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.

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.

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.

Birdwatching Update – for Me!

During this month of May, I have twice visited the RSPB’s reserve at Dungeness to bird watch – something I haven’t done per se for many years – my former work and time always requiring me to look at the ‘bigger scene.’ Presumably due to our changing climate, these two outings were something of an update for me personally. Firstly, I saw a pair of Great Egret fly across a marsh, these, I have never seen in this country.  Awhile later I witnessed 5 hobbys in view at once!  These used to be fairly rare summer visitors but are now more numerous.  These falcons have spectacular powers of flight, they being able to catch swallows and dragonflies.

Great Egret


Hobby with prey

Just before I was about to get out of bed this morning, another new birding experience – that of laying in bed and watching swifts hawking high above the big oak immediately at the end of the garden – lazy twitching!

 

 

 

 

Crows and Hot Weather

I have been watching with interest across the past few weeks of this heatwave, the behaviour of the carrion crow population in a part of Seaford that I frequent.

The local crow population near the seafront area (who appear to be rather benign, urban relations of the rural hunting type that I’m more familiar with) and seem very social together.  They number up to some 15 birds and here is the point of interest, spend much of the hotter part of the day on neighbouring roofs and ridges in an attempt to stay cooler in the slight breeze that these higher vantage points presumably provide.

A West Dean Garden and Elm Loss

Saturday, July 7th.  Had a beautiful, enjoyable afternoon, including a trip down Memory Lane!  Went to an Open Garden event in aid of the Family Support Group at The Long House in West Dean near Seaford.  The owners have over the past six years created an extensive, beautiful but compartmentalised cottage garden containing a wide variety of plants.

Part of the garden at The Long house.

After, we visited the nearby churchyard and church.  I used to know the village well and a number of its then inhabitants when I lived and worked over the hill at Exceat during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Upon leaving the village spotted one of the last fair-sized elms in the area starting to die from Dutch Elm Disease.  Further up the valley at Lullington and especially sad for me, one of the last sizable elms has at last surrendered to this dreadful disease. It is the only example in the area of a Smooth-leaved Elm of the variety diversafolia.

Variety ssp. diversafolia back in 2012.

I managed the East Sussex Dutch Elm Control project between 1997 and 2004.  Due to mis-management and cost-cutting, it unraveled two years later and failed, after a total of some 30 something years and the expenditure of millions of pounds of public money.

Ash Dieback – Latest News

As I drive about here in Sussex and further afield, I often notice dying ash trees and from time to time whole groups – especially of smaller semi-mature trees: the wooded downland escarpment above Eastbourne; Filching, Glynde, Jevington; even west Wales.  Judging from the large numbers,  I can only assume ash dieback is the cause.  Added to this is the stress being caused by the current hot, dry weather exasperating many diseased and weakly trees of other species.

https://www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara.  (You can also report diseased ash trees via this link).   Confirmed findings as at midday on 1st June 2018:

10-kilometre grid squares with one or more Hymenoscyphus fraxineus (Chalara) infections confirmed in the wider environment:

  2012 2013 2014 2015 2016  2017  2018  Total % of all 10k squares in country
Scotland 7 5 33 125 10 27 12 219 19.9%
England 82 60 161 224 310 86 29 953 64.8%
Wales 0 2 5 31 96 64 13 211 79.6%
N Ireland 0 0 0 0 17 0 0 17 9.1
Isle of Man  0 0 0 1 1 0 1 7.1
UK (total) 89 67 199 380 433 178 54  1401 46.2%

 

The progression of numbers and appearance of new grid squares over time should not be interpreted as an indication of the rate of spread of the disease. It only indicates when infection sites were found, not when the fungus first arrived at the site, which in many cases cannot be known.

Symptoms

 

Video hosted by external party

Because ash trees have many genetic variants and occur right across the UK, they come into leaf at different times. Ash is also one of the last tree species to flush, sometimes taking as long as six weeks to do so, and can often occur as late as the end of May. Trees in the colder north flush later than trees in the warmer south. Some ash trees will break-bud, or flush, earlier than others, and some buds will produce flowers rather than new shoots. Some variation will be more apparent in older trees.

Some shoots on ash trees will fail to flush altogether, while others will flush normally before showing signs of ill-health or dieback later. These events might mean that the trees are damaged in some way, but shoot death and dieback in ash trees can have a number of causes.

So if an ash tree does not have any leaves on it in April and May, it does not necessarily mean that it is diseased or dying, but by mid-June all healthy ash should be in full leaf.

Mid- to late summer (August and September) is a good time of year to undertake surveys, because once autumn has begun, visual symptoms can be confused with leaves that are naturally changing colour.

ASH KEYS (Fraxinus excelsior)

In the autumn you might see clumps of sometimes dark-coloured ash keys (seeds), retained on the trees after the leaves have fallen. This is quite normal, but from a distance they can be mistaken for the blackened leaves which can be a symptom of the disease.

Reporting suspected cases

Tree Alert icon If you think you have spotted the disease, please check our symptoms section before reporting it using Tree Alert or one of the Further Information contact points below.

The science

Chalara is caused by a fungus called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. This fungus has two phases to its life-cycle: sexual and asexual. The asexual stage, which grows in affected trees, attacking the bark and girdling twigs and branches, was the first to be described by science, and was originally called Chalara fraxinea. This gave rise to the common name of the disease which it causes.

The sexual, reproductive stage, which was only discovered some years later, occurs as tiny, mushroom-like fruiting bodies on infected rachises, or stalks, of the previous year’s fallen leaves. Infective spores from these fruiting bodies are spread by the wind on to the leaves of healthy trees in summer. This sexual stage was initially called Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus (H. pseudoalbidus) before a taxonomic revision suggested the name should be Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. The International Botanical Congress has also agreed that a single fungus should have only one name, even if different stages of the organism have previously been given separate names. Therefore Hymenoscyphus fraxineus is now widely accepted as the name to use.

Government scientists have set out the most up-to-date understanding of the disease. Their assessment concluded that:

  • the spores are unlikely to survive for more than a few days;
  • spore dispersal on the wind is possible from mainland Europe;
  • trees need a high dose of spores to become infected;
  • spores are produced from infected dead leaves during June to September;
  • there is a low probability of dispersal on clothing or animals and birds;
  • the disease will attack any species of ash;
  • the disease becomes obvious within months rather than years;
  • wood products would not spread the disease if treated properly;
  • once infected, trees cannot be cured; and
  • not all trees die of the infection – some are likely to have genetic factors which give them tolerance of, or resistance to, the disease.

Preliminary results from testing of selected fungicides for treating ash trees with Chalara dieback of ash for their efficacy in laboratory tests and field trials are now available on the Defra website.

Origins

The fungus is believed to have originated in Asia, where Asian species of ash are able to tolerate it after of thousands of years of co-evolution.

It entered Britain on ash plants imported from nurseries in continental Europe. However, now that infected, older trees have been found in South-East England with no apparent association with plants supplied by nurseries, it is thought possible that it also entered by natural means. These include being carried on the wind or on birds coming across the North Sea and English Channel, or on items such as footwear, clothing or vehicles of people who had been in infected sites in Continental Europe.

Video: history of the pathogen.

Last updated: 5th June 2018