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 includes four acres of a large adjoining block of ancient woodland.  This is composed mainly of ash with some mature 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.

 

Monday, March 23 and another harbinger of spring made itself known – a chiffchaff calling 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.

The wood has been so wet this winter!  Being situated on Ashdown Clay which provides little drainage, it has 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 and being on north-facing slope, the cottage and the woods are being buffeted by a strong and quite cold north-easterly wind, sunshine and hail, making the air feel relatively quite bitter; we’ve resorted to firing up the wood burner!

Future of the Exmoor Pony Grazing Scheme

The well-loved sight of Exmoor ponies at Hastings Country Park is coming to an end with the ponies being removed.  The Sussex Pony Grazing Conservation Trust who manages the ponies has told the council their organisation now has an uncertain future and they will no longer be able to manage the ponies.  As a result they are moving them to a different location.  The ponies have been grazing the slopes and glens of Hastings Country Park for the last six years.  Their conservation grazing habits have transformed Warren Glen from a bracken dominated habitat to one where native coastal grassland and heather now dominates.

Cllr Colin Fitzgerald said: “We are really sorry the Trust is taking to ponies away. They have been a great attraction for the public and they have done a fantastic job of recovering threatened and rare coastal habitats.  As a conservation tool, they have been invaluable in helping the council retain their green flag awards and receive a special award for conservation grazing from the Keep Britain Tidy Group.  However, we wish them well in their new home.  We will be contacting other organisations to see if we can bring another set of ponies to the reserve “

Exmoor ponies are particularly suited to the rugged terrain of Hastings Country Park and they have become a familiar and well-loved site at the Country Park.  Together with the Belted Galloway cattle they form the conservation grazing backbone for managing the rugged and inaccessible areas of Hastings Country Park.”

The background to this story is that once I had retired in 2017, the Trust’s small, voluntary, long-serving but wherried committee had served for far longer than they had expected to and were in a sense, burnt-out.  On the ground, there simply wasn’t the continuing level of commitment or mental drive that I had as founder, this not being helped by a general failing to continue to engender in the Lookers (volunteers) a feeling of involvement and not using their co-operation with sharing some of the practical elements of the fencing and gathering-in work that was required.  Additional practical concerns were, a small vociferous section of the dog-walking fraternity on Eastbourne’s coastal downland objecting to the essential temporary electric fencing.  Another factor has been the increasing storminess of our weather due to climate change, increasing the struggle to maintain this fencing in a stock-proof condition during stormy weather thus ensuring that the ponies didn’t break-out and put themselves and possibly motorists, at risk.

October 2016. Ponies grazing at Shooters Bottom near Beachy Head.

The current position of play at present is that the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust will announce its formal winding-up by the coming autumn and nearly all the remaining 65 ponies being split three ways – 22 having already been purchased by farmer Duncan Ellis for use on the chalk downland of the Folkington Estate which they tenant and along the Firle Escarpment SSSI Continue reading

Thursday, July 25th – A Storm Arrives

The weather suddenly turned quite dramatically here early this evening, this happening on the hottest day of the year – indeed at Cambridge, it breaking the all time UK record for the hottest day, it reaching 38.7C (101F) and here reaching about 32/33 degrees C…
Late-afternoon, and the sky had gradually changed from broken cloud to menacing dark-coloured clouds, this change approaching from the SSW.  At 5-55pm, a few heavy spots of rain began to fall, thunder and lightning seen and heard about 4-8 miles away out to sea to the SE, the eye of the storm about to miss the Hastings area and probably making landfall towards the Rye area to the east.  By now, fairly torrential rain was falling, the street gutters now swollen.  But the South wind!  Firstly, a large area of sea perhaps 2-3 miles out to the SE took on a whitish, almost misty appearance – it being whipped-up by the wind.  The sea generally at about the same time, went from a deep blue, a little choppy with some ‘white horses’ to within 10 to 15 minutes, a wild, winter seascape – the sea becoming completely quite rough and dichromatic with the countless crests of white-topped waves!  I have been lucky through life to have witnessed the sea in many of its moods but I have never witnessed such a dramatic change, within such a short period of time!
By 6-15pm the situation had peaked, the storm having passed by and over the following 10 minutes the wind abated, the sea quickly calming again and becoming a settled blue again by about 6-25pm.

Tuesday’s Dramatic Sky Observations

Tuesday, June 18, and from my fairly high bay-window vantage point, a number of notable weather and astronomical observations were in evidence…

The day started off greyish, quickly brightening up through the morning.  From late-morning until late into the afternoon it was very humid.  During this same period, far out towards the seaward horizon, lay a thick band of brown, polluted air that was quite distinct with the unaided eye, probably arising from the dirty fuel that most ships still use.

Late-afternoon and the sky clouded over.  (Mid-evening and the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth 2 sailed down Channel making for St.Peters Port).  Late evening, and very low over the far south-eastern horizon the full moon – minus a day, slowly rose from out the blackness – it probably being the most blood-orange-coloured moon I have ever witnessed in my entire life!  Fantastic!

