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!


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??


Dismantling in Eastbourne

Made a brief visit to Eastbourne this morning and took these pics of changes taking place within the town.  The first is the dismantling of a fine Wheatley variety of a street elm along Southfields Road due to a large cavity within it and also that it was dying from Dutch Elm Disease (DED), note the dead twigs at the extremities of its crown.  One of the tree surgeons told me that Eastbourne is fairing reasonably well with DED.

Elm trees seem to this spring have produced a very heavy crop of seed – though very little elm seed is viable, it mainly spreading by root suckers.

The second pic is of major demolition of redundant shops along Terminus Road opposite the railway station to make way for extending the Arndale Centre.  I just hope that when it comes to the interior design, they don’t replicate the boring interior of the present mall!

Sad Tale of Sheffield’s Trees

The Guardian Editorial on Sheffield’s trees: decline and fall

We need greenery to feed the forests of our imaginations. The protests in Sheffield are about saving a community that has become marooned from local decision-making processes by austerity

Thursday 1 December 2016.

ABSTRACT.  Residents of the city of Sheffield are at war with their council over the cutting down of trees. According to protesters, 4,000 have already succumbed since the council signed a contract with Amey, a private contractor commissioned to improve the city’s roads. The battle of Rustlings Road, on 17 November, was an inglorious affair: on the one hand, men wielding chainsaws against the street’s trees at 5am; on the other, three residents, including sociology professor emeritus Jenny Hockey and retired teacher Freda Brayshaw arrested and detained for staging a peaceful protest against the felling. Today two other opponents of the fellings in Sheffield pleaded not guilty to charges under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, which criminalises those who prevent a worker from carrying out a lawful task, in this case tree surgeons. Meanwhile, residents are rallying to protect the trees of Western Road, also threatened – and these venerable planes considerably raise the stakes in the dispute, since they were planted in 1919 to commemorate pupils from a nearby school who died in the first world war.

But the Sheffield dispute is not just about an atavistic affection for the forests of our imaginations: it is about a community deracinated from local decision-making processes by austerity. Sheffield’s agreement with a private contractor is a pragmatic measure in a city hit by appalling cuts to services. It is cheaper to fell trees, perhaps replacing them with younger specimens, than to maintain old ones; Amey has its bottom line to consider, and is not directly accountable to local voters. But the trees matter to people, and it is heartening to see Sheffield’s protesters come together in defence of the handsome, beloved planes that line its streets. It is not the first time in recent years that urban communities have rallied in defence of the precious green growing things in their midst: in Glasgow, residents have waged a fierce and long battle against the council’s plan to sell off the North Kelvin Meadow and Children’s Wood for housing, defending this patch of land, with its wild orchids and elegant birches, from a needless housing project. Just as Scottish ministers should now step in decisively to stop the Kelvinside development plans, so Sheffield should reconsider the fate of its trees – and save them from the axe.

Visit the above link for the full Editorial.

Trees – Historically, Disease and Their Future

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.

Last of the elms of 'Alfriston's Cathedral Walk,' 2012.

Last of the elms of ‘Alfriston’s Cathedral Walk,’ 2012.

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…

Sweet Chestnut attacked by root rot fungus along ghyll valley, Ashdown Forest SSSI.

Sweet Chestnut attacked by root rot fungus along ghyll valley, Ashdown Forest SSSI.



The Future of The Countryside and Its Funding

The Future of The Countryside and Its Funding.

With the Brexiteers victory in the recent Referendum, what of funding for farmers and land managers working in the British countryside?  It has to be remembered that a great many tourists visit Britain to explore and admire our green and pleasant land and so therefore, contribute to our economy…

That ‘greeness,’ highlights one of the current problems with our countryside.  It is all, very green and very pleasant – until the more knowledgeable soul decides to set foot outside their car and explore and actually see what biodiversity is present.  I can answer that: nothing like as much as say half a century ago!  Development, roads, pollution, globalisation and modern chemical farming have devastated much of our wildlife whether it be water habitats (including marine), grasslands, heathlands or woodlands, they all have seen dramatic changes and these negative insidious, changes are still taking place.

