Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My 2014 in Uckfield nature photos

It's the last day of the year. The morning was frosty and bright and I scurried out just long enough to set up the butterfly box that a neighbour had given us for Christmas. Back in the warm my eyes drift over the reviews of 2014 and I find myself thinking about the pleasure our local wildlife has given me.

This year, thanks to getting involved with surveys such as the great garden bioblitz and the Uckfield Neighbourhood Plan I have learnt a great deal about the wildlife in our garden and town.


In the early part of the year, the foul weather kept most of the wildlife away - we just had the occasional fox paddling through.

Fox photographed on 29 January.
At the end of the month, I took part in the annual Big Garden Birdwatch, otherwise known as birds disappear from our garden day.


In the garden, the frogs spawned in the first week of February. Further afield, it's roll our sleeves up time as the Lime Aid group trimmed the suckers that would otherwise weaken the trees in Lime Tree Avenue.

Before and after of one of 'my' trees.


The sun came out properly and butterflies flitted between the early flowers.

The peacock chose the most bedraggled daffodil in the garden


Two fallow bucks started to visit the garden at night.

Two fallow bucks photographed 18 April.

Nature was certainly in a rush. This year, the bluebells were amazingly early being in full flower by the end of April.

Bluebells in Views (Williams) Wood


I couldn't resist this lovely traditional phone box surrounded by wild flowers.
Phone box near station pub.
 If there's one thing more special than wild orchids, it's finding them on the estate where I live.
Wild orchids on a housing estate.


I took part in the Bioblitz, noting all the wild plants and creatures that I could find in our garden. This was something of a breakthrough for me because I started to try and identify the insects and other small creatures in the garden rather than sticking to flowers and larger animals.

Taking part in the Bioblitz.
The two fallow deer that have been visiting Manor Park gardens turned up and posed nicely for the count.
Two male fallow deer.
The badger, who has been a total diva this year, turned up too late to take part.
Badger, in our Manor Park garden.


I rescued George from a path near out house and put him near some birch leaves.

An alder moth caterpillar.

After years of seeing perfect semicircles cut into leaves in our garden, Ryan Clarke kindly identified the bee responsible. This deserves a toast - so, bottoms up!

Leaf-cutter bee on teasel.


Along with thousands of people across the country, I took part in the Big Butterfly Count.

A delicately marked small blue was one of 10 species in our garden.
One garden visitor that I became aware of was the common carder bee - for all the world like a tiny, fast-moving teddy bear.
A common carder bee on verbena.

 It was so wet that one morning I found a newt on Uckfield High Street.
Smooth newt.


I carefully cleared cultivated garden plants that had invaded my wild patch and planted some 'weeds' - because that's how I roll.

Newly planted ladies bedstraw.

Naturally, the butterflies and beetles preferred Mum's verbena to my carefully selected native wildflowers.

Painted lady on verbena.


I joined the Uckfield Neighbourhood Plan environment group and thanks to the generosity of others, I found out much more about places for nature in Uckfield. Nearer to home, I created a bug hotel from a broken planter and a pile of old prunings.

Bug hotel.


It's all about the mellow colours of Autumn.

View of Oast House and allotments from bypass.

As the warm, damp weather continued, fungi seemed to spring up everywhere. The ones shown are not the most colourful but they are the most appropriately named.

Herald of winter fungi in Holy Cross church yard.


As we approached Christmas, I was surprised to find honey bees in the garden.

One of 6 honeybees on our mahonia.
Coming to a close - how could I round this up with anything other than our seasonal favourite?

Robin on our hazel, 14 December.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Views (Williams) Wood - Autumn Fungi

In my previous post about Views (Williams) wood, I talked about pulling up Balsam to make more room for native wild flowers.  Now we are at the end of October and the last of the flowers including some remnants of balsam are fading. The dense green canopy of summer leaves is gently turning amber and thinning out. As my eyes follow falling leaves to the woodland floor I see new colours and shapes in the rusty carpet.  After recent rain and warmth, large numbers of fungi are appearing. I'm not very sure about identifying fungi so all of the names in the following are my best shot.

The Woodland Trust have cleared some of the rides, to allow light to trigger wild flowers, and left some of the logs to provide natural habitats. Corel spot, a fungus I sometimes see in our garden, dots some of the rotting wood.

Corel spot on rotting logs.
Not far from where I was working in June, a huge mossy stump looks like a fairy's garden. It is smothered with feather moss and dotted tiny tree-like ferns. Glistening Incap fungi complete this magical picture. 

