Meeting of the Hastings Country Park NR Sub Aqua club

We had one last burn to do at Ecclesbourne Meadow left to do and what a day we picked! It started off dry and we got the fire lit ok but strong winds blew the flames through the fire rather than letting them up through the brash piled on top. Then it rained and boy did it rain! It was looking like we would have to go back again, but when? As the ground conditions are getting a little too wet to drive over there without the risk of getting stuck. Feeding the fire was very slow going when we broke for a cuppa and biscuits.

During our break the wind abated a little and we started to see flame coming up through the pile and by the time we started again we were able to really start to pile it on. By lunch the brash was all gone. Phil had very kindly brought us all a packet of posh crisps each and Mr Pip very generously allowed me to have some of his.

This just left us to tidy up and push the fire in before returning to the farm, put away the tools and wash up before going home to find some dry clothes!!

Farewell Ecclesbourne Meadow but like Arnie we’ll be back.

November 5th Bonfire and Bangers

Well it’s not every year that November 5th falls on a Conservation Day so today at Hastings Country Park we just had to have a bonfire! Plenty to burn as we had 3 days worth of cutting to get rid of.

Despite the recent rain we got the fire going quickly using a pile of dead blackthorn that we had sorted out for that purpose.

Overhead we saw a peregrine being very territorial with a pair of ravens. Pausing briefly for a tea break we managed to get most of the brash burnt before stopping for a well earned lunch for which Andy had kindly provided sausages and rolls plus hazel sticks to warm the sausages over the coals and we washed these down with hot soup.


Fishing for sausages

This just left us to push the fire in and wait for it to burn down and we were able to get packed up and away before the promised rain arrived.

Next week we’ll have another cut on Thursday and burn that and what was left today on Friday.

We’ll take the low road

Having burnt all the arisings we had created on the north side of Ecclesbourne Meadow last Friday, this week on Thursday we started on the scrub on the southerly, lower side. Blackthorn and bramble mixed made for slower progress but it will have the added effect of widening the path where it is at it’s narrowest, making it easier to drive round.

Today, Friday, for a change we started removing the old fence posts that have been exposed by both last year’s work and this year’s. With most of the rails long gone and those remaining being broken, this fencing serves no purpose any longer and will just get in the way of future management of the scalloping. Using the winch on the 110 Land Rover we removed 45 posts, leaving them by the path for the Estate Rangers to pick up with the tractor and trailer.

Earlier in the week on Tuesday I bumped into Taughtus in the Quarry and with his help, finally got a photo of a gorse shield bug!gorse_shield

No cartilage damage

Pushing on today into the blackthorn a bit deeper than the previous scallop we came upon a small area of blackthorn under a couple of small oak trees that is almost completely covered in lichen. Now lichen id is not really my thing but I think it is Ramalina farinacea or Cartilage Lichen. We are not going any further in so this will not be disturbed at the moment.


We also found a fleece tree ripe for picking, so helped ourselves.

fleece_treeThat’s it for scallop 2, time for a bonfire next!

Conflagration Day, Thursday 1st October

We set out as usual at about 9.30, having loaded up the trailer with the necessary tools but also with the addition of fire-beaters and large containers of water.  Today made a bit of a change, for we were having a bonfire to burn last week’s arisings. Young Sam was introduced to the complexities of farm padlocks, which he mastered with ease!  As we trundled across Barn Pond Field, we ‘put up’ a Snipe, the first I’ve seen in the flesh.  The fire caught hold quickly under the expert hand of Martin and the four of us were soon fighting valiantly to extract branches from the prickly embrace of Blackthorn piled up last week.  We had the usual break for elevenses and, when Martin suggested at 12.30 that we have a slightly later than usual lunch in order to clear the last of the piles, we readily agreed.  By the time we were finished, we were all well and truly smoked!  Note:  During a breather, Sam and I had a short chat about the possible origins of the word ‘bonfire’ postulating that it might have derived from the French, bonfeurre.  In fact, it originated in medieval times from the burning of bones or heretics!

Not a sign of the heretics left!!

Not a sign of the heretics left!!

Rye Bay Scallops

Well we are in Rye Bay and we are creating scallops!

After looking like we were going to have a wet day, the rain stopped when we arrived at the job and stayed away. The scrub is mostly blackthorn with a little hawthorn sprinkled around. We have left 1 larger hawthorn and a small oak so far and 1 dead tree because standing dead wood provides important habitat just as much as fallen dead wood.

scallopThe scallop so far. The bare ground was impenetrable scrub, well, not for us of course! If you look closely you will see a couple of patches of red in the background, this is hawthorn berries. We now have a large pile of brash to deal with.

Raven and Peregrine were both seen during the day and back at the farm we saw a large bird of prey with jesses on being mobbed by corvids which we believe to be a Harris Hawk. Hopefully it will be reunited with it’s owner.

Dry blackthorn but no cider

Today we started our contribution to this year’s round of scrub clearance under the Higher Level Stewardship agreement for Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve and it looks like we got the only dry day this week!

This involved removing mainly blackthorn scrub to the north of Ecclesbourne Meadow. We are doing this in “scallops” of irregular shape which Natural England believe will result in a better diversity of plant species in the regeneration that follows due to more variable light and shade than if straight lines were used.

Travelling across the fields we saw a number of Wheatear and Stonechats.

Unless another more urgent job arises we’ll be back there next week with maybe a bonfire  but dependant on numbers on the day.

Volunteers treated to aerobatic display

Yesterday we carried on cutting back the water’s edge scrub at Saxon Pond and saw an amazing display of Swallows and House Martins swooping down and skimming across the surface of the pond, feeding. Ruddy Darters and Blue-tailed Damselflies were again present too.

We also came across this caterpillar, which despite it’s size is not a hawkmoth as first thought but a Puss Moth.

Puss Moth caterpillar

Puss Moth caterpillar

The foodplants of these caterpillars is Aspen and Willow, particularly low regrowth and is camouflaged to suit.


Puss Moth

The rain held off ’till we were ready to pack up and we’ll be doing another day there to finish off.

Back to Saxon times

Yesterday saw a welcome return to Saxon Pond for some of us and a new part of Hastings Country Park for others.

The purpose was to cut back the vigorous willow regrowth that was starting to shade out the bankside and emergent vegetation that had established itself since we finished the initial clearance in 2012. Species now present include Great/Common Reed Mace, Soft Rush, Sea Club-rush, Water Horsetail, Bittersweet, Fleabane, Great Willowherb and Common Ragwort which has managed to establish itself on one of our log islands.

We’ll be back to carry on next week.

Great Reed Mace

Great Reed Mace

Hastings Country Park ladybird conundrum

I’m very grateful to taughtus for identifying the ladybird that Stephen spotted yesterday when we were at Stock Pond which we called a “no spot ladybird”. It is in fact a Harlequin which has over 100 colour/pattern variants and my identification chart shows only 4. Hmmm, didn’t stand much of a chance did I?

The Harlequin Ladybird is a non-native species that originates from Asia. It was introduced into the USA and mainland Europe as a biological agent and made it’s way across the channel in 2004. It is a large and voracious species and is predicted to spread to most parts of the UK (source, FSC).