Saturday, 1 April 2017

Churchyard Plant Survey - Holy Cross, Uckfield

After the hustle and bustle of the working week, it was lovely to spend some time in "God's acre", the churchyard of Holy Cross Church, which is very much the beating heart of Uckfield.  I was recording the wild plants in the churchyard as part of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society's Churchyard survey.

Holy Cross churchyard, with established garden daffodils.
With Helen acting as a guide and mentor, we recorded 74 species of plant.  Most of these are natives but some were garden varieties that had become established in the churchyard.  We included everything from tiny Speedwells to big Yew trees.

Slender Speedwell in the grass by the East Wall.
The Slender Speedwell (Veronica filiformis) was originally from Turkey and was introduced in the early 19th Centaury as a rockery plant. However, it was prone to establish itself in the grass, much to the annoyance of Victorian gardeners.

Good Friday Grass, throughout the churchyard. 
One of the plants we found was the Field Wood Rush (Luzula campestris).  This is a tiny rush that grows in the grass. The individual plants are inconspicuous but in their hundreds they make a pretty yellow haze above the neatly-cut grass.  Pleasingly, for a plant found in a churchyard they are also called Good Friday Grass, because the flowers come out just in time for Easter.

The gravestones and hedges are habitats too.
Grassland is just one of the habitats to be found in a churchyard. The gravestones support colonies of colourful lichens and mosses, as well as perches for curious robins. There are also hedges as shown in the background of photo above.  These provide a home to hedge plants such as Hazels, Hawthorns and Yew, as well as the little plants that live in their feet.

Wall Rue fern (Asplenium ruta-muraria)
Even the walls provide a habitat for plants such as the delicate Wall Rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria), which is a tiny fern. This was my favourite find. It is such a pretty little thing, clinging to the tiny crevices in the old wall.

Primroses hiding under some roses.
There are just a few primroses (Primula vulgaris) in the churchyard, tucked away in odd corners. The photo shows one of a group nestling under a rose. Another spring favourite, the Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), is just starting to flower amongst the gravestones.

Thale Cress, which grows in disturbed ground.
One plant, which I have never noticed before, was Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana). It is a fairly widespread weed of disturbed ground and I must have walked past it many a time without really seeing it.

A solitary bee, which is a good pollinator but does not make honey.
The churchyard supports a community of plants, insects and birds just as the Church supports the community of Uckfield. Even the humble Dandelion is providing a welcome meal for a hungry bee.

Survey done and I was off to the Farmers' Market to pick up some samosas for lunch and a jar of Sussex honey. I found myself wondering if the honeybees, who had made my honey, had visited any churchyards.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Frogs spawning - better late than never!

With storms Doris and Ewan, March has certainly come in like a lion. More importantly our garden frogs have belatedly decided it is time to spawn. 

Spawn first seen 2nd March 2017
I wasn't around to see it myself but Mum let me know when I came home from work.  This year's spawning is quite late compared to the February dates for 2014-2016.
  • 2017 - 2nd March
  • 2016 - 14th Feb
  • 2015 - 22nd Feb
  • 2014 - 8th Feb
  • 2013 - 6th March
  • 2012 - 25th Feb
  • 2011 - 20th Feb
  • 2010 - 28th Feb
  • 2009 - saw frogs active in pond 18th Feb
  • 2008 - saw frogs active in pond 29th Feb
  • 2007 - saw frogs active in pond 11th Feb
  • 2005 - 19th Feb
Meanwhile, while I've been driving along country roads, I've seen the first daffodils and wild primroses appearing as we are blown headlong into spring.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Sussex Botanical Recording Society and Snatts Road Surveys

I've just attended the Sussex Botanical Recording Society (SBRS) AGM.  SBRS members record flowers, ferns, mosses and all sorts of plants throughout Sussex.  I enjoyed an informative afternoon amongst lovely, knowledgeable people.  The meeting was held in Staplefield Village Hall. It was pleasing to find some primroses blooming nearby.

