Beautiful June 1st!

Saturday June 1st and what a stunning start to the month – perhaps it will turn out to be a proverbial ‘flaming June?’  During the morning we walked up over Seaford Head.  The first image shows the difference where Sussex Wildlife Trust have winter-cut the invasive tor grass and where not; note the cut, flower-rich lower RH side of image against the rank LH side of the image.

On the bare chalk area on the Hawks Brow area, noticed at least 6 vertical seems of flint within the chalk, flint normally having been deposited horizontally within the bedding of the chalk.  Note one of these peculiar features running from right of centre at bottom of image towards right of person, the adjacent chalk being more eroded towards the cliff edge and so highlighting it better.
Attended the Southease Open Gardens event.  Some idyllic houses and beautiful gardens, all set-off in a quintessentially English fete-like atmosphere, accompanied by the brilliant The Maestro Big Band from Newhaven playing 40’s swing music.

Steam Powered!

Just spent a wet and breezy few minutes down at St.Leonards Warrior Square station to watch the steam loco ‘Union Of South Africa’ be hauled through on its excursion out from London Victoria to Hastings.  Ten minutes later it returned except that this time, it was pulling and was under load, as it built-up speed after departing from Hastings.  The sound as it came up through the long tunnel from Hastings was truly exhilarating!

The second image shows the big diesel now at the rear, this time being hauled – it only on tick-over.  There was a whole class of primary school children brought down to the station, plus those in the know and fortunate passers-by.

Remembrance Sunday and Bell Ringing

1,400 church bell ringers hailing from across the UK died during the First World War.  When the bells rang out on 11 November 1918 they announced the end of the most catastrophic war the world had yet seen.  As one of the 1,400 new bell ringers enlisted during the past year by Ringing Remembers and the Central Council for Bell Ringers, I rang as part of the national commemorations to mark the centenary of the Armistice and to honour those who died.

I was assigned to ring at the beautiful St.Clements church in the heart of Hastings Old Town on this Remembrance Sunday, we all across the country beginning at 12-30 lunchtime, we at St.Clements being conducted by Jenny Parker.

 

A West Dean Garden and Elm Loss

Saturday, July 7th.  Had a beautiful, enjoyable afternoon, including a trip down Memory Lane!  Went to an Open Garden event in aid of the Family Support Group at The Long House in West Dean near Seaford.  The owners have over the past six years created an extensive, beautiful but compartmentalised cottage garden containing a wide variety of plants.

Part of the garden at The Long house.

After, we visited the nearby churchyard and church.  I used to know the village well and a number of its then inhabitants when I lived and worked over the hill at Exceat during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Upon leaving the village spotted one of the last fair-sized elms in the area starting to die from Dutch Elm Disease.  Further up the valley at Lullington and especially sad for me, one of the last sizable elms has at last surrendered to this dreadful disease. It is the only example in the area of a Smooth-leaved Elm of the variety diversafolia.

Variety ssp. diversafolia back in 2012.

I managed the East Sussex Dutch Elm Control project between 1997 and 2004.  Due to mis-management and cost-cutting, it unraveled two years later and failed, after a total of some 30 something years and the expenditure of millions of pounds of public money.

Could Pioneering Vet’s TB Test End the Slaughter?

As badger culls begin, could one pioneering vet’s bovine TB test end the slaughter?

Patrick Barkham.   The Observer.  Sun 15 Oct 2017.

Research at a secret location in Devon may help eradicate bovine tuberculosis without a single badger being killed, says leading vet

A pretty stone farmhouse sits in a bucolic green valley, surrounded by airy cowsheds. It looks like a timeless West Country scene but is actually a pioneering farm, where cutting-edge science is helping to solve the hugely controversial, multimillion-pound problem of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

As an expanded badger cull gets under way this autumn, in which 33,500 animals will be killed to help stop the spread of the disease, a leading vet, Dick Sibley, believes this Devon farm demonstrates a way to eradicate the disease in cattle – without slaughtering any badgers.

Sibley’s trial, at a secret location, was halted earlier this year when two new tests to better identify bTB in cattle were deemed illegal. But government regulators have now given the vet permission to continue. His work is backed by rock star-turned-activist Brian May, whose Save Me Trust last week began a four-year programme of vaccinating badgers at the farm against bTB.

The family that owns the farm, which has 300 milking cows, turned to Sibley in despair after being virtually shut down with bTB for five years. Because of the disease, their cattle cannot be sold on the open market.

“We had nothing to lose,” said the fourth-generation farmer, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of interference from extremists on both sides of the argument. “We want to get rid of TB, it’s costing us a lot. Any technology would be better than the old bTB test.”

Despite four years of badger culling, bTB continues to rise in England, and 30,980 cows were slaughtered in the year up to June in attempts to control it, an increase of 4%. Farmers, as well as wildlife campaigners, are increasingly critical of the cattle test for bTB, which misses many cases, leaving undiagnosed cows to spread the disease within herds. In 2015, 16% of English bTB “breakdowns” were only detected in abattoirs, after supposedly healthy cows had been slaughtered.

