Despite its English name of Common Butterwort this plant is rare in southern England, indeed, this tiny colony is the only colony in East Sussex. After a while today hunting within the Ashdown Forest SSSI we eventually re-discovered it again. Still only six plants – the same as four years ago but, all these tiny plants in flower or are about to.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Controversy has just hit the tv screens of Sussex after the the BBC SEToday article concerning the culling of deer on the Ashdown Forest…
After having hunted lynx and the wolf to extinction, the fact is, that Man is now the top predator. I have some knowledge of this subject… On a large area of land neighbouring Ashdown Forest, in which I was involved in the course of my work, culling commenced some five years ago. The removal of selected deer including old and injured animals by experienced stalkers, has led to the remaining deer population now being in a healthier condition with them having more to eat. A second bonus has been that the woodland and flora are now starting to recover from decades of over-grazing – I have witnessed that with my own eyes.
Thirdly, this has locally reduced the numbers of deer involved in road traffic accidents. This came close to me several years ago when my wife narrowly escaped serious injury from involvement with a deer – within an urban 30mph speed limit area. This collision wrote-off her car.
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.
Storm Angus. Well, after a night of listening to the wind in the trees and the rain lashing down, I received text at 6-30am from my colleague Sally saying as she lives not too far away, she’d go and check the electric fencing on the 3 coastal pony grazing sites near Beachy Head. 7-30, she text to say she’d sorted the battered fences at Frances Bottom. 8-30am and another text, saying that the cliff top fence at Shooters Bottom towards Belle Tout was in one hell of a mess, so I phoned and said I’d set set-off immediately to assist her. This fence would have taken the full brunt of the storm.
When I arrived on site at 9-30, I’ve not seen electric fencing so blown about, some it in small heaps even with the odd metal stake still attached and within it! We basically had to untangle the three lines of wire and tape, and re-erect most of the 850 metres of the cliff facing fence, we finishing at about midday. Conditions were very windy at first and quite cold but at least it was dry.
These two pics I took just before 9-30, before starting work and showing the white surf on the rocks below Belle Tout and the fencing largely laying on the ground.
We then went on to Birling Gap and fortunately Nick the looker there for today is quite practical and he’d turned the power off and had just about finished re-ercting sections by the time we arrived. Fortunately, it usually works that the ponies move away from the wind thus retreating from where the fence is being damaged and where they could get out. Just for good measure, I then walked the 1700 metres of fencing at Ashdown Forest on the way home.
Statistics. The shipping forecast was for the possibility of a Force 10 Storm but out at the Greenwich Light Buoy, 20 miles out from the coast off Peacehaven, the maximum wind speed briefly recorded was at 7am and at 75mph, technically into the Force 12 Hurricane zone. (This, it has to be remembered is over open sea where wind speeds are a little higher).
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.Rood and Hurst on the platform. Image copyrightMARTIN HURST ET AL
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.”
A couple of days ago I stopped-off at Birling Gap to have my lunch…
I noticed while standing at the top of the steps that go down to the beach, how grey and course the shingle appeared. Presumably this indicated that this material is of relatively newly exposed flint. There was a large cliff-fall mid-way along the Seven Sisters back in the summer which no doubt has contributed,it now completely dispersed by the sea. Shingle is in the main, of a brownish hue due to exposure over time to iron compounds in the seawater.
The land to the east of Birling Gap appears much improved from the now regular winter pony grazing. This week there were still a number of plants still in flower. Scrub clearance by National Trust staff and volunteers has also had a marked effect on this once un-managed area.
A herd of ponies were grazing on Eastbourne BC’s Belle Tout area, the first of the autumn/winter grazing of four sites within the Birling/Beachy Head area this season.
A research project being carried out by the University of East Anglia has been studying the arboreal history of a sample of four English counties. The first lesson learnt is that the three major tree species were oak, Ash and elm. The second is that the dominance of these together with the less frequent species such as Beech, Cherry, limes, Hornbeam, Field Maple and Scots Pine are very likely due to human choice which in turn was based on practical and economic considerations at the time. It has also discovered that rural tree population were up until the mid-19th century, much more vigorously managed with much pollarding and coppicing being carried out and with timber trees likely to have been felled at an earlier age. It is considered that these practices may all have contributed to an overall healthier tree population.
During the last half century, this status quo has and is likely to continue to be adversely affected: modern intensive farm management; apart from within urban sanctuaries we have lost the elm as a tree; Ash is now under considerable attack from a recently arrived fungus and there are doubts about our oaks and disease. Waterside Alder has now been under fungal attack for some decades as is Horse Chestnut being plundered by a micro moth ‘breaking-out’ from Macedonia. Currently knocking at the UK’s door are: the Emerald Ash Borer, Sweet Chestnut blight, various conifer diseases and a suite of ‘alien’ insect pests.
If that were not enough, we still have our home grown tree diseases such as fungal plunderers and various blights. There is also the ‘elephant in the room’ – climate change; this could impose major changes on our beautiful tree populations. There have calls by some that we should be proactive and start planting more continental species – walnut and perhaps, Downy Oak to ‘bolster’ our two native oaks. Challenging times indeed for our woody neighbours…