Glossy inkcap in feather moss
Crossing the river takes us into Buxted Park. Here we find a scattering of Chanterelles and a pretty pink-coloured Bonnet fungus.

Bonnet fungus
In the drier areas there are big parasol mushroons, 6 to 8 inches across. Making our way back between the lakes, we pass an ancient stump. It provides a home to brightly-coloured small staghorn fungi and turkey tail bracket fungi, which jut out from the old wood.

Small Staghorn
As we wind back through the woods, a sudden burst of sunshine turns brown leaves gold. As they fall, the leaves drift around clumps of moss almost smothered by sulphur tufts.

Sulphur Tuft

The wood saved the best until last. Hidden just a few yards from the gate, an old stump is an open jewel box lit up by sparkly fairy inkcaps and clumps of golden fungi.

An unknown yellow fungus and fairy bonnets.
Then home with a cup of tea, a pile of books and the First Nature web site to identify our woodland treasures.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Uckfield's Natural Jewels

Ghyll valleys, orchids and scraps of heath in a 60s housing estate, ancient lanes near the town centre. I never knew there were so many precious natural jewels embedded in our town.

Spotted orchids within earshot on the main road.
I am the newbie in the Environment sub-committee for the Uckfield Neighbourhood Plan and on Tuesday evening, in the Alma pub, we were colouring bits of the Uckfield map green. Our aim was to identify places where “places where humans and significant nature meet” I only really know about a few areas, close to me.  Fortunately through the power of Twitter and Facebook, there was plenty of knowledge at my disposal.  Thank you to everyone to helped, especially “Hex Tor” on Facebook and “SonOfShaleman” on Twitter. 

One of the most obvious places is the Hempstead Meadows Nature Reserve.  Sometimes, when returning to Manor Park from the town, I have cut through there and enjoyed walking through the lovely wild flowers, listening for birds that have come thousands of miles to visit us, and peering into the mysterious pools. On the way home, I walk through Hempstead Lane and Lime Tree Avenue. Old roads and paths like these are less obvious places for nature but they are full of craggy old trees that are both beautiful to look at and provide birds and other creatures with places to nest and live. At the feet of these giants there is a wonderful selection of wild flowers including primroses, bluebells, wild arum and many other favourites.

Belmont Lane - just a minute's walk from the bypass
Another old lane that has been engulfed by the town is Belmont Lane, which runs from Holy Cross Church to the bypass.  I took a quick look at it the other day and found that it is full of big old trees and leads down to an area of woodland containing a pond.

We have some terrific woodlands, most of which can be found on the Visit Woodlands map. I haven’t visited many of these and must make a point of doing so.  Some of the most intriguing are those that are not on map, like the “Riperian” (river bank) wood alongside the River Uck. I’ve been so close to this so many times, yet I’ve only seen glimpses of it.

The river Uck, an important wildlife corridor, in the Bellbrook Estate.
The River Uck and its surroundings contain waterloving plants and wildlife. Because riversides are often left undeveloped they are important wild life “corridors” and breathing spaces. One of my most unexpected Uckfield wildlife moments has been the sight of hares near the Plumbing Centre on the Bell walk estate. Other rivers and streams are important too. The Downlands Farm area has the Ghyll, which meanders from West Park to Budletts. There is also the Ridgewood Stream, which passes the Millenium Green with its great crested newts and glow worms.

Of course people are important too. Here I’m going to take a moment to tip my hat to the marvellous people who have created Selby Meadow, a community garden near the hospital. Their Facebook feed tells how their garden, bug hotels etc. have attracted all sorts of creatures including butterflies and bats to their garden.

Fallow deer bucks in a Manor Park garden.
On Manor Park little areas of green and people’s gardens have created an environment so friendly to wildlife that deer and badgers roam the estate.  Bushes with berries have often provided much needed snacks to waxwings and redwings from Scandinavia. In some of our harsher winters, I have seen fieldfares prospecting across the Dene before coming to our garden to eat some discarded apples. I am told that there is a little area with natural “heath” type vegetation and really must seek it out.

I've been amazed by the variety of habitats in and around our little town. Once again, thank you, everyone, for your help. There is clearly much to discover in our town and I'm sure I'll be picking your brains again soon.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Taming the wild patch

Most gardeners pull out weeds and plant cultivated varieties.  Lately, I’ve been doing exactly the opposite.

We started the wild patch some years ago by sprinkling some wild flower seeds.  The initial results were a bit disappointing because the seedlings were massacred by slugs. However the survivors did well and gave a pleasing display. Since then, the patch has been overtaken by ground cover garden plants and it is long overdue for a clear out.  The photo below was carefully composed to hide the unwanted plants.