Primroses at Staplefield, where the meeting was held.
Churchyards

One very interesting talk was about the new Churchyard survey for Sussex. Helen, the coordinator, explained that:
  • Churchyards provide several different habitats such as walls, grassland, paths, hedgerows and grassland
  • They had previously been surveyed in the 1980s
  • The surveys done so far (2016) have more species than 1980s but this may be down to people having better sources about information.
  • That conservation areas need to have grass removed sometimes otherwise wildflower seeds cannot germinate.
One of the surveys was for the Snatts Road Cemeteries.  The scores on the doors were:
A separate survey (by a different organisation) was undertaken for Wealden in 2015. This was summarised in the Uckfield Town Council minutes for 11 July 2016 as follows:

Following a site visit and survey in summer 2015 it is recommended that the Local Wildlife Site boundary be extended to include half of the newer area of cemetery to the North of the road.  The grassland has a more acidic characteristic and the east half of this area is species rich with plant species Heath Grass, Devil's Bit Scabious, Eyebright and Trailing St. John's Wort.

There is more information about caring for graveyards and cemeteries at http://www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk/

Other useful tidbits

 Returning to the AGM ...

There will be an Autumn get together (as well as all the spring and summer field meetings) on October 28th.

Mathew said that if we were in doubt over an ID, had something unexpected or a hybrid to check with him. The BSBI website is http://bsbi.org/

The webmaster outlined features of the SBRS website:
  • Latest sightings - needn't be confined to rare items. Anything interesting - maybe because it is the first of a type you have identified.
  • There is a map, which you can click to find species found in a particular "tetrad". Some tedrads (listed on the website) have no items so it would be nice to get some.
There are useful pieces on way the recording organisations use map references on the BSBI and BTO websites.

Brad displayed splendid photos of mosses and liverworts. There is more information at:
photos - https://www.flickr.com/photos/23980231@N07/collections/72157675601655911/
website - https://sussexbryophytes.wordpress.com/

In a conversation about a survey, one of the committee explained the meanings of letters used in surveys.

P = Planted
C = Casual
N = Natural
S = Surviving
E = Established
U = Unknown

I had a chat about the NPMS squares scheme, in which people record plants in a particular square on the map. I've just had another look but nothing available close enough.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Lime Aid - Rubies and Gold Cups

It's just past Valentine's Day, which means it's time to give Lime Tree Avenue a bit of love. I've have been doing volunteer work to help keep the wonderful old Lime Trees in this Historic Avenue for a number of years.  I missed last Saturday's session, which was reported by Uckfield FM, in which approximately 10 people worked their way up most of the avenue. This week, there was just the two of us - but we still managed to clear "epicormic growths" (suckers) from the feet of 5 of the most vigorous trees. If all goes to plan, there will be another session on March the 4th from about 9am.

A Lime Trees epicormic growths.
The first tree I tackled had an enormous number of large suckers galloping across the gap towards its neighbours. In the year since we last cleared them, some had grown to about 3 foot tall and as thick as my index finger.  Mercifully most were smaller. 

Wild Arum leaves.
While I was working my through the suckers, I noticed a carpet of delicate Cow Parsley leaves and a few clumps of Wild Arum - but no sign of any flowers yet.

Three Lime Trees - after this year's trim.
Once I had completed my first tree, it was satisfying to look back and see what we had achieved. Then onto the next tree.

Silvery lichen with tiny golden cups.
I couldn't resist collecting some treasure to take home. The suckers have ruby red buds, so a handful of the clippings went into my bag. These were followed by a twig with some Lichen. This is  a silvery, leafy structure made up from a partnership between an algae and a fungus.  If you look carefully at the photo, you can see tiny golden cups, which are the fruiting bodies of this strange cooperative organism. 

Crocuses at the North end
As I was heading home, a stray clump of crocuses were fully open as if to tell me that Spring is nearly here. I am looking forward to seeing the Lime Trees' bright green leaves burst from those ruby buds.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Biological Recorders' Seminar - Sussex Biodiversity

Biological Recording is noting, and sharing, information about the plants and creatures that we find. This knowledge enables wildlife organisations and others to map and help wildlife. Some recorders specialise in a particular group of species and others (like myself) record different types.  I started recording fairly seriously when I did the 2014 Garden Bioblitz and record most of my finds in iRecord.  On the 11th of February, I attended the 28th Biological Recorders' Seminar, which was organised by the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre.  There was a wealth of information, so I will just pick out a few items from the main talks.

