Box Maintenance Gets Tougher.

With national coronavirus pandemic restrictions ebbing and flowing like a tide on the seashore, we faced a dilemma about undertaking our seasonal maintenance on our scores of barn owl boxes whilst conforming to all Government restrictions.



All owl boxes in our conservation area are visited during the winter.


This maintenance is extremely important to ensure the boxes are in good condition, waterproof and clean to provide an attractive appeal to barn owl breeding occupancy in the spring. When not cleaned and adequately maintained they can become very dirty, congested with old nesting material or wet inside from prevailing weather through the entrance, all of which encourage mould and maggots to flourish.



An owl pellet covered in mould. (Note the bones and fur contained as residue from prey consumed which is initially retained and then ejected in pellet form via the mouth as it can’t be digested).


Dirty boxes can also encourage infestation from parasites like red mite which if allowed to become extreme can affect the health of the occupants and in some cases kill them. The mite suck the blood of their hosts and this can severely weaken them. These parasites can also transfer to the person cleaning the boxes out and causes large parts of the body to be covered in a ‘nettle rash’ of lumps and red blotches which is extremely itchy and uncomfortable for days afterwards.



Large distances have to be covered to reach the boxes.


This maintenance is normally undertaken in the winter months from November to February. To overcome the anticipated severe restrictions to follow the Christmas regulation easing, we endeavoured to undertake this while it was permitted for two people from different households to meet in open spaces following all social distancing and other guidelines. It is normally a very protracted exercise fitted in between bad weather days but this year we had to accelerate the pace to capture the limited opportunity.



To conform to social distancing requirements, ladder erection had to be undertaken by a single person.



The terrain to be covered is always wet and muddy in the winter.


The task was commenced at an extremely fast rate working up to three days every week during November and December in an effort to complete before the anticipate lockdown after Christmas.



Extreme care is taken when opening the boxes in case a roosting owl flies out.


This activity has been performed every winter since 2007 and so is now very familiar to those who undertake it. Using this experience, we swiftly covered miles of terrain over fields carrying all the ladders and equipment required. The pressure to complete was intense and energy levels diminished as the work effort continued.



Interiors are initially checked to establish the internal as well as the external  box condition.



Bird dropping streaks and dirt are removed from the outside of the boxes.



Each box is surface prepared, with any damage repaired, and has a coat of paint applied.



All dirty nesting material is removed and replaced with clean.



Each interior is finally inspected to ensure it is in the best condition to attract owls before leaving.



Different locations present differing access difficulties.



Some trees have smaller trunk diameters and are on sloping ground making ladder positioning difficult…



…whilst others are much more substantial and on level ground.



Sometimes on wet ground, ladders can sink a full rung’s depth as the weight of the climber is added, so extreme care has to be taken.


To add to the difficulty, several boxes were found to have been badly damaged and required replacement or removal for repair off-site. This slowed our progress considerably but it was still hoped that we would complete before Christmas. Towards the end of December our pace slowed further as we had to contend with several sites with extremely long distances to walk to the boxes, as our vehicles were prevented from getting near due to wet weather conditions.



On return to our vehicles after each visit much of the mud encountered was attached to our boots making it much more difficult to walk.



Many boxes were found to have roosting owls in them.



Each one left to perch in a nearby tree…



…to await our departure before returning again afterwards.



At our arrival at each box we try to capture the occupants in pictures…



…but many of them hear our approach from a distance away…



…and depart before we can quietly place down our equipment to photograph them.


With only four boxes still to complete, one of which required a full replacement, we unfortunately ran out of time. The severe lockdown we had anticipated to be likely to follow Christmas duly materialised and we were therefore prevented from completing this 2020/2021 winter month activity due to its extended duration.



We did however, also manage to maintain some of our tawny owl boxes on route.


My thanks goes to my fellow group member Alan, who put aside many of his own commitments to help with this task in an effort to complete in the reduced timescale and in accordance with applied coronavirus restrictions. With 14 years of experience in owl box conservation in our area, his presence is one of main reasons our initiative is so successful.



Invaluable help was provided with this task by Alan.


We now have the satisfaction of knowing that almost all of our boxes are in good repair and in a clean condition for the coming breeding season. We hope that survival prospects are good for the barn owls in our large conservation area this year with plenty of prey available to catch, to encourage them to fully utilise our boxes and breed successfully.



The boxes were restored to a near perfect condition before each door was finally replaced and we departed allowing the owls to return.


