Though brought up in a small town, I was never more than twenty minutes walking distance from the rolling hills of the South Downs. My earliest memories are of family picnics during high summer by bicycle (pillion in my case) to Cuckmere Haven, where us children would attempt to dam the Cuckmere River at low water with boulders of chalk and flint, before temporarily retiring for tea with lettuce and Marmite sandwiches. Another early memory of high summer from the mid 1950’s, is that of walking down though Hope Bottom near Seaford, the coastal breeze tinged with the putrid stench of rotting rabbit carcasses from beneath the bushes, due to the decimation of the rabbit population from its post-war peak, by the newly-arrived disease myxomatosis.
During my mid-twenties, I was fortunate in gaining a position with the Local Authority on the then comparatively new Seven Sisters Country Park at Exceat near Seaford, and so became deeply involved with the stewardship of what is one of England’s finest pieces of landscape. Having always been intrigued by local history, I became increasingly engrossed by Exceat’s history and that of the surrounding area. During the early years of working at Exceat, much of my time during the summers was spent with taking school groups out into the Park (pre-National Curriculum!). Outside of this seasonal work, time was spent on estate work, recording wildlife including managing Seaford Head Nature Reserve and both Ditchling and Chailey Commons. For a number of years, I owned and managed my own breeding flock of 35 pedigree Southdown sheep.
During 1992, I was seconded to the newly-formed Sussex Downs Conservation Board (SDCB). I was handed the remit of overseeing and partly the carrying out, of conservation works and rights of way maintenance across the Downs between Lewes and Eastbourne. This involved building good working relationships with the area's farmers.
During early 1997, an additional task was offered me, that of Dutch Elm Disease Supervisor, the SDCB taking over from the East Sussex CC. This was of a seasonal nature during the months May to October and involved three Field Officers charged with checking the 54,000 elm trees within the 'DED Control Area' and carrying out a policy of sanitation felling with a then felling budget of some £60K/annum. This was a new area of work for me, that together with the sale of timber, I greatly enjoyed. Sadly, a few years after departing from the SDCB, this efficiently run operation was allowed through budget cutting and woeful mis-management to unravel, it then being handed back to the ESCC as a lost cause; [go to my blog'Reflections' via button above and see Page concerning elm today]. In my view, it was during this period that conservation reached its pinnacle.
The Exmoor Pony Grazing Project I set-up and established during the late-1990's, in order to carry out conservation grazing to assist wildlife and landscape, we initially starting out with 18 hardy ponies, primarily to deal with chalk grassland deterioration along the extensive Firle Escarpment Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
During early 2005, I left the SDCB to its navel-gazing (that is, National Park envisaging), to-gether with 'adopting' the pony grazing operation, leading me back to real conservation rather than much mindless pushing of paper. With friends and volunteers and generous funding from various bodies including the then English Nature, I set-up the charity, Sussex Pony Grazing and Conservation Trust (‘the Trust’). So, my main sphere of work became that of Grazing Co-ordinator for the Trust until 2016. I also carried out habitat surveying and conservation advice to farmers and landowners and carried out rural contracting and tree work.
Returning to the subject of local history...
After a number of years during which I spent time researching and also carrying out of walks and talks, people began asking was I contemplating writing a book upon my findings? ‘Seven Sisters – The History Behind The View’ was finally published in 2008. The much-expanded Second Edition has been available since July 2014.
“An attractive, diverse countryside – retaining the traditional landscape types; rich in wildlife and vernacular architecture – so special to these islands. With a thriving agricultural industry, working fully in harmony with wildlife. This complemented by a greener transport system." This is what I have worked towards during much of my life, my guiding belief.
Early 2017, and after handing over the reigns so to speak to my colleague in 2016, I finally took retirement. Increasingly, I have felt dis-spirited at seeing so much of the work that colleagues and myself carried out during the late 20th century and early-2000's, now unravelling together with the descimation of so much of our wildlife by intensive agriculture, development and air pollution.
Since retiring from working with the Exmoor ponies, new interests and pursuits have gradually arisen: bell ringing at the magnificent Christ Church in St.Leonards (though I'm am not religeous!) and various other church towers near and far. Currently, I am working on pulling together a draft for a possible autobiography - so watch this space! This work will also contain a substantial chapter on my understanding of the huge threats to both local and global biodiversity and indeed, our own human civilisation. Recently, I have become involved in volunteering at Ashburnham Place and helping with managing its 220 acres of Capability Brown landscape with its magnificent trees and lakes.
I believe that unfortunately, one's financial and material achievements are, often unknowingly, often achieved through the exploitation of other lands and peoples, a phenomenon that keeps happening on a global scale, that deeply influences our own relationship with both nature and our social and spiritual understandings of life. To help our world, we should first of all consume less, and make sure that the products and foodstuffs that we do consume come from reliably environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable sources.
Through the power of the internet and when I have the time, I am following and publicising wider environmental causes and stories and more, using both my 'Reflections' blog, [click on the 'Reflections' button at the top of this page]. I am also active on Twitter - visit @MontyLarkin anf FaceBook.
Monty's 'Reflections' Blog.
Click on the Reflections button above and visit my blog... It contains a wealth of information on a diverse range of subject areas, mainly with an environmental flavour (but also containing cultural, humanitarian, politics etc) and also my own sightings and opinions. Since early 2017, it has encompassed a wider field of subject matter...
You can also delve by either Recent Posts (entries) or Archives (by month/year) or Categories (by subject).
Meeting Princess Anne in connection with pony grazing
Being interviewed about filming by Matthew Sweet for BBC Radio 4
Rounding up ponies with the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust
The Sussex Pony Grazing and Conservation Trust works in the Ashdown Forest and South Downs conserving the chalk grassland, heathland and the rich, varied flora and fauna that depends on it.
Exmoor Ponies are used to graze these areas of East Sussex to limit habitat degradation. The Trust works in close collaboration with local farmers and relies heavily upon volunteers.
More environmental stories can be found on: @MontyLarkin