Monday, 6 October 2014

Uckfield's Natural Jewels

Ghyll valleys, orchids and scraps of heath in a 60s housing estate, ancient lanes near the town centre. I never knew there were so many precious natural jewels embedded in our town.

Spotted orchids within earshot on the main road.
I am the newbie in the Environment sub-committee for the Uckfield Neighbourhood Plan and on Tuesday evening, in the Alma pub, we were colouring bits of the Uckfield map green. Our aim was to identify places where “places where humans and significant nature meet” I only really know about a few areas, close to me.  Fortunately through the power of Twitter and Facebook, there was plenty of knowledge at my disposal.  Thank you to everyone to helped, especially “Hex Tor” on Facebook and “SonOfShaleman” on Twitter. 

One of the most obvious places is the Hempstead Meadows Nature Reserve.  Sometimes, when returning to Manor Park from the town, I have cut through there and enjoyed walking through the lovely wild flowers, listening for birds that have come thousands of miles to visit us, and peering into the mysterious pools. On the way home, I walk through Hempstead Lane and Lime Tree Avenue. Old roads and paths like these are less obvious places for nature but they are full of craggy old trees that are both beautiful to look at and provide birds and other creatures with places to nest and live. At the feet of these giants there is a wonderful selection of wild flowers including primroses, bluebells, wild arum and many other favourites.

Belmont Lane - just a minute's walk from the bypass
Another old lane that has been engulfed by the town is Belmont Lane, which runs from Holy Cross Church to the bypass.  I took a quick look at it the other day and found that it is full of big old trees and leads down to an area of woodland containing a pond.

We have some terrific woodlands, most of which can be found on the Visit Woodlands map. I haven’t visited many of these and must make a point of doing so.  Some of the most intriguing are those that are not on map, like the “Riperian” (river bank) wood alongside the River Uck. I’ve been so close to this so many times, yet I’ve only seen glimpses of it.

The river Uck, an important wildlife corridor, in the Bellbrook Estate.
The River Uck and its surroundings contain waterloving plants and wildlife. Because riversides are often left undeveloped they are important wild life “corridors” and breathing spaces. One of my most unexpected Uckfield wildlife moments has been the sight of hares near the Plumbing Centre on the Bell walk estate. Other rivers and streams are important too. The Downlands Farm area has the Ghyll, which meanders from West Park to Budletts. There is also the Ridgewood Stream, which passes the Millenium Green with its great crested newts and glow worms.

Of course people are important too. Here I’m going to take a moment to tip my hat to the marvellous people who have created Selby Meadow, a community garden near the hospital. Their Facebook feed tells how their garden, bug hotels etc. have attracted all sorts of creatures including butterflies and bats to their garden.

Fallow deer bucks in a Manor Park garden.
On Manor Park little areas of green and people’s gardens have created an environment so friendly to wildlife that deer and badgers roam the estate.  Bushes with berries have often provided much needed snacks to waxwings and redwings from Scandinavia. In some of our harsher winters, I have seen fieldfares prospecting across the Dene before coming to our garden to eat some discarded apples. I am told that there is a little area with natural “heath” type vegetation and really must seek it out.

I've been amazed by the variety of habitats in and around our little town. Once again, thank you, everyone, for your help. There is clearly much to discover in our town and I'm sure I'll be picking your brains again soon.

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