News archive

March 2015

Monday, 23 March 2015

National Trust aims to 'nurse British countryside back to health'

National Trust aims to 'nurse British countryside back to health'

The British countryside will be "nursed back to health" by the National Trust under a new £1bn, 10-year plan, which takes the charity far beyond its conventional image of country houses and tearooms.

Decades of poor land management, intensive farming and the loss of habitat have sent wildlife numbers tumbling, with 60% of species declining in the UK over the last 50 years.

Under plans unveiled on Monday, the National Trust has pledged to try to reverse this decline, through its own actions and working with partners. It is one of the biggest land managers in the UK, numbering hundreds of tenant farmers among its estates, as well as woodland, beauty spots, coastline, rivers and historic properties.

It now plans to develop new ways of managing land on a large scale, which it said would benefit farmers, the economy and the environment. These could include providing more habitats for birds, animals and insects to improve their numbers, and measures to protect fragile soils that are under threat from erosion.

Helen Ghosh, director general of the trust, said: "The protection of our natural environment and historic places over the last 100 years has been core to the work of the trust but it has never been just about looking after our own places. The natural environment is in poor health. We can't keep taking it for granted."

Many of the changes the trust wants to make would need 30 years or more to take effect, she said. "This is a long-term commitment, for the benefit of generations to come."

Climate change had become the biggest threat to the National Trust's properties, the charity said, and as well as protecting and repairing buildings to cope with that, the trust would continue its programme of energy efficiency and renewable energy, with a pledge to cut energy use by a fifth by the decade's end.

By then, half of its remaining energy use will be from renewable sources, such as solar power. In the past, the charity's commitment to renewables has come under question from some quarters, because of the opposition to wind turbines of the previous chairman, Simon Jenkins.

Helen Ghosh promised that the next decade for Europe's biggest conservation charity would see it work more with other charities, government, businesses and local communities to "improve the quality of the land and attract wildlife back to the fields, woods and river banks".

Another part of the plan is to help protect public green spaces used by local communities that are under threat from budget cuts.

Tim Parker, chairman of the 120-year-old trust, said: "The National Trust has always responded to the challenges of the time. I believe our founders would be proud of our ambitions and the part we plan to play."

The trust has more than 4.2 million members and there are about 20 million visitors to its sites each year. About £300m will be spent in the next 10 years on clearing the backlog of repairs to its properties, most of which will be open 364 days a year. The charity said it would make major changes at its most visited historic houses that would "transform how we tell the story" of their heritage, which is likely to include more ways for people to use and experience life in the houses rather than simply pass through them on roped-off walkways.

Friday, 20 March 2015



Please return your coach booking forms for the Coach Trip - lots of you have said you would like to come - but we are still awaiting forms. The trip is on 22nd April to the Hawk conservancy trust

Sue Phillips will be there at the meeting on WEDNESDAY 25th March to collect forms and cheques or print off page 3 of the Newsletter (copy below) and send it direct to Sue.

The picture with this is taken by one of our group members on a lovely day after our walk earlier this week - what a great picture.

Thank you everyone -see you all soon

Download file

Monday, 16 March 2015

Langstone Harbour little terns to be attracted by hand-painted models

Langstone Harbour little terns to be attracted by hand-painted models

Conservationists have resorted to hand-painting more than 100 model birds in a bid to draw threatened seabirds back to Hampshire.

Breeding colonies of little terns on the islands of Langstone Harbour on the Solent have dropped from 171 to 31 pairs over the last 30 years.

Wez Smith, from the RSBP, said the models, with recordings of their calls, would hopefully reverse the decline.

The charity has also moved 1,500 tonnes of shingle to the site.

A further eight tonnes of crushed cockleshells could also prove attractive to the birds on Baker's Island, South Binness Island, and The Round Nap.
The RSPB describes the harbour as "home to one of the UK's most important breeding colonies of little terns".

The small, shingle-nesting seabirds travel 6,000 miles (9,656 km) from Western Africa and back each year to breed in the harbour and raise their young on sand eels and small fish.But the nesting sites are vulnerable to storms, predators, human disturbance, and fluctuations in food supply.

The project has raised £160,000 through fundraising, with the models being hand-made by local volunteers. Mr Smith added: "Over the breeding season we'll be monitoring the nesting sites on a continual basis, both via boat and camera, in an effort to head off any unnatural problems."