So what will the Theresa May’s band of Three Brexiteers bring to the agricultural and ecological table.  During the flawed Referendum debates, both bio-diversity and climate change received very little attention considering how pivotal they both are to our well-being.

Andrea Leadsum, DEFRA’s new minister, has gone on record as being rather ignorant when it comes to the facts on climate change; she has made sweeping un-qualified statements about badgers and fox control.  She has also questioned the continued current EU regime of agri-payments to farmers and landowners for various work and services in the countryside.  On this however, one has to say that the current system could most certainly be improved upon.  We must look on the optimistic side on this subject and hope for a better system in the years post EU?  But will there be the funding given all the other demands on the new Government?

Perhaps it’s time to throw another cap into the ring…  There has been much talk of ‘rewilding’ during the last few years.  There are as I recall only a handful of significant schemes operating in the UK at the moment – the Alladale Wilderness Reserve in northern Scotland, Wild Ennerdale in Cumbria, the Great Fen Project in Cambridgeshire and the Knepp Castle Estate in West Sussex.  These are all significant schemes but with all the various demands upon land within our small island, how realistic is it to envisage many more extensive versions?  Perhaps the answer is to take out of food production, smaller areas of poor, or low productivity land such as some moorland or areas of heavy clay lands and subsidize a slightly less ambitious form of re-wilding – islands (where possible, connected by wildlife corridors), in an otherwise busy, income-generating countryside. Then there are the possibilities of the use of primitive breeds of domesticated bovine and equine livestock; free-range beef?  However, I feel that if we were to go down this route, these areas should be viewed as permanent, rather than existing for several decades and then being cleared and returned to agriculture and new replacement wildlife oasis’s formed, this all part of some grand rolling programme.  Morally and economically, except in specific cases, I feel this would be unacceptable.

There is also the role of reintroductions and revival schemes bringing missing, or currently scarce species due to past human practices, back into the wider British countryside.  Current examples being beaver and lynx in the former category and wild boar, otter, polecat in the latter category.

Recent article for further reading:

UK Poorly Prepared for Climate Change Impacts, Government Advisers Warn

UK poorly prepared for climate change impacts, government advisers warn.

Damian Carrington, Tuesday 12 July 2016.


A Cumbria road destroyed in floods during storm Desmond, which scientists found had been made more likely by climate change. Photograph: Ashley Cooper / Barcroft Media

The UK is poorly prepared for the inevitable impacts of global warming in coming decades, including deadly annual heatwaves, water shortages and difficulties in producing food, according the government’s official advisers.

Action must be taken now, according to the report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published on Tuesday, with more widespread flooding and new diseases among the risks in most urgent need of addressing.

The CCC further warns that climate-stoked wars and migration around the world could have very significant consequences for the UK, through disrupted trade and more military intervention overseas.

The 2,000-page report is a comprehensive assessment of the dangers of climate change to the UK, produced over three years by 80 experts and reviewed by many more. The main analysis is based on the temperature rise expected if the global climate agreement signed in Paris in 2015 is fully delivered and also takes account of plans already in place to cope with impacts.

The worst case scenarios in the CCC report – if action to tackle climate change completely fails – foresees searing heatwaves reaching temperatures of 48C in London and the high-30s across the nation.

“We are not sufficiently prepared and we need to do more now, even for the [Paris deal] scenario of 2.7C of warming,” said Lord John Krebs, chair of the CCC’s adaptation sub-committee. “Many impacts are affecting us now, as climate change is already happening.”

“What we now think of as an extremely hot summer, where people are dying of heat stress and it is extremely uncomfortable in homes, hospitals and much of transport, that is likely to be a typical summer by the middle of the century and would be a cool summer in the 2080s,” he said.

Krebs said critical facilities, such as hospitals and care homes, are particularly at risk: “Many are not designed to be resilient in terms of overheating.” Many are also in already flood prone areas, the report noted, with the risk of flooding set to rise further.

While most of the key risks are fairly well understood, the dangers posed by new diseases and pests invading the UK as the climate gets warmer requires urgent research, the CCC said.

