My Autobiography Soon to be Published!

I am proud to announce the publication of my long awaited autobiography, ‘Monty Larkin – A Rural Biography.’ This covers such topics as: family background, child and early adulthood, Seven Sisters Country Park, downland conservation, wildlife and weather observations, the fight against Dutch elm disease, environmental considerations, love and relationships and, contains a substantial chapter concerning my two decades of managing conservation grazing across Sussex using iconic Exmoor ponies.
This softback work of 496 pages, is fully illustrated in black & white and colour and retails at £17.99 I am now taking orders for its planned publication during September 2020. Contact me at montylarkin@yahoo.co.uk to place your order.

Subterranean Thief Appears.

In my friends area of East Sussex High Weald ancient woodland, at least five examples of a strange plant have recently appeared.  I was at a loss on seeing this broomrape-like plant until back at home this week I managed to track it down.  It is Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria).  There are only six recorded locations for it in the county, these not including this site, so a good find!

Toothwort is a highly unique plant: all Broomrape family plants steal nutrition from neighbouring plants and also assimilate themselves, but toothwort is the only one that is fully parasitic.  The species’ scientific name means ‘hiding’, and indeed most of this completely non-chlorophyllous plant’s life happens out of sight under the ground. Toothwort’s rootstock’s branches have sucking nodules (haustoria) between the branches which attach early in the spring to the host plant’s rootstock.  This thankless task is on this occasion performed by hazel or hornbeam?  Occasionally lime, ash, maple or alder are used.  Scaly leaves next to the ground help toothwort dissipate water, which improves the plant’s ability to suck nutrition from the host plant.

Sign of the Times…

Breakfast time and on looking out to the clear far horizon beneath a blue sky, I observed a shipping spectacle I’ve not seen before – two large container ships which had just departed from Antwerp, either empty or nearly so.  This presumably because of turn-down in trade through Coronavirus.

The 259 metre long MSC Regina travelling at a fair speed for a container ship and making for Gioia Tauro in southern Italy, she riding very high in the water, her bulbous bow well out of the water and her bridge towering above her empty deck.  And the 294 metre long NYK Delphinus modestly making for Southampton, so it possibly partly loaded.

 

Lock-Down Notes.

Having returned home to St.Leonards at the beginning of the week, I noticed immediately upon stepping out out of my car, the quietness!  In particular, the lack of mewing from herring gulls, for at this time of year they are very noisy protecting their territories perched on neighbouring roofs and chimneys and also, raiding refuse bins and bags.  Presumably due to the lack of discarded fast-food, far fewer pairs have been able to carry out breeding this year?

Furlough.  This is a new word in my vocabulary as I don’t think I have come across it before.  Definition – ‘A furlough is “a temporary layoff from work.” People who get furloughed usually get to return to their job after a furlough.  In general, people are not paid during furloughs but they do keep employment benefits, such as health insurance. Furloughs are mandatory. Workers are ordered not to do anything work-related while they are on furlough.’

Its origin is early 17th century from Dutch verlof, modeled on German Verlaub, of West Germanic origin and related to leave.

Self-Isolating in Glorious Countryside

Following government advice, and discussions with my dear friend Helen, I and my puss Goldie, have temporarily moved out of St.Leonards and are self-isolating with Helen at her beautiful cottage deep in the rural countryside of the High Weald.  I have lots, indeed more than enough to keep me busy – gardening, working on the advanced draft of my autobiography, reading and taking walks in the woods with her three handsome Gordon Setter dogs.

The property is set within an extensive garden with a stream flowing through it and additionally there are four acres of a large adjoining block of ancient woodland.  This is composed mainly of ash, with mature hornbeam, oak and beech with an understorey of hazel.  More about this woodland as this rolling blog continues…

 

 

A view of the woods during mid-March.

Mid-March.  The wood has been so wet this past winter!  Being situated on Ashdown Clay which provides little drainage, it’s been tricky walking along the paths but during the past week, the sunshine and drying breezes have transformed matters, we now being able to wear boots instead of the ubiquitous wellies!  This weekend, being on north-facing slope, the cottage and the woods are being buffeted by a strong and quite cold north-easterly wind, with sunshine and hail, making the air feel relatively rather bitter; we’ve resorted to firing-up the wood burner!

