Future of Seven Sisters Country Park?

This month you may be surprised to know, that is the 50th anniversary of the Countryside Act 1968, which allowed for the creation of our Country Parks. These have played a crucial part in allowing people to visit the countryside, spend the day exploring, getting away from the hustle and bustle, or perhaps to introducing their young families to the great outdoors.

There are more than 400 recognised Country Parks in England and Wales, attracting millions of visitors a year. The majority are owned and run by local authorities but there is a real risk that cuts to green space budgets for staff, maintenance and a lack of funding and investment will mean that increasingly, some country parks will and indeed are facing decline in the coming years.

Recently, there were two article on the BBC’s Countryfile programme of August 12th 2018 highlighting the dilemma of East Sussex County Council (ESCC).  From its budget of £371M per year, its 10 countryside sites cost in the region of £400K per year – and that is currently with insufficient staff to carry out all the necessary work.  The two largest sites that they manage are the Seven Sisters Country Park at Exceat near Seaford and Chailey Common Local Nature Reserve, (the latter which they do not own).  The ESCC is currently reviewing how to manage these important sites in the future bearing in mind that in the coming financial year they have got to find another £17M of savings.  See the following link for further details:


Of particular concern to me is the Seven Sisters Country Park – one of the earlier and larger country parks created; it is already being poorly managed through government-induced cuts incurred by ESCC and a lack of supervision of the huge subsidy that the current farm tenant receives because of the emasculation of the government’s own conservation organisation, English Nature.  The conservation value of this Country Park now falls far below of what it was decades ago.  Options to be considered leading on from the above report include various combination of shared responsibility to the out-right sale of the property.

I have worked in countryside management and conservation for 40 years, half of that time being closely involved with the Seven Sisters Country Park.  Based upon that experience and in particular having worked with both the front runners for involvement in the Country Park – the Sussex Wildlife Trust and The National Trust, I would say after careful consideration and without reservation, that The National Trust’s involvement with managing at least, the landscape and conservation elements of this large and popular countryside site would be far and away my preferred option.  The National Trust already has a large landholding within the vicinity of the Seven Sisters Country Park – Birling Gap, Crowlink, Gayles Farm, Exceat Salting, half of Chyngton Farm, Frog Firle and The Clergy House.  They have the in-house experience of managing buildings and visitor services, they holding an international reputation in this field.  They also have an outstanding countryside team based at Birling Gap who manage their wider countryside estate, which has access to a wide field of specialist advisers – archaeology, farm management, vegetation etc.

Courtesy of Svetla Petkova Atanasova


New Bridge for Exceat

Two similar schemes were drawn up during the 20th century regarding Exceat Bridge. Refer to my book “Seven Sisters” for more.  Available from www.montylarkin.co.uk or local bookshops & countryside centres.

Cash Boost To Tackle East Sussex Congestion Hotspot.  [Abridged]

Brighton News, Wednesday, June 28th, 2017.


Members of East Sussex County Council’s cabinet agreed plans to use a government grant to build a new two-lane bridge to replace the current one-lane Exceat Bridge over the Cuckmere river.

The Government has confirmed that East Sussex County Council will receive £2.13million from its National Productivity investment fund – a pot of money designed to help councils improve journey times and cut congestion.

Cllr Rupert Simmons, the county council’s lead member for economy, said: “We want to improve connectivity across the county and have, for some time, been looking for solutions to the issue of Exceat Bridge. As well as being frustrating for motorists, the bottleneck does nothing to help the businesses in our county.

“Our own limited resources would not stretch to funding the construction of the new bridge, but I am delighted that we are able to put government funding designed to address these kinds of problems to good use.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, members were told that this was a first stage in an extensive design, costing and planning process and that any proposal would be subject to discussion and approval from the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA).

Funding of £500,000 has already been approved by the council for maintenance of the bridge – this funding would go towards the construction of the new bridge, should the scheme be successful.

Cllr Simmons added:  “We have considered a number of options to deal with the problems at Exceat, including traffic lights, but it is felt that a new two lane bridge is the only way to effectively deal with the congestion created by the current layout.

“The location of the new bridge is a sensitive one and will need to be carefully designed to minimise the impact it has on the South Downs National Park in which it sits. We look forward to working closely with the SDNPA, doing everything we can to deliver much needed relief to motorists using the A259 and taking steps to help the growth of our economy.”

Possible designs and costings will be reported back to Cabinet in early 2018.

Thoughts on Farming and Rivers

June 17.  A dear friend of mine went for a walk out from Alfriston today, in the heart of the South Downs and through the Cuckmere Valley.  He was commenting on the “crops gently swaying in the breeze. How lucky we are to have such diligent farmers growing our fine food.”  I don’t know about diligent, they and the agro-chemical industry have certainly messed-up the once wonderful balance that used to exist between farming and wildlife.

