Monthly Archives: July 2015

Litter Pick 2015

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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!

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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!
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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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