The few boxes we were unable to complete before the current coronavirus lockdown will have to remain as they are until we are able to resume later in the year. With many barn owls beginning their mating season from the beginning of March, any further disturbance could affect their successful breeding this year.

Hopefully life for everyone can return to a degree of normality in the year ahead and we can resume all our normal countryside conservation activities.

Information from CPRE Sussex

The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group are posting this advice received from CPRE Sussex to help support the invaluable work they do in striving to protect valuable countryside from being damaged or disappearing beneath building and other development. Please read and support if possible. Thank you.


CPRE Sussex Spring Festival of Countryside Talks.

Looking for lockdown entertainment? From the comfort of your armchair, hear from inspirational people who love nature, the countryside and the Sussex landscape and help raise vital funds for a beautiful and thriving Sussex countryside that enriches all our lives! 

We have local crime novelist – William Shaw, Sir Charlie Burrell – rewilding pioneer, Prof Dave Goulson – author and campaigner for Bumblebees and all small creatures, and our local Sussex historian and landscape expert Dr Geoffrey Mead will bring his enthusiasm and knowledge to bear on all things Sussex.

Find out more and book your tickets at:


Supporters News Sheet 2020



The early wet months of last winter proved to be extremely difficult for The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group owl team in early 2020. Not only was it difficult to find dry days to undertake the box cleaning and maintenance but so heavy had been the rainfall that the countryside was a quagmire to negotiate. With the target to complete by the end of February to let owls begin mating, the pressure on the team was intense. It meant grabbing every dry opportunity at short notice and on many occasions meant working up to three days a week. The volunteers faced a daunting task to transport all the required maintenance equipment over countless fields that were so wet that it was difficult to walk across them.


The equipment required was transported across the open countryside to the box locations.


Due to these severe wet conditions, they faced the additional complication that they were unable to get their vehicles as close as normal to reduce the distance they were required to walk.


Every location presented the same waterlogged terrain to overcome and boots were quickly overwhelmed.


 The barn owls found seemed to appreciate this effort and were quick to return to the cleaned boxes afterwards.


Once the task was commenced it was pursued until completion. Progress was interrupted many times due to rapidly changing weather forecasts. Some sites were extremely waterlogged after days of heavy rainfall so the team had to miss them and move on to others that were more accessible. Working constantly in deep wet mud and waterlogged fields made clothing quickly resemble the terrain. The rungs of the ladders became as muddy as the ground and this transferred to their hands and clothing. Working was therefore difficult and had to be performed with extreme care. With 80% of our national barn owl population relying on boxes such as these to survive, the effort however problematical is worthwhile and justifies all the expenditure we incur annually taken from group funds. This is one of causes we appeal for help for from our supporters and others at our annual fundraising events. Without this help we could not fund this conservation effort. Failure to regularly undertake this task leads to a much-shortened lifespan for the boxes, thus increasing our costs and allows bacteria/insect infestation to occur within them to the detriment of the occupants and breeding success.


            Each box is cleaned and restored with a coat of paint.              


All tree growth impeding flight path access is removed.


The sight of a magnificent barn owl from one of our boxes sweeping across the countryside makes all our effort worthwhile.




Volunteers worked very hard on the maintenance of the small Hassocks nature reserve named Talbot Field in very wet and muddy conditions until March this year. We began the task at this site in January. The weather had been very wet for several months and the ground was waterlogged in many places. This made working difficult. Many volunteers attended despite the conditions and a lot of intrusive brush clearance and renovation work was completed.

The aim had been to complete this activity before spring to give the spring flowers clear space to flourish and bloom. It had taken many weeks to remove the brush and a lot of volunteer effort to rake and pile up the cuttings. This was eventually completed and piles of debris were locally stacked all around the site. We then began transporting these piles to a central stack at the rear of the site where they would be burnt. Unfortunately, the first COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ occurred before we could complete the process so the site was left with many piles remaining. It resumed again when lockdown ceased but subject to social distancing and other Government safety restrictions. The volunteers worked hard to finally complete the task in July.


     The woodland floor is tackled to remove brush and fallen branches with footpaths cleared to restore public access.


After a lot of hard work, two volunteers take a well-earned break. Sadly our valued colleague and committee member Eric on the right passed away unexpectedly in November. He will be greatly missed.


Volunteers remove all clearance debris in readiness for summer. 


All this effort allowed the meadow to flourish and support local wildlife in the following months.