Sibley is pioneering two new tests. The phage test, developed by microbiologist Cath Rees of Nottingham University, uses a bTB-invading virus to “hunt” for the live bacterium. It is detecting bTB in cows on the Devon farm months before they test positive with the traditional “skin test”: 85 cows have tested positive with the phage test despite all being found disease-free by the conventional test.

Farmers then need to know if infected cows are infectious. For this, Sibley uses a second test, qPCR, developed by Liz Wellington, life sciences professor at Warwick University. It detects bTB in dung, showing if a cow is “shedding” – spreading – the disease. If it is, the cow is slaughtered even though the conventional test suggests it is healthy.

Both professors have given Sibley free use of their new technologies, and the tests have shown that supposedly healthy cows are the “hidden reservoir” of bTB on the farm. But Sibley said what farms need as well as better testing is better risk management and more resilient cows. “I’ve never cured a cow with a test,” he said.

The farm is an intensive dairy operation that keeps its cattle indoors once they are fully grown and milks them robotically – some cows produce 15,000 litres of milk each year. “If you don’t give that cow everything she needs, and keep the disease away from her, she will crash and burn,” said Sibley. “It’s just like athletes: if there’s a bit of E coli in the Olympic village, they all go down.”

TB – in cows as well as humans – is traditionally a disease of bad living conditions, so the farm’s barns are airy. There are fewer cows in each barn compared with a typical dairy farm, walkways are cleaned three times a day, and regularly changed drinking water is held in “tipping troughs” that are kept scrubbed clean. Dung falling into troughs is likely to be a key transmitter of the disease.

After studying each cow’s history, Sibley believes mothers often spread the disease to their calves at birth. The farm is combatting this by building a new maternity unit with rubber floors that will be disinfected after every delivery. Colostrum – the crucial first milk that boosts a calf’s immune system – is harvested from each mother but pasteurised before it is fed to each calf, so it won’t spread disease.

Leading vet Dick Sibley is trialling new testing methods for bTB that will detect the disease much earlier in cattle. Photograph: Jim Wileman for the Observer

After being “shut down” for five years, the farm had its first clear test last year. It hopes to be clear of all restrictions within 12 months. But Sibley says that removing the disease from cows without tackling diseased badgers is like “crossing the road and only looking one way”.

Farm CCTV reveals that no badgers come close to the cattle sheds, but Wellington’s qPCR technology tested badger latrines and found local badgers were shedding the disease: 30% of 273 faecal samples contained the bacterium. Young grazing cows are potentially exposed to the disease.

“We have to accept that the badgers are a risk,” said Sibley. “We either kill them, fence them out or, more constructively, vaccinate them to reduce the risk of infection in the environment.”

May’s ‘Save Me Trust’ is funding badger vaccination around the farm. The Queen guitarist became a hate-figure for some farmers when he suggested that if bTB was such a problem they should stop rearing cattle. But he has been working behind the scenes for several years to support farmers.

“I’m very, very hopeful that Dick Sibley has the answer,” said May. “I hope it works out, not just for this farm but for the whole of Britain. That would take away this awful polarisation between farmers and the public and animal welfare groups.”

A global shortage of BCG vaccine stopped May vaccinating badgers last year and he points out that the farm has virtually banished the disease without touching a single badger. “If badgers are running around with bTB and the herd has been cleaned up with advanced testing, that really makes you wonder whether badgers are contributing to the disease,” said May.

While some epidemiologists have privately expressed frustration that the government has not yet adopted new cattle-testing technologies, Sibley said the regulators move slowly. “The authorities must have rock-solid evidence in case they end up in court. I predict that in five years time phage and qPCR will be in the toolbox for farmers.”

Other bTB-hit farms are interested in Sibley’s approach and May’s charity has pledged to help meet veterinary costs. In Wales, farms with chronic bTB are receiving special support from the Welsh government and could be among the first to adopt the new techniques. Christianne Glossop, Wales’ chief vet, said: “I have known Dick for many years and have great respect for his work. I am also well aware of his current trials and will be keeping a close eye on the results of his pilot in Devon exploring innovative new testing methods.”

The Devon farmer admits he has been surprised by his success. “This test is showing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m excited that it could help us get clear of the disease and help other farmers in the future.”

THE CULLING DEBATE.

A zoonotic disease – one that can jump from animals to humans – bovine tuberculosis (bTB) caused thousands of human deaths until the pasteurisation of milk began in the 1920s. It was then almost eradicated from British cows with the widespread slaughter of herds in the 1950s.

However, in 1971 it was discovered that cows had passed the disease to badgers after a dead badger was found on a farm in Gloucestershire. The find led to five decades of debate and scientific uncertainty, and it is still not known what proportion – if any – of cattle TB cases are caused by badgers. The scientific consensus is that cows and badgers pass the disease between them but the precise method of transmission is also not known. Epidemiologists believe it is most likely via animal faeces.