As it slowly rose in the heavens, it was consumed by the storm clouds of a fierce  electric storm which radar showed to have developed over the mid-Channel on air coming out of the Cherbourg peninsula, this drifting north-eastwards and clipping Sussex and Kent, there being much intense fork lightning, thunder, a stiffening breeze accompanying the intense rain that arrived just after 11pm, the roads resembling rivers.  The storm then slipping away some 40 minutes later.  What a spectacle!

Beautiful June 1st!

Saturday June 1st and what a stunning start to the month – perhaps it will turn out to be a proverbial ‘flaming June?’  During the morning we walked up over Seaford Head.  The first image shows the difference where Sussex Wildlife Trust have winter-cut the invasive tor grass and where not; note the cut, flower-rich lower RH side of image against the rank LH side of the image.

 

On the bare chalk area on the Hawks Brow area, noticed at least 6 vertical seems of flint within the chalk, flint normally having been deposited horizontally within the bedding of the chalk.  Note one of these peculiar features running from right of centre at bottom of image towards right of person, the adjacent chalk being more eroded towards the cliff edge and so highlighting it better.
Attended the Southease Open Gardens event.  Some idyllic houses and beautiful gardens, all set-off in a quintessentially English fete-like atmosphere, accompanied by the brilliant The Maestro Big Band from Newhaven playing 40’s swing music.

Staying In An Countryside Idyll.

Well, here we are in the far west of Wales in the Gwaun valley nestling below the Preseli Hills Mountains; the weather is wall to wall sunshine, not too hot at the moment but that might change…

On the drive down on Friday, 22nd taking the scenic route to the north of the Brecon Beacons, we saw many dying ash trees – ash dieback I wonder?  Upon arrival at our little cottage, greeted by swallows, house martins and swifts!  Indeed, upon driving around, there are quite a number of swifts over countryside and the local towns -so this is where all our swifts are?

Geologists list it as one of most important meltwater channels in Britain from the last Ice Age.  The valley is pure rural idyll, thick with beech and hazel, ash and oak.  Sightings of pied flycatcher, wood warbler, redstarts, marsh tit, nut hatch and tree creeper are recorded.  We watch from the cottage, buzzards, kite and (our) four young swallows on the overhead cable opposite.

Up on the mountains, bog aspodel, sundew, cotton grass, heathers, western gorse(?) and a small pink flower I shall have to look up upon my return oh and ponies!  Farming appears to be fairly benign , it mostly on the intermediate middle ground just above the valley.  The road verges are quite floristically rich – the foxgloves are spectacular at the moment!

November Sightings

Tuesday, November 7In the morning, one of the largest container ships in the world passed down Channel off the Sussex coast.  She was enroute to Southampton on her outbound voyage from Europe after sailing from China via Sri Lanka while on her first round voyage.  The Milan Maersk is one of the largest vessels of her type in the world with a capacity for 20,568 containers – that’s nearly 400 containers more than the previous largest.  In 2016 the largest container vessel calling in Southampton had a capacity for 16,000 containers.

Maersk Milan. Image Credits: ABP Southampton.

The megaship belongs to the second generation of Maersk Line’s Triple-E class (Economy of scale, Energy efficient and Environmentally improved) and is part of a series of eleven container ships, which will be delivered by the end of 2018.  Milan Maersk’s propulsion and software system creates energy savings which aims to reduce carbon emissions per container vessel by 35 percent.  This new generation of more efficient and environmentally friendly container ship joins LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) and solar powered RoRo vessels already visiting the port of Southampton.  For more technical information see    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maersk_Triple_E-class_container_ship  ).

Thursday, November 9.  With thick grey cloud overhead at daybreak, there was a clear, fabulously-coloured sky out at sea towards the south-east, creating brilliant blue skies with a golden sun surrounded by bright vermilion skies, casting bronze hues on the autumn-tinted trees near my house.

 

October Sightings

Saturday, Oct 7th.  During a grey, damp morning, I saw two groups of brent geese numbering perhaps 150 birds passing Hastings, battling head-on into the the strong westerly wind and presumably on passage from perhaps Siberia to spend the winter at somewhere like Langstone Harbour further along the coast.

Sunday, Oct 15th.  We went walking up on to Seaford Head and in the vicinity of ‘Puck’ Church’ were rewarded for in excess of 10 minutes by a peregrine jousting with a raven above the cliffs.  A sheer speed that the peregrine came in at for some of its attacks!

Monday, Oct 16th.  Very mild today!  Late afternoon today, daylight became quite weak and semi-darkness descended to be followed at dusk by a strange light – a kind of dirty orange light in the SW sky.  All due to the passing of tropical Storm Ophelia (producing near hurricane force winds) over Ireland, it also carrying north much dust from the Sahara and smoke particles from wild fires in northern Portugal.

Saturday, Oct 21st.  A gale (Storm Briane) and a spring tide produced some huge waves along the beach at Seaford, with the strandline out in the road in places.  Newhaven breakwater also took a pounding as can be seen in the following Facebook pic by Fergus Kennedy.

Tuesday, Oct 31.  Two large (each some 1,200 gross tons) Dutch-based(?) but British flagged trawlers, have been working some 10 miles off the coast from Hastings all day.  Not what the Hastings beach-based fleet wants to see?