This blog is a celebration of the nature in the South East and highlights ways you can get involved and explore nature in the region. If you've got news of the South East’s nature that you'd like to share, please contact the RSPB South East office on 01273 775333 or email SERComms@rspb.org.uk
RSPB Broadwater Warren has had a great breeding year, with threatened species including nightjar, lesser spotted woodpecker and woodcock choosing to raise their young in the carefully managed landscape.
Despite the recent State of Nature announcement, which highlighted the alarming decline of over half (56%) of UK species assessed since 1970, special places for nature including RSPB Broadwater Warren, aim to reduce and even turn around, the fates of species most at risk.
Now, thanks to generous donations of over £50,000 from four environmental organisations, a new Forestry and Wildlife corridor can be created, allowing RSPB staff, and staff from the adjoining Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve to manage a further 100ha of habitat for specialist wildlife, including threatened tree pipit, woodlark and marsh tit.
Donations of £25,000 from Cory Environmental Trust in Britain (CETB), £20,000 from Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust and a further donations of £7,700 from the Sussex Ornithological Society and £4,480 from The Chalk Cliff Trust will mean the work can commence this autumn and should be fully completed by next July.
Nick Feledziak, Assistant Warden of the RSPB’s Weald reserves said:
“Creating this corridor will help us to improve woodland management for threatened species, such as lesser-spotted woodpecker, spotted flycatcher and the EU protected hazel dormouse. Allowing more sunlight to the woodland floor will provide habitat for wildflowers, pollinators and birds that depend on scrub for nesting, cover and foraging.”
The track will also help visitors to get closer to the hidden nature already present at the reserve. Seating will be added around a newly created wildlife pond, near the reserve’s veteran oak, which is over 300 years old and home to many birds and insects.
Angela Haymonds, Trust Secretary for both Ibstock Cory Environmental Trust and Cory Environmental Trust in Britain, said: “The Trustees of both ICET and CETB are delighted to be helping the RSPB to further protect our precious wildlife. We hope the corridor will help to further improve the growth of threatened species for many years to come.”
Winter might seem a quiet time for wildlife, but if you visit our nature reserves you might be surprised at how much you can see!
In winter, our reserves are teeming with life. Flocks of hungry waterfowl are gathering in our inland pools, and mice, squirrels and smaller birds are making the most of the late berries and nuts. With less leaves on the trees and bushes you might even find it easier to spot something you’ve never seen before!
And it’s not just wildlife that is in for a treat at our South East reserves, in addition to our usual nature trails, we have some great seasonal attractions for humans too.
On Saturday 3rd December, We invited people to Pull a pine at RSPB Farnham Heath in Surrey and help us restore our historic heathland. Visitors helped clear Scots pine saplings and choose one to take home to decorate; a free Christmas tree straight from the heath! More than 2oo people helped maintain the reserve's open heath by aiding us in the removal of invasive young pine trees. The event was covered by BBC Breakfast time TV with reporter Tim Muffett pulling a pine for the studio!
RSPB Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex got crafty the same weekend, with Christmas themed activities designed for both adults and children. Visitors discovered how to make their own decorations and gifts with festive foraged materials before indulging in some cake, Christmas shopping or exploring the wetland trails to see flocks of wintering wildfowl.
On Sunday 4 December, RSPB Dungeness in Kent invited visitors to discover their winter fair, with food, mulled wine arts, a raffle and arts and crafts in the visitor centre. There was also a Christmas treasure hunt for children and discounts in the shop for those seeking the perfect nature friendly present.
On Saturday 11th December, RSPB Rainham Marshes on the London/Essex border has its Winter Fair, offering a variety of crafts and gifts on sale, including jewellery, cards, decorations, bags, cosmetics, wildlife art and photography. You can also purchase RSPB gifts from the shop, try out our special evening cafe menu and there will be special activities for children. Alongside this we'll be having a special optics event where you can get hands on with the latest and best binoculars and telescopes with discounts on some models.
Even if you don’t have time to get out and about before Christmas, you can find plenty of gift options online at our RSPB shop. Most of our reserves are open over the Christmas break; check the individual reserve pages for opening times. Many are staging New Year walks to blow away the cobwebs or work off any over indulgence suffered as a consequence of seasonal celebrations.
Please note that you may need to book for some events.
A trail camera installed as part of our ARC Project partnership has captured the first ever footage of an otter in Sussex.
Video camera’s were fitted after a member of the public contacted the ARC team to report what they thought were otter tracks on a river bank. Within a few days, this unmistakable footage was captured!
Sussex is one of the last UK counties to see wild otters return naturally following their population decline. Sightings have been few and far between, with the last verified live sighting in Sussex reported more than five years ago. The filming location will be kept a closely guarded secret, to allow this otter to establish a territory and search for a mate.
Our Regional Conservation Manager, Alan Johnson, highlights just how important the footage is:
“This is really exciting news for Sussex and shows how successful conservation intervention can be. Otters are a flagship species, at the top of the wetland food chain. We know that if otters are healthy, then the species in the food chain below them are also healthy. Through bringing together expertise from several organisations, the ARC project has been able to improve the local waterways and encourage native species such as otter, water vole, eel, rare birds and insects to naturally re-colonise the area.”
Otters were once widespread in the UK, but from the 1960s they became extinct in many parts of the UK, including Sussex, due to habitat loss, pollution and persecution. This footage proves the efforts of all involved are having a positive impact.
Otters are difficult to observe in the wild as they are generally nocturnal, solitary and secretive creatures. Sadly, sightings of actual otters in Sussex are usually when one is found dead. No females had been sighted in East Sussex until 2010, when one was reported dead by a roadside. Males can use up to 40km of river as their territory, meanwhile, female otters have a smaller territory, but it takes around two years for them to reach breeding age. They only usually breed once a year and don’t usually live beyond the age of four in the wild.
The ARC project has been working to improve West Sussex habitats, with the help of over 1100 volunteers. As part of the landscape scale conservation project, over 2.6km of internationally rare chalk streams have been restored, providing the perfect habitat for otter, trout and water vole. Our wildlife cameras have already been used to help school children and community groups get closer to the nature on their doorstep, capturing badgers and foxes along with other wildlife in community green spaces.
The RSP- led ARC project is a partnership between seven organisations; the RSPB, the Environment Agency, Sussex Wildlife Trust, South Downs National Park Authority, Natural England, West Sussex County Council and the Arun and Rother Rivers Trust. It has received national recognition, winning the Campaign for National Park’s ‘Park Protector Award’, was highly commended at the national Charity Awards and was shortlisted for the CIRIA BIG Biodiversity Challenge Awards, too. We are very grateful the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting the project.
If you think you have seen signs of an otter in Sussex contact the Sussex Mammal Group or Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre. For more about the ARC project, visit: http://arunwesternstreams.org.uk/projects/arc or follow #ARCproject on Twitter.