Author Archives: Tom Simon

Silver-studded Blues, Green Hunstmen, a Helleborine and goodbye from me

Right, so this is going to be my last blog for Ashdown Forest! I’m leaving to go on an adventure that even I’m not sure is actually happening until it starts, so I’d better make sure I go out on a good one!

First of all though, I must return to a recurring theme about dogs on the Forest. Yet again there has been a brutal attack on a sheep over the weekend which killed the sheep.


The animals on Ashdown Forest are there to graze the heathland to create the best conditions for the rare wildlife that survives on lowland heathland sites.

Please, for the sake of the livestock and the wildlife on the Forest, keep your dogs under close control and really think if they are to be trusted around livestock. Dogs that are found attacking animals can and have been shot on the Forest.

Now , on to the wildlife that calls this place home! This could be quite an easy blog to write because there is so much good stuff to see out there right now. One of my first finds of note at Ashdown Forest was a Green Huntsman, Micrommata virescens, which was on the bottom of a bin bag while I was litter picking near Shadows Car Park.

Photo 1

True to form, almost 2 years to the day, exactly the same thing happened in exactly the same place.

Photo 2

Seemingly the best way to survey for these is to drag a big bag through long grass!

So here now comes a bit of a story of genetics and variations in plants. Here is a Bluebell with white flowers.

Photo 3

This is not an albino Bluebell because only the flowers of the plant are white so this is term for this is albiflora.

To be albino, the whole plant needs to be white. So, I’m going to steal one of Steve’s finds for my blog (hey we’re all on the same team!).

Photo 4

This is a Violet Helleborine, a type of orchid that has a habit of its pigment ranging from one extreme to the other. This one has virtually no pigment and because it has little or no chlorophyll it can’t photosynthesise and is purely surviving on the orchid’s relationship with the fungi in the soil.

By complete coincidence, in the same week as Steve found his Helleborine, I was having a mid-morning cup of tea and looked down to see this.

Photo 5

I see this and I’m thinking that surely it can’t be another albino plant? I get down to its level and I see that not only are its leaves  extremely pale, but the stem is pretty much white the whole way down too. Then I realise that the leaves are oak-leaf shaped. Having asked some people who know about these things more than me, this is an ‘albino’ Oak sapling that has a condition called ‘chlorosis’. It is a genetic variation that has caused this oak to produce little or no chlorophyll, so like the Violet Helleborine this is ultimately doomed too. The sapling has got as far as it has because it is surviving on the energy reserves from its acorn. Nature is so cool!

So with my time at Ashdown Forest coming to an end, there was one of the Forest’s most special residents that I hadn’t seen yet. Silver-studded Blue butterflies are nationally rare and only found on heathland as heathers are their main food plant.

It also has a life cycle that’s pretty impressive. Like some other blue butterflies, Silver-studded Blues have a close affinity with certain species of black ants. The female will lay eggs close to the ants’ nest and when the small caterpillar hatches, the ants will carry the caterpillar into the nest. The caterpillar will continue to exude secretions from a gland the ants feed on until it pupates, often in the ants nest. Being in the ants nest gives the Silver-studded Blues an element of protection and ‘in return’ the ants get the secretions. Eventually the adult butterfly will crawl out of the ants’ nest.

They are a pretty remarkable thing and I hadn’t seen one after over 3 and half years here so I just happened to have lunch near one of their hot spots on the Forest and ended up seeing 7; here’s one of them.

Photo 6

I usually judge when to stop a blog by its word count and I’m up to 625 already and I’ve not even mentioned half the stuff that’s out there. In a nutshell, there’s occasional Pyramidal Orchids that keep popping up all over the Forest even though they are thought to only grow on alkaline, chalky soils and we have acidic sandstone soils. This one is on the verge of the A22 near Trees car park – bonkers!

Photo 7

Dragonflies! There are nationally rare dragonflies and even the ones that are more widespread are pretty impressive. This is a Four-spotted Chaser; short, stubby and very spotted wings.

Photo 8

There are some great butterflies besides the Silver-studded Blues, like this Painted Lady which almost needs a whole blog to itself to describe how many life cycles it takes for it to get up here from north Africa.

Photo 9

So, let’s wrap this up.

I have seen some wonderful things at Ashdown Forest and I hope that I’ve been able to show some of them and give a bit of an insight into how special Ashdown Forest is.

I’m leaving because I have a window of opportunity to go travelling and have a mad adventure. First stop is Nova Scotia in Canada where I’ll be volunteering for a NGO who have built their own schooner and are raising awareness about the amount of pollution in the world’s oceans. Not only Ashdown Forest is fragile and needs looking after.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these blogs as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them; please look after the Forest.


Well prepared, I head off into the sunset

Well prepared, I head off into the sunset



We’d like to thank Tom for his contributions to this blog over the years, and we wish him the very best in his forthcoming adventures!

