Jacobaea of all trades (revisited)

Because I think it deserves it, here again is a photo of the poor sheep that was attacked by a dog and again another reminder to keep your dog on a lead or under close control whilst you are in the grazing enclosure.

Pic 1 SheepFollowing on from that, we’re in time of year again where many yellow flowering plants are in flower, so here is a rerun of a blog I did two years ago about said plants.

Most of the Ragwort we are pulling up is Common Ragwort, which can grow to about a metre and has yellow flowers. Common Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) has the potential to spread over disturbed or poached soil and can become dominant. It is not a plant that has been introduced the British Isles and Ragwort and Groundsels are members of the Daisy family.

Pic 2

Common Ragwort contains toxins (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) which can damage and, in some cases, fatally damage an animal’s liver.

Ragworts are an important food source for insects and for some species, most famously the Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae), it is their main food plant. Cinnabar Moth caterpillars are black and yellow striped with little hairs and touching them can cause a rash. The caterpillars store the toxins ingested from the Ragwort in their bodies.

Pic 3

Because of the Ragwort’s close association with insects such as this we are leaving some Ragwort for them.

It is worth knowing what is not Ragwort, as there are plants that we have left that do look similar.

The first one, which looks most similar in my opinion, is Perforate St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum). This is a fairly common plant on the Forest and can look very similar to Ragwort but the stamens on the flower protrude a lot further and the flowers only have 5 petals, whereas Ragworts have many more!

Pic 4

Also similar is Common Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), which just to be terribly unscientific, looks like little sunflowers on stalks. Common Fleabane also has a lighter green stem and leaves than Ragworts.

Pic 5

Common Groundsel, which is also in the Daisy family, has deeply serrated and hairy leaves. This is possibly the most Ragwort-like looking plant of the lot and can also be a food plant of the Cinnabar Moth.

Another plant that grows on the Forest, and is yellow flowering, is Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria). A tall, wispy plant, its flowers remain quite small.

Pic 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

A plant that looks similar to this is Goldenrod, however this is a garden escape. This grows about the same height as Ragwort but has pointed leaves and narrow, drooping flower heads.

Pic 7

Worth a mention is Birds Foot Trefoil, which although it doesn’t grow to the same height as Ragworts, does come under the heading yellow flowers that grow on the Forest.

Pic 8 Finally, we have something that can look surprisingly like ragwort from a distance: dead Bracken!

Pic 9

That’s where the old blog finished and I realised that I hadn’t made a mention of the Forest’s most notable acidic bog loving yellow flowering plant – Bog Asphodel! Maybe because I didn’t know how to spell it, but anyway here’s a photo of it!

Pic 10

Finally, we are now in the time of year to look out of Purple Emperor butterflies around the Forest Centre, Silver-washed and Dark Green Fritillaries and Silver-studded Blues. Small Red Damselflies, one of the stand out heathland dragonfly species on the Forest, are also on the wing, as are these!

Pic 11

This blurry picture is a Black Darter and, like the Small Red Damselfly, is reliant on heathland and the acidic pools that occur on the Forest. It is the only UK dragonfly species that is all black, and even though its eyes look bright green in the photo it’s not an Emerald dragonfly, just to be strictly accurate. This is about as tenuous a record shot as you get but that is what it is!

Also worth pointing out that commoner species also use these ponds such as this female Ruddy Darter.

Pic 12

And this very pretty Emerald Damselfly.

Pic 13

 

That’s about it for now,

Tom.

Summer, I think…

Hello all. Not really sure what season we’re in right now, but I thought I’d start with something that is becoming more and more of a problem on the Forest.

Pic 1 Sheep

This is one of the sheep from the large grazing enclosure on the Forest and it has been attacked by a dog. This came limping up to us one day and obviously has many injuries, particularly to her front right leg, the back of her head and throat.

This is why we ask dogs to be kept under close control or on a lead while on Ashdown Forest. Dogs found bothering livestock or attacking sheep can be shot. For people who are worried about their dog being around livestock, there are ‘Sheep Proof Your Dog’ courses available through us.

