Farmland Birds in the Sompting Downs
Here's a taster of what you may see:
Ground nesting birds
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 provide habitats for ground nesting birds such as Skylarks, Corn Buntings, Grey Partridges, Lapwings and even maybe Stone Curlew and Wheatear. All of these have been found on Sompting Estate.
A number of the Estate's barns have Barn Owl nestboxes. The Sompting Downs Barn also has a purpose-designed nestbox for Little Owls. Tawny Owls and Long-Eared Owls also roost in our copses. These owls are attracted by the high numbers of small mammals and insects in our patchwork of habitats.
We have seen birds such as egrets curlews and mallard in the vicinity of our downland dewponds. What may surprise some is that birds thought of as wetland birds, such as the lapwing (alias green plover alias peewit), sometimes come to nest in dry bare fallow land. We make sure to provide some suitable habitat for them each year. We have more actual wetland on our Church Farm on the coastal plan, where we have the Cokeham Brooks Local Wildlife Site, and a network of ponds and streams, recently expanded by the EPIC project's new 'river' course. There many exciting wetland birds can be found, such as kingfisher, snipe and teal. One day we hope to spot a migrant bittern at least stopping off for a rest and feed in our wetlands - but they are very hard to spot.
Buzzards love the abundant food from worms to rabbits in our patchwork farmed landscape, and the Windhover or Kestrel loves to sway on the air above our downland hedgerow slopes until it spots its prey and dives to cover it. You may also see migrating birds coming across the Sompting Downs from honey buzzards to merlin to osprey.
Other farmland favourites
If you're walking around the Sompting Downs keep an eye out for a flash of yellow - it could be a yellowhammer, or a yellow wagtail. A flash of grey-pink and twitters like giggling could be a flock of linnets. Large flocks of goldfinches may be seen and heard in the winter. Noisy commuter rushes of jackdaws like an undulating gossiping black ribbon weave their way between woodland roost and the latest feeding fields. A shower of starlings land to feed around one of our flocks of sheep - but one or two you will see sitting on the sheeps' backs to keep a watchful eye out for danger that might threaten the flock. And in recent years, ever more, the croak of a pair of ravens as they fly slowly across the sky, or, from a high tree, watch and comment satirically.
Insects in Sompting
There are so many, just where to begin?
The butterflies of the downs are well known such as the blues to be found on the chalk grassland at Steepdown Hill SNCI and elsewhere. We are hoping to attract the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary to the many cowslips and primroses we have planted in and around Titch Hill Wood. Here is a survey of butterflies found on Lychpole Side Hill SSSI.
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.
The EPIC Project has discovered many new, exciting and rare insects in our southern streams and wetlands, including most recently the Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly.
Mammals in Sompting
Well, there's us homo 'sapiens', and our cattle and sheep and dogs, but ... we are surrounded!
Badgers and foxes of course, and rabbits which feed the foxes. Stoats and weasels after the rabbits. Brown hares which are too fast for the fox, if they get away in time. Field voles aplenty for the owls to eat. Up on the Downs signs of dormouse activity have been found. Hedgehogs in people's gardens as well as the countryside. Our EPIC Project has found lots of harvest mice on Church Farm. Polecats are scarcer than they once were, but perhaps recovering. Roe deer, fallow deer. It's a jungle out there.
Reptiles in Sompting
Back in the early 1980s there were no ponds, no water left in the Sompting Downs, unless it came out of a well or borehole. Then we started restoring the historic dewpond and farmpond sites in our downs, and now there are 9 of them. It was remarkable how within a couple of years there'd be two species of newts, and frogs and toads breeding. Slow worms, lizards that look like snakes. Grass snakes and adders. And, a fish rather than a snake, but we have to mention here the threatened European Eel, within a year of making our EPIC Project watercourse the little elvers were swimming up it as happily as up the older streams.