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!
After Friday night’s gale, I was down at the coast at daybreak on Christmas Eve, checking the fences of Sussex Pony Grazing’s three herds of ponies between Birling Gap and Eastbourne. Took this pic of a stormy daybreak with its washed-out, pastel colours.
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).
Thursday. We gathered in the 15 ponies which have for the past three months, been grazing chalk grassland on the National Trust’s Gayles Farm property, perched midway along the Seven Sisters. Just two of us managed the whole operation in readiness for our haulier Bob’s arrival at midday, to transport them up to the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren Reserve near Tunbridge Wells for the summer.
Saturday. At Pippingford Park, on the Ashdown Forest SSSI, the commencement of growth of the dominant native purple moor-grass is always later than the other heathland sites we graze in Sussex. In bloom at the moment are heath milkwort, lousewort and petty whin.
Below, ‘Jimmy’ showing off his 4 x 4 skills in order to graze the new growth on one of the many acid, wet flushes on Pippingford. Six years of constant grazing are transforming this large area, it having a particularly good effect on increasing the specialised flora that live in these very wet areas.
Monday. Well, it was Bank Holiday and the weather gods took full advantage of this fact!
Tuesday. And spring returned with a gorgeous day. As I drove back over Ashdown Forest mid-morning, a solitary swallow flew high over the road with that characteristic care-free flight action that is so pleasing. My heart went up to this small, solitary traveller from South Africa.
Wild garlic in bloom above the River Uck today.
We moved the ponies at Berwick on to fresh grazing taking in the old, grassed-over chalk pits on the side of the downland escarpment. This area used to be good for orchids but is currently grossly neglected with bramble and thorn bushes gaining a footfold. Late afternoon and I watched a whitethroat in a thorn bush at close quarters, singing its heart out to its mate in a nearby young wayfaring tree.
Wednesday. Did my ‘annual’ walk for 90 (yes, 90!) ten year olds from a Hailsham school at the Seven Sisters Country Park. the weather was kind for the third year running and they were a great bunch of kids shepherded by nice teachers and helpers.
Sadly, there was a absence of chalk grassland flowers and of the early butterflies one would have expected, if one were taking this walk years ago. The slope where the early spider orchids ought to be in flower has been tightly grazed until recently and on a cursory inspection, there were no flower spikes. Perceived wisdom is that grazing should cease before the end of winter for this specie. A pioneer patch of the invasive tor grass is being full rein to spread. So sad. There appears to be few concessions to encourage the flora and fauna on this important area nowadays…
Early spider orchid photographed on this site years ago.
Spotted during the early afternoon, two swifts wheeling about, high above Crowborough. Reports of others seen elsewhere today for first time.
Came across this young deer today in the Ashdown Forest area. I could actually stroke it and probably could have picked it up!†It appeared to have some movement co-ordination problem but was content and completely undaunted by my close proximity.