Saturday, 14 March 2015

House martin in flight

Sussex Ornithological Society need help with House Martin Survey

The house martin is amber-listed within the UK and is listed as of European concern following declines elsewhere in Europe. The primary aim of this national BTO survey will be to produce an estimate of the current UK population, using a method that is repeatable to enable the BTO to measure changes in population size in the future. A secondary aim will be to undertake focused research to address gaps in current knowledge about house martin breeding ecology and how this may vary geographically. It is anticipated that the survey will be complemented by an additional survey in 2016 which will involve the collection of detailed information on nest activity and site and nest characteristics.

Visits to randomly-selected 1-km squares to search for house martin nests will form the main part of the survey. In addition, all observers are encouraged to search for house martin colonies in their local areas.

Volunteers should visit each of their allocated 1-km squares during mid- to late May to identify potentially suitable nesting habitat, to make an initial search for house martin nests, and to speak where necessary to landowners and homeowners about the survey. Two further visits should then be made to each square, one during the period 1 June to 24 June, and another during the period 25 June to 19 July. Each visit should cover all suitable nesting habitat and can be made at any time during the day. Volunteers should map all house martin nesting colonies onto a pre-printed survey form and note details of building types, nest locations and nest aspects as well as counts of occupied and unoccupied nests. For the purposes of this survey a house martin colony is defined as one or more nests on a SINGLE building or structure.

The SOS plans to use some of the data collected through the surveys of randomly-selected squares, together with all other 2015 records of nesting house martins in Sussex, to obtain an up-to-date population estimate for house martins within Sussex, as well as to inform conservation measures for this species within the county. A secondary aim within Sussex will be to collect information on the locations of as many house martin colonies as possible in such a way that these colonies can be surveyed again at a future date to measure change.

All casual observations of nesting house martins in Sussex in 2015 should be reported using the specially-designed SOS recording form available here. Each record should include a six-figure grid reference for a colony on a single building or structure. The same form can also be used to report historical nesting colonies where dates and locations are certain, and to report absences of nests in locations where house martins have nested previously.

Please contact Helen Crabtree ( or 01444 441687) for further information or to be allocated a 1-km square in Sussex to survey for house martins in 2015. The casual record sheet is also available by email on request. The randomly-selected squares in Sussex for which volunteers are currently needed (updated 14/3/2015) are as follows: ( for more information about the SOS - see link below)