If it wasn’t for the sheep and cattle grazing the Forest, we wouldn’t be able to carry out anywhere near as much habitat management as we do and they create a fantastically diverse habitat for the rare and endangered wildlife that relies on Ashdown Forest.

So, let’s focus on some of the wildlife that the grazing sheep help to create a home for. Here’s one and they have kind of disappeared from their acidic bogs now but in the spring wherever we looked there was Bog Beacon fungi. There isn’t really a way around saying this – it’s a cute, bright orange, adorable little thing and I love it!

Pic 2 Bog Beacon

This year especially seems to have been a real bumper year for these things and we’re not too sure why, perhaps a higher water table than normal? Whatever the reason, it’s a real sweety!

While we’re on the subject of small, cute things – here’s a possible Speckled Bush Cricket nymph on a buttercup. This was while I was repairing one of the benches outside Fairwarp Village Hall.

Pic 3 SBCN

On the subject of spotting things while we work, we are currently working around all the car park entrances mowing the ‘sight lines’. While I was strimming at Kings Standing, I then noticed something deep pink in a cone on a long stalk which was something kind of out the ordinary.

Pic 4 Pyramidal Orchid

This is a Pyramidal Orchid which for those who don’t know is found on the chalk grassland of the South and North Downs. Ashdown Forest, being the core of the large dome of rock that once covered what we now know as the Weald, is sandstone and on the opposite end of the pH scale, acidic, to the alkaline soils of the chalk grassland where these things normally occur. So, what’s going on? Well somehow the conditions have become ideal for the orchids to grow; either the soil is well draining there or the pH has risen due to alkaline soils accidentally ending up there and cars have transported the orchids there and you get this. It’s a bit of freak occurrence and in the grand scheme of things they’re not really supposed to be there, but we’re not worried about them spreading out of control in any way.

One orchid that we’re not so surprised to see here, apart from the Heath Spotted and Heath Fragrant Orchids not far from the Visitor Centre, is the Common Spotted Orchid which is popping up on almost every verge and in other patches all over the Forest.

They are common, but I really do like the pattern on their petals if you get in close.

Pic 5 Common Spotted OrchidPic 6 Common Spotted Orchid 2

The main bird breeding season is well under way and it wasn’t that long ago we were driving around and three Woodlark, a parent and two young I think, were on the track in front of us. At the Forest Centre, we have a few bird boxes up and at least one of them has been used by a Blue Tit and there have been rumours of a Wren nesting in the Stone Age hut. In one of the boxes though, there was a Nuthatch nesting. Nuthatches generally use old holes, including old woodpecker nests, to nest in but they will use mud to make the hole smaller as added security. The Nuthatches using this box seem not to have used mud to make the hole smaller, but instead there must have been a gap between the roof and the box so they’ve plugged that up with mud instead!

Pic 7 Nuthatch nest box

I think it’s pretty ingenious.

So, I’m going to end with a goodbye to possibly the longest serving member of our team called Victor, and here he is!

Pic 8 Victor

Victor was the vacuum cleaner we used to clean the truck every Friday and at best guess was at least 35 years old. It’s hard to say whether Victor had a heart of gold or not, but whatever it was made of it all melted together which brought about the end.

So that’s what we’ve been up to recently, in a nutshell.

 

Tom.

“Has your mower broken?”

We’ve had a few such comments ever since we stopped cutting the area of grass immediately in front of the Information Barn. The truth is that, no – we haven’t suffered a catastrophic failure of our trusty mower; we’ve sown a native meadow.

Wildflower-rich grasslands found across the Weald are an important habitat and an attractive feature of the landscape. The decline in the area covered by these special grasslands has become a serious threat to biodiversity. With this in mind, the Weald Meadows Initiative and others have been active in encouraging both farmers and non-farming landowners to manage existing grasslands and to enhance and create new wildflower grasslands. We decided to do our bit by stripping the turf from an area of rather dull amenity grassland and sowing a mix supplied to us by the Weald Meadows Initiative.

