Friday, March 31, 2006

Hollington Valley

On 27 March I went to St Leonards-on-Sea to look at two open areas on either side of a suburban road. They were good quality neutral grassland (MG5 in the National Vegetation Classification) with a wide range of different plants including some celandines in flower far from the nearest hedge.

I also walked down into the valley of the Hollington Stream, now with a good flow following recent rain (see photo above). A very attractive spot for the heart of a suburb, with the bright green of the ramson leaves (Allium ursinum) making it feel like spring at last.

Today I was at a launch of the Weald Ancient Woodland Survey in Crowborough. This really just added all the smaller - less than 2 hectare - woodland blocks in Wealden District to the existing provisional inventory done some years ago. While there I reflected that we call the habitat 'woodland' rather than 'treeland' a reference perhaps to the fact that woods were seen as an important economic resource (of wood), rather than a place one went to enjoy the trees.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Fields and woods

The alders are bearing their reddish catkins along the stream that runs from Gilly Wood on the Pestalozzi Estate (bottom picture). The pale buff grass shows how cold and dry it has been this winter, but rain has come now and this will quickly change.

In Brede High Wood it was warm and sunny and we saw a brimstone butterfly and several day flying moths. Frogs were very active by Holman Wood Stream and there was masses of spawn (centre picture). The work on clearing rides and glades for the conservation of butterflies and other flora and fauna continues (top picture), and this should make an appreciable difference within a year or two, though I fear lots of species like the pearl-bordered fritillary are permanently lost from the area.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Drought on TV

On 20 March the BBC TV 'Country File' team came down to this part of East Sussex to film a story on the drought. They went to Bewl Water reservoir and to the Pestalozzi International Village where I met Michaela Strachan, the presenter (whose programmes I seem to have been watching for many years). She was quite chatty but spent most of the time sitting on a wall looking cold.

I was a bit disappointed that they chose to feature the dry garden as it looks positively alien in the Sussex landscape, more like a poor relation to something the Moors in southern Spain might have created and about as artificial a thing as one could do with plants. I am sure most of our native species will survive the drought, especially as the real problem lies with there being insufficient reservoir capacity and low (and decreasing) ground water levels.

Monday, March 13, 2006

To Sedlescombe churchyard

To Sedlescombe churchyard, the first time I have been up there for ages. It is still very cold. They say it will be a bad year for frogs as they have started breeding and their spawn will be frozen and killed. I felt almost as bored with this weather as the horse in the picture.

In the bed of the little Churchland Stream I noticed lots of great scented liverwort Conocephalum conicum growing on sandstone rocks and fallen bits of the old brick bridge. This plant has a wonderful smell of cedar and I think has been recently split into two species, but I haven’t quite caught up with that.

In the churchyard there was nothing much to look at except the lichens and I took photos and made a resolution to work harder on them this year. If I concentrate on just the churchyard and invoke the help of Simon Davey and other lichenologists, I should gradually get there.

One I could identify was Caloplaca flavescens with its beautiful golden suns usually growing on the east facing sides of the limestone gravestones.

The only other thing of note, apart from some mosses to look at later, was the colony of stinking iris Iris foetidissima, this year with plenty of berries. They used to be swamped with stinging nettles, but since these have been removed the plants have become an attractive feature.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Pollution tolerant mosses

I have identified two of the mosses found on my walk to Red Barn Field yesterday. One is the common pincushion Dicranoweisia cirrata and the other bud-headed groove-moss Aulacomnium androgynum. The second of these does not have normal spore capsules but produces an upright stalk with a cluster of gemmae at the top. Gemmae are not spores or seeds, they are simply one or a small bundle of cells capable of developing into a new plant.

Interestingly both these mosses illustrate a similar point about the complexity of the changes we are visiting on our environment. Of the common pincushion Smith (2004) says “One of the few mosses that seems to be increasing, possibly because acidification of substrates reduces competition from other more pollution susceptible species.” On bud-headed groove-moss he says “has increased in parts of England, particularly in the last 40 years, possibly as a result of reduced atmospheric pollution and reduced competition from other epiphytic species unable to tolerate levels of pollution that still prevail.” Some pollutants, like sulphur compounds have decreased, while others, nitrogen compounds in particular, have increased and, in the latter case, are causing acidification.

REFERENCE: Smith, A. J. E. (2004) The moss flora of Britain and Ireland. Second edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

To Red Barn Nature Reserve

Colder. A wind from the north under grey skies with fitful sun. I walked southwards to the Red Barn Field Local Nature Reserve where I was caught in a stinging shower of sleet. We have skimmed the turf from a small area by the east hedge in the reserve to see if we can bring up the sub-soil seed bank. Currently there is a good selection of young weeds, but there are also hundreds of gorse seedlings showing, perhaps, how quickly fields would have become furze thickets in the past.

There are a few celandines out now and I found several garden escapes along the path: early crocus Crocus tommasinianus, wild cyclamen Cyclamen hederifolium, sweet violet Viola odorata. The latter had two almost open buds of darkest purple. I was pleased to see this plant as we seem to have lost the colony that grew up the lane on the edge of Killingan Wood. It is normally a species of chalk and limestone and not native on our acid soil, but it flourishes here and there in hedge bottoms and is the first of the violets to flower.

I also gathered some mosses and lichen: always a good fall back when the cold holds everything back and will see if I can work out what they are this evening.

The Red Barn Field Nature Reserve is, by the way, open to all during the daylight hours and can be approached from the Sedlescombe Village Hall car park or from Balcombe Green. The map reference of the reserve is TQ780183.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Killingan Wood

A walk on a sunny, windy afternoon up the lane to Killingan Wood. Most of the hazel catkins are turning brown now and dying and the white sepals on the snowdrops are starting to curl inwards. Only March and some things have already had their season.

In the wood, still very much a winter wood, I spent some time looking for unusual mosses on some of the banks and fallen logs, but they all seem to be quite common species. One of the most obvious is the swan-necked thyme moss, Mnium hornum, with many plants now fruiting in their elegant way.

I searched for the small bush of spurge laurel, Daphne laureola, that I have known for many years in this wood. It is the only plant I have ever seen growing truly in the wild in our part of East Sussex and it flowers alone at this time of year. It was still there with its small, lime-green trumpets nestling in the uppermost leaves, but the March-hungry rabbits had snipped off one or two of the lower branches and left them lying uneaten on the dead oak leaves.