Data Reveals Poor Conditions at Protected Wildlife Site

The following article reiterates what I have observed and have been saying for years – that many of our Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are in a parlous state.  For example, most of the Firle Escarpment has not been inspected for 5 years!  Significant areas are now degenerating into bramble and scrub due to poor management by some farmers – ML.

Pevensey Levels ‘at risk’ – new data reveals poor conditions at protected wildlife site.

By Ginny Sanderson, Sussex Express.

Tuesday, 21st January 2020.

Waller’s Haven on Pevensey Levels looking towards Herstmonceux in the late afternoon winter sun.

More than half of all inspections found poor conditions at the wildlife haven, which is among the country’s precious few Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).  An investigation has found the protected area is among thousands of beauty spots across the country which are in a poor state and facing unsatisfactory conditions.

The area is home to many rare creatures, and is considered to best site in Britain for freshwater molluscs, including the endangered ram’s horn snail.  Extremely rare aquatic plants can also be found in the marshland, which stretches from Bexhill to Hailsham.  The 3,600 hectare site is in peril alongside other East Sussex areas Romney Marsh and Rye Bay, and Dungeness in neighbouring Kent.

Many SSSI sites have not been assessed for years, leading environmental campaigners to fear the situation could be even worse.  Wildlife charities have branded the findings “shocking”, while the government says it is taking action to restore sites.  Paul de Zylva, of Friends of the Earth, said it was “shocking that our top wildlife sites are in such poor condition”.

He said, “If we can’t even protect the jewels in the crown, it’s little wonder that UK nature is in such poor shape.  The new government must make the protection and restoration of our natural environment a top priority.”  While Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trust’s director of campaigns and policy, said bodies such as Natural England, which monitor the condition of sites, had been starved of funding.

She called for them to get a substantial cash injection “to enable them to carry out their functions effectively and to ensure our protected sites are restored and enhanced.”  In England, SSSIs are inspected in smaller sections called units.  More than half of these units (53 per cent) are in an unfavourable condition, inspection data shows.

Guidelines state SSSI features in England should be assessed at least every six years, but analysis by the JPI Media Investigation Unit found more than half (12,394) of sites have not been assessed since 2011.  A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said while most of England’s SSSIs were either in a favourable condition or were recovering, they recognised that “more needs to be done to improve these vital sites”.

They said, “England’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest protect our most rare and threatened wildlife and represent the best in nature this country has to offer.  While 94 per cent of these are currently in a favourable or recovering condition, we know more needs to be done to improve these vital sites. That’s why we are focusing on restoring those sites that are still in a recovering condition so we can enhance these important areas.”

Investigative reporting by Aimee Stanton of the JPI Media Data Unit.

Today – 20 Years of Pony Grazing!

Today, I sent the e-mail below to fifty of the longer serving pony Lookers – volunteers who (used to) check the Exmoor ponies on a regular basis come rain, wind or snow.  I have hesitated in the tense of the last sentence as I gain the impression that many of the Lookers have been made redundant by the pony trust or sadly fallen by the wayside through lack of communication.

The first 15 ponies about to reach Drusillas roundabout after travelling from Exmoor.
On the fist site above Alfriston with the BBC filming them.
“On November 22 1999 –  20 years ago today, our first 18 ponies were driven on the hoof from Frog Firle to the very first grazing site situated above Alfriston, doesn’t time (and hooves) fly!  
The reason for e-mailing you is that when I retired in February 2017, I’d been seriously ill with flu, followed almost immediately by my move to St.Leonards.  Therefore, I never got to thanking you myself for the many hours and toil – often in inclement weathers, that you loyally gave lookering our wonderful five herds of Exmoor ponies.  Today seems a good day to correct that…  So, thank you all very much from my innermost self, for your commitment across the years to the ponies and to helping wildlife conservation.
During the last couple of years, I gather a number of changes have come about concerning the Trust – not all of which I’m happy about but, times change and I’ve retired and no longer have any connection with our dear four-legged friends.”
Some of the first Lookers about to erect the corral for the first time.  L to R Brian Miles (hidden), Alan Holyoak, Brian Sandham, ?, Alan Skinner, Emrys Hughes, Mike Bridges.

Cuckmere Estuary

There has been a lot of disquiet in recent weeks about flooding in the Cuckmere valley and also the build-up of shingle within the river mouth.  See my previous post concerning the sad demise of the Cuckmere meanders area.

On Wednesday, November 5th I did go and view the river mouth and it looks quite different to how it used to be, that is, discharging directly straight out into Cuckmere Haven.  Now, it turns abruptly east and flows along for about a third of the length of the east beach as seen below.  It actually appears far more natural!

This has arisen due to a decision by the Environment Agency not to carry out further work on river maintenance south of the A259 unless there was a real threat to homes and businesses, so no maintenance of floodbanks, groynes or shingle dredging. It was understood that the EA did intend to maintain some existing structures after the above decision but what happened to ‘contingent evaluation’ – the value of a rural, landscape experience to visitors, high in my opinion for the meanders at the Seven Sisters Country Park.

