Caring for Nature
On this page:
Other Wildlife Projects
Record Sompting Nature
Where to learn more
Farmland Birds in the Sompting Downs
Many birds that you will rarely see in your garden depend on farmland habitats where they can nest on the ground and protect and feed their chicks. We make sure to provide habitats for ground nesting birds such as Skylarks, Corn Buntings, Grey Partridges, Lapwings and even maybe Stone Curlew and Wheatear. Mike Tristram the Managing Trustee, in his capacity as Chairman of South Downs Land Managers, is a member of the steering group for the South Downs Farmland Bird Initiative, on whose website you can find more information and pictures of these birds. A number of the Estate's barns have Barn Owl nestboxes, and the Sompting Downs Environment Education Centre itself has a built-in nestbox in which three or four Little Owls have been hatched each year since it was erected.
Wild Flowers in the Sompting Downs
Click here for a survey of Steepdown Hill SNCI (Open Access Area)
Click here for a survey of Tenants Hill SNCI (access by arrangement with the Estate)
Click here for a survey of Cokeham Brooks SNCI (access by arrangement with the Estate)
Many of our most interesting flowers are in the permanent chalk grassland, but our two downland farms also each have rare arable plants:
at Lychpole Farm
at Upton Farm
Rampion Ecological Survey
An important community benefit of development projects can sometimes be the survey information gained, which can help with the future management of the landscape. Click here to read a summary kindly provided by Fisher German Priestner, agents for E.ON, of the ecological findings within the Sompting area.
Trees in the Sompting Landscape
DUTCH ELM DISEASE
Dutch Elm Disease affects elms on a cycle of about 15 years as they grow up, are infected by the bark beetles, and die. Ideally trees infested with breeding beetle grubs are felled in winter to keep the beetle population low so as to help protect the National Elm Collection in the Brighton area. Unfortunately it has been proving difficult to secure appropriate funding and sustain expertise for this work.
The Sompting Estate had planted some splendid shaws and trackside tree hedgerows of English Elm in the 18th Century or earlier. These are now mostly hedgerows of suckers, for example in the upper Dankton Lane area. If not cut, these produce recurring cycles of many standing dead trees which eventually become hazardous, with an understorey of ivy and not resulting in a very biodiverse or attractive environment. The Estate has been felling the dead elms and planting other native tree species to improve the landscape and biodiversity.
2012: Upper Dankton Lane after felling the dead elms and planting other trees
Lower Dankton Lane dead elms tree row felled 2011 2013: Lower Church Lane new shaw planting replaces elms
What is Ash Dieback Disease? Ash dieback disease (ADB) refers to the deterioration and frequent death of ash trees caused by the fungus hymenoscyphus fraxineus. The fungus spreads via spores released from infected leaves which have fallen to the ground. It was first identified in the UK in 2012.
How serious is it? In mainland Europe, which has had ADB for much longer than the UK, millions of ash trees have been killed, and some countries have lost 95% of their ash. At present there is no cure – it appears that the fate of any individual ash tree depends on how heavily it is inundated by spores and, critically, how much genetic resistance it has. Although much research is being carried out, plant breeders have not yet produced any ash seedlings which have reliable resistance.
How can I tell if a tree has got it? An ash tree suffering from ADB will initially lose some of its leaves, especially at the end of branches. Small lesions will develop on twigs and shoots, and often the bark on young growth will take on a straw-like appearance. If the symptoms progress further, branches will die and fall off. What was a healthy, full crown can within 12 months become patchy and very brittle. Some trees will decline further, attacked by annual reinfection by spores from fallen leaves, and will completely die and ultimately break up or fall over.
What is Sompting Estate doing about it? Sompting Estate greatly values its stock of ash trees. It is probably our most common tree and is found all over the Estate. We also take the safety of residents and visitors very seriously, so we have devised a strategy of inspecting our ash trees twice a year for the foreseeable future and felling those which pose an unacceptable risk. We will retain ash wherever possible, not least because they are, at the moment, the only source of the next generation of ash.
