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Thursday, 3 December 2015

Under Beacon, a reserve in transition

by Nick Sherwin.

The last area of woodland was cleared from the Under Beacon reserve in 2013 allowing the planned cattle grazing to be implemented across the reserve. But in early 2015 the plan was interrupted owing to the discovery of TB in cattle within Sussex leading to a lockdown. We were therefore unable to bring cattle into the reserve in the Spring.

When the trustees visited the site in June growth was accordingly higher than had been planned. The flora was however more varied as a result. Calcareous grassland indicators such as horseshoe vetch were interspersed with more typical woodland species such as white bryony, bittersweet and wood sage and indicators of ground disturbance, probably resulting from the woodland clearance itself, such as field forget-me-not and corn mint.

As the grazing regime becomes established the grassland species will become more dominant in accordance with the trust's objectives.

The following floral species were identified in the reserve:
Cat's Ear
Common Nettle
Common Sorrel
Common Spotted-orchid
Common Toadflax
Common Valerian
Common Vetch
Corn Mint
Creeping Buttercup
Deadly Nightshade
Dwarf Gorse
Fairy Flax
Field Forget-me-not
Field Mouse-ear
Greater Knapweed
Hedge Bedstraw
Hemp Agrimony
Hoary Ragwort
Horseshoe Vetch
Lady's Bedstraw
Marsh Thistle
Meadow Buttercup
Ploughman's Spikenard
Red Clover
Ribwort Plantain
Rough Hawkbit
Smooth Tare
Spotted Medick
Traveller's Joy
White Bryony
White Campion
White Clover
White Mullein
Wild Angelica
Wild Parsnip
Wood Sage

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Winter work parties, December 2015

'Chalky' 25 November
The winter work parties began in October and are now a regular Wednesday morning feature again for volunteers at Heyshott escarpment. Scrub is being cleared along paths and in bowls so that cowslips, primroses and violets can spring up and provide an enticing place for Duke of Burgundy and Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterflies to lay their eggs next year.
the crew 25 November
Paul, Andy, Mike, Mike, Naomi with Colin behind the camera
work party 2nd December:
Nick raking
Firemeister Andy burning greenery
Paul working while Mike & John chat
Mike back at work

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Looking Back On The Winter Of 2014/2015

Although there will be one more Wednesday meet, to tidy up, the work party season of winter 2014/2015 is all-but-over. The cutting, strimming, heaving, raking and burning has been done. On behalf of both the Murray Downland Trust and Butterfly Conservation, I would like to say "thank you" to everyone who has given so generously of their time, and for their relentless enthusiasm.

 L - R: John Murray, Nick Sherwin, Katrina Watson, Garry Philpott, Nigel Symington, Colin Knight

A huge amount has been achieved and the Heyshott Escarpment reserve has not looked better since long back in the 20th Century. A varied mosaic of different habitat types, at different stages of vegetative succession, now awaits the appearance (and appreciation) of Heyshott's butterflies, and a wide range of other fauna and flora.

We have it all; open chalk grassland, scrubbier areas of different age groups, scalloped woodland edges, and small blocks of Beech, Ash and Yew. I am more excited than ever by the prospects for another season here.

Following an autumn phase of wider scrub control, most effort has been directed at clearing a 0.5 hectare area of dense coppice and secondary woodland in Compartment 10. The steep, hummocky topography revealed for the first time in many decades, leading down to a newly fashioned, 'soft' woodland edge, has created a future hotspot, in both senses.

Sheltered from the elements on four sides, the temperature rises here quickly, as soon as the sun shines. The butterflies and many other invertebrates are going to love it! I foresee trouble. Both the Duke of Burgundy and Pearl-bordered Fritillary will want to command this space. Given the highly pugnacious nature of the male 'Duke', violence is inevitable.

Primrose and Cowslip are not the only plants now bursting forth in abundance. The Common Dog-violet, food-plant of the Pearl-bordered Fritillary, is common in some areas. Despite the broadly north-facing aspect of the escarpment, the topography of humps and deep hollows also provides warmer, south-facing slopes. Where the violets grow amongst sparse vegetation and dried plant debris, ideal areas exist for the fritillary's caterpillar to develop.

The wait will soon be over.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

In Praise Of Primula

As I descended through the Heyshott Escarpment MDT reserve this afternoon, following another successful work party, I couldn't help but notice the abundance of Primula plants now pushing through the turf. Both of our most common species, Cowslip (P. veris), and Primrose (P. vulgaris), are food-plants of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly's caterpillar.