This decision takes account of their limited budget due to government budget cuts and the inevitability of losing the fight against sea level change from global climatic processes. There is not the money to protect a relatively small amout of grazing land when many communities across the country are under real threat.  The river estuary if left to the forces of nature will change as pictured below, this being taken two years ago.

Within the last two days, an excavator has appeared on site presumably to clear out the original man-made channel and reduce the overall height of the river back up through the valley, this presumably being paid for by the local water catchment board?

Flooding to the north of the A259 (picture above) though not unconnected with the above is largely due to when the east riverbank was rebuilt during the 1960’s and the then East Sussex River Board coming under pressure from the local farmers to install the new sluices at a very low level.  (I was informed of this fact recently by a retired former senior ESRB drainage engineer). It means that the river-side flaps of the 4? sluices are unable to open because they’ve become buried by silt due to their low positioning.

Cuckmere Meanders Flooding.

Below is the letter I sent off to the media and local MP’s this morning after making a visit yesterday.  A sad state of affairs…

ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE at CUCKMERE, EAST SUSSEX.

© Jon Rigby/Eastbourne Herald.

People from across the country and abroad, travel to Exceat near Seaford to view the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and the majestic, winding meanders of the Cuckmere River set within a green baize, one of the best examples of a meandering river on the planet…

Well regarding the second point, not at the moment!  Nine days ago the BBC’s South East Today ran an article concerning the flooding within the Cuckmere valley and the fact that the world famous meanders were no where to be seen, they literally submerged beneath ‘flood water from the recent heavy rains.’

On Wednesday, October 30th I visited the area, the meanders are barely discernible, they still being largely masked by flood water.  I will digress here for a moment if I may.  I worked on the Country Park through which the meanders wind, for twenty years including two short period of managing it.  We would in those days monitor and finely adjust the height of the water level in the meanders.  Over the following ten years I also had an input into managing the Country Park.    The meanders have not been as high or surrounding meadows so completely flooded like they are at present, in living memory.  So I do understand in minute detail how the drainage system there works.

Back to my visit…  Upon inspection during the afternoon, there was a spring tide within the tidal river so its level was understandably high.  On the landward side of the floodbank however, water was alarmingly racing through the metre diameter sluice from the tidal river and welling-up in the meanders as a large pool of angry, swirling water.  Yes, the sluice instead of draining the meanders, was actually allowing seawater into the meanders!  Somebody has at some point, tampered with the sluice by ‘obstructing’ one of the large cast-iron sluice flaps and very likely though not visible, also having ‘adjusted’ the sill of the sluice that controls the height of the meanders.  A canoeist, vandals?  Debris in unlikely.  Where the water level had dropped away from its maximum height two weeks ago, the grass was brown and possibly has been killed.  Tourists are going to be somewhat disappointed when coming to view the meanders, they winding through a large tract of brown dead grass!

Later in the afternoon I managed to speak with a local Environment Agency official who said that though they are not responsible in managing the meanders, they were aware of the problem and were monitoring the situation and when it becomes possible to gain access when the river levels drop, they will rectify the situation.  They no longer carry out work on the river towards the sea because they only have sufficient funds to carry out essential works where flooding of the built environment may occur.

The meanders and the surrounding land are part of an extensive Site of Special  Scientific Interest (SSSI) designated by another government agency, Natural England.  Damaging such areas is a criminal offence; however English Nature does not now have the staff or expertise nowadays to monitor and safeguard SSSI areas or enforce their protection, they now possessing too few staff.  Flooding of the area containing the meanders with largely seawater has probably caused untold damage to the surrounding specie-rich grasslands, polluted and destroyed the rich biodiversity of neighbouring ponds and ditches – these also now unfit for watering of livestock.  The meanders are now more salty than they would normally be, so affecting the life within them.  The grazier of the Country Park will have temporarily lost a significant amount of his grazing pasture.

Funding cuts by successive Conservative governments have emasculated the above two important statutory agencies, one supposedly protecting us from pollution and rising sea levels, the other supposedly acting as guardian against damaging land management, short-sighted development of our diverse countryside and is now banned from criticising government policy.  So the moral of this sad microcosm of a tale with the approach of a General Election is, if you value our public services, value your countryside and its wildlife, then whatever you do, oppose the Conservative Party!  Regarding Brexit, if enacted, we are likely to be saddled with lower environmental regulations than in Europe.

Monty Larkin      (www.montylarkin.co.uk)

cc to the following:

BBC South East                  south.today@bbc.co.uk

Eastbourne Herald           laura.sonier@jpimedia.co.uk

The Argus                        editor@theargus.co.uk

The Guardian                  alan.evans@theguardian.com   and                                             natalie.hanman@theguardian.com

Sussex Express           sussex.express@jpress.co.uk

Eastbourne and Lewes respective MP’s.                                stephen.lloyd.mp@parliament.uk    maria.caulfield.mp@parliament.uk

 

Countryfile Calendar Competition 2020

As the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust is probably about to cease operation, lets send them out on a well pubicised high!  Help Simon King, John Craven and Cerys Matthews to choose the favourite to feature on the front cover of the 2020 Countryfile Calendar.  So ring the tel number below to register your vote for the Exmoors grazing at Belle Tout!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/…/the-countryfile-photographic-compet…

My choice is: ‘Pony Trek’ by Ashley Hemsley.