The initial inspections our group carries out identifies which boxes have owl broods in and allow us to establish their size to determine when they are old enough to have identification rings fitted.  Due to the variation in sizes even in one box brood this is quite complex and means many return visits to specific boxes to ensure the birds receive their rings at the required stage of development. Often this is based on noting the size of the smallest member of the family and calculating when it will be ready. This is complicated further on some occasions when food is in short supply by the smallest one being eaten by its siblings in the meantime. It also often means that the smallest one’s bigger siblings are very large and a handful to deal with on the return visit.


Barn owl young were found in many boxes on our initial visits.


The barn owl young found in the boxes were ringed when they reached a sufficient stage of development.


The whole breeding check/ringing activity occupies several authorised people for many months of the summer in our area before all are satisfactorily recorded. The results are then forwarded to allow population records to be kept for the whole country. Originally severely endangered, years of conservation effort have restored their population number but it is only with continuing nurturing by volunteers that it will be maintained.




With a back-log of nature conservation work to complete before the end of the year, The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group volunteer work force moved on quickly to the Sayers Common Pond location at the end of July.


Observing all 2020 coronavirus social distancing and other limitations, volunteers moved in to restore the pond.


With years of experience behind many of them, they expertly began to tackle the task.


Here unchecked brush and reed growth had begun to over-run the area. Thistles had grown to 2.5 metres and joined with bramble, willow and stinging nettles on the pond banks to become very overgrown. Reeds had once again begun to spread and the surrounding tree growth and fallen branches had added further to the effort required. This had inevitably begun to dismantle the years of hard work that had been necessary to originally restore the pond from a tangle of fallen trees and woodland undergrowth. Determined that this achievement would not be wasted despite COVID-19 restrictions making work more difficult than normal, the volunteers quickly began restoring the area to ensure it remained the distinctive natural feature it previously was and a haven for wildlife once more.


Regardless of prevailing summer temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Centigrade, all volunteers maintained their effort throughout the many weeks required to achieve completion.


On the final day of this effort the reward for all the hard work was plain to see with the pond once more a distinctive landscape feature serving the local wildlife populations.




The coronavirus ‘lock-down’ robbed us of many valuable months of monitoring these boxes this year when any dormouse presence would have been at its highest to detect. Never-the-less we resumed in late summer when restrictions were lifted and were able to visit all boxes monthly to record their occupancy. These boxes encourage the survival of these now very rare mammals in this country where any breeding presence detected is a huge reward for the conservation effort expended. Often signs of their previous box visits are the only indication of a dormouse presence such is the elusive nature of the species. Due to the lack of earlier checks, the many boxes that had been used by nesting bluetits and great tits were not cleaned out as normal to allow dormice to use them. We therefore anticipated a poor return would be the result.


Licenced volunteer teams visited each month to examine the boxes in each woodland.


Many boxes were being used as food stores by wood mice.


   This was one of the many wood mice nests found this year built on a large food store of acorns.


The checks should have continued monthly from April until November but we missed half of the season and this was reflected in a poor year for finding any dormice. The clearance of redundant early spring bluetit and great tit nests are usually the first annual task we undertake to allow dormice to occupy the boxes. This wasn’t possible until very late in the summer this year. Wood mice and their nests were found in abundance however, together with many food stores. Hopefully dormice results will be better next year.




We began our initial bat inspections at the latter end of August. They were continued throughout September and were finally completed at the beginning of October. It was found to be the best year for box occupancy since 2009 when they were first erected by us to Bat Conservation Trust guidelines. The measures we have in place are assisting bats to survive and flourish in a world that has pushed them into becoming an endangered species. It is also a reward for all the hard work that we expend on them.


Teams of licenced volunteers year visit each woodland to record the population of bats.


With each box erected at a lofty height in the woodland tree canopy to provide maximum suitability for bats, a multi-section ladder is required. This has to be a heavy duty one to ensure safe working at the high heights required. Normally the erection of the 3 ladder sections were shared by members of the team to manoeuvre around tree branches, trunk protrusions and very awkward trunk/branch configurations.

This year with volunteers observing the Government’s social distancing rules, all tasks had to be performed with this in mind. This meant individuals travelling separately to each location and work-spacing apart. This made the ladder erection the sole task of a single person which obviously took much longer and was more taxing. Normally 2 or 3 individuals stand together at the foot of the ladder with one person holding the ladder away from the trunk while another person extends it upwards. The timing and duration of these checks are usually difficult to fit into the ‘ideal window’ at the end of the summer when temperatures are still warm enough to sustain the insect populations which provide the food the bats depend upon. This is especially so when the autumn weather becomes wet and the number of suitable days within this period are lessened. This was achieved this year however, thanks to the concentrated effort and hard work of the volunteers who were willing to attend several days each week for a month. All results have been forwarded to Natural England to enable national population records to be updated.