Meadow4

Meadow vegetation has adapted, over centuries of management, to coexist with human farming practices. Perennial flowers that would have lived in woodland glades before we arrived on these islands found a perfect home in the new fields cleared of woodland by our ancestors. Freed from the shade and competition of trees, they set about forming diverse communities, depending on soil chemistry and moisture levels. Farmers, faced with the need to feed livestock through the winter, would cut a hay crop, traditionally on Lammas Day (1st August). Any plant that had failed to set seed by this date had missed the reproductive boat for that year, so over time meadow species gradually synchronised their flowering times so that ripe seed was ready to be shed with the swing of the scythe. Turning the cut hay to dry it further aided the shedding of seeds, and the regular annual cut prevented the encroachment of scrub. Happy times all round, for both farmers and flowers.

Meadow6

Today, however, the drive for increased productivity has seen 97% of our meadows ploughed, re-seeded with rygrass or simply turned over to other land uses. So it is more important than ever to preserve this rich and beautiful habitat. Our own meadow will be allowed to flower and seed up until late summer, before being cut and the hay removed. A path is mown through the middle to a small picnic area; please feel free to use it. Meadows are best experienced up close and personal.

PS – just for fun, some meadow creation!

One year ends and another begins

So it’s been warm, freezing cold and, after a little warm period,  the cold has come back. That being said, we have been as prepared for it as we can be by having quite large bonfires; here you will see one of our volunteers, Dan, demonstrating his method for drying out his gloves over the fire.
Pic 1Most of our recent work has been over at Payne’s Hill near Fairwarp where we have been clearing any encroaching scrub regrowth from an area of heathland. We’re not removing every tree in the area and this Sweet Chestnut I am quite fond of just because of its profile.
Pic 2Wandering round there, though, I did find one of these. It’s a former helium balloon and I do come across these quite often, so with all of our sensitive wildlife around here it is worth remembering that these things have to come down somewhere.
Pic 3

With the unusually warm weather of recent weeks odd things have been happening, like daffodils coming into flower, so here something that’s not so unusual. It’s a November Moth and I did find it on the 12th November!Pic 4The end of 2015 saw us spend a few days tidying up our yard and barns and getting rid of things like this old watering can, which doesn’t look that thrilled with life – and I didn’t just say that so I could put in this photo.
Pic 52016, though, started in a rather illuminating way and in a manner that I’ll admit is quite good fun!
Pic6This was a controlled burn we carried out just south of Stonehill Car Park and I’m pleased to say that it was a ‘good burn’, as in it burnt slowly and was very controlled. The general idea for that area is to burn the gorse away and remove nutrients that mowing the site would just put back in; we will mow the burnt gorse at a later date and then graze to control the gorse for the benefit of the heather.
Here you can see the skeletal remains of the burnt gorse.
Pic7_tonemapped

In less incendiary habitat management news, (although bonfires are included in this a bit), we are carrying on with the removal of deciduous scrub encroachment (phew!) by cutting trees and spraying them with a herbicide which is harmless to humans and other animals.

If you wonder why a stump you find is blue, it’s from the dye we put in our herbicide.
Some trees we are leaving, mainly the Alder Buckthorn which is one of the main food plants for the Brimstone butterfly.

At this time of year, identifying an Alder Buckthorn is slightly difficult with no leaves to help but the wood is a bright lemon yellow, as seen here in this twig.
Pic9

That’s about it for now! I’ll leave you with a smoky Silver Birch from one of our controlled burn days.
Pic10
Thanks for reading!
Tom.

Forest furniture, artistic lily pads and life after a fire

orangedalekHello again everybody!

The last blog I did was about the Forest Litter Pick, so I’ll leave that in the past with this thought; now that I’ve found a mini orange Dalek, what else is out there*1?

So, what have we been up to recently? Well, we’ve been repairing what we refer to as Forest Furniture. This includes all the barriers around the Forest, putting in a few dragon’s teeth (a line of posts about 2-3ft high) and also putting in mounting blocks for horse riders at gates in and out of the grazing enclosure. Just for the record, that involved digging about twenty-eight 30cm3 holes in just over two days. As a result, I hope I don’t see a spade again for a long time! We replaced two of the car park sleeper bye-law signs and just before we replaced the one in Pines we saw this:

IMG_5198

You can describe it how you like but basically it’s a Common Lizard trying to hide in a hole that’s too small for it*2.