Cattle TB has risen steadily since the 1980s and cost £500m in compensation to farmers in the decade up to 2013. That year, badger culling began in two “zones” in Gloucestershire and Somerset. It has since expanded to 21 zones in England. Ireland, the only other country with a bTB problem, also culls badgers.

Pro-cull farmers argue that reducing badger numbers will reduce bTB in the environment. No data has been published on the impact of four years of badger culling on cattle TB, but many scientists question the cull’s effectiveness.

Bishopstone Tidemills and Port Expansion

Sunday, Sept 18.  I walked with a friend to Bishopstone Tidemills where there is much evidence of the archaeological dig being carried out to unearth the remains of the now ‘lost’ village.  I found the evidence of William Catt’s huge greenhouse intriguing with what I assume are heating pipes beneath the structure?

I was also made aware of local opposition to the proposed expansion of Newhaven Port on to land designated several decades ago as ‘the port development area’ which will see most of the East Pier demolished to make way for an increased deep-water channel and the construction of a new 300 metre long quay and an adjacent ‘lay-down’ or working area.  The main thrust behind all this is to establish a base from which to service E-ON’s Rampion Offshore Wind Farm currently under construction off Brighton.  I am all for green energy and this development would make the appearance of the port look like a working port again, rather than the semi-derelict one Newhaven appears to travellers entering the port at the moment.  The new quay would also attract larger cargo ships and cargoes.

I have since spent some hours reading through a number of documents freely available at     http://padocs.lewes.gov.uk/AniteIM.WebSearch/Results.aspx    The downsides of this development are in my view from three directions. 1) There would be the commercial activity and associated sounds creeping even closer to the already compromised solace that people derive from visiting the tranquillity of the Tidemills site.  2) The loss of several hectares of the East Beach with much of it an expanse of vegetated shingle – a threatened habitat nowadays in our busy world and, the loss of an extensive areas of sand at low water.  3) The construction of a large and by what appears to be a fairly high road bridge traversing both the railway line to Seaford and the Mill Creek.  I believe these three issues are cause of quite some concern but sadly, they are not sufficiently significant to stop or amend this development – especially with this Tory governments obsession with development over nearly everything else.

I do feel though that as a further mitigation the owners of the port, the French-owned Newhaven Port & Properties Ltd, could at no additional cost extend eastwards the proposed local nature reserve for Tidemills, to include the large triangle of vegetated shingle stretching towards Seaford (part of the former millpond) and the grassed floodbank (the Cinder Path), unless they have ‘plans’ for this too?  I have forwarded this impassioned proposal to both Mr. Francois Jean of Newhaven Port & Properties Ltd. and to Nazeya Hussain of Lewes District Council.

September Sightings

Saturday, Sept 9.  I took a railway excursion, ending up back on the coast at Folkestone. Rail travel I believe, is a fine way of seeing cross-sections of our landscape. On the outward journey north, I saw what were presumably, two hot-spots of ash die-back disease – one just north of Battle and a very noticeable area at and around Wadhurst station.  Added to this from time to time were instances of alder alongside watercourses, dead from Phytophthora.  Upon reaching Tonbridge station, I was greeted on Platform 3 by a large black and white cat sprawled across the platform grooming itself and not caring a jot about the comings and goings of people and trains.  By its persona, I can only assume it owns the station and answers to the name Sapphie!

See  http://www.kentonline.co.uk/tonbridge/news/station-cat-stars-in-railway-38942/

Folkestone harbour, has changed a lot from when I visited it once about 20 years ago.  A lot of money is being spent on transforming the redundant harbour into a public space with restaurants and bars and a pleasant walk along the long breakwater.  100 years on from WW1, I couldn’t help but think from time to time about the many troops that must have passed by the same scenes that I was seeing today.  The little shops and cafes down The Old High Street were enjoyable too.  A nice spot for a few hours ramble.  Continuing the theme of trees, I saw the two healthiest horse chestnuts for years, perhaps rather out on a limb and with the prevailing wind having a long fetch over the sea, they are protected from attack.

                                                                                                                                            I noticed that on the south-facing slopes of the North Downs overlooking the town that much of the chalk grassland was being engulfed by scrub.  What a pity…

Sunday, Sept 18.  Walked to Bishopstone Tidemills where there is much evidence of the archaeological digging being carried out unearthing the remains of the now ‘lost’ village.  I found the evidence of William Catt’s huge greenhouse intriguing with what I assume are heating pipes?

Monday, Sept 19.  Beautiful sunny day again.  Sat on the near deserted beach and watched lagoons formed by a low shingle ridge, flood on the high tide, these being patrolled by turnstones looking for food – especially washed-up mussels.  There have been numbers of large white and Vanessa butterflies along the beach of late, blown by the NE breeze or, are they possibly looking to migrate south??