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
One of the UK's foremost experts on trees has stumbled across what's believed to be the countries first naturalised Japanese cherry tree, Prunus 'Kanzan'.
They normally grow from grafted stock, but this example appears to have grown from seed, probably dropped by a passing bird as it flew over RSPB Fore Wood near Battle in East Sussex. It's in bloom right now (April 2018) surrounded by bluebells in a small clearing off a path which forms part of the local 1066 walk and looks stunning. Fore Wood is a traditional, ancient woodland with native broad-leaved trees and an understorey of wildflowers and ferns. It's home to nuthatches, great spotted woodpeckers, treecreepers and tits and is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI].
It was spotted and identified by one of our regular volunteers, Owen Johnson, author of the Collins Tree Guide, and probably one of the foremost tree experts in the country. They are usually planted as decorative trees in gardens. However, the planted trees are always grafted, never grown from seed. Owen had a poke around the roots and confirmed that this tree was not grafted and must have self-seeded. He believes this is the first time this tree has ever been recorded to have self-seeded in the UK. Our estimates suggest it's been on site for about thirty years and is now 7 to 8 metres tall. "Where better to hide a tree than in a woodland" said one staff member when quizzed as to why it wasn't identified earlier. The tree only stands out from the surrounding alder when it's covered in blossom, which lasts around three to four weeks.
The cherry tree is in part of the woodland outside of the designated SSSI area and is not interfering with other native species, so staff have decided to leave it to grow as an added attraction to the woodland. Set in a bed of bluebells, the cherry tree is currently looking stunning with its pink, spring blossom a vibrant contrast against the fresh green growth of the rest of the coppiced woodland.
The nightingales are arriving back at Lodge Hill...
...and you have a chance to hear them in person on our free guided walk: next Tuesday 24 April, 7.30pm. It is by advance booking only due to limited places – please email email@example.com, or ring 01634 222480 (weekdays only) to book your place.
Adrian Thomas, our #SaveLodgeHill project manager, was at Lodge Hill yesterday filming with Channel 4 News and has sent through an update:
"What a pleasure to be at Lodge Hill yesterday, or at least on the few public rights of way that go through the site. There was the smell of spring in the air, butterflies on the wing, blackcaps and chiffchaffs singing their heart out.
But of course I was hoping to hear a nightingale or two. It is still relatively early in the season, for they will continue to arrive back from Africa from now into early May, so there was no guarantee one would be singing.
So it was a thrill when one exploded into song from the bushes beside me, just a few minutes' walk from where we will park for our free guided walk next Tuesday.
Their vocal dexterity and control is just incredible, the power astonishing - this is a soloist who knows what they are doing.
By the time I got back to the car, I had heard three singing, and I'm hoping by next week, given these southerly winds and warm conditions, more will be back to create a symphony in this, Britain's best site for this national treasure.
I hope to share this with many of you next week."
To watch the Channel 4 interview and find out more about our #SaveLodgeHill campaign visit @RSPB_Southeast
As spring arrives, we start to get tagged in more and more migratory bird sightings on Twitter and Facebook, with reports of swifts, swallows, nightingales and little terns rolling in fast.
This year we’ve even had reports of unusual migrants, such as this striking bluethroat making a brief stop off at RSPB Dungeness, Kent.
This annual influx of breeding birds is an exciting time; our reserves feel full of life and birdsong fills the air, but for some species, breeding success is more critical than others.
Why are they in trouble?
Nightingales have suffered a UK population decline of more than 90% in the last 40 years. Preferring to nesting on or near the ground in scrubby areas, loss of habitat is thought to be one of the key factors in this decline. There are estimated to be less than 5,500 remaining UK pairs, and they live almost exclusively in the south east and east of England.
How can I help? We are campaigning to save the UK’s best breeding site for nightingales, Lodge Hill, which is currently under threat of development. Take action and speak out here before it’s too late.
Where can I see one?
Although they are now few and far between, the National Nightingale Festival, running through April-May, can help you get up close to some of these amazing songsters. RSPB Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex, is one of the key hotspots, but you can visit the events page to find a nightingale near you!
Turtle doves are vulnerable to global extinction (IUCN Red List of Endangered Species). They have suffered a 91% UK population decline since 1995 and a 78% decline across Europe since 1980. At this current rate of change, if we don’t help this species, scientists calculate that complete UK extinction as a breeding species will be a real possibility.
How can I help?
The RSPB is one of several partners in Operation Turtle Dove, a project which aims to reverse this decline. The range of turtle doves has declined to mainly south east and eastern England, but if you live in these areas you may be able to create valuable turtle dove habitat with very little effort! The Operation Turtle Dove website has lots of useful information about how to help turtle doves, wherever you live.
It’s sadly very rare to see a turtle dove these days, but we have created habitat at a quiet reserve, RSPB Lydden Valley, Kent, in the heart of their breeding grounds. Visitors at RSPB Pagham Harbour were also lucky enough to see a juvenile outside the reserve visitor centre last September, which spent a few weeks taking advantage of the food on offer before starting migration!
In the South East, swifts declined by 55% between 1995-2014. Swifts like tradition; they pair for life and will use the same nest site for life too. Nesting in holes, often inside old buildings, you'll never see them building a nest outside. Our modern style of architecture doesn’t leave much space for these incredible birds to create new nests in.
How can I help?
Some developers have started adding specially-designed swift nestboxes to help young birds find new nesting sites in key population areas. You can help us to identify these by logging your own swift sightings here! You can find lots of other ways to help swifts on our website too
The easiest time to see one is June/July as they scream through the skies at dusk, often over urban areas. If you are looking for a real wildlife spectacle, visit RSPB Dungeness, Kent in late July to watch thousands of swifts, swallows and martins gather to feed over Burrows Pit in early evening.
These tiny seabirds are particularly vulnerable to climate change and human disturbance. Nesting on fine shingle near the high tide mark, eggs can easily be washed away or birds disturbed whilst incubating. Once the chicks hatch, finding food to feed them while watching for predators can be a daunting task. While we are working hard to help them on our reserves, little terns are still struggling to recover from a dramatic population decline between 1986 and 2013, when the number breeding in the south east of England of plummeted by a staggering 89%.
Volunteer at a breeding tern reserve, and help us create the ideal nesting habitat for these enigmatic little creatures. You can read Anne’s story on her volunteering experience here
Our coastal reserves are the best places to find tern colonies. Little terns breed at RSPB Langstone Harbour and RSPB Pagham Harbour. If you are based out in Kent you can see a close relative, the common tern at RSPB Dungeness.
Do more for nature and join the RSPB:
To help us help these migratory birds and other species, you can also join the RSPB as a member, making a small monthly donation which helps fund our conservation work. Becoming a member also gives you free access to our reserves all across the country, so you can see the conservation work your donation has funded!
Visit our website to join today.