The Ashdown Forest Team


Winter on the Forest with fungi, tractors and spiders thrown in!


This isn’t really much to do with what we’ve been up to recently but this is a sweet little arch hidden away at the bottom of Marden’s Hill near St. Johns, Crowborough.

That arch is near where we’ve been working though and this photo is a bit more descriptive of what we’ve been doing recently.


This is a view of the valley that is the target of our winter heathland clearance this year. What that means essentially is that we are clearing the small trees growing up through the heather, predominantly Silver Birch, Common Oak and Scots Pine, so that the heathland does not get overgrown with trees and become woodland.

Heathland is a habitat that requires constant management and clearance so that it does not revert back to woodland. Equally there is a need to control the amount of Gorse, Bracken and Purple Moor Grass as well, which is where the conservation grazing projects come in, with our cattle, ponies and sheep (even though they don’t eat the bracken, they do a good job of trampling it down).

This warm and slightly damp autumn/winter has meant it’s been a good year for fungi so here’s a few I’ve come across.


These are little Mycena mushrooms. They are pretty common but I found these under the Gorse on Marden’s Hill and they really are that sweet and delicate.


This is always a favourite of mine, again pretty common, but Candle-snuff is one of the easiest to remember.


This one, again, is named for what it looks like. It’s Orange-peel fungus and the thing is that this fooled me even though I’d found it the day before and knew it was there!

Unfortunately, another thing I’ve found out on the heath is these things.


These helium balloons do come down somewhere and can be very harmful to wildlife, particularly if they make their way out to sea, where they look very much like something edible and seabirds will try to eat them and choke.

Just before we began our heathland clearance, we were cutting back branches overhanging rides that might have caused problems for horse riders. The side benefit of this is that it meant that we got to move around all over the Forest and got to see some lovely sights, such as this cloudscape that I think frames the tractor quite well (I might have tweaked it a little).


We’ve also had our annual visit into Ellison’s Pond to carry on our work to remove all of the Parrot’s Feather that’s in there. It is always a good opportunity to see the Raft Spiders that live in there. I tried to do a low to the water reflection shot of this one and it sort of worked.


Right, that’s about it for now!

To welcome in the New Year I’m going to leave you with this photo from November. It’s a hole in a tree stump outside the Visitor Centre which I’m pretty sure a visiting school group had filled with acorns, and well done to whoever it was because otherwise this spectacle wouldn’t have happened!


Tom Simon

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,


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.



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.

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.

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

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:


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.



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.


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:

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.


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


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.


*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


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!


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!
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.

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.

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.


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


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!



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.


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!


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.


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…


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.


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!


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!



Tom Simon

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


Kind-of Hearts and Carriageways

Hello 2015!

We are still in January but a few things have been happening already!


This my first Forest photo of the year from near 4 Counties Car Park on the first litter pick of the year and just to reiterate again, would people PLEASE take their litter, especially dog poo, home with them!

It is worth saying a big thank you to all those who bought one of our virtually carbon free and heathland beneficial Christmas Trees! This is a pile of trees for awaiting collection that I saw in a car park (not on the Forest) and for those who also had an Ashdown Forest Scots Pine and didn’t contribute to this, give yourselves a pat on the back!


Moving on to more unwanted tree clearance, we have made a start with the removal of trees such as Silver Birch that if left unmanaged would dominate the heathland.


This is over near Poundgate and our truck loaded up with wood for our boiler. It’s been a challenge to carry out this work with the amount of rain we’ve had which has meant we haven’t been able to treat the stumps with herbicide.


From all this time being out and about, it is slightly ironic that my first wildlife sighting of note this year has been from inside our tool shed! This lovely little thing is Herald moth. They are known for hibernating in cool, dark places, like our tool shed, during the winter and it turns out that this could potentially be a local rarity. Whatever its status, I just think it’s really sweet.

This past week we have been taking out potentially dangerous trees from roadsides Forest wide. What we do and how we do it is fairly self explanatory but doing this work does mean we see some things that others wouldn’t.

TomHeartFor instance, I’m finding a few wooden body parts on these trees such as this heart (the heart of Ashdown Forest perhaps?). I actually found it about this time last year.




Next we have a slightly mossy brain.












Finally we have grumpy looking Holly stump face.







One slightly more real, and probably more interesting, thing hidden away out there is just by the A22/A275 junction at Wych Cross.


This is the old toll board from the old toll house that used to be at Wych Cross. The story goes that when the toll house was demolished, the board, which is more of a stone engraving, was removed and reset in this brick block. Over time, it’s clearly been largely forgotten about but it is still there. You may be able to make out ‘Uckfield’ and ‘Lewes’ on there.

It’s lovely relic of a time gone by and on that note, that’s it from me.