Wild patch with teasels, purple toadflax, red valerian, hypericum and many others.
I had been at a loss as to what to do next. After the slow start we had previously, I didn't want to use mixed seeds again. Then I read Alys Fowlers article on stitchwort. The article lead me to the British Wild Flower Plants website where it is possible to buy wild flowers as seeds, plugs or half-litre pots. There were so many lovely wild flowers to choose from I didn’t know where to start.

Newly planted lady's bedstraw.
I have bought my flowers now and have found the British Wild Flower Plants people absolutely lovely to deal with. When I asked about a species that was not on their list, they said they still had a few of those and added it to the list especially for me. We were able to sort out a date when I knew someone would be in to receive my precious plants and the Interlink Express delivered them without any problems or drama.

However, before I could get my wild flowers, I had to have a clear out. I removed all those unwanted plants. While the geraniums are prolific, the euphorbias were the real problem. Their roots run deep, break easily and regrow as soon as you blink. I also removed as much cinquefoil as possible.  Although it is a wildflower, it is a real thug and I wanted to minimize the amount around my new plants.

As I worked through the patch, I was delighted to find just how much the surviving wild flowers had spread. I found myself carefully working round common yellow and purple toadflax, primroses, teasels, hypericum and the tubers of wood anemones. I also got tough with some of the more vigorous wildflowers such as marjoram and bloody cranesbill.  I’ve reduced the amount by about half to give everything else room to grow. All this has taken about half a day each weekend for the last half-dozen weeks.

Meanwhile, I have been deciding which plants to buy. I want to be sure that they have a reasonably good chance of growing well in our garden and so have been looking out for plants that thrive near where we live. 

Newly planted fox-and-cubs (diagonal line from bottom-left to top-right) and scabious, right.
My first “must have” was fox-and cubs, which is an orange flowered member of the dandelion family.  It brightens up many lawns and twittens in the area.  I added field scabious to my list after seeing it growing happily on the bypass.

Peacock butterfly on fleabane, in Ashdown Forest.
I first became aware of fleabane in the car park for Old Lodge nature reserve in Ashdown Forest – a pool of glorious yellow flowers covered in butterflies and hoverflies. Having seen it in Hempstead Lane near the horse rescue, it went on my list. My last purchase for this part of the garden was lady’s bedstraw. I can’t remember where I saw this but I have hopes of it being a good ‘doer’.

I have also sprinkled various seeds including a brightly coloured thistle and some corncockles that, a few generations of plants ago, were given to us by a neighbour.

I’ve deliberately left the edges messy, retaining some of the ground cover plants in those areas.  Partly it’s because, in proportion, they are attractive and partly to give the tiny creatures that live in the patch somewhere to hide and overwinter. Now, all I have to do is wait until the show really starts next summer.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Red Arrows, Devils and Admirals over Uckfield

What a summer it has been for aerial wonders.  In just a few weeks we have had an amazing series of flypasts by aircraft of all sorts. Closer to the ground, birds and tiny insects have been joining the display too.

Belgian Red Devils over Manor Park, Uckfield
On July the 26th the Belgian Red Devils display team flew over Uckfield to mark the unveiling of the memorial to Eugene Seghers. While I waited for them in the garden I enjoyed watching the butterflies, which I had been counting for the big butterfly count, fluttering round our flowers. 

Emperor dragonfly - similar to the one seen in our garden.
As we moved into August, we were honoured by almost daily visits by an emperor. It flew in glittering circles for several minutes at a time, bobbing and dipping as it hunted its prey.  Anything that escaped the attentions of the dragonfly and was still flying at dusk may well have ended up as a meal for the bats that fluttered and swooped round our front garden.

Hoverfly (Volucella Inanis) on our Marjoram

While I was waiting for the Red arrows team to come over, I was entertained by colourful hoverflies buzzing round our flowers.  I’ve been looking at them more closely this year and have identified 10 different species – and those are just the ones that are big and slow enough for me to get a photo.

The Red Arrows - not a great photo but I was pleased to get a camera on them at all.
Towards the end of the some days, swifts screamed overhead. Apparently they never stop flying, not even in sleep.  As summer drifts into autumn, these summer visitors have started their long migration to Africa.

Comma butterfly - a sign that autumn is on its way?
After the wonderful, idiosyncratic procession of aircraft coming away from Shoreham at the end of August, we start to see V’s of geese flying to and from their feeding grounds. Newly minted red admirals and colourful commas herald the coming of autumn.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Big Butterfly Count 2014

It's not often that I get an excuse for wandering round the garden for quarter of an hour but the Big Butterfly Count gave me one. Between the 19th of July and the 10th of August, people all over the country counted butterflies for periods of 15 minutes. This fine example of citizen science is backed by The Butterfly Conservation people. This year’s results can be found on the web site.  