“The impacts are potentially high for otherwise healthy people, animals and plants,” the report states. “Higher temperatures will lead to an increased risk of the Asian tiger mosquito, the vector of

Chikungunya virus, dengue fever and Zika virus. The current risk remains low, but may increase in the future.”

There could be some benefits to the UK from climate change including exports of products and services such as flood defence expertise, the CCC said, and UK tourism may also increase. A longer growing season could boost crops, the report said, but only if the impact of climate change on water supplies and soil fertility can be overcome.

“Already 85% of the rich peat topsoils of East Anglia has disappeared,” said Krebs, due to drainage and erosion. “We have lost a lot of the natural asset that allows us to grow cereals and climate change will accelerate the rate of loss. We could lose the remaining fertile soil within the next 30-60 years and that would be a huge negative impact on the food production capacity of the UK.”

Food supplies will also be affected by the impact of global warming around the planet, as the UK imports 40% of its food. “But it is not an expectation that there will be supermarket shelves with nothing on,” said Matthew Bell, CCC chief executive. “It is more likely that food becomes more expensive, particularly with spikes in prices as some supply chains are affected.”

The report warns of other overseas risks to the UK, including a rising need for military intervention: “There are uncertain but potentially very significant international risks arising from climate-related human [migration], and the possibility of violent inter‑state conflict over scarce natural resources.”

“These impacts are transported to the UK through the movement of people and capital, through international supply chains and also through the demands upon the UK in terms of overseas military effort,” said Daniel Johns, the CCC’s head of adaptation.

Climate change is becoming more apparent today, with temperature records being smashed amid a succession of record hot years. Amber Rudd, energy and climate change secretary, said at the end of June that global warming is “one of the most serious long-term risks to our economic and national security”.

A government spokesman said: “We are committed to making sure the UK is prepared for the challenges of climate change. That is why we are investing record amounts in flood defences and developing a long-term plan for the environment.”

UK law requires the government to use the CCC report to develop its adaptation plan, although spending on the issue halved under the coalition government.

“The CCC report is a tour de force,” said Prof Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London. “It is a hugely valuable instrument for seeking to keep our government honest and true to its responsibilities of protecting the interests of UK citizens and businesses now and in the future.”

Climate change increased the chance of last winter’s devastating floods by 40%, noted Prof Joanna Haigh, at Imperial College London: “That is why this report is so important, as it starkly sets out the challenges we face and the urgency of addressing them. Some impacts are now inevitable.”

Friends of the Earth’s Guy Shrubsole said: “This is a stern warning for squabbling politicians that the biggest threat to our future is from massive climate disruption. Theresa May must make climate change a top priority.”

“The CCC’s analysis shows red and yellow lights flashing all over the dashboard,” said Tom Viita, at Christian Aid. “The new Prime Minister [May] must chair a Climate Cobra Committee to handle these risks more effectively and with the urgency required.”

Marylyn Haines Evans, at the National Federation of Women’s Institutes said: “This report is worrying because it shows just how close the risks of climate change really are for all of us. We cannot leave this problem as a legacy for our children and grandchildren.”

Five ways that climate change will affect Britain:


The deadly heatwave of 2003, which peaked at 38.5C in the UK, will be a normal summer by the 2040s, leading to related deaths more than tripling. There are currently no policies to ensure homes, schools, hospitals and offices remain tolerable in high heat.

Floods and coastal erosion

Flooding already causes £1bn of damage every year on average but the risks will rise yet further as climate change leads to more intense rainfall, bringing floods to places not currently in danger. The number of households at significant risk of flooding will more than double to 1.9m by 2050, if the global temperature rises by 4C.

Water shortages

Severe water shortages are expected as summers get drier and, by the 2050s, will extend across the UK. If temperatures are driven up significantly, many places in the UK will have a demand for water 2.5 times greater than that available.

Natural environment

The proportion of prime farmland is expected to fall from 38% to 9% with significant warming and crop growing in eastern England and Scotland could be ended by degraded soil and water shortages. Warming seas are pushing key species northwards, which may affect the entire marine food chain.


Climate change is likely to drive food prices up, with extreme weather leading to lost crops and price shocks. About 40% of UK food is imported, making the UK vulnerable to droughts and floods driven by climate change around the world.