Monday, March 23 and another harbinger of spring made itself known – a chiffchaff calling from the tall willows and birches on the edge of the garden area.  In the woods this week the primroses at the top of the wood look resplendent with their massed two-tone pale yellow flowers being in full bloom.Small patches of the tiny, delicate moscatel are in flower with their minuscule green and yellow flowers forming small patches.  Hornbeam trees and the few hawthorn are now sporting small, delicate light-green leaves that are growing by the day.  Hornbeam forms almost pure stands in other sections of the wood; soil or possibly past harvesting practices causing the difference?

Monday, Mar 30.  Heard my first blackcap of the year.  Carried out a lot more gardening this week – I’ve worked off my small tum but the trouble is I fall asleep in front of the tv!

Friday, Apr 3.  More gardening including felling a small ash tree with only a bowsaw – phew!  Carried out some repairs to the revetment to the stream that flows under the footbridge to the cottage, and on through the garden.  A hum from the bees in the tall willows was easily audible today.  The coming anticyclone and its accompanying warmth and southerly winds should bring quite a fall of migrants over the coming days.  Reliably informed that the migration has been slow so far this spring.

Saturday, Apr 4.  The first warm and sunny day of spring! sat outside late afternoon in shirt sleeves watching the birds – great and blue tits, lesser woodpecker, chaffinch and coal tit.  Counted only four aircraft in about an hour, blissfully peaceful!

Monday, Apr 6.  After carrying out a large food shop in Crowborough we drove back over Ashdown Forest; the car parks were very quiet.  Gorse in flower; other areas of gorse having been cut, the Conservators of the Forest appear to have a monumental battle upon their hands fight the large areas of gorse.  I consider they should resort to the traditional practice of selective burns of small areas.  Conversely, reading in the RSPB’s latest update on their local reserves, they are going to create enclosures at Broadwater Warren and plant gorse.  I wonder if future wardens of the reserve will be riled by this introduction!  They have also discovered that they have the uncommon potter wasp, the nearest colony previously in Surrey.

Wednesday, Apr 8.  Saw my first brimstone butterfly today; they are not so common hereabouts? Looking through the woods, there is now a green haze with the millions of tiny leaves unfolding on the trees, especially the hornbeam and hazel.

Thursday, Apr 9.  Orange-tip butterfly seen for first time.  While sitting on the patio at about 6pm, did I fleetingly see a cuckoo fly over (or a kestrel)?  Have today started renovating a teak outdoor table; I bought on-line, a set of cabinetmakers scrapers and made a start on what will be a slow process – an antidote to self-isolation!

Friday, Apr 10.  Good Friday.  Saw my first holly blue butterfly today.

Saturday, Apr 11.  Have finished queaking the long chapter in my autobio concerning my 20 years of being involved with using Exmoor ponies for conservation grazing.  Carried out two repairs to the deer fencing around our woodland.  The neighbouring woodland has little understorey as the deer browse-off nearly all of the young saplings and flowers.  (See the two following pics).

Sunday, Apr 12.  Easter Sunday.  First small white butterfly seen, temperature reaching into the low 20’s C.  Road was very quiet today there being no shops open; very few aircraft seen today including two into Gatwick.  We spent much of the day sitting on the patio overlooking the woods, finishing off with taking dinner there in the early evening.

Monday, Apr 13.  Bank Holiday.  A strong, cold NE wind today with the sun not appearing until late-morning.  We spent a couple of hours in the afternoon plotting and marking out the un-fenced section of Helen’s boundary in the woodland.

Sunday, Apr 19.   This morning we went for a walked in the main part of the wood that is not owned by Helen and is in effect, abandoned.

It contains a few more substantial oaks and beech’s and plenty of middle-sized hornbeam and ash but little ground vegetation or saplings – anything edible being eaten by deer (they excluded form our part of the wood).  Bluebells are however are now putting in an appearance.  Found several largish medieval iron ore quarries (see below) and a piece of iron slag; hundreds of years ago this wood would have been a hive of industry.  Will go back tomorrow and take some pictures.  It’s like entering another world – on the face of it, appearing untouched by man and no outside of the wood sounds whatsoever – mystical!

Sunday, April 26.  Thought I may have heard a garden warbler singing?  Along a footpath just outside the boundary of the wood, I saw my first small copper and comma butterflies; also found the showy marsh marigold in a nearby boggy area.  I shall be returning home tomorrow, so am signing-off this particular blog.

