Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Round straw bales above Riccard's Lane

In the great heatwave of July 2006, the corn was cut and for a long time these huge straw bales stood in the field north of Riccard's Lane. These harvest bales are eternally popular with photographers, perhaps because of their standing stone-like quality: heavy, solid, casting a dark shadow, monumentally arranged across brown summer fields.

When I was young straw came only in the much smaller cuboid bales, or loose in stacks, and there was a period when it was regularly burnt where it lay on the ground. I traveled much by train in those days and the lines of flame and black smoke from burning straw were a familiar feature of the English summer landscape.

Bales like those above suddenly disappear. Perhaps someone can tell me if they go for cattle bedding or some other purpose and why they always seem to stand for a while patiently awaiting collection.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Scentless mayweed (Tripleurospermum inodorum)

I found this plant growing on the edge of the car park for Whatlington Parish Hall in July 2006.

It is scentless mayweed, Tripleurospermum inodorum, often confused in the literature with scented mayweed or German chamomile, Matricaria recutita. In Gylfaginning 12th century Icelandic saga writer Snorri Sturluson explains that because of the whiteness of the petals scentless mayweed is called ‘Baldr's brow’ (Baldr was one of the Viking gods): “He is best, and all praise him; he is so fair of feature, and so bright, that light shines from him. A certain herb is so white that it is likened to Baldr's brow; of all grasses it is whitest, and by it you may judge his fairness, both in hair and in body.”

This plant, or its smellier sister, have been said to cure many afflictions, perhaps drawing on Baldr’s virtues. Both are also frequently confused with true chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile and related plants. It is probably the case that scentless mayweed is little more than an attractive, but troublesome, weed.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Whatlington Road, June 2006

25 December 2006. It is midwinter and a friend has reminded me that I have not added to this blog recently. Well, what better way to counteract that than to add some pictures taken in June to warm up these dark winter days?

Both the above were taken as I walked back along Whatlington Road from the parish hall to the church lay by.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Some plants by the river Line

The pictures above show a few of the plants that grow by the river Line. On the brickwork of the bridge in Whatlington Road I found the lichen Ochrolechia parella (kindly identified by Simon Davey, the Sussex Lichen Recorder).

To the east there are the characteristic trees that line the river, alder and willow. The willows are a form of the crack willow, Salix fragilis, and every time the breeze blows, as in the picture, the leaves ruffle over in a silvery shivering cat's-paw.

The river Line

My next walk took me down Whatlington Road to its lowest point at the river Line. This is little more than a small stream, but at least it is permanently flowing when other small streams in the neighbourhood are now only winterbournes.

Whatlington Village Hall stands beside the river as does their splendid village sign (I remember my friends in the old government Department of Transport used to call such things 'confirmation of arrival' signs).

The river Line rises about five kilometres to the west on the borders of Netherfield and Mountfield parishes and it then flows across a variety of strata including the Purbeck limestone which must make the water quite hard, unusually for the Sussex Weald. To the east it changes to the river Brede at Sedlescombe and joins the Rother at Rye. I think the word 'Line' is probably quite ancient - pre-Saxon and maybe even pre-Celtic. Even if there is no substance in it, I like to reflect that the people who lived here at the time Stonehenge was built might have used a word like 'Line' for this little river and successive generations have simply gone on using it.

The banks of this small stream are lined with alder and willow and rich in waterside vegetation. There is also a good dragonfly population,including the very attractive beautiful demoiselle, Calopteryx virgo.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Whatlington church and churchyard

On my next expedition to TQ7618 I stopped in a small lay-by on Whatlington Road and walked up to Norman church, a tranquil, classically English spot well-hidden from view and probably rather seldom visited.

As with all churchyards I was able to make many new records for the grid
square and wished I had had a lichenologist with me as the walls and gravestones were particularly rich in these plants. The photo shows an example of Diploicia canescens, a common species kindly identified for me by our Sussex lichen recorder Simon Davey.

