Get an exclusive insight into our work in the south east region and meet some of the people who make it possible.
More than 60 people attended the Arun and Rother Connections project’s Water Matters event at Pulborough Town Hall on Saturday. The aim of the day was to share ideas about water issues locally, and look at finding solutions.
Experts were on hand to give advice about dealing with flooding, drought and finding sites for projects such as rain gardens.
Dr Andy Tilbrook, steering group vice chair of the Pulborough Parish Neighbourhood Plan, used an interactive map to engage visitors and to find out about the issues in their area. He is part of the team working on the Pulborough neighbourhood plan, who hope to put measures in place to address local water issues.
The flow of information certainly went both ways: Pulborough Angling Club, who had a stall at Water Matters, suggested tree-planting on the banks of the Rother to replace lost trees, identified a candidate for the ARC oral history project and volunteered to help deliver ARC’s angling taster sessions.
Another visitor to Water Matters who regularly walks along the river bank suggested improvements to the trail between Pulborough village and the RSPB’s nature reserve at Pulborough Brooks, which are being investigated.
A possible new site for a rain garden, which is basically a shallow depression planted with vegetation for storing rain water, was identified in Pulborough. Dusty Gedge, president of the European Federation of Green Roof Associations, said: “This has been an ideal opportunity to get people involved in making water work in their communities. We are really pleased to have found a possible site for the third of the four rain gardens which will be funded through the ARC project.
“If people can see at first hand what benefits collaborations like this can bring, they pass that message on to other communities and the whole thing snowballs.”
Dusty is pictured below looking for a suitable rain garden site
Rachel Carless, ARC project manager said: “I enjoyed talking to a wide range of people on the day and several areas of potential collaboration with community members and local groups were identified. I am particularly excited about exploring the potential to build the 3rd ARC rain garden at a site we identified in the heart of Pulborough village. The project should benefit from some really excellent local knowledge and expertise.”
Water Matters was run by Communities Matter on behalf of the Arun and Rother Connections (ARC) project. The £2.2m project has received £1.1m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and its partners are the RSPB, Natural England, the Arun and Rother Rivers Trust, West Sussex County Council, the Environment Agency, the Sussex Wildlife Trust, and the Sussex Downs National Park Authority.
RSPB volunteer Dave Braddock has been checking out the butterfly species at the RSPB’s Hazeley Heath reserve in Hampshire. The clue is in the name – Hazeley is part of the RSPB’s heathland restoration programme and one of its many virtues is that it is a haven for rare butterfly species.
Hazeley is a new reserve – only a year old, so finding out all about the habitats and the wildlife is crucial. So far Dave has found 25 different species of butterfly, including rare purple emperors (female pictured right) and grayling, silver studded blues (pictured below right) and the silver washed fritillary.
The Big Butterfly Count begins tomorrow – the ask is for people to go to a wood or a park or a garden and spot butterflies or moths for 15 minutes, and then record what they find at http://www.bigbutt
erflycount.org/about . If you go to https://www.bigbutterflycount.org/species you can identify any if you are not sure what they are.
The count lasts u
the end of August – so there is plenty of time to get out and find out what butterflies and moths are flying
about near you, just waiting to be discovered. Changes in butterfly numbers provide an invaluable guide to the state of the environment.
Here Dave writes about his experience of volunteering and why you should not judge heathland solely by its appearance:
When I had more time on my hands this year I decided to do more volunteering for RSPB. I flicked through the volunteering website and was amazed on the opportunities available to me across the country and beyond. I wanted something more local so after a few pages I came upon several vacancies at the new Hazeley Heath reserve in Hampshire. After an interview with Izzy and Emily I found myself signed up for several volunteering roles. That evening I was telling a friend about what I had done and he replied."Why do you want to volunteer at a heathland for? They are boring!!!"
The next day saw me arriving at Hazeley nice and early and I was confronted with the view below. Perhaps my friend was right. Heathlands are boring!!!. I could have been on an estuary this morning watching and working with the waders instead of being at this barren, lifeless place. Was it too late to change my mind?
The problem with heathland restoration, it is not a pretty sight. You are in for the long haul and need to be patient. I said to myself
volunteering is volunteering. I have a blank canvas here so it can only get better - I will give it a month.