There is a middle way of doing things, note The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project is based at Loddington in Leicestershire – (https://www.gwct.org.uk/allerton/about-the-allerton-project/ )  Or the RSPB’s Hope Farm, a 181-hectare (450-acre) arable farm in Cambridgeshire (https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/farming/hopefarm/the_farm.aspx )  The government and public opinion just need to encourage and finance farming post Brexit along that route.

Yellowhammer RSPB

He wrote on: “The Cuckmere river is in a state, either side of white bridge it can’t be more than 6′ [feet] wide, strangled with weed & silt!”  Man interferes with rivers at his peril – note all the Environment Agency schemes across the country reinstating river’s natural features and their courses, back to how they naturally once were in various places across the country. So maybe as it’s not built over, its time to consider breaching the Cuckmere’s banks and let the river re-connect with its floodplain?

Building a CD Library: Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony and Cuckmere Haven!


Building a Library: Vaughan Williams: A London Symphony.

Mark Lowther makes a recommendation from the available recordings. Despite the sound of the famous Westminster chimes, the composer said that while the title may suggest a programmatic piece it was intended to be heard as absolute music. He suggested that “Symphony by a Londoner” might be a better title.

I have just listened to Radio 3’s discussion of recordings of Vaughan-Williams London Symphony, a piece finished in 1914 and which I find particularly moving.  Interestingly, of the two versions I possess, they were both highly praised.  The presenter’s first choice however, was by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley and recorded in 1957, (he being a champion of British music).

Composer Vernon Handley at Cuckmere Haven.

Composer Vernon Handley at Cuckmere Haven.

He died a few years ago, but I was honoured when in 1987 I negotiated and attended a small BBC film unit, which filmed him on the beach down at Cuckmere Haven discussing the music of composer Frank Bridge who used to live at nearby Friston.  In between shoots, I was lucky enough to be able to talk with him; one thing he said was that in another life, he would have loved to have worked in wildlife conservation!

Erosion of Chalk Cliffs in East Sussex – New Research


Cosmic clue to UK coastal erosion

By Jonathan Amos, BBC Science Correspondent

7 November 2016

Recent centuries have seen a big jump in the rates of erosion in the iconic chalk cliffs on England’s south coast.  A new study finds that for thousands of years the rocks were being beaten back by the waves at perhaps 2-6cm a year.  The past 150 years has seen this retreat accelerate 10-fold, to more than 20cm a year.

The speed-up was clocked with the aid of a smart technique that tracks changes induced in rocks when they are exposed to energetic space particles.

The research, led from the British Geological Survey and conducted by Martin Hurst and colleagues, is reported in the leading American journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The group believes the findings will help us understand some of the coming impacts of climate change.  “Our coasts are going to change in the future as a result of sea-level rise and perhaps increased storminess, and we want this work to inform better forecasts of erosion,” Dr Hurst, currently affiliated to Glasgow University, told BBC News.

The research was centred on East Sussex and its towering cliffs at Beachy Head and Hope Gap.

Originally laid down 90 million years ago, these soft chalk faces are now being eaten away by the relentless pounding they get from the sea.cliffs-1Rood and Hurst on the platform.  Image copyrightMARTIN HURST ET AL

Image caption

Care is needed because the platform’s exposure can appear more recent than is really the case.

Dr Hurst’s team was able to estimate the pace of this reversal by examining the amount of beryllium-10 in nodules of flint embedded in the eroded platform in front of the cliffs.  The radioactive element is produced when cosmic rays – that constantly shower the Earth – hit oxygen atoms in the flints’ quartz minerals.  The longer the nodules have been exposed, the greater their build-up of beryllium-10.

At Beachy Head and Hope Gap, the gently sloping platform, which is only uncovered at low tide, extends seaward several hundred metres.  It represents all that is left after millennia of cliff removal.

“The lower rates of erosion that we report – about 2.5cm at Hope Gap and around 6cm at Beachy Head – are averaged over that timeframe – through about the past 7,000 years of the Holocene,” explained Dr Hurst.

“But comparing that to observations based on topographic maps and aerial photography of the last 150 years – the difference is quite stark. These historical observations from 1870 to the present suggest erosion rates of 20-30cm a year at the two sites.”


Flint nodules.  Image copyrightMARTIN HURST ET AL

The team removed flints for beryllium testing in a line perpendicular to the cliffs.  The estimates of change in the deep past are tricky because the platform appears younger than it really is.  This stems from the fact that its surface continues to erode downwards, removing its oldest exposed flints. The regular tidal covering of water also has to be considered because it will restrict the flux of cosmic rays reaching the platform, thus limiting the amount of beryllium that can be induced in the nodules.