We also had another session in Ellison’s Pond pulling out the invasive Parrots Feather and Arrow Head. First thing we see when we get there? A Kingfisher! I think it’s got to know Ellison’s Pond as a good spot for picking off goldfish.

It’s probably worth saying at this point please do not feed the fish or put fish in those ponds! Goldfish are harmful to frog and newt spawn, as well as dragonfly eggs. The dragonflies of Ashdown Forest are one of the reasons it is Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). As far as the Kingfisher goes, there are more than enough fish in those ponds as it is to keep it going for a long time!

While I was in the top pond, I saw a funny mark on a lily pad and went to have a look.

The only reason I know what’s making these rings is because I saw it in progress, so here goes. You are looking at an old lily pad that has turned yellow and that has a few holes in it. A Silver Birch leaf’s stalk has got stuck in one of the holes and with the waves moving over the pond, the leaf is being pushed gently round in circles and is making rings in the sediment on the lily pad. Personally, I think it’s really cool! If you look even more closely, you can see the reflection of me holding my camera.

IMG_5211_tonemapped

 

Not far from Ellison’s Pond where one of this year’s forest fires took place. Burning is an effective management tool for heathland sites, but ONLY when carried out in a safe, controlled way and at the right time of year.

At the moment, the area looks like this.

IMG_5182

There are still plenty of singed plant skeletons out there and not much tall vegetation. There is also plenty of Purple Moor Grass and when it is fairly new growth animals like to graze it and that keeps the sward low and competition for heather down and that means that if you took a closer look you would see this:

IMG_5181
which is heather regrowth, present all over that burn site! That, in a nutshell, is one way to achieve heathland regeneration.

So it’s getting pretty autumnal out there. Bird migration is happening and I’m still looking out for Yellow-browed Warblers, which are kind of a Chiffchaff with yellow lines*3 ; there’s been lot of them this year in the UK. I did hear a Woodlark singing yesterday, which is kind of out of season but can happen, and there was a Firecrest in a rather inaccessible bit of woodland next to the A22 about a mile north of Wych Cross the other day.

There are also a few insects around. Firstly there’s this female Southern Hawker.

IMG_4894_tonemapped

This was in mid-September but I quite like this Small Copper.

IMG_4890

And finally there are all these little insects which you can’t really see buzzing around this Ivy, but a good tip for insect watching is that Ivy is one of the last flowering plants of the year.

ivy insect oak tree

With that, I’ll end there.

Tom

*1 I’ll probably regret those words.

*2 No lizards were harmed in the replacing of that sleeper sign.

*3 Look in a bird book to get a better Yellow-browed Warbler description.

Litter Pick 2015

IMG_4319

OK, so we have recently finished the ‘Forest wide litter pick’ and this is one job that generates more philosophising, putting a brave face on things and  ‘other ways of looking at it’ phrases than any other task.

The job is in the title, as in the Forest Wide Litter Pick. That means that we litter pick every road verge that runs through the Ashdown Forest, apart from the A22 which is carried out by East Sussex County Council. It is a necessary evil that needs to be carried out annually for the benefit of the wildlife of the Forest.

Now, it is not the worst job in the world and litter picking is done in much worse places that here BUT it is grimy, unpleasant and we do pick up some horrid things and I think we have must have picked up enough car parts to make a whole one by now!

There was also one afternoon when we were picking Hindleap Lane verge near Wych Cross and had abuse shouted at us from passing cars while we were working in the pouring rain, so thanks guys!

IMG_4318

That being said, it was really nice when visitors to the Forest saw us in car parks and said how much our litter picking is appreciated and to keep up the good work, so if you were one of those people; thank you very much – it was really nice!

A bit of consumer advice: we picked up, all told, about 10 magnetic L-plates, so if any budding learner drivers are out there – that’s for you!