Delegates gathering for the Chairman's Welcome.

Record Centre update

Claire Blencowe explained:
  • some of the challenges in the balance between the desire for open data (as now required by Natural England) and being fair to the recorders who have entrusted county centres with their records
  • the contribution of Peter Hodge who provided approximately 50,000 beetle records in 14 densely written note books
  • that they have recently been surveying Local Wildlife Sites (Uckfield examples are West Park and Snatts Road Cemetery).
Saltmarsh Recreation

Barry Yates outlined how they restored salt marshes at Sussex Wildlife Trust's Rye Harbour nature reserve. They used a 1950s RAF photo as a guide to what they wished to achieve although they had to make some adjustments to fit in with modern developments.  Systematic recording shows how successful the scheme has been.

Developing an ID resource with support from a museum

Chloe Rose explained her contribution to creating a key to a particular type of wasp using the specimens kept at the Natural History Museum. She did this work as part of the Identification Trainers for the Future project, in which trainees produce a range of materials designed to help support naturalists in their own identification work. So far they have produced keys for grasses and orchids.

Weevils

Weevils are a type of beetle. Characteristics include:
  • a rostrum (snout)
  • elbowed antenna, which are clubbed at the end
  • heart shaped feet.
Mark Guerney has provided guides at www.tinyurl/weevilguides and suggested that Twitter users follow @WeevilRS.

Look out behind you!
Forest Row Natural History Group

Tom Forward and Brad Scott said that the group:
  • grew out of a meeting in a pub
  • has monthly 'meetings', which are usually walks around the village area
  • has regular talks
  • gets involved with events such as national fungus day
  • record flora and fauna in a 1km square, which embraces the community farm
  • keep in touch through a Facebook page and their Nature's book website.
I have encountered this friendly group online through the New Year's Plant Hunt and it was great to put faces to names.

Slugs, why bother?

Before the event, Chris de Feu had asked us to bring in any slugs that we found so he could identify them. So the day had started with a trail of people dutifully dropping off plastic containers with their slimy little finds and watching with fascination while Chris examined and identified them.

Iberian Three band Slug
He said that if you wish to ID a slug from a photo, you should photograph from the following angles:
  • underneath - maybe using a Perspex sheet
  • right-hand side - so you can see the breathing pore
  • above - to see the overall shape.
... and to answer the original question - very few people record slugs so we know very little about their distribution and how it is changing. Chris also found that people were very motivated by being able to put a new dot on the map, which is easier for an unpopular group.  On the day of the seminar, Chris examined 119 slugs brought in by the public and had identified 17 of the 28 species found in Sussex.

The Sussex Butterfly Atlas

Michael Blencowe gave a highly entertaining talk about the creation of a new Sussex Butterfly Atlas. The first person to note a proper record (with an exact date) was William Markwick, who recorded a Swallowtail in Catsfield on the 22nd of May 1770. 

Small Tortiseshell - the regular resident, with black legs.
Some points from survey:
  • Meadow Browns, which have featured strongly in my own Big Butterfly Counts, were found in every single map square throughout Sussex.
  • The spectacular Purple Emperor, which eluded many experienced recorders, was found in a cat litter tray - it likes poo
  • The addition of Continental Swallowtails, Longtailed Blues and Scarce (Yellow Legged)Tortiseshells to the Sussex lists
  • The loss of the Small Pearl Bordered Fritillaries from Sussex. Numbers of these butterflies spiked a few years ago but seem to have been wiped out by mild winters and wet Junes.
Scuttle, Spring, Slither and Slide

Paul Stevens emphasised highlighted that many familiar species such as the Common Frog are very badly under recorded and asked us all to record them. This can be important because, for example, it can highlight where amphibians have to cross roads to get to their breeding pond.