But the team is confident in its analysis and puts forward some ideas to explain the recent big up-tick in erosion.  These concern the available gravels at the foot of the cliffs that constitute the beach.  Ordinarily, this material acts as a buffer, limiting the energy of crashing waves.

But there is good evidence that the beaches in this region of the south coast have got thinner through time and perhaps therefore offer less protection today than they once did.  In the modern era, groynes and sea walls have been erected further down the coast and these may have interfered with the along-shore transport of gravels. And further back in time, several hundred years ago, it is possible also that there was a phase of more storms. These could have removed significant volumes of gravel and pushed the rates of erosion into a new, more aggressive regime that persists even now.

Co-author Dr Dylan Rood from Imperial College London told BBC News: “The coast is clearly eroding, and Britain has retreated fast. A nearly tenfold increase in retreat rates over a very short timescale, in geological terms, is remarkable.

“The UK cannot leave the issue of cliff erosion unresolved in the face of a warming world and rising sea levels. Cliff erosion is irreversible; once the cliffs retreat, they are gone for good.”


Parrotfeather – An Invasive Water Plant

Yesterday, I stopped off to view West Dean Brooks, situated in the Cuckmere Valley near Seaford, part of the Seaford to Beachy Head SSSI… I was alarmed by the amount of Parrotfeather growing in the roadside ditch.  I recall that some 20 years ago, when part of my remit was a management input into this area, I would occasionally stop-off and carefully hand rake out, the small quantity then growing.  Routine mechanical weed clearance by the EA over the years has very likely spread this weed along the main feeder ditch.

weed_parfeather2_gm parrot image

No ecological benefits are associated with Parrotfeather ( Myriophyllum aquaticum), it being an introduced specie native to the Amazon in South America. It prefers a warm mild climate although it can survive temperate winters.  Parrotfeather grows best in still waters such as lakes, ponds, quiet streams and drainage ditches and is also able to survive in rivers. Vegetative reproduction is the only likely dispersal agent because female plants are not found in the UK.  Fragments can be carried by water birds and floodwaters from one location to another.

Parrotfeather readily takes over lakes, ponds and streams outcompeting native plants. It is an especially problematic plant because it is so difficult to control.  Once it enters into a water body, it takes a considerable and costly effort to eliminate it.

Parrotfeather provides an ideal habitat for mosquito larvae and the mass of the plant can increase the likelihood of flooding occurring. It may also block passage for fish species when they navigate up watercourses to spawn.  In addition, it can cause pH and other water quality issues in still water areas.  The tough stems make it difficult to boat, swim or fish.

While Parrotfeather may provide cover for some aquatic organisms, it can seriously change the physical and chemical characteristics of lakes and streams. Infestations can alter aquatic ecosystems by shading out the algae in the water column that serve as the basis of the aquatic food web.

Treatment Options.

Various herbicides are produced which can be applied to aquatic habitats but they are indiscriminate with regard to native plant species, are of course poisons and chemical treatment is expensive and would probably require several applications.

Physical Removal Options.

Mechanical cutting, nets and rakes can be used to control Parrotfeather BUT without great care, fragmentation is very likely to cause further dispersal as even tiny fragments can re-grow.  Therefore, mechanical control is not recommended unless the waterbody in question is significantly infested.  Cleaning and inspection of machinery and tools before being transported on to another aquatic site is recommended.

Plant Description.

Parrotfeather is an herbaceous aquatic plant that grows to a length of 6.5 to 16 feet. Its stems are greenish blue with numerous small leaves that resemble feathers. The leaves are either submersed or emergent and grow in whorls of 4 to 6 around the stem. This species is easily confused with the native water milfoils but those don’t have above water leaves.

Look for:

  • Bright green fir-tree-like; emergent leaves and stems
  • Leaflets arranged in whorls (4-6) around the stem
  • Leaflets with feather-like leaf arrangement
  • Dense mat of intertwined brownish stems (rhizomes) in the water
  • Reddish, feathery-leaved, limp, underwater leaves may be present

Last Week of March

Last Week of March.

I haven’t seen the large flocks of fieldfares and redwings which have often frequented areas of woodland in the Ashdown area that I drive past regularly; presumably they have departed on their journey to their summer breeding areas. Have become aware recently of bullfinches in a couple of areas; have their numbers increased or have I just been fortunate?  A sighting of 13 firecrests was reported as being seen within just a ¼mile, near Cuckmere Haven on Sunday.

Good Friday. Helped by a number of volunteers, we gathered in the ponies from off their winter grazing area on Ditchling Common Country Park.  The whole operation went well with the task being completed by early afternoon.  Whilst ferrying the ponies over to Chailey Common, I noticed two brimstone butterflies on the wing.