SU7008 Leigh Park, Havant

SU7101 Hayling Island
SU7503 Thorney Island
SU7604 Thorney Island

SU8023 Rogate

SU8403 Apuldram

SU8603 south Chichester

SU8713 Singleton

SU8805 Shopwyke, Chichester

SU9207 Crockerhill

SU9417 nr Graffham

SU9506 Fontwell

SU9625 Hoads Common

SU9717 Burton Mill Pond
SU9806 Binsted nr Walberton

SZ7998 nr West Wittering

SZ8098 nr East Wittering

SZ8596 Sidlesham

SZ8799 nr South Mundham
SZ8997 Pagham

TQ0417 nr Pulborough

TQ0616 Wiggonholt

TQ0722 Adversane

TQ0902 Ferring

TQ0916 West Chiltington Common

TQ1205 Salvington nr Worthing

TQ1208 Findon

TQ1213 Washington

TQ1222 Coolham

TQ1426 nr Southwater

TQ1926 Nuthurst

TQ2031 Owlbeech Woods
TQ2432 nr Pease Pottage

TQ2720 Hickstead

TQ3036 Worth

TQ4013 Cooksbridge

TQ4314 Barcombe Reservoir

TQ4413 Norlington, Ringmer

TQ4526 Cackle Street, Nutley

TQ4822 Buxted Park, Uckfield

TQ4900 Seaford

TQ5108 nr Selmeston

TQ5121 nr Blackboys

TQ5209 Chalvington

TQ5303 Milton Street nr Alfriston

TQ5601 Jevington

TQ5813 nr Hellingly

TQ6004 nr Polegate

TQ6116 nr Cowbeech

TQ6205 Hankham

TQ6206 Glynleigh Level

TQ6212 nr Herstmonceux

TQ6318 Rushlake Green

TQ6323 Burwash Common

TQ6517 Churches Green

TQ6625 nr Burwash

TQ6708 nr Hooe

TQ6910 Hooe Common, Ninfield

TQ7021 nr Darwell Reservoir

TQ7419 nr Mountfield

TQ7922 nr Staplecross

TQ8112 Baldslow

TQ8116 nr Westfield

TQ8425 nr Northiam

TQ8517 Lower Snailham

TQ8720 nr Udimore

TV4599 Newhaven

TV4799 west Seaford

TV5398 nr Friston

TV5498 Friston

TV5697 East Dean

Friday, 13 March 2015

Nightingale singing

Celtique Energie withdraw their Appeal

You may well have heard that Celtique Energie the company which had applied to construct an Exploratory Oil/Gas well on land to the south of Boxal Bridge on the borders of the Parishes of Kirdford and Wisborough Green have withdrawn their Appeal and decided not to appeal the decision to reject the same application made at Fernhurst in the South Downs National Park.

At Wisborough Green this application posed a threat to the rare Barbastelle bats which use the area in which to forage and to the 2nd hot spot for nightingales, second to Kent, that is. The survey work undertaken by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in 2012 and 13 concerning the local distribution of the Common Nightingale, Lusinia megarhynchos which is an Amber listed species.

2. The survey work has just been reported on in the Sussex Bird report[1]. This is perhaps one of the most iconic bird species of the area. While, unfortunately, it was found to be declining generally in the UK it was established that this is not the case in Sussex which is now regarded as one of its key breeding areas and which specifically highlights this area of the Low Weald.

3. "The range of Nightingales in the UK is contracting towards the south-east and the continent and it is interesting to note that this range contraction is occurring 'despite a projected northward expansion in response to climate change'" (Balmer et al, 2013).

This area of the Low Weald is now confirmed to be an English Nightingale hotspot (second only to the county of Kent). Within the geologically defined area known as the Low Weald which stretches "from Fernhust and Northchapel in the NW of the county, through Billingshurst, Henfield and Hassocks to Hailsham in the SE of the county. This is an area of small woodlands, fields and hedgerows, generally with clay soils and with an abundance of ponds and small stream valleys.....

Within this broadly-defined range, areas with particularly high densities of Nightingale territories are:
the area west of Billinsghurst including the areas surrounding Kirdford and Wisborough Green.......

and the distribution in the county has become more restricted to the lower and damper areas of the Low Weald and the river valleys in more recent years..... The species has retreated from the higher areas of the High Weald and South Downs National Park and has become more restricted to the lower and damper areas of the Low Weald and the river valleys in more recent years." (Crabtree and Brooks, 2014).

Recent research by Clinton Francis confirmed what we always thought - the noise from industrial developments drives away birdlife and particularly the rarer species.

So we are doubly pleased that Celtique Energie has left this important area alone. They are still present at Broadford Bridge where WSCC gave them permission to drill. They have cleared the site, erected security fencing and the rig is expected shortly.

Dr Jill Sutcliffe

01403 700395

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Wheatear in spring

Radio Four today - Birdsong

At 0720 - there was a piece on Radio Four about bird song
Favourable weather conditions have contributed to the most successful breeding season for blackbirds since records began. Female blackbirds, which, confusingly, are brown, produced more than twice as many chicks last year as in a normal year, according to the British Trust for Ornithology. It said last year was the most productive year for the blackbird in the 75 years in which it has been keeping breeding records Carl Barimore is from the British Trust for Ornithology's Nest Records Organiser.

To listen to the full podcast use the link below.

Meanwhile the first northern Wheatear has been reported at Portland Bill on March 1st - Spring HAS arrived!

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Turtle dove

New research provides farmers with techniques to help turtle dove recovery

A new research study, conducted on six farms across East Anglia, has recommended a new agri-environment management option that could help in the recovery of UK turtle dove populations.
The study, carried out by the RSPB and part-funded by Natural England (through its Species Recovery Programme), found that cultivating grown seed with a mix of plant species in the autumn creates a habitat rich in seed that is easily accessible - ideal for turtle doves, which feed on seeds present on, or close to, the ground.

The authors also suggest that light cultivation or cutting during spring would better prevent the plots from becoming too overgrown and, therefore, unsuitable for turtle doves.

UK turtle dove populations have fallen 88 per cent since 1995, with one cause for this decline thought to be the lack of seed from arable plants, which historically formed the bulk of turtle doves' diet during the breeding season, resulting in a much shorter breeding season with fewer nesting attempts.