Four months on and I'm still here, loving every minute of it. The last photograph shows the difference. Spring and summer arrived and I am surrounded by a sea of pink. Birds, plants and insects are everywhere. I do work parties with a great bunch, supported and supervised by Isabel Morgan, the warden. Butterfly and reptile surveys are turning up something exciting each visit. Each day I'm there I find something new to look at and photograph. Around every corner there is something waiting for me to discover. I'm the proverbial kid in the sweet shop.
I hope to share with you over the weeks the secrets that I have found.
You can never plan long-term but I'm starting to get really attached to the place, so in years to come when I hang up my volunteering boots I can look back and say Heathlands are boring!!!
Pictures by Dave Braddock
This week has seen the launch of the Square Meal report by City University and partners, including the RSPB. Good food is vital for our health and it is also crucial that it is produced sustainably, and is affordable, and the way farms are managed benefits wildlife and the landscape.
The Pevensey Levels in East Sussex is a unique area of grazing marsh and home to rare species of wildlife, including the Fen raft spider. Marian and David Harding have been farming this land, part of which is a Site of Special Scientific Int
erest (SSSI), for a quarter of a century. The Hardings have 150 cows, mainly British Friesians, at Court Lodge Farm near Wartling, and produce yoghurt for the organic box scheme run by Abel & Cole. They are also part of a network of farmers in the South East working with the RSPB to make conditions on their land as friendly as possible for wildlife. Both are interested in conservation, David was a warden for the RSPB in Northern Ireland after he finished university, and Marian worked for the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS), providing support for farmers around environmental stewardship.
Their principles are knitted in to the day-to-day running of the farm. They grow as much of the cattle’s fodder as they can, rotational crops of peas, oats and wheat, and try to be as self-sustaining as possible.
Court Lodge Farm had been conventionally run when they took it over in 1989, so the challenge was to manage the land sensitively to return some of it to grazing marsh. The Hardings were not able to go over to organic farming until 1998, when the value of organic milk became sufficient to make it viable, thanks to increased demand from the public.
They hit upon producing yoghurt, both set and for drinking and pouring, which is supplied to local businesses as well as Abel & Cole, after a research trip to Holland where people drink a lot of yoghurt and flavoured milk. ”We played around in the kitchen afterwards and tested it out at farmers’ markets,” Marian said. “We thought that Abel & Cole might like our products so we wrote to them and sent them some samples.” That was five years ago and the rest, as they say, is history.
Running an organic dairy farm is hard work and it takes a minimum of two years for the new system to bed in. At first the Hardings had fields full of thistles and tall fescue, which cattle will not eat, but now they have a balance which allows the cattle to graze successfully and the land and wildlife to flourish. “It has been quite a change in the way we run things,” said Marian. “It also affects what you buy in, for example any seed and supplementary feed has to be organic too.”
The Harding’s cows are not calved until they are three, compared to most dairy farms who want them to calve a year earlier.
“We have improved the habitat and made it wetter using sluices and raising the water levels in the ditches in order to attract breeding waders,” Marian said.”We have also created a reed bed area.”
The Hardings are pleased that marsh harriers have bred on their land and a bittern is a visitor, and bearded tits have been seen in winter.
Their young stock graze part of the Pevensey Marsh which the Hardings rent from the Sussex Wildlife Trust, to help manage the land, as they keep the grass short for the lapwings.
By using machinery to dig foot drains, the Hardings also hope to do more tweaking so the land supports more lapwing. A recent audit by the Sussex Wildlife Trust found a number of rare
invertebrates such as the 13 spot ladybird, and they regularly see more common species such as the elephant hawk moth. Five barn owl chicks are currently fledging.
“A farm like ours does not exist in isolation, we have a small local team and we are part of the local economy,” Marian said. “We depend on our customers buying our products to make this way of farming viable.”
The Hardings are a prime example of the way co-operative working and food production have a far reaching positive effect, not only on people’s health but also on the land they look after, safeguarding nature for future generations. http://www.courtlodgeorganics.co.uk/
Pictures: Level best: the British Friesian’s grazing at Court Lodge Farm
Photo by David Harding