Week Ending Saturday, June 4th.

Early in the week, I had to check the 12 ponies on the combined commons at Chailey.  They were together with the 9 longhorn cattle, both groups in exactly the same spots, the ponies grazing, the cattle laying down chewing the cud, again exactly the same.  Very dé-jà vu!

Wednesday, 1st.  A cold, windy and at times, wet day with the wind from the north-west and unseasonably cool.  There’s still a lot of truth in the old saying, ‘cast not a clout till May is out.’  I always maintain the weather is always very variable through much of this month of May.

As I was leaving the downland escarpment above Berwick, driving parallel along the base of a spur that runs out from the main escarpment, I noticed about 200m, away a buzzard making hard work of gaining height, into the strong wind.  What really caught my eye, was what was hanging from its talons?  I quickly reached for my binoculars and trained them on the bird; it had caught a middling-sized rabbit which was held by its back, the rabbit appearing to be looking down though in reality it was probably dead.  Having gained a considerable height, it then let the wind carry it away to the south-east and out of site over the spur.

Thursday, 2nd.  Whilst checking out a potential pony grazing site that the Trust had been approached about to the east of Woodingdean, I walked past a small, isolated group of elm trees high up on the wind-swept Downs just to the lee of the crest of the hill.  I last walked past these in the early 1970’s with a party being led by my great friend, David Harvey of the then Nature Conservancy Council.  I believe they might be of the Cornish clone of the smooth-leaved group?  Anyway, they are currently free of the dreaded dutch elm disease.

Saturday, 4th.  Whilst driving home, particularly in the Wilmington/Berwick area, I was amazed by the number of moths on the wing.  They were probably very largely, all a small whitish specie.  The last time i saw numbers like that was whilst driving one evening in the Brecon Beacons nearly 20 years ago.

National Parks – the Government’s New Plan for Their Future??

The Government has just published its new strategy for England’s National Parks (with mentions for their poor relations, the important AONB’s (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty)). It seems to dwell heavily upon increasing footfall from home and abroad; increasing business opportunities and the production and selling of top-end food stuffs.  All very well to a degree but much of this I would suggest is going further down the road of commercialisation and I personally fear that if all this report is implemented in full, it could ‘kill the goose/geese that lays the golden egg/s.’  In other words, protecting biodiversity seems to be left sitting, largely overlooked on the back seat!

The full report can be read on the following link.

Having been involved in wildlife and landscape conservation for most of my working life (a period of some 40 years), some of the report’s targets concern me about the future of these ‘jewels in the crown’ of the British landscape. This is the same Government which has slashed and continues to slash funding for environmental work in this country, though I hear that National Parks (NP’s) are currently ring-fenced for four years.  Much of the government and local authority staff expertise has been shed in these cuts and I would say the matters are now at a fairly low ebb from the zenith of landscape/wildlife protection back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

The following are some my comments upon reading through the report; I am only commenting with regard to the situation here in Sussex:

*Good to read the aim of using NP’s as a health resource to improve the well-being of people and hopefully reduce pressure on NHS services.

*A stated aim is for ‘Britain to have the best natural environment anywhere in the world.’  This is quite a tall order in view of the devastation caused over the past half century by modern farming practices and development and the increasing lack of protection offered by this Government.

*Good to read of a proposed initiative to increase the number of young people receiving an introduction to the wonders of the natural environment.  However schools will require additional resources.  Sadly, there is no mention of this initiative applying to AONB’s?

*The report waxes lyrical about these ‘amazing natural assets.’  Yet the South Downs NP failed upon being set up, to continue the work of protecting one of the real gems of the eastern South Downs, the largest population of mature English elms in the world.  Forty years of work and expenditure have been allowed to whither.  Mature, rural elms have now almost disappeared leading to their nemesis, Dutch Elm Disease (DED), potentially now on the cusp of devastating the magnificent urban elm populations within Brighton and Eastbourne.  As I sit here writing,there are still specie-rich areas of chalk grassland that are being swallowed-up by scrub invasion, with other areas crying out for sustained management to protect them.