This latest research into the management of bespoke seed mixes to provide food for turtle doves, which was published in the Journal for Nature Conservation today, is under consideration as a part of a modified version of the nectar flower mix option under the new Countryside Stewardship scheme and could be pivotal in providing food for turtle doves on farmland across the UK.

Patrick Barker, an arable farmer in Westhorpe, Suffolk, who took part in the study, said: 'It's been great to be involved in this research and to find out how we can give turtle doves a hand. What was particularly striking was that the areas they prefer don't look as you'd expect.

'I hope that our work here will encourage other farmers to do the same, and that this will help turtle doves return to the countryside. For example, we learned that bare patches on the ground amongst the vegetation give them space to land and move around.

This new management option is part of a wider 'turtle dove package', deployed within the Higher Level Stewardship scheme agreements on farms supporting turtle doves (or with turtle doves nearby), which seeks to provide foraging habitat in proximity to nesting turtle doves. The other options in this package include cultivated margins, fallows that promote seeding plants, and scrub and hedgerow management for nesting. The options a farmer selects will depend on local land characteristics and farming practices.

Tony Morris, Senior Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science said: 'This research helps our understanding of how to provide food for turtle doves on farmland where the original sources of seed food have long since vanished but without unduly disrupting modern agriculture.

'Agri-environment schemes offer the best and perhaps last hope for this iconic species. We're hopeful that, together with farmers and our partners in Operation Turtle Dove, we can reverse the decline of this bird and secure its long-term future in Britain.'

Jenny Dunn, Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, said: 'The results of this research show that it is possible to create a 'farmed' habitat structure similar to that used by turtle doves historically - an area with a patchy structure containing both seed-rich plants and bare ground to allow turtle doves to access the seed.'

This study is one of many research papers that was published from scientists at the RSPB's Centre for Conservation Science (CfCS), which celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. The team at the RSPB CfCS aims to discover practical solutions to 21st century conservation problems by identifying important problems, discovering their causes, testing potential solutions and ensuring they work when implemented.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Chasing a changing climate

Chasing a changing climate

Is it better to live in the north or the south? It's a question that even birds are struggling to answer as the climate in different parts of Britain changes in a variety of ways. Scientists have known for some time that global warming is causing the distributions of species to shift. Whether its warmth-loving species like the Dartford Warbler spreading north as our country's temperatures rise, or the cold-adapted inhabitants of our mountains retreating further up hill, the signature of climate change is commonplace. However, researchers are increasingly realising that not all species are tracking the climate in the same way. One reason may be that individual species respond to subtly different aspects of climate, such as temperature or rainfall at critical times of the year. Understanding this will help policymakers to adopt conservation and land management strategies that effectively assist species survival.

BTO scientists compared detailed distribution maps for 122 British birds in 1988-91 and 2008-11 to measure the complex ways in which their breeding distributions have changed. These data, collected in a standardised manner by thousands of volunteer bird surveyors, provide a unique barometer of the impacts of climate change on this one component of British biodiversity. Over these two decades temperatures in spring and summer have increased, which should have pushed species to the north-west if this aspect of climate change is key to their success, whilst higher temperatures in winter should have pushed them to the north and north-east. In contrast, if spring rainfall is critical to species, they should have been pushed to the west. When the BTO scientists looked at how bird distributions had actually changed over this period, they found that birds had indeed shifted to the north, on average by 13.5km, which continued a trend seen in previous decades. However, they also found that more than a quarter of species had extended their ranges to the north-west and north-east, and that almost half had retreated from southerly directions. Overall the range shifts could not be explained by any single climatic factor, leading the researchers to conclude that the distribution changes for British birds are complex, multi-directional and species specific.

Simon Gillings, Head of Population Ecology & Modelling & Principal Ecologist said, "We already knew that bird communities might change because some species aren't moving northwards as fast as others. But if they are also diverging in space, the communities of tomorrow could be very different than those found today."

Dawn Balmer, Head of Surveys commented, "over 10,000 volunteer surveyors undertook special timed surveys to help map bird abundance patterns, but their data have now proved invaluable for these detailed analyses of climate change impacts. It's a brilliant example of citizen science in action."

Some species are apparently adapting to the changing climate, or even benefiting from it. However, others are not and it is not yet clear what impact the arrival of species new to particular areas will have on existing biodiversity. There is therefore still much to learn in order to effectively manage the impacts of anthropogenic climate change on our wildlife.