Data Reveals Poor Conditions at Protected Wildlife Site

The following article reiterates what I have observed and have been saying for years – that many of our Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are in a parlous state.  For example, most of the Firle Escarpment has not been inspected for 5 years!  Significant areas are now degenerating into bramble and scrub due to poor management by some farmers – ML.

Pevensey Levels ‘at risk’ – new data reveals poor conditions at protected wildlife site.

By Ginny Sanderson, Sussex Express.

Tuesday, 21st January 2020.

Waller’s Haven on Pevensey Levels looking towards Herstmonceux in the late afternoon winter sun.

More than half of all inspections found poor conditions at the wildlife haven, which is among the country’s precious few Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).  An investigation has found the protected area is among thousands of beauty spots across the country which are in a poor state and facing unsatisfactory conditions.

The area is home to many rare creatures, and is considered to best site in Britain for freshwater molluscs, including the endangered ram’s horn snail.  Extremely rare aquatic plants can also be found in the marshland, which stretches from Bexhill to Hailsham.  The 3,600 hectare site is in peril alongside other East Sussex areas Romney Marsh and Rye Bay, and Dungeness in neighbouring Kent.

Many SSSI sites have not been assessed for years, leading environmental campaigners to fear the situation could be even worse.  Wildlife charities have branded the findings “shocking”, while the government says it is taking action to restore sites.  Paul de Zylva, of Friends of the Earth, said it was “shocking that our top wildlife sites are in such poor condition”.

He said, “If we can’t even protect the jewels in the crown, it’s little wonder that UK nature is in such poor shape.  The new government must make the protection and restoration of our natural environment a top priority.”  While Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trust’s director of campaigns and policy, said bodies such as Natural England, which monitor the condition of sites, had been starved of funding.

She called for them to get a substantial cash injection “to enable them to carry out their functions effectively and to ensure our protected sites are restored and enhanced.”  In England, SSSIs are inspected in smaller sections called units.  More than half of these units (53 per cent) are in an unfavourable condition, inspection data shows.

Guidelines state SSSI features in England should be assessed at least every six years, but analysis by the JPI Media Investigation Unit found more than half (12,394) of sites have not been assessed since 2011.  A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said while most of England’s SSSIs were either in a favourable condition or were recovering, they recognised that “more needs to be done to improve these vital sites”.

They said, “England’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest protect our most rare and threatened wildlife and represent the best in nature this country has to offer.  While 94 per cent of these are currently in a favourable or recovering condition, we know more needs to be done to improve these vital sites. That’s why we are focusing on restoring those sites that are still in a recovering condition so we can enhance these important areas.”

Investigative reporting by Aimee Stanton of the JPI Media Data Unit.

Today – 20 Years of Pony Grazing!

Today, I sent the e-mail below to fifty of the longer serving pony Lookers – volunteers who (used to) check the Exmoor ponies on a regular basis come rain, wind or snow.  I have hesitated in the tense of the last sentence as I gain the impression that many of the Lookers have been made redundant by the pony trust or sadly fallen by the wayside through lack of communication.

 

 

 

The first 15 ponies about to reach Drusillas roundabout after travelling from Exmoor.

 

On the fist site above Alfriston with the BBC filming them.
“On November 22 1999 –  20 years ago today, our first 18 ponies were driven on the hoof from Frog Firle to the very first grazing site situated above Alfriston, doesn’t time (and hooves) fly!  
The reason for e-mailing you is that when I retired in February 2017, I’d been seriously ill with flu, followed almost immediately by my move to St.Leonards.  Therefore, I never got to thanking you myself for the many hours and toil – often in inclement weathers, that you loyally gave lookering our wonderful five herds of Exmoor ponies.  Today seems a good day to correct that…  So, thank you all very much from my innermost self, for your commitment across the years to the ponies and to helping wildlife conservation.
During the last couple of years, I gather a number of changes have come about concerning the Trust – not all of which I’m happy about but, times change and I’ve retired and no longer have any connection with our dear four-legged friends.”

Some of the first Lookers about to erect the corral for the first time.  L to R Brian Miles (hidden), Alan Holyoak, Brian Sandham, ?, Alan Skinner, Emrys Hughes, Mike Bridges.

Peering Above The Horizon is…

Pioneering Spirit.  As I sit, writing here at lunchtime on Tuesday 19th, looming above the horizon and more than half way to France is the Pioneering Spirit on passage to Kristiansand in southern Norway.