We were helped by volunteers along the way and they pointed out that this is a good excuse to walk through the Forest and enjoy being outside. It is also a good chance to see some interesting wildlife, and I will never forget last year when I found the nationally scarce spider Micromatta viriscens on the bottom of the bag I had been using!
TomMicrommata
This year, there was no repeat of this or anything of this scarcity but there were a few Chimney Sweeper moths;

a number of Common blue butterflies;

a number of Common blue butterflies;

and some of my favourite flowers about, a number of clusters of Common Spotted Orchids.

and some of my favourite flowers about, a number of clusters of Common Spotted Orchids.

IMG_4341
Since the litter pick we have been concentrating on cutting back the vegetation from the car park entrances, making a new chestnut post & rail fence at the A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepherd memorial (and here’s my best photo effort of it) and started on control of invasive, introduced species on the Forest, including American Black Cherry.TomMemorialFence

Now, walking up and down the same site all day with a knapsack sprayer, which is the way we tackle Black Cherry, is not the most thrilling task in the world either but it is a good chance to be out and see things you otherwise wouldn’t, such as the Golden Ringed Dragonfly. This is a male (females are larger and are the largest UK dragonfly) and breeds around acidic water courses, of which there are many on the heathland of the Forest.IMG_4422

The other highlight of the Black Cherry spraying was this Green Hairstreak butterfly.

IMG_4455Gorse is one of the Green Hairstreak’s larval plants, along with other heathland species.  So with that in mind and when I looked at the photo when I got home, I realised that its abdomen was bent and I wonder if this butterfly is laying eggs on the gorse? I only wish I’d thought to look at the time! Oh well!

I feel I should point out there is plenty of exciting bird life going on out there but they are not that easy to take a photo of so that why they don’t get much of a mention in my blogs!

I’ll leave you with one little incident that happened to me the other day. Friday afternoons are our general machinery maintenance, cleaning the tractor shed and the trucks time. One Friday afternoon, I find that one of our petrol jerry cans is empty so I go and get some money to pay for it. On this day, my pockets are stuffed full of all sorts of things and there’s just no room for it, so I put it under my cap.
When I go to pay for the petrol, I take my cap off and give the cash to the surprised cashier who asks me “where did you get that idea?” To which I reply “Just off the top of my head!”

Until next time,

Tom Simon.

Coming up for air

I’m guilty of not having posted on here for quite a while, but in my defence, I’ve been pretty busy. The funding which underpins our conservation work here on the Forest runs out next year, and it falls to me to apply for the money to replace it.

Higher Level Stewardship, a grant scheme from Defra, has supported heathland conservation on Ashdown Forest for the last 10 years, but the scheme is now coming to an end. It will be replaced by Countryside Stewardship, again a Defra scheme, administered by the Rural Payments Agency and overseen by the government’s conservation advisors, Natural England.

Panorama2_tonemapped

So I am busy putting together a bid for funding under the new scheme, which will now cover woodland management as well. As the biggest wildlife site in the south-east and a site enjoying the highest level of protection for the habitats and species it supports, we’re quietly confident that funding will be forthcoming, but there is still an awful lot of paperwork to complete.

The aim is to bring the Forest into what Natural England call ‘favourable conservation status’, which means getting just the right balance of habitats and features required to support the species that make the Forest special. We’re very close already – in fact, areas of the Forest are already ‘favourable’ – but there are a few issues we still need to tackle:

Gorse1

Gorse

Gorse

Gorse is incredibly important on the Forest. It supports more insect species than heather, and at the right age and size it provides habitat for the rare Dartford warbler. However, there is currently too much of it on the Forest, and the past regime of mowing has created dense stands of even-aged gorse to the exclusion of everything else.

Bracken

At some time in the distant past, bracken must have been a well-behaved component of the British landscape. These days, however, it seems to take over, possibly as a result of too much burning in the past. We have been mowing it for many years, which weakens it but also creates ‘lawns’ of grass in its place.

IMG_7824_tonemapped

Secondary woodland – a bit dull

Woodland structure

Most of the woodland on the Forest is relatively recent, having colonised open areas in the last 40 years or so. As a result, most of it is of the same age and has little diversity of structure and, in particular, a lack of dead wood. Deer pressure has added to this, suppressing any seedlings that manage to germinate. We need to address the deer issue but also to increase diversity by selective thinning.