To the east of the church there was a vineyard with the rows of grape vines stretching neatly down to the Line valley. The quality of the wine may improve (not that I know what it is like now) if the climate gets warmer, but I think it will be small compensation for all the problems it might bring. As it is wine-making in England seems to be a rather precarious way of trying to make a living.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Midsummer Grove

Right at the top of my grid square the map shows the kind of public footpath few would trouble to take (see here). It seems just to be a nondescript short cut across the top of a field from Whatlington Road to the A21.

There is a lay by where this path joins Whatlington Road and, on Midsummer's Day, I ascended the bank to discover that the path led in one direction out into the barley field, but had a short spur leading into a grove of trees in a circular basin, possibly a long-forgotten pond. In the centre there was a small elder tree in full bloom.

Finding a grove such as this on Midsummer Day had a pagan chime about it and it does show that following even the most obscure footpaths can reveal interesting places. A few days later I went there again with our son Charles and brought a piece of decaying birch log away with me to see if I can breed any insects from it. So far the only species to emerge is the fly Rhinophora lepida, a parasitoid of woodlice.

The top picture shows the view from the Midsummer Grove towards the south east.

Monday, July 31, 2006

By the A21 in June

In mid-June I walked up to the junction of Riccards Lane and the A21, the main trunk road to Hastings once known as Windmill Corner (TQ766188). The wide verges here are very rich in wildlife and seem to be the tiny remnants of ancient meadows. On one I found several narrow-bordered five-spot burnets, Zygaena lonicerae latomarginata (middle picture above), as well as the large skipper, Ochlodes venata, and some 'undisturbed grassland' indicators such as fairy flax, Linum catharticum. A detailed survey over a full year would, I suspect, deliver a long species list for this verge.

Yet it is hardly an auspicious spot with fast traffic racing past most of the day and night. I have passed by hundreds of times, often more than once in a day, but this is the first time I have stopped and taken a proper look.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Haymaking, Riccards Farm

My first picture shows the view from Riccards Lane looking south westwards into the valley of the little river Line and across towards Battle. The few houses and church of Whatlington village itself are largely hidden in the trees right of centre.

I took this from a gate leading from the busy A21 road and it is a view I have never had before, though passing within a few metres of the vantage point many times a year.

As W.H.Davies famously said "What is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare ..."

Introduction to Whatlington in TQ7618

I have set up this blog to try and show how selecting a 1 kilometre Ordnance Survey grid square from which to record biodiversity and other things of interest will reveal much that is unexpected.

In most parts of the British Isles, and Sussex is no exception, many 1 km grid squares have very few wildlife records. The main reason is that they appear, from the map at any rate, to be rather nondescript. They may have no nature reserve, country park or Forestry Commission woodland; no large lake or river. Few would aim to undertake a recording expedition to such a place, especially as access often looks poor and restricted.

However, I have found over the years that these squares almost always have hidden delights. Roadsides and little used footpaths often pass through places whose quality as biotopes cannot possibly be divined from an OS map.

Working, as I do, with the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre I know how important it is to gather records from these less visited squares. Rarities might be few, but we need records of every species in the wild to build up as full a picture as possible of wildlife in Sussex and how it is changing.

If you would like to look in detail at an under-recorded square, the Record Centre will gladly suggest one (or more) for you.

For this first excercise I chose a square about 2km from my house, a square I regularly travel through so all I have to do is take a little while out to do some recording. Have a look at it one the map here.

My chosen square lies mostly in Whatlington parish, but there are a few bits of Sedlescombe on the eastern boundary. I did some recording in these years ago as it was part of my own area, but the rest away from the roads is almost all terra incognita. Other than these few records, only 25 species were recorded in the SxBRC, many of these of fish in the river Line.

My main aim is simply to do what is known as a 'walk over' survey, and not look in great detail of some of the larger orders of smaller things. I may perhaps focus on this square for a year and then move on to another square with a new blog. If other recorders would like to join me on my perambulations they would, of course, be very welcome.