I did 10 counts in our Uckfield garden. Here is my top five countdown ...

At number 5, the Small Tortoiseshells. There were just 3 in my counts but, as a Guardian article explains, their numbers have been very low over the last few years and have recovered due to the wet weather earlier in the year, which boosted the nettles that feed their caterpillars.

Small Tortoiseshell on a dahlia.
We have a joint number 4 this week, with 4 sightings each: Red Admiral and the Ringlets. The Red Admiral was probably the first butterfly I became aware of as a child, as it visited the asters and buddleia in our London garden. I’ve only become aware of the Ringlet this year. The open wings are the colour of fine dark chocolate and it was only when I started looking at the butterflies properly for the count that I realised that they were not Meadow Browns.

At number 3, with 11 records, Large Whites appeared to dance around the garden.  Lovely to see but, in previous years, their caterpillars have wreaked havoc by chomping through nasturtium leaves.

At number 2, with 14 sightings, modest Meadow Browns fluttered round marjoram during the earlier weeks of the count.

Finally, in the lead with 24 sightings, orange and brown Gatekeepers, seemed to explode from beneath my feet almost every time I walked across our shaggy grass.


We have had a super variety of butterflies in the garden this year.  This chart shows the totals from my 10 counts.

Sadly there are some absences such as Holly Blue and Small Copper. We can only hope that they’ll be back another year.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Views (Williams) Wood - Repelling the invasion

A little while ago the Woodland Trust asked for some volunteers to help Sandra, of the TrUck project, to remove some of the Himalayan balsam which, in their words, "is getting a foothold in a couple of places within the wood". A couple of months ago I had noticed small seedlings beginning to grow amongst the bluebells and other wild flowers. Now those 'seedlings' are taller than I am. If left to grow and spread, they would soon overwhelm the other wild flowers and cause other problems as explained in The River Uck - not so pretty in pink.
Himalayan Balsam in Views (Williams) Wood.
Unfortunately, I couldn't join the rest of the party so I went and did some by myself. As described in an earlier post, I have done this before and am happy that I can identify the plants properly.  The work itself is reasonably easy, it is just a matter of pulling up these shallow rooted plants and stacking them by the path.  I was there from about quarter past nine and had the wood more-or-less to myself. The only noise was birdsong and church bells, which was lovely.  While I worked in the shade of the trees, I saw many different types of wild flowers including dainty enchanter's nightshade, speedwell and red campion.
Red campion.
As I progressed and the heap of discarded Himalayan balsam got higher inquisitive dogs nosed around my work and their owners stopped for a chat. Later joggers and family groups passed by.
Heap of Himalayan balsam.
After about two and a half hours I went home, having spent an enjoyable morning getting rid of an alien invader - and don't worry - I'm not greedy, there is more balsam for other people to pull up.
Himalayan Balsam and honeysuckle.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Summer bus trip

We’re all going on a summer holiday …

Thank you to Leilani Mitchell of the Link Centre for saying "let's bring a holiday feel into our working week this week shall we? How will you do it ?" So far things I've done have included:
  • remembering to look over the top of my laptop to see the flowers and birds in the garden
  • strolling rather than scurrying to get the paper.
Just very simple things that don't cut into work time but bring a holiday moment into the working day. On Wednesday this was tested a bit. Not only did I have to do my commute to Leatherhead but the trains were cancelled. Eventually, a bus turned up and whisked us off to Haywards Heath.

Rather than getting annoyed at the detours and delays I thought I would enjoy the impromptu summer bus trip. After all, sitting high up in the coach, I was able to see so much more than I usually do when driving.
First - a flash of blue seen from the Uckfield by-pass.  A jay had flown across the road. There are plenty of flowers to see here. Ox-eye daisies, buttercups and, best of all, the unexpected treat of blue meadow cranesbill - I think that's what it was, we were going a bit too fast to see it properly.  As we swept on towards Haywards Heath I was able to see over hedges into fields with contented black and white cows and sheep. Near Chailey Heritage, I spotted the Exmoor ponies that graze the common, keeping the vegetation under control.

Wild orchid amongst flowers and grasses like the ones I saw from the bus.
Some fields are ungrazed and rich with white and yellow flowers stud the ripening, hazy purple-gold of the grass. Just before we entered Haywards Heath I was thrilled to see a field full of wild orchids.

Now that was better than getting steamed up about the delay, wasn’t it?