Invasive species

We seem to have more than our fair share of non-native plants trying to invade the Forest. Shrubs like Rhododendron and Gaultheria are creeping out into the woods and heaths, the damp stream-sides have Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam, and we even have the dreaded New Zealand swamp stonecrop, which covers ponds in a choking blanket of green. We have a duty to control these, though we will never eradicate them entirely.

Gaultheria shallon, invasive pest

Much of what we want to achieve can be brought about by grazing; livestock eat the scrub, trample the bracken and break up the ground to allow regeneration to take place. Many people living within or around the Forest have Commoners’ rights to graze livestock, though very few currently exercise those rights; we are looking to work more closely with Commoners to reinstate this traditional form of management.

We do, though, have a conflicting responsibility to maintain free public access to the Forest on foot and horseback, and have no wish to restrict public movement and enjoyment through too much fencing. To get around this, we are currently experimenting with ‘invisible’ fencing, which uses a buried loop of wire to confine cattle to a specified area. The cattle wear a collar which responds to the wire by producing a ‘beep’ or, if they get too close, a mild electric shock; humans, dogs and horses are not affected, nor is there any visible sign of the ‘fence’ above ground.

Our cattle, with their special collars

Our cattle, with their special collars

We are currently trialling this system between the old airstrip and Isle of Thorns, and it seems to be working well.

But now I had better return to my form-filling. Think of me, dear reader, as you enjoy the fresh air of the Forest, and keep checking back for more news on our funding bid.

Steve Alton

Conservation Officer

Fencing, fungi and lambs

Hello! It’s been a while since the eclipse and I think I’ve fallen into the trap of starting to write a blog about something, and then something else happens so I’ll wait to include that and it’s snowballed a bit. So here’s a roundup of what we’ve been up to.

As many people will have noticed the grazing enclosure is now being grazed. Before the animals went out there we were repairing the perimeter fence and that is as good an excuse as any to just be out in Ashdown Forest and no, these aren’t a little flotilla of flying saucers that have crashed into a willow, but a kind of staircase of bracket fungus sp. Actually, I should point out that sp. is sort for species, so bracket fungus sp. is a way of saying it’s a type of bracket fungus but I don’t know which one.

IMG_4002

Other wildlife interest I’ve seen around, apart from finally seeing my first Ashdown Forest Dartford Warbler (and how I went for over a year on the Forest without seeing one I will never know but now I have seen one I don’t care anymore), is this heathland specialist Green Tiger Beetle; considering how flighty these things are I am very pleased with getting this photo! The best place to see these is on the bare sand of the fire breaks.

green tiger beatle trimmed

IMG_4084

Going back to grazing for a moment, we have also been putting up fencing for our own Hebridean Sheep and here they are going out on to what we refer to as Arden’s Valley near Nutley.

Hebridean Sheep do a fantastic job of grazing down Silver Birch and within minutes of them being let out at Arden’s they head straight for little Silver Birch!

IMG_4095

 

It’s also been lambing season and here is one of our sweet, cute, woolly, cute and sweetly woolly lambs. This is in its pen still with its mother and when I took this photo it was about a day old.

IMG_4063

Coming up in our world will be the ‘Forest Wide Litter Pick’, so that means litter picking all the road verges in Ashdown Forest. Going into that, it’s worth remembering why we’re doing it, which is for the benefit of the Forest and wildlife such as this Hobby! Hobbies are a pretty regular sight during the summer, with the flying skill to catch dragonflies and small birds on the wing. You’re looking for something that looks like a big Swift, very sharp wings and (I’ve just thought of this) like a boomerang that looks like it knows what it’s doing!

hobby

Tom Simon

Countryside Worker

30 Seconds of Ashdown Forest Eclipse Magic!

If I haven’t said in a blog before, I have certainly said to others that one of the benefits of this job is that being outdoors almost all the time gives you a good chance to enjoy some of the sights and sounds of the natural world.

I got myself equipped to do this again by sticking what looks like a chef’s hat on to the end of a telescope to create a safe eclipse viewer. Here it is working in the garden at home.