It is the world’s largest construction vessel, designed for the single-lift installation and removal of large oil and gas platforms and the installation of record-weight pipelines.  Designed by Swiss-based Allseas Group, the 382 m long, 124 m wide vessel was built in South Korea by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (2011–14) at a cost of €2.6 billion and commenced offshore operations in August 2016.

In June 2017, Pioneering Spirit commenced pipelaying for the first line of SouthStream Transport B.V’s dual 930-km Turkish Stream gas pipeline in the Black Sea.

Pioneering Spirit is the world’s largest vessel, in terms of its gross tonnage (403,342 gt), breadth (123.75 m / 406 ft.), and displacement (1,000,000 t).  The maximum 48,000 t (47,000-long-ton; 53,000-short-ton) topside lift capacity is achieved by operating as a semi-submersible. For removal of topsides, the vessel straddles the intended payload with the slot formed by the twin bows. The slot measures 122 m × 59 m (400 ft × 194 ft) (L×W). After straddling the payload, Pioneering Spirit takes on ballast to lower, and two sets of eight (one set per bow) retractable motion-compensated horizontal lifting beams are slid under the payload. Once the load is secure, the vessel offloads the ballast, rising in the water and partially transferring the load to the beams. In the final stage a fast lift system is used that lifts the payload up to 2.5 m in 15 s.

Two tilting lift beams for the installation or removal of steel jackets, up to 25,000 t (25,000 long tons; 28,000 short tons) in weight, will be located at the vessel’s stern.[25] A 5,000 t (4,900 long tons; 5,500 short tons) special purpose crane built by Huisman is scheduled for delivery in the second half of 2018. The tub mounted crane will be available for additional lifts for jacket and topsides installation such as pile handling and bridge installation.[26][27]

 

When equipped with the Stinger, Pioneering Spirit can be used to lay pipe. Pipe segments are welded together on board the vessel, then are placed on the Stinger, where they roll into the water. The Stinger is curved to guide the pipe to the bottom of the ocean. The Stinger itself weighs 4,200 tonnes (4,600 short tons) and measures 150 metres (490 ft) long and 65 metres (213 ft) wide. It is attached to the Stinger Transition Frame (STF), which provides an interface between the Stinger and the vessel; the STF is installed in the bow slot when attached to the vessel. The Stinger Transition Frame weighs more than 1,600 tonnes (1,800 short tons) by itself.

The vessel is equipped with eight, 20-cylinder (20V32/44CR) MAN 11,200 kW diesel generators providing a total installed power of 95 MW, driving 12 Rolls-Royce azimuth thrusters which provide dynamic positioning (DP3) and for propulsion. The vessel’s maximum speed is 14 knots. The accommodation has room for 571 persons in two-berth cabins.  Taken from Wikipedia.

Working of coast of Norway.

Cuckmere Estuary

There has been a lot of disquiet in recent weeks about flooding in the Cuckmere valley and also the build-up of shingle within the river mouth.  See my previous post concerning the sad demise of the Cuckmere meanders area.

On Wednesday, November 5th I did go and view the river mouth and it looks quite different to how it used to be, that is, discharging directly straight out into Cuckmere Haven.  Now, it turns abruptly east and flows along for about a third of the length of the east beach as seen below.  It actually appears far more natural!

 

This has arisen due to a decision by the Environment Agency not to carry out further work on river maintenance south of the A259 unless there was a real threat to homes and businesses, so no maintenance of floodbanks, groynes or shingle dredging. It was understood that the EA did intend to maintain some existing structures after the above decision but what happened to ‘contingent evaluation’ – the value of a rural, landscape experience to visitors, high in my opinion for the meanders at the Seven Sisters Country Park.

This decision takes account of their limited budget due to government budget cuts and the inevitability of losing the fight against sea level change from global climatic processes. There is not the money to protect a relatively small amount of grazing land when many communities across the country are under real threat.  The river estuary if left to the forces of nature will change as pictured below, this being taken two years ago.

 

 

Within the last two days, an excavator has appeared on site presumably to clear out the original man-made channel and reduce the overall height of the river back up through the valley, this presumably being paid for by the local water catchment board?

 

 

Flooding to the north of the A259 (picture above) though not unconnected with the above is largely due to when the east riverbank was rebuilt during the 1960’s and the then East Sussex River Board coming under pressure from the local farmers to install the new sluices at a very low level.  (I was informed of this fact recently by a retired former senior ESRB drainage engineer). It means that the river-side flaps of the 4? sluices are unable to open because they’ve become buried by silt due to their low positioning.