Frogs are beginning to emerge and need to be recorded.
BN5 Owl Project

David Plummer gave an excellent account of the BN5 Owl Project accompanied by his own spectacular photos. There was a wealth of detail. systematically collected over years, but the thing that really got my attention was the high density of Tawny Owls near the village itself. David suggested that they might be using the gardens and the corridor provided by the disused railway line. His tip for those using recordings to elicit owl calls was to use the recording then wait at least five minutes for a response as the presence of a human is likely to delay their reaction to the invader.

Summing up

My takeaways from the day were:
  • The Sussex Biodiversity team have recently been surveying Local Wildlife Sites including those in the Uckfield area.
  • It is important to record apparently common and/or insignificant creatures such as frogs and beetles. This knowledge will help wildlife organisations track changes in population and spot a decline or invasion.
  • I can get help with identification from more places than I thought. In a future post, I will curate some online sources.
  • Much of the best work is being done by amateurs. They are only amateur in the sense that they are not being paid for the work they have put in and the expertise that they have developed.

Robin in Hempstead Meadows Nature Reserve - 28 Jan 2017
Thinking about my own recording, it has been helping me enjoy nature more deeply:
  • Because recording requires me to identify plants and creatures to a species level, I have learnt much more about identification.
  • Now that I've built up a couple of years' worth of records in iRecord, it is easy to go back to an observation rather than scrabbling through old photos and journals.
  • Using social media while taking part in recording events such as the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch has put me in contact other people who are interested in local wildlife.
  • Being caught in the act of photographing a insect or peering through binoculars has led to local people telling me about their own wildlife encounters.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Big Garden Birdwatch - 2016

As I settled down for this year's RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, I kicked myself for not doing it in yesterday's beautiful sunshine. At 9am the light was so murky that I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to see the birds, let alone identify them.

Then two cheeky Robins flitted into the trees at the front of our garden.  As I watched their boisterous progress through the branches, I noticed a Song Thrush sitting quietly in the Robinia.

Notes from my Birdwatch.

Looking out at the back I noticed a Goldfinch on the old teasel seedheads.  In the next quarter of an hour, several different types of birds appeared in the garden. Great tits, Blue Tits, Robins and Starlings were all attracted by the food I had put on the  bird tables. 


Woodpigeon feeding on tiny crab apples.
Perhaps the most bizarre sight was a Woodpigeon tying itself in knots while gathering up the last of the crab apples.  When it finished, it stared glumly at the empty branch.

At about 9:35 a Jackdraw, a first for my birdwatch list, perched briefly on a conifer. I found myself glaring at a Herring Gull that seemed to be glued to my neighbour's roof and couldn't be counted.  My hour was rounded off by the reappearance of the robins.

One of our pair of Robins.
The final score was 17 individuals from 11 different species. Strangely many of the birds that usually come as a flock appeared in ones, twos or threes.  I didn't positively identify House Sparrows but there was a group of birds that I couldn't see properly in the poor light and wasn't able to include in the count.

2017 Great Garden Bird Watch Results.
Compared to previous years, the variety of birds was good. It has only been better in 2011, the first year I did the birdwatch. However the number of individuals counted, at 17, was well below the average of 21.  Results of this and previous years' counts are shown below.

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
No of species 12 11 10 6 11 7 11
No of individuals 30 26 15 20 28 12 17
Blue tit 3 3 2 3 2 2 1
Blackbird 2 2 3 3 2 2 2
Collared Dove 2 1 1   1   1
Goldfinch     1   7   2
Great tit   1         1
Jackdaw             1
Magpie 2 2 2 2 1 1 2
Robin 1 1 1 2 3 1 2
Song Thrush 2   1   1   1
Starling 8 9 2 8 5 2 3
Woodpigeon 1   1 2 2 2 1
Chaffinch 2       2    
Coal Tit   1          
Carrion Crow           1  
Dunnock 3 1          
House Sparrow 3 4     1    
Pied Wagtail 1 1 1        
  Saturday, 29 Jan Sunday, 29 Jan Saturday, 26 Jan Saturday, 25 Jan Sunday, 25 Jan Saturday, 30 Jan Sunday
29 Jan
Start time 8.45 am 8.45 am 9.07am 8.50 am 8.45 am 8.55 am 9:05am
Weather dull, icy   cold, bright damp, misty bright, cold dull, mild damp, mild

Saturday, 7 January 2017

New Year Plant Hunt 2017 - Uckfield

For a number of years, the Botanical Society of the British and Ireland have been running a New Year Plant Hunt. I've taken part in 2015, 2016 and again this year.  I didn't expect much because we have had some proper winter weather in the run up to the plant hunt.  Some of our own garden regulars such as Gorse and Lesser Celandine were not showing any signs of flower.