Cowslip is the dominant species across the open slopes, where the Duke is already thriving, but Primrose has always been typical of the more heavily wooded parts of the reserve. Both species thrive in the lowermost pit, near the 'Camel's Humps'.

The extensive strip of derelict coppice and secondary woodland in the coombe, which was cleared by MDT and Butterfly Conservation volunteers a few years back, has been developing an increasingly diverse and favourable ground-flora over the last couple of seasons. Back-breaking management work with hand-tools is now being supplemented with grazing, and the recent visit by Belted Galloway cattle has certainly brought things along very nicely.

Although there has always been a reasonably good flush of Primrose along the lower side of the coombe track, until this spring the cleared slope was relatively poor in this species. How things have changed!

This afternoon, John Murray and I spent some time spotting the new Primrose plants which are becoming widely established above the track, particularly at the southern end of the coombe. Last spring there were few; now there are many. If the Duke of Burgundy can be tempted to use this slope as a breeding area, we will have the species in two distinct habitat types, and using both of its food-plants. That would bring extra security to the population - and lead to even greater numbers. Fingers crossed!


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Devil's Jumps MDT Reserve Features In South Downs National Park Photographic Competition

I was delighted to find one of my images of the Devil's Jumps MDT Reserve amongst the runners-up in the South Downs National Park 2014 Photographic Competition. The theme was 'Hidden Gems', and this stunning collection of large, Bronze Age bell barrows certainly fits the bill. Even more so, if like I was, you are ever fortunate enough to be there when the midsummer sun sets in alignment with their linear arrangement.

I had waited for many years to see this, unhindered by cloud, but the wait was more than worthwhile. It provided a truly magical moment, spent in a truly magical place. Read more about this site in the earlier article 'The Devil's Jumps and Humps'.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Hitting The Hotspot

Today (4th February 2015) saw a good turn-out of Murray Downland Trust and Butterfly Conservation volunteers at the weekly work party. We have been concentrating on the same area for several weeks now, and a similar effort will be required to finish this particular task.

I'm very optimistic that the area we are currently clearing will become a hotspot for the Duke of Burgundy butterfly. Prior to a change in the direction of habitat management in 2007, this threatened species occurred in very low numbers (fewer than five on the best days), and all were seen in and around the small pit which can be seen behind the group of volunteers in the second image. I have often referred to this area as the Duke's 'Alamo', where it hung on tenaciously until, in this case, help arrived in time. The butterfly picked this last stronghold for a good reason; it must provide the very best conditions for the species anywhere on the hill.

As we are clearing the immediately adjacent areas, with similar topography and microclimate, the hope is that the Duke of Burgundy will thrive here, once suitable vegetation becomes established over the next three or four years. The restoration of 0.5 hectare of chalk grassland in this particular spot may be worth 2.0 hectares elsewhere.

After achieving a great deal and heading for home, our group descended through the lowermost pit, only to be met by some new arrivals. A dozen Belted Galloways had been delivered, on transfer from the National Trust. These hardy, light-weight cattle will be tackling the regrowth of scrub and some coarser grasses over the next few weeks.

The next work parties are scheduled for Wednesday 11th and Thursday 19th February - all welcome.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Garden event and plant sale May 9

MDT garden event 2014
The Murray Downland Trust will hold a garden event and plant sale at Casters Brook, Mill Lane, Cocking, West Sussex GU29 0HJ on Saturday 9th May. 

Opening time will be from 11.30 am to 4.30 pm. 

Various activities are being planned to take place over the day in a beautiful garden setting close to the Church. 

Please put the date in your diary and we look forward to seeing you on the day.

To view photos from last year's event: click here.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Winter work parties

5 November, 2014
The work parties at Heyshott escarpment have been running since October, though we have lost quite a few days due to inclement weather. We meet mostly on Wednesday mornings when MDT and Butterfly Conservation members join forces to maintain existing habitat and create new areas for the primulas to grow. Primroses and cowslips are the foodplant of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, which is the object of the conservation work. Belted Galloway Cattle were moved onto the hill for a period to graze and create the optimum grassland for primulas.
October 1, 2014:

Belted Galloway Cattle

5 November, 2014:

11 November, 2014:

16 December, 2014:

14 January, 2014:

early primrose