Pic1

I brought it with me on Friday 20th March 2015 to view the partial solar eclipse and this is what the sky looked like; with the best will in the world, arguably our boiler wasn’t really helping matters…

Pic2

Ash and I ended up setting off as planned to carry on with our repairs to the fence that surrounds the grazing enclosure. At about 9:10, we were climbing Kidd’s Hill and just as we exited the woodland I saw a light patch of cloud moving and it was getting brighter. It carried on getting brighter and then WE SAW THE ECLIPSE!!!

It was hanging there, this big crescent sun handily masked enough by the cloud so we could view it safely just by looking at it. It’s kind of hard to describe how it felt because it’s just not a shape you’re used to seeing in the sky.

I think we could see it for about 30 seconds, but it could have been less. We pulled into Gills Lap car park and I tried to get the attention of a group of people by shouting and pointing but the message didn’t get through quick enough. I didn’t get a photo of it, but I don’t really mind.

We waited for about 5 minutes and as the cloud was getting nothing but thicker, we moved on to where we were going to be working on the fence near Kings Standing and I perfected the art, as best I could, of mending a fence while looking up.

Pic3

It then got dark and cold. 9:30 (when the eclipse would have been at its strongest) came and went. This all brought memories back for me of watching the total solar eclipse of 1999 down in Devon, looking up constantly for anything that might be a break in the clouds.Pic4

 

The next time we saw the sun was at about 10:30 and maybe the sun was covered by 2% of the moon by then but that’s being very optimistic. I did rather optimistically try my gadget but the sun wasn’t strong enough for it to work.

When we got back, I had obviously been very pre-occupied because when I took my hat off, I found I’d been carrying round a bit of gorse and hadn’t noticed. Apparently others had!

Pic5

My telescope/chef’s hat arrangement never did get used for the eclipse but at the end of the day I got it out and used it in our yard so at least it was used on the day, if not for the main event but those 30 seconds had made it a really magic Ashdown Forest day for me!

Pic6

 

Tom Simon

Editor’s note – some of Tom’s photos from around the Forest are currently on display in the Information Barn

 

Crenulated flapwort and its ilk

Ashdown Forest is particularly rich in bryophytes (mosses and liverworts). These are in many ways the Cinderellas of the plant kingdom; overlooked and under-appreciated, but a rich and important part of the Forest flora. In total, 250 species are currently known from the area, which is about half of those in the whole of Sussex.

Sphagnum moss

Sphagnum moss

Most of these lower plants are associated with damp habitats – ghylls and valley mires – but one habitat that is often ignored is the edges of paths and sandy rides. This is the home for several scarce liverworts, including Nardia scalaris (Ladder Flapwort), Jungermannia gracillima (Crenulated Flapwort) and Gymnocolea inflata (Inflated Notchwort). You have to love those common names!

Sandy ride-edge habitat

Sandy ride-edge habitat

At one time these were known to be frequent on the Forest but they are sensitive to any sort of pollution, and various factors – including increased vehicle numbers on the roads but also many more dogs in recent years – have led to them now being restricted to just a few places. Unlike most of the waste deposited on the Forest by deer and domestic livestock, dog faeces is high in nitrogen as a result of their protein diet. Dogs are also generally fed off the Forest, so their waste represents an importation of nutrients rather than a recycling of nutrients that were already present here.

Liverworts, in full stunning flower

Liverworts, in full stunning flower

Most people, particularly gardeners, would assume increased nutrients were a good thing. But many rare plant species are poor competitors and are easily crowded out by more aggressive species; increased nutrients can give those aggressive species an unfair advantage. A recent survey suggested that, out of all the bryophyte groups on the Forest, ride-side liverworts had suffered some of the most serious declines.

Just one reason why it is important to always pick up after your dog, and picking up doesn’t just mean bagging up – it means taking away too!

It would have biodegraded, but now it's safely bagged it will last for ages!

It would have biodegraded, but now it’s safely bagged it will last for ages!

The issue of dog waste is covered in our new Dog Owners’ Code of Conduct, available from the Ashdown Forest Centre.

IMG_9215_tonemappedSteve Alton

Conservation Officer