The Parish Meadow Project
As part of the Sompting "Community in the Countryside" initiative, organized by the Parish Council and Sompting Estate, we held a 'Get to Know your Flowers and Butterflies' event on National Meadows Day (7th July) on top of the Sompting Downs. Serenaded by skylarks, we met at the wildflower meadow which 'Community in the Countryside' is restoring, next to the Beggars Bush Car Park, where Titch Hill Road becomes Bostal Road. Gazebos gave a welcome shelter from the hot sun, to look at a collection of books and identify our finds.
Mike Tristram, the Estate's managing trustee, started the visit by explaining the history of this meadow. The downs used to have much more flower-rich grassland until the post-war intensification to feed the nation. Because this half-acre meadow was left unploughed, it is much more than a pretty place to picnic. It's an important site for beautiful flowers whose pollen and nectar helps butterflies and insects to cross to and fro between the bigger flower-meadows of our downland Local Wildlife Sites, far across the arable to east and west. It's a refuelling link-point which helps these species to sustain genetically viable populations. Being too small for the farm to graze economically, the natural life in this meadow needs our help to survive and thrive, in all its diversity and beauty. That's why we have made it our Estate/Parish Meadow Project.
The meadow's flowers
Residents ticked off the 24 wildflower species on the photo-checksheet the Estate had provided, and found another 4 species to add - and that's without even beginning to count the many species of grasses.
The meadow's butterflies and insects
We also found not just the Marbled White butterflies and Six Spot Burnet moths on the checksheet, but also Cinnabar Moth caterpillars thriving on Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) rather than on the usual Ragwort, and, three other butterfly species - Peacock, Small Skipper and a female Essex Skipper. Yes, Essex girls in Sompting! The adults feed from the flowers, but their eggs are laid on the grasses which their caterpillars eat. We also saw many different kinds of bee. We identified a large white-tailed bumblebee as Bombus hortorum, the Garden Bumblebee, and a smaller russet-tailed bumblebee as Bombus ruderarius, the Red-Shanked Carder Bee. And we heard and saw crickets, spiders, beetles and more.
Helping the meadow life to thrive - and can you help?
The flowers in the meadow had been suppressed by an overgrowth of grasses and other vigorous herbage. Their fabulous profusion this summer, despite the long wet spring favouring grass growth, has been promoted by employing contractors to cut-and-remove all top-growth over the last two winters, opening up gaps for germination and reducing fertility. This has been funded by grants from the South Downs National Park in 2016-7, and from Sompting Big Local in 2017-8.
To sustain and keep improving the floral diversity into the future, we need help from volunteers with traditional scything skills, to cut it in late summer each year, and, volunteers to come and turn and make the hay that the scythers cut.
Are you an experienced, trained user of the traditional scythe, or would you like to help with the haymaking after it has been cut? Please contact 'Sompting Community in the Countryside' either via the Sompting Estate website Contact page, or via Sompting Parish Council's conservation officer Leighton Clay.