Tuesday’s Dramatic Sky Observations

Tuesday, June 18, and from my fairly high bay-window vantage point, a number of notable weather and astronomical observations were in evidence…

The day started off greyish, quickly brightening up through the morning.  From late-morning until late into the afternoon it was very humid.  During this same period, far out towards the seaward horizon, lay a thick band of brown, polluted air that was quite distinct with the unaided eye, probably arising from the dirty fuel that most ships still use.

Late-afternoon and the sky clouded over.  (Mid-evening and the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth 2 sailed down Channel making for St.Peters Port).  Late evening, and very low over the far south-eastern horizon the full moon – minus a day, slowly rose from out the blackness – it probably being the most blood-orange-coloured moon I have ever witnessed in my entire life!  Fantastic!

As it slowly rose in the heavens, it was consumed by the storm clouds of a fierce  electric storm which radar showed to have developed over the mid-Channel on air coming out of the Cherbourg peninsula, this drifting north-eastwards and clipping Sussex and Kent, there being much intense fork lightning, thunder, a stiffening breeze accompanying the intense rain that arrived just after 11pm, the roads resembling rivers.  The storm then slipping away some 40 minutes later.  What a spectacle!

Cruise Ship Britannia

7-50am, and the Britannia is steaming past Britannia – well to precise at this moment, St.Leonards and is relatively speaking, close in at 13 miles and on passage from Bergen in Norway and making for Southampton for an 11am docking.  She is easily identified by her twin funnels.

The MV Britannia is a cruise ship of the P&O Cruises fleet.  She was built by Fincantieri at its shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy.  At 143,000 GT, Britannia is the largest of seven ships currently in service with P&O Cruises and she is also the flagship of the fleet.  She officially entered service on 14 March 2015, and was named by Queen Elizabeth II.  Britannia features a 94 metres (308 ft) Union Flag on her bow, the largest of its kind in the world.  A beautiful looking ship but cruising wouldn’t be my choice – all that frivolous consumption would be at odds with my environmental beliefs!

Length: 330 m   Capacity: 3,647 passengers         Cost: £473 million            Speed: 21.9 knots (40.6 km/h; 25.2 mph) @ 136 rev/min.

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.

Farewell Dear Ponies…

Last month, I carried out my last lookering (checking) of some of the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust’s Exmoor ponies, these being on the National Trust’s Gayles Farm property, adjacent to the Seven Sisters cliffs.  So, now I have no connection with the Trust, a charitable trust that I set-up back in 2004.  The Trust went on to become one of the largest pony conservation grazing set-ups in the country.

June 2018. Ponies grazing on Gayles Farm.

I have found it very difficult at times lately, dealing with retiring in early 2017 and withdrawing from what was very much ‘my baby’ but the world and myself have to move on.  I now realise now just how much managing the 85 free-living ponies ruled my life and in some respects broke my personal life.  I originally started the pony grazing back in 1999 whilst working for the Sussex Downs Conservation Board, in order to conserve the chalk grasslands of Firle escarpment and neighbouring areas of flower-rich Downland.

Sussex police briefly close the busy A272 at Chailey Common to enable Sussex Pony Grazing’s ponies to cross to summer grazing area. (Image courtesy of Linda Ball).

Eventually, ponies were grazing four areas of the Ashdown Forest, a RSPB reserve near Tunbridge Wells, Chailey Common, Hastings Country Park and several locations in the Beachy Head/Birling Gap area, to name the main grazing sites.  I deeply regret that the last named two coastal areas are as from this year, now no longer being pony grazed – new management and in my view, a loss of one of the Trust’s great ‘jewels in its crown.’

October 2016. Ponies grazing at Shooters Bottom near Beachy Head.

I would like to put on the record, my sincere thanks to all those Lookers past and present and also to Bunny Hicks, Alan Skinner, Jon Curson and Malcolm Emery without whom, the pony grazing would never have got off the starting block!  Also, to those many others and landowners, who co-operated with making it such a success.

Royal Sovereign Light Tower Construction

I remember this being built.  It was to be the first of several to this design but I believe because of construction delays and costs, no others were built.  I recognised one local face in the construction crew; in the film, there is at times some rather grating accompanying music.  Note the masses of ‘personal protective clothing’ worn!  The tower, as were all lighthouses in the UK, was later converted to run automatically.

July Sightings

July 4.  Flock of about 20 oystercatchers perched on one of the reefs that run out here and there along the beach at St.Leonards this afternoon.

July 8.  Trained to Brighton…  Beautiful show of hollyhocks at Berwick station, real cottage flowers!  Scrub is still being allowed to increase in area at a number of locations along the Firle Escarpment Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  This is one of SE England’s major landscape features and if attitudes, government grants, and funding for Natural England staff do not change before too long, this majestic view will be lost to future generations.    In a field near Firle, saw windrows of straw from an early combined crop of cereal.    People who criticise on aesthetic grounds the Rampion wind farm some 10 miles seaward of Brighton, should turn their gaze 90 degrees and consider the factory chimney (aka i-360 attraction), parked on Brighton’s promenade!    Evening withdrawal of some evening train services meant I was stuck on Lewes station for about an hour from 8-45pm but I was rewarded by one of Nature’s spectacles.  I became aware of lots of jackdaw chatter emanating some 200m away in trees in Southover Road.  Over the next hour, wave upon wave of jackdaws came in low over the station from the south-east, many beginning to chatter on their final approach to their companions already settled amongst the crowns of the tall trees. I was left wondering how they all managed to fit into the the available space. Home at 22-45!