This year, I started the hunt from the new seat in front of the shops in Browns Lane, which was installed by the Manor Park and Hempstead Fields Residents Association.

Start - Outside Browns Lane shops at 9:30, 2nd January.
If you wish to go straight to a full list of my New Year's flowers, scroll to the bottom of the page.  This year my list comprised 23 flowering plants, compared to 34 last year. I had a sense this year of normal service being resumed after last year's bumper list.  This time there were no proper spring flowers such as Wild Primroses or Cowslips and few summer stragglers.

As usual, I started by walking through twittens on Manor Park. I didn't find as many wild flowers as usual. Maybe this was because 2016's odd weather encouraged thick grass growth. This had two effects: First, the grass competed out the wild flowers that usually grow along the edges of paths, and second, people had cleared away the vegetation, which had become a nuisance. I did find the ever-reliable Groundsel and Petty Spurge. Groundsel was the 2nd most frequently recorded flower on the plant hunt's lists.

Groundsel - 2nd most recorded flower
I moved on to the sunny corner where Southview Drive meets Beeches Close and found Ivy still in flower as well as some Yarrow.

Ivy flowers
At the top of the town, I managed to find a little Wall Bellflower in bloom but nothing like the numbers of flowers I had seen in previous years. The church walls also yielded very little - just some clumps of Common Field Speedwell, with tiny blue flowers. However, I had better luck in the car park, with a neat clump of Sweet Violets.

Sweet Violets
I didn't find anything in Belmont Lane. In a change from last year's route, I walked along the path that runs parallel to the bypass. Although I didn't see any flowers I was delighted to spot a Tree Creeper in a splendid old oak. Once I had reached the Meads Doctors' Surgery, I crossed the road to the Bellbrook Industrial Estate. This is new to my route and yielded some wild flowers that I had never recorded before.  One was Annual Mercury.

Annual Mercury
Another, the Guernsey Fleabane, is one that I had seen in various places but had never previously got round to identifying.

Guernsey Fleabane
After exploring the industrial estate (and surprising three Pheasants) I hurried to the warmth of the Station Pub.  After a break and glass of wine, I hurried back home to catch a few final stragglers before I ran out of time.  These included a Daisy, just across the road from where I live and a bedraggled Dog Violet in my own garden.


Daisy - On more lists than any other flower.

The Science Bit

Location: Uckfield, East Sussex.  Start point: TQ478219

What was missing?

Flowers that I had seen in both 2015 and 2016 but were missing this year were:
  • Wild Primroses
  • Cowslips
  • Yellow Corydalis (on the church walls)
  • White Deadnettle
  • Black Medick.

21 Wild Plants Flowering on 2nd January 2017

Achillea millefolium Yarrow
Bellis perennis Daisy
Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd's Purse
Cardamine hirsuta Hairy Bittercress
Centranthus ruber  Red Valerian
Conyza sumatrensis Guernsey fleabane New in 2017
Corylus avellana Hazel
Euphorbia peplus Petty Spurge
Hedera helix  Ivy
Lamium purpureum Red Dead-nettle
Mercurialis annua      Annual Mercury New in 2017
Poa annua  Annual Meadow Grass
Senecio vulgaris  Groundsel
Sonchus oleraceus Smooth Sow-thistle
Stellaria media Common Chickweed
Taraxacum officinale Dandelion
Ulex europaeus Gorse
Urtica dioica Common nettle New in 2017
Veronica persica Common Field Speedwell New in 2017
Viola odorata Sweet Violet
Viola riviniana Dog Violet

2 Naturalised Plants Flowering on 2nd January 2017

Bergenia cordifolia  Elephants ears New in 2017
Campanula portenschlagiana  Wall Bellflower