The Force 10 storm (‘Katie’) which struck late Saturday evening/early Sunday caused widespread but limited damage. Gusts were reported of 106mph at The Needles and 81mph at Shoreham.  Driving between pony herds on Sunday afternoon I noticed a number of trees down with one having brought down power cables at North Chailey.  A lot of small woody debris and leaves laying along the roadsides generally.  The level of the Ouse at Sheffield Park bridge was quite high after the heavy rainfall during the night.  None of the three lots of electric fencing currently in use with our ponies were badly damaged but did require a little attention on the exposed sections up on the Downs.

A continual procession of storm clouds observed offshore in the afternoon moving up the Channel with some impressive mountainous peaks below which, squally shadows of rain could be seen falling.

Week Ending Saturday, June 20th

Wednesday.  We removed the three ponies from Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Chailey Warren reserve, one of which was returned to the herd grazing across Chailey Common, bringing the number there up to 20 ponies.  (Recently, we obtained another 5 ponies from Suffolk for Chailey).  Pic below was taken immediately after it was re-introduced back into the herd – the scene resembled the Serengeti !P1020104

Friday.  Site meeting to discuss which areas to pony graze on Eastbourne’s coastal downland, the ponies being due to return in late autumn.  Eastbourne Borough Council recently approved their new Downland Management Plan in which, pony grazing is now an important element.

Saturday.  Went and watched the new film ‘Mr. Holmes’ based on the idea of an elderly, retired Sherlock Holmes played by Ian McKellen.  Set during 1947 in East Sussex with Cuckmere Haven, Seven Sisters, Winchelsea and Pett Levels used as locations.  I didn’t know there was a railway station at Cuckmere Haven!

Mr. Holmes - viewed 27 seconds ago


Seven Sisters Country Park Decline

Thursday, June 11 2015.

Below, are a few words from an e-mail I received today from a botanist friend visiting the Seven Sisters Country Park at Exceat in East Sussex.  I had written only recently to the East Sussex CC, who supposedly manage the Park concerning a number of issues about its declining condition.  The reply from their Director of Communities… was rather dismissive of the points I raised.

Here is independent proof if ever more were needed!

Am at SSCP…
Orchid bank devoid of flowers and still grazed, it’s almost mid June!”

This area of the Park used to be fantastic in June for orchids including the scarce early spider orchid and dwarf/burnt-tip and of course, countless butterflies.  Management has simply got to change!

orchid.early spider


Early Spider Orchid, Ophrys sphegodes photographed at SSCP a few years ago.

Week Ending Saturday, May 2nd

Monday, April 27th.  We moved three ponies from the Trust’s hold-back land over to a small nature reserve at Chailey today.  One of the two remaining spare ponies is causing us concern because it’s been losing weight and though it has now been on good grazing for over a month, it has shown little improvement.  Therefore we called one of our vets in to examine it, she took away a number of blood samples for analysis to hopefully pin down the problem.

Tuesday, April 28th.  A friend (Jim B) e-mailed me: “I went for a walk on Windover Hill today, nice in the sun but that wind had a bit of a bite to it.  I was looking for flowers, really, cowslips and Early Purples….lots of cowslips but still quite small….but the highlight turned out to be a pair of Red Kites performing acrobatics below me and quite close – just over the fence line at the head of Long Man….stunning….I must have watched them for a good half hour all told.”

Thursday, April 30th.  As a favour, in the morning took a party of 89 9-year olds from Hailsham for a guided walk on the 7 Sisters Country Park.  Beautiful sunny morning but there was a keen wind which made it a little tricky in talking to such a large group but I think they enjoyed it and hopefully learnt something.  They were hoping to see some spring flowers…

The Country Park is nowadays looking somewhat run-down – fences, gates, signage.  Much of the principle wildlife habitat – grassland, is either over-grazed or conversely, under-grazed.  This area used to be a mecca for a myriad of wild flowers, butterflies and birds; sadly, not at the moment.  This unfortunate situation has arisen due to several reasons: poor management over the past 15 years or so; a lack of funding and staffing.  Most of all, as regards its all-important grazing, the tenant of the past 26 years appears to have little or no regard to wildlife conservation, the principle reason he was chosen and brought in.  It’s high-time he was replaced.

I’ll finish off on this subject with a radical suggestion.  I suggest that the Park’s owner East Sussex CC, sells the Country Park to the National Trust, which now has a sizeable land holding operation in the area and has the necessary expertise to manage the Park correctly.  The ESCC would then have off-loaded for them, a liability, one they no longer have the expertise to manage and crucially, it would raise for the cash-strapped County Council, a considerable amount of much-needed capital.