Monthly Archives: October 2014

Stop, go, stop, go…

Hello again!

Well, autumn’s here! Some may say winter, but I don’t like to think that way just yet.

The weather that has been coming through the country recently has affected our work a bit, but it has given us some wonderful ‘cloudscapes’ as the weather crosses the Weald.

TomSkyscape_tonemapped

That being said, there is one thought always in my head when I see the clouds in this way; “that rain is getting very close”! It’s a good incentive to get moving!

This past week we have been assisting tree surgeons along the A22 in Nutley. We have mainly been helping them by operating Stop/Go boards and by most people’s admission, it is simply the dullest activity! When you are the one stood in the middle telling the people on the boards what to do, you are constantly looking left, right, left, right so much I liken it to watching tennis with a chainsaw helmet on.

Another side of the job is that you have to wear high visibility clothing. Now, I understand that it is a very important to wear this but I have never worn anything quite as loud as these trousers and it does take some getting used too! Or maybe I’m just overly sensitive…

TomHiVis

Also, just to put this question out there, can anyone else see a face in here or is it just me?

TomSpringFace

This is top of one of our traffic sign frames and I’ve always thought that there was something ‘facey’ about it.

Aside from that, it’s back to the time of year when the wood burning boiler is warming up the Visitor Centre and Offices. Tom Chimney

I am still learning how to use the boiler properly, such as the correct settings of the air flaps on the front of the door, but I think a smoking chimney is a good sign!

It is a good time though to acknowledge an often overlooked member of the team, the log trolley!

It gets bashed, is out in all weathers and carries a very heavy load but we couldn’t do what we do without it!

I do think though that after pushing it around the yard this winter, we would be in a good position to start bobsleigh training.

TomFirewood

This is the time of year when the bird autumn migration is underway and unexpected birds can drop in! The Short-toed Eagle from earlier in the year was more of a freak occurrence than something just passing through, but the 2 Ring Ouzels (which in appearance are large Blackbirds with white breast bands) that have been on the Forest recently are regular migrants.

I was very lucky to see one after work on Tuesday when I went to the Old Airstrip and after waiting for a while, heard a weird noise, looked up and a ‘thrush’ was flying over; I just managed to see the white band long enough to tell what it was!

Another bit of wildlife that is around at this time of year is the Pale Tussock Moth caterpillar.

TomPaleTussock_tonemapped

This one was found dangling from one of our vehicles, hence why it’s on someone’s glove.

It is named for the pale tufts of hair on its back but added to its luminous green (not as bright as my trousers though…) and the red tail it really is a spectacular thing! A word of caution, do not pick one of these up with bare hands! Those hairs will cause severe irritation!

I will finish this blog with fulfilling a promise I made a while ago when we were carrying out controlled burning on an area for the benefit of Marsh Gentian. This autumn flowering plant has a deep blue flower and is relatively rare in the UK. I said that I would put a photo of one up once they started flowering. Unfortunately, I missed the boat a bit but here is a Marsh Gentian nonetheless!

TomGentian_tonemapped

It’s just not that blue anymore…

Happy Autumn!

Tom Simon.

Dragons and Damsels 3

Ashdown Forest is undeniably special (it represents 3% of the remaining heathland in the UK) but it is also quite unusual. For a start, in terms of ‘lowland’ heathland, it’s actually quite high up. There is an arbitrary cut-off point in ecology between lowland heath and moorland, the huge expanses of upland heather managed for grouse shooting. The cut-off is 200m above sea level; the highest point on the Forest is 229m. This means that, compared to the ‘classic’ lowland heaths of places like Purbeck and the Lizard, Ashdown Forest is quite cool and experiences relatively high rainfall.

Some of that 'relatively high rainfall'

Some of that ‘relatively high rainfall’

The other unusual feature is the soils. Heaths are characterised by generally free-draining, acidic, sandy soils. The Forest soils are indeed acidic and sandy, but the particle size of the Ashdown sands is very small, closer to silt. This means that drainage is often poor and, combined with the heavy rainfall, much of the Forest is very wet.

Which is a good thing, as long as you have wellies. Wet flushes, ghyll woodland, valley mires and boggy pools all provide additional habitats for a host species that wouldn’t otherwise be so abundant on the Forest. One group that does particularly well is the Odonata, or dragonflies. I have blogged before about our Small red damselfly, but there are plenty more species to look out for on the Forest.

Perhaps the most impressive – if relatively widespread – species is the Emperor dragonfly, the largest (though not the longest) species found in the UK.

Emperor dragonfly

Emperor dragonfly

Prize for the longest species goes to the female Golden-ringed dragonfly, a scarce species found across the High Weald but reaching its greatest abundance on the Forest.

Golden-ringed dragonfly

Golden-ringed dragonfly

A real Forest speciality is the Keeled skimmer, found nowhere else in the county. The male is an attractive chalky blue, similar to the much commoner Broad-bodied chaser.

Keeled skimmer

Keeled skimmer

Similar again is the Four-spotted chaser, though both the male and female are brown. The distinguishing feature is the presence of dark spots on all four wings.

Four-spotted chaser

Four-spotted chaser

The damselflies, smaller cousins of the dragons, are well represented on the Forest too. I have already blogged about the Large red and rarer Small red; the blues are abundant everywhere, but perhaps my favourite of all is the exquisite Emerald damselfly. If Faberge had made an insect, it would look like this.

Emerald damselfly

Emerald damselfly

Steve Alton