Each box is visited to determine occupancy and the findings recorded. This year’s occupancy results included Natterer’s, Soprano Pipistrelle and Common Pipistrelle bats.





The Pond Lye meadow sustains a rich tapestry of flora and dependant wildlife which requires constant nurturing.


With a queue of seasonal tasks still remaining after the delay caused by the first coronavirus national ‘lockdown’, we quickly moved on to tackle the annual meadow cut required at Pond Lye Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI) in the early weeks of August.

An advance contingent of volunteers had attended earlier to cut the knee length grass that was covering the car park area to make it accessible for volunteer’s vehicles. This work is necessary to maintain the rich floral quality of the meadow which is in evidence throughout the summer. When the flora blooms come to the end of their flowering seasons, we return to provide the care needed to maintain it. With wildflower meadows generally in severe decline, the remaining ones require as much help as possible to survive and to sustain the wildlife populations that flourish within them.

We are very grateful to our regular volunteer scythe operator, who attended site at 6.00am every morning before beginning employment work elsewhere. This early start also allowed him to avoid the extreme heat of the summer days that were prevailing at the time. He started on the cutting of the area of the meadow which was punctuated with anthills and always proves so difficult to tackle by any other means. He succeeded brilliantly and by the time others began working at the site a few weeks later, had scythed the whole of this section giving us a head start with the cutting of the remaining area. For the remaining cut we were equally fortunate to obtain the help of one of our long-standing helpers who uses his tractor and cutter to cut more of the meadow for us.



The scythe operator begins the task in the difficult areas followed by the volunteer with tractor and cutter.


For this he attended several days at the end of August and completed all the areas that were accessible with his tractor. His effort saves us months of attempting to cut the meadow with brush cutters and scythes alone and we are extremely grateful to him for this help. The brush cutter operators were soon tackling the remaining difficult areas and meadow edges.


The brush cutter volunteers then move in to tackle the remaining difficult areas.


While they tackled these areas, many other volunteers attended to begin raking up all the cuttings produced. This is necessary to ensure they do not decompose to enrich and alter the soil composition upon which the indigenous flora species rely. The cuttings are transported to peripheral bonfire locations to be disposed of.


Then large numbers of volunteers are required to rake up and dispose of all the cuttings.


This takes many weeks to complete and a lot of effort.


This work stage can become very protracted as it often coincides with the advent of the autumn rainy season which forces many of the weekly volunteer days to be cancelled when dry weather forecasts suddenly deteriorate. This year proved no exception.

We also had to contend with the introduction of the second period of coronavirus’ lockdown’ which prevented any working parties attending to complete it. This has unfortunately once again put our countryside and wildlife work schedule into delay despite the hard work our volunteers had put in to remedy it and for which we are very grateful. Prior to this second ‘lockdown’ the commendable effort of our volunteers had allowed us to catch up with our seasonal work schedule to be on target to tackle next season’s commitments. Now unfortunately we begin behind schedule again with the ability to resume previous working practices uncertain.


The completion of the meadow cut in readiness for next year.





A barn owl pellet coated with red mould.


Fly Agaric fungus (Amanita muscaria).       


A Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea).




 No talks were held this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent ‘lockdowns’ and safety restrictions applied by the Government. Next year’s events could be equally uncertain.


SUPPORTER MESSAGE.                                                         


We thank all our supporters for their interest in our activities and our valuable volunteers for their help. If you too would like to volunteer please contact Michael Nailard.   Telephone: 01273 834001.

Email:  Group Website:





Supporters News Sheet 2019



A lot of effort is given by our group into the preservation of our indigenous bat populations. Each year all our installed boxes in many woodlands in our local countryside are visited and cleaned.


A Common Pipistrelle bat is found inside this box on one of our seasonal inspections.


The populations are recorded and the results forwarded to Natural England each year to allow national population records to be constructed. This year in late summer the wet weather made undertaking the inspections extremely difficult. Ladder work to these high levels in the woodland canopy is extremely hazardous in damp conditions so dry days are necessary for our teams to work safely. The task is a very physical one so strong people are required to carry and manoeuvre the ladders around the woodlands.


                    Helpers carry ladders through each woodland. 


    A team member steadies the ladder.


The continuous wet weather delayed this activity and this resulted in the number of bats found to be less than last year but we did find up to 5 bats in some boxes and evidence of use in most of them.