During recent years, we have been diversifying our stock of trees. (This has also been in response to the threat of climate change.) You may notice that woodland and hedge plantings now feature beech, lime, hornbeam, oak, hazel, field maple and many others. None of these face threats on the same scale as ADB, at least at the moment.
What can I do about it? When on any part of the Estate, please keep to public rights of way, and be alert & careful about hazards. When we have to remove weak trees, please follow all signs and directions. If you see an ash tree which looks hazardous, please do contact us via the website www.somptingestate.com .
We hope that the Estate can continue to be enjoyed to the same extent as before, regardless of how severe the impact of ADB turns out to be. There is more information on ADB on the Forestry Commission and Woodland Trust websites.
Ponds in Sompting
All the downland dewponds in Sompting, fed by rains and mists, dried up during the latter half of the twentieth century, generally through lack of maintenance as water came to be provided cheaply (then) from the new mains supply, for which the Estate installed an extensive network in the early 1960s, and as livestock grazing dwindled with the increase in winter wheat production. These ponds had however been valuable not only for livestock, but also for wild birds mammals and insects.
In the 1980s the Sompting Estate began a program of restoring these with the Tenants Hill and Lychpole Hill (Cradle Hill) dewponds. In the 1990s a new seasonal pond was created by a bund.
In 2009 the dewpond at the Downs Barn was restored with help from the South Downs Society. In 2011 Lychpole Farm restored the beautiful large dewpond near Cissbury at Stump Bottom, near where the Romano-British settlement was up to the 4th century (did they first make the pond there?). In 2013 we cleared all the silt and fly tipping out of the pond at the old Dankton Barn site.
In 2014 subject to funding we are hoping to restore the dewpond at Lychpole bottom. Ponds are less surprising, but just as valuable to wildlife, in the coastal plain where they are fed by springs from the chalk. In 2014 the Estate plans to restore several pond areas and streams in the Cokeham Brooks SNCI by clearing overhanging trees and de-silting. In that area Sompting also boasts its own Knucker Hole, a bottomless pond inhabited by a dragon.
Insects in Sompting
The butterflies of the downs are well known such as the blues to be found on the chalk grassland at Steepdowns Hill SNCI and elsewhere.
Moth surveys at the Downs Barn show something of the amazing diversity of this fascinating largely nocturnal insect group; survey here.
Two-thirds of the species of bumblebee that exist in Britain, can be found on the Sompting downs; survey here.
Other wildlife projects on the Sompting Estate
- The Estate's three farms are all accepted in the Higher Level Agri-Environment Scheme and their Farm Environment Plans create maintain or restore many different kinds of habitat for wildlife. For example - Winter food for birds; nesting sites; cover to protect fledglings of ground-nesting birds from predators; flowery margins for pollinators; scrub clearance for chalk grassland restoration.
- The Mountain woodland is being managed for conservation: after the 1987 hurricane it regrew densely with sycamore seedlings leaving little habitat for wildlife. The Estate has for 8 years been clearing rides and glades for wild flowers butterflies and birds, and planting a traditional coppice system with hazel and other mixed native species under the beech and ash standards.
Record Sompting Nature
The Downs Barn Environment Education Centre is a supporter member of the National Biodiversity Network.
Above you will find links to some surveys giving an idea of the rich diversity of nature on the Sompting Estate.
In the near future we would like to make this all available through the NBN and to make it easy for local naturalists to contribute your own observations and photographs to the record through a link on this website.
Where to learn more
Places for Wildlife
Caring for the Environment
Listen to the latest 'Ranger's View'
by Bruce Middleton
Sussex Wildlife Images
Click on the links below
LOCAL SPECIES INFORMATION
- 14th Nov 2019What is Ash Dieback (ADB) Dise...Read More...