Monthly Archives: March 2015

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


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