This year was also less successful for the number of breeding barn owls found in comparison with last year. The early dry spring and summer weather reduced the number of prey species breeding which in turn impacted on the food supply available for breeding barn owls.


A young barn owl found this year.


One of the successfully reared barn owl chicks being ringed during a summer visit.




The poor year for bats and barn owls impacted also on our dormouse conservation effort this year. Monthly box checks were undertaken by our licenced teams from April until November but yielded mostly wood mouse, bird and insect activity. Dormouse occupation was found to be scarce. All signs of a dormouse presence were recorded. Seasonal weather patterns have a large impact on dormouse population activity.


Team members visit all woodlands where dormouse activity has been detected to inspect the installed boxes.


Any nests found were examined to determine the occupants and all live and breeding creatures were returned safely to their boxes to continue their lives without further interruption.


One of the many nesting wood mice found on our monthly woodland tours.




The Site of Nature Conservation Importance at Pond Lye continues to make progress in our effort to restore it to allow previous distinctive meadow species to return after our years of brush clearance.  The floral display this summer was impressive and attracted hundreds of insect and other wildlife species to the area.



The meadow was a blaze of different colours with insects of all descriptions attracted to them.


 The meadow appearance was a moving feast as the season progressed with different coloured flowers blooming.


The work required to maintain this improvement has been a considerable one for our volunteers. The annual cut took place in August with initially with scythes and brush cutters as the anthill punctuated terrain made other methods of cutting difficult. The volunteers worked extremely hard in the anthill area and cut all meadow growth until we reached a point where we were able to request help from one of our volunteers with a tractor and cutter to tackle the flatter main area of the meadow which was less affected.

The progress he made with this was phenomenal and within two weeks the work was completed leaving only the raking up and disposal of the hay and the cutting of the tree lined borders the tractor was unable to reach.


We were very grateful for the help from our volunteer with the tractor and cutter which saved us much time & effort.


The borders were completed by our brush cutting and scythe operators but the final tidying of the site and hay collection proved to be a tediously long job for the volunteers as they were frustrated by a continuous end-of-season spell of wet weather.


The meadow edges were completed by volunteers using scythes and brush cutters.


 The cuttings are heaped into piles and then disposed of on completion.




The restoration of the nature reserve at Talbot Field in Hassocks continues. Following the clearance of spreading brush in the early months of 2019 new flora growth was released from the canopy that restrained it. The sunshine was able to penetrate the young tree foliage to encourage the released ground flora to re-establish itself. With the new growth in the cleared reserve comes the exciting prospect that new wild flower species can be introduced to enrich the area still further for nature.


 With the arrival of spring the new woodland carpet of vegetation appears.


The owners of the site, Hassocks Parish Council, generously agreed to the purchase of additional bat and bird boxes to increase survival opportunities for wildlife. These have been mounted on existing trees in the reserve and in the western woodland that already provides welcome sanctuary to many bat and bird species. All boxes are regularly monitored and maintained by The Woodland, Flora & Fauna Group.


Photographs of some of the site wildlife species that are benefitting from this work.


It cannot be emphasised enough how such areas provide a life-line to dwindling wildlife and flora species in an increasingly hostile world for nature. We therefore thank the Parish Council for their support for our work here.  Hopefully we can maximise the natural environmental contribution provided by this small but valuable area.


RESTORATION OF A WOODLAND POND.                            


Work at the woodland pond restoration in Sayers Common has been paused this year following the clearance of tree roots and runaway reed growth kindly undertaken by the landowners last year to assist us. This is allowing the area to naturally settle again. A viewing day was held in April for all the volunteers who had given their time over many years to restore it. The landowners generously provided refreshments and all attendees showed appreciation for the assistance they had been given to finally complete it. Work will resume shortly to keep this important area in good condition.


The pond remains a valuable haven for wildlife.


TWO GROUP TALKS HELD THIS YEAR.                                


Two talks were held this year. They were both given by environmentalists and authors. The first was in April given by David Bangs entitled ‘Land of the Brighton Line’ and the second was in August given by Professor Trevor Beebee entitled ‘Climate Change & British Wildlife’. Both were excellent talks and very well attended.


The Chairman with David Bangs at the talk in April with his newly published book.


Trevor Beebee gives his talk in August to a packed audience.




We thank all our supporters for their interest in our activities and our valuable volunteers for their help. If you too would like to volunteer please contact Michael Nailard.   Telephone: 01273 834001.Email:  Group Website: