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