Communicating the South Downs

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On the ground in 2016

From meeting with farmers, offering training and support to local communities, leading walks, organising and training volunteers, controlling invasive species and supporting key species, South Downs National Park Rangers are out in the National Park every weekday and many weekends over the year.

This is just a small taste of what they, and the South Downs Volunteer Rangers, achieved in 2016:

In January they found 528 harvest mice nests during a seven day survey at Selborne – beating 2015’s search effort of 143 nests, they spread previously collected heather seed on Hesworth Common near Fittleworth and worked in partnership with the National Trust, Butterfly Conservation and a local moth expert to improve habitat for barred toothed striped moth at Highdown Hill.

In February they laid 400 metres of hedge at Saddlescombe Farm near Devils Dyke, more than 200 metres on a site in Hambledon and 170 metres at Binstead woods (as well as other locations). They also supported a MIND (mental health charity) group carrying out a practical conservation task on Grafham Down, a Site of Nature Conservation Interest and helped to create four brand new Dark Sky Discovery Sites across the National Park.

In March they completed coppicing sweet chestnut compartments in Fernhurst, spreading violet seed to encourage the pearl bordered fritillary butterfly to the area. Coppicing work was also carried out on sites managed by Butterfly Conservation, South-East Water and Sussex Ornithological Society. Invasive tree removal was carried out on Harting Down, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and three new barn owl boxes were put up in the Wealden Heaths area.

In April they trained volunteers to carry out riverfly monitoring on the rivers Meon and Rother in order to complete water quality testing. They helped Friends of Lancing Ring to install the first 40m of 150m of post and rail fencing around a dew pond, led a day of practical tasks for a MIND (mental health charity) group and installed steps at Castle Hill, Newhaven, to improve access on the steep site.

In May they carried out two weeks of flint walling (with a further week in June) helped to improve and secure part of the flint wall in Stanmer Park near Brighton originally built by prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars. Alfriston Long Burgh was removed from the Heritage at Risk Register following work to improve its condition and a survey for Duke of Burgundy butterflies at Graffham Down, confirmed that they had recolonised the site.

In June 362 water voles were released into the River Meon around Droxford with help from landowners, staff, partners and volunteers. 70 pupils from Meonstoke School helped with the feeding and checking of the voles in the pens. A hibernaculum was created at Mill Hill to improve the habitat for reptiles being relocated as part of the Adur Tidal Wall improvements and the annual battle to reduce the spread of invasive Himalayan balsam began on the upper River Rother area and in Midhurst.

In July barn owl boxes were checked and owlets were ringed for monitoring, surveys were carried out on France Bottom Local Wildlife Site trail plots as part of on-going habitat management and monitoring work in partnership with Kew. Members of Northease, Iford and Kingston parishes were trained to help with wildlife habitat monitoring.

In August they teamed up with National Trust volunteers and Milland Parish to cut and rake Cartersland Green wildflower meadow for the community and mowed the meadow area at Garbetts wood, a community woodland in Rogate, to improve access after the successful opening of a new pathway and stairs. A further 205 water voles were successfully reintroduced into the River Meon just below Droxford and work continued the biannual control of vegetation on the tumuli and circle of stones monument