Postscript to this thread:  I recently sent this e-mail to BBC Countryfile concerning the winning entry.

“Dear Countryfile,

I have lived and worked in conservation for 40 years…

The person who won the public Countryfile photo vote took her photo in a studio.  The judges knew this but we the public did not and when we were asked to vote this information was not disclosed.  It may have been on the website but a lot of people, like me, vote with their hearts when they watch the programme.  The picture chosen to grace the cover of the Countryfile calendar is very good but as it was a staged photo in a studio it just can’t compete with the pictures taken in a natural environment.  I find this completely unacceptable; entries should only be considered that are caught live in the wild, outside theatre of the countryside.
To use that dreadful term, this entry amounts to fake news!”

Future of the Exmoor Pony Grazing Scheme

Ponies being released at Hastings Country Park.

Popular Exmoor ponies to be removed from Hastings Country Park by                    Andy Helmsley, ‘The Hastings Observer,’  Monday 05 August 2019.

The well-loved sight of Exmoor ponies at Hastings Country Park is coming to an end with the ponies being removed.  The Sussex Pony Grazing Conservation Trust who manages the ponies has told the council their organisation now has an uncertain future and they will no longer be able to manage the ponies.  As a result they are moving them to a different location.  The ponies have been grazing the slopes and glens of Hastings Country Park for the last six years.  Their conservation grazing habits have transformed Warren Glen from a bracken dominated habitat to one where native coastal grassland and heather now dominates.

Cllr Colin Fitzgerald said: “We are really sorry the Trust is taking to ponies away. They have been a great attraction for the public and they have done a fantastic job of recovering threatened and rare coastal habitats.  As a conservation tool, they have been invaluable in helping the council retain their green flag awards and receive a special award for conservation grazing from the Keep Britain Tidy Group.  However, we wish them well in their new home.  We will be contacting other organisations to see if we can bring another set of ponies to the reserve “

Exmoor ponies are particularly suited to the rugged terrain of Hastings Country Park and they have become a familiar and well-loved site at the Country Park.  Together with the Belted Galloway cattle they form the conservation grazing backbone for managing the rugged and inaccessible areas of Hastings Country Park.”

The background to this story is that once I had retired in 2017, the Trust’s small, voluntary, long-serving but wherried committee had served for far longer than they had expected to and were in a sense, burnt-out.  On the ground, there simply wasn’t the continuing level of commitment or mental drive that I had as founder, this not being helped by a general failing to continue to engender in the Lookers (volunteers) a feeling of involvement and not using their co-operation with sharing some of the practical elements of the fencing and gathering-in work that was required.  Additional practical concerns were, a small vociferous section of the dog-walking fraternity on Eastbourne’s coastal downland objecting to the essential temporary electric fencing.  Another factor has been the increasing storminess of our weather due to climate change, increasing the struggle to maintain this fencing in a stock-proof condition during stormy weather thus ensuring that the ponies didn’t break-out and put themselves and possibly motorists, at risk.

The current position of play at present is that the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust will announce its formal winding-up by the coming autumn and nearly all the remaining 65 ponies being split three ways – 22 having already been purchased by farmer Duncan Ellis for use on the chalk downland of the Folkington Estate which they tenant and along the Firle Escarpment SSSI Continue reading

American Government Mis-Treatment of US Icon

This week, contractors for the US government’s Bureau of Lands Management (BLM) ran wild mustangs from distances as far as 3-5 miles in temperatures that crept into the 90’s Fahrenheit. Helicopters targeted smaller groups and relentlessly chased them. A small foal stopped running, it suffering from exhaustion and had to be roped and walked in. 94 horses were finally captured with 2 animals dying.

TRIPLE B ROUNDUP DAY 2 REPORT: 75 wild horses were rounded up and removed yesterday and there was 1 death – a foal was euthanized because of “extremely weak tendons”.

We also received clarifications on the 3 deaths from Wednesday. The BLM originally attributed the deaths to “Pre-existing condition, starvation, emaciation and weakness.” By the next day, the BLM changed its explanation of the deaths. Now the pre-existing conditions that prompted the BLM to “euthanize” the horses are attributed to a lost eye, broken leg, laceration.  Read our report here: https://wildhor.se/TripleB2019

The following Facebook link gives a more graphic, disturbing insight into the treatment of these poor free-ranging ponies and burros (donkeys):  632
This process is all part of a massive government policy to prevent supposedly ‘over-grazing’ of open ranges, or to be more truthful, to allow cattle ranches to have the grazing on very cheap terms!  The Washington Post recently reported that former BLM employees reported that agency managers have been instructing employees to stop enforcing ranchers livestock grazing restrictions.

These actions are an utterly disgusting and inhumane treatment that is happening across wide areas of the US range-land and which is destroying one of the great cultural icons of a great country, for thousands of these wild beasts are now being held in holding yards at a substantial cost with a substantial going for slaughter and unseen, unknown to most of the public.

 

 

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!

Common Butterwort

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.