July 9.  Sensible dogs, and Englishmen go out in the midday sun!  Why sit on baking-hot pebbles when you can lay on cool, damp ones or even better, in the water!

July 14.  Buff-tailed bumble bees bottoms-up on artichokes on my allotment.

July 19.  during the evening, I counted some 20-24 swifts over the centre of St.Leonards.  Another couple of weeks and I guess they’ll have largely departed south.

May Sightings

And so the cool, dry spring continues without much prospect of change until towards the end of May…

May 6th and during the evening there was a group of 7 swifts hawking for insects in the cold easterly wind, high over St.Leonards old town.  Still numbers of turnstones along the beach.  May 8th and as I sat down to my breakfast, 6 swallows flew across the street at window height in that purposeful, determined flight behaviour that characterises swallows on migration, heading north-westwards.  I wished them well.

May 8th.  There’s still a reasonable population of english elms in the vicinity of the station at Pevensey.  Also nearby, are a number of trees (poplar?) with thriving plants of mistletoe high in their crowns; nice to see.

May 18th.  In the following pic, scrub-bashing with a difference!  These fellas are removing dense ivy from off the cliff face at Rock-A-nor at Hastings in order to attach steel mesh safety netting as can be seen above them.  They’re working from off ropes using pneumatically powered equipment.

 

On the same day in the evening, saw this amazing ‘barley-twist’ cloud formation.

May 24th.  There were 10 swifts over St.Leonards old town as I sat having breakfast. Went for a walk in Ham Street Woods National Nature Reserve in Kent, a lovely wood but unfortunately there appears to be not a lot of coppicing now going on – how this wood was traditionally managed.  Saw this tree which many years ago had suffered severe trauma, survived and prospered!

Nearby the entrance to the woods stands a row of four Victorian(?) cottages.  I thought they were very unusual in that the upper storey is clad all around the entire block with butt-jointed slates with strips fixed over the vertical joints.

On this jaunt I travelled by train and spotted just west of Winchelsea good and bad farming practice – the latter almost certainly contravening government/EU regulations by cultivating as close to a watercourse as physically possible.  The adjacent water must be receiving a very unhealthy cocktail of fertilizer and chemicals  First, good practice with 2 metre wide uncultivated headlands on a neighbouring farm and then the bad.  Apologies that the second doesn’t make the point very obvious but the train was going quite fast! Stile and post are on nearside of watercourse.

In the evening, saw my first painted lady butterfly; it was in beautiful condition and probably had not long arrived from across the Channel.  About 10 swifts screaming high overhead mid-evening.  I’m not religious but full marks to the Pope for giving Trump some serious reading matter today!

April Sightings  – All and Sundry

Up until the early part of the month (including the winter), I’ve been surprised just how tolerant of people that the dozens of turnstones that wintered/rested on the beaches of St.Leonards and on the ironwork of Hastings pier are.

Moving on, a couple of days ago, many of the birds in the centre of the town flew-up and seemed uneasy for a few minutes; I scanned the skies and sure enough, a couple hundred yards away and high up, was a circling sparrowhawk.

Went for a lovely walk with a friend in the Iden area on Sunday, April 9th – that really warm day.  We walked through an area of working coppice with a beautiful display of bluebells and lesser celandine.  After refuelling, on the return leg we saw two swallows, one settled on a nearby telephone wire giving out that gorgeous trilling song as if to say, ‘well, I’m glad to be back.’  Walking along part of the banks of the Military Canal, we were treated to a short, announcing blast from a cetti’s warbler emanating from out of the bordering reeds.

Back at home, somewhere not far from the house, there seems to be a pair of goldfinches possibly nesting; lovely to sit on the steps by the front door and watch them frequently pass over with their singing, resembling a bunch of high-pitched jangling keys.

April 26th and on a walk near Matfield in Kent, we came across a small meadow which was stunning!  It had thousands of cuckoo flower in full bloom, a real high-point in the day.

I’m now able from my window, to take an interest in the shipping passing down the Channel – ships being a subject that I’ve been fascinated by since a child.  I’m surprised by the sheer number of container ships passing by with quite a number owned by the MSC shipping company – the second largest container fleet in the world with 490 ships, four of which are the largest in the world.

The ill-fated Crystal Jewel anchored off Newhaven, after its encounter with the tanker British Aviator in fog off Beachy Head back in Sept 1961.

 

 

Week Ending February 28th

A busy week again managing the pony grazing…

Monday.  We reached agreement with Natural England and a local farmer to spring/summer graze asap ‘Berwick Down’ near Alfriston.  This is a fairly large site of about 20 hectares.  Following 2/3 years of this action to hopefully remove much of the offending bulk of the tor grass, the plan is then to change to a winter grazing scenario which should encourage the other flora and fauna.

Tuesday.  Run around day, checking ponies at Hastings, Beachy Head, Belle Tout and Lullington Heath.  At BH we last week opened up a further section of grass reaching almost to the cliff edge; the ponies had now found this.  At BT the ponies are on course to finish grazing there in the coming fortnight before perhaps going on to a new National Trust property?

Wednesday.  A damp start but during the afternoon it was glorious!  We erected some 1200 metres of electric fencing in readiness for bringing the 18 ponies over from Lullington Heath next week.  To begin with, our 4×4 truck had to claw its way up a very muddy track, followed by us having to hump material up to 400 m away.  Phew!  Late afternoon and as we were about to come down off the downland escarpment, we spotted two short-eared owls quartering across the rank grassy slopes, presumably hunting for voles.

Saturday.  We almost finished the electric fencing at Berwick Down today – in fairly trying conditions, with near gale force winds and drizzle.