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.

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.


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:




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.


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.


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

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


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

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.



‘Forest’ doesn’t mean a wooded area, but…

…that doesn’t mean we don’t have a few trees!

For the last month we have been thoroughly engaged in the removal and collection of trees from the Forest for different purposes.

Firstly, we have spent a good few weeks felling Alder (Alnus glutinosa) (which for those who didn’t know is a member of the birch family) from a carr (wet woodland) on the Forest.


Now, felling trees in a wet woodland isn’t easy and you do have to become quite good at finding where is safe to tread, but it is doable.

This alder carr that we have been working in is habitat for the notably scarce Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris). The woodland has been managed on a rotation cycle and this was the first year that the first ‘coup’ (compartment) to be managed has been revisited in 24 years.

The rotational cycle of ‘harvesting’ the wood from one area, then another, then another, and finally back to first is what is known as coppicing. This woodland harvesting management technique has been practiced for a very long time.

The idea is that you can have a near continuous supply of wood and this is good way of maintaining biodiversity in the woodland due to the different ages (which means different height of trees, age of trees and amount of light that reaches the ground).


In this photo, the managed alder carr is the denser line of trees in the background and to the right are taller trees that we are currently felling; the next stage down in height marks another coup that will be coppiced at a later point in the cycle.

That area we were working did give the opportunity to enjoy sights you get at this time of year such as this little patch of Candle-snuff fungi (Xylaria hypoxylon).



Even the bonfires were helpfully photogenic at times. This was after lunch, where the centre had burned out and left a little flame flickering in the middle of the burned twigs, which I should explain are from the felled trees and is how we ‘clear up’ the unwanted brush.


It is that time of year when, walking through our drying room in the Visitor Centre, it looks like we are under attack from Scots Pines:


Yep, we’re out collecting Christmas Trees that we sell, for £2.50 a foot, at the Visitors Centre. The point of the exercise isn’t just to provide trees to sell, for £2.50 a foot, but for the benefit of the heathland. If left alone, the heathland could become dominated by these trees, which we sell at the Visitors Centre for £2.50 a foot.

On one of our last visits to find trees to sell (for £2.50 a foot), I noticed something lying on the ground. It turned out to be a piece of tank track, somehow left behind from when the Forest was used for army practice during both World Wars.


It is now back at the Visitor Centre, just to the left of the door into the Information Barn along with other finds of this nature, where we are currently selling Scots Pine Christmas Trees for £2.50 a foot.

That’s about it for me in blog terms for 2014 except to say that I have now completed my first year of working on Ashdown Forest and it has on the whole been a very rewarding experience.

I fear though that I may have started a tradition of when a person completes their first year they have to bring in a cake for the Ashdown Forest team. I was pleasantly surprised with the feedback I received and it was followed up (in not a begrudging way at all) by Steve, who started a week after me. We are all looking forward to the first week in June which will mark the end of Ash’s first year!

I’ve learned a lot and am still looking forward to seeing the Great Grey Shrike that is somewhere between Gills Lap, Camp Hill, Old Lodge and Poundgate. I would like to say how much I have enjoyed writing the blog and the positive feedback I have had from people – thank you very much!

I would like to leave this year with the undoubted highlight my year on the Forest, summed up in this digiscoped image. It was on a litter round, on the 16th of June 2014, seen from Gills Lap Car Park and over looking Wrens Warren Valley on what I have come to think of as ‘The Day of the (Short-toed) Eagle’.


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Tom, your friendly Countryside Worker.

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.


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…


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


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.


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.


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!


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