*The report wants to see an increase of 10% on the current 90 million home and overseas visitors visiting the NP’s.  One of the claims made some 10 years ago to appease opponents during the lead-in to the creation of the SDNP, was that there would not be any significant increase in footfall.  At peak times – sunny winter days, bank holidays and during the now longer the holiday season, sees increasing footpath erosion surrounding the hotspots and the road system frequently congested to the point of gridlock during peak times.

*The SDNP upon its creation, failed to take on the maintenance of the extensive footpath network upon the Downs which had previously received substantial additional monies and works during the previous twenty years, only for this to be handed backed to a resource-starved East Sussex CC.  If they want more people to explore the area there is a requirement for a well-maintained and well-signposted path network.




Elm Tree and the Lone Goldfinch

I took a trip today into Brighton for a wander around…

From the bus on the way back, I thought I glimpsed one of my (now almost rare) former elm ‘flock.’  It stands in the middle of a 70’s development to the south of Lewes prison and its owner, a Miss ? used phone me most years to ask if Mark or I would carry out an inspection and also to enquire whether she should have any pruning work carried out upon it.

If I was looking at the same tree, I could clearly see where she had spent money on having a limited crown reduction carried out years ago but no attention in recent years in evidence, so guess she’s moved on, perhaps to the next world…  [I was Dutch Elm Supervisor for East Sussex CC between 1997 and 2004 while working for the Sussex Downs Conservation Board. Sadly the scheme has since gone belly up].

Earlier, while walking along Western Road, the air filled with the drone of passing busses, I noticed a high-pitched trilling sound. Upon looking across the road, I noticed an apparently solitary male goldfinch 30 feet up in a roadside tree singing his heart out.  Seemed rather surreal!

Ash Dieback Threat

Stephen Moss. Wednesday 23 March 2016.

Reports that the ash tree is “set for extinction in Europe” have sent a shiver down the spine of everyone who loves and values Britain’s trees. For older readers like me, the stories are an unwelcome reminder of 40 years ago, when another familiar tree – the English elm – was devastated by Dutch Elm Disease.

The new research, published in the Journal of Ecology, paints a grim picture for the future of the ash in Britain and Europe. The trees are suffering a twin-pronged attack: from ash dieback, a fungal disease also known as Chalara, and the invasive emerald ash borer beetle. It has yet to reach the UK, but is moving westwards across Europe at a frightening rate.

The disappearance of ash trees would not just affect our landscape, especially in lowland Britain, but also the 1,000-plus species that depend on the ash, including more than 200 different invertebrates. But is this yet another story that might not be quite as clear-cut as the headlines suggest? Some, including naturalist and radio presenter Brett Westwood, are cautious: “I’m not certain that this will mean total wipeout of the ash in Britain, because it has strong genetic diversity which allows more chance to evolve resistance. There’s evidence that younger trees in nurseries, many of them grown in continental Europe, are more vulnerable and that fewer of the mature British ashes are displaying symptoms. Nevertheless we should be very alarmed that there is a serious risk of losing such an important and conspicuous species from our landscape.”

The doyen of tree experts, George Peterken, agrees. “There is genetic diversity in ash, and I would expect them to evolve their way round the fungus,” he says. “Even so, I endorse [ecologist] Oliver Rackham’s warning that globalisation is the main threat to British trees – from imported diseases and introduced mammals.”

The more urgent question is what humans can do to slow the progress of ash dieback. First, we need to spot any infected trees: by looking for a distinctive blackish-brown tinge towards the ends of the leaves, or lesions on dead or dying shoots. If you do find what might be signs of the disease, you should report them immediately to the Forestry Commission.

If these threats are to be beaten in the longer term, we need to stop imports of ash saplings from Europe, and identify any resistant trees that might provide a reservoir of seeds for future planting. We could also plant alternative native tree species that can fill the niche left by the loss of the ash. We won’t know whether any of these measures have worked for many decades – by which time there will no doubt be many other threats to Britain’s beleaguered trees.


Stephen Moss’s Wild Kingdom: Bringing Back Britain’s Wildlife, is published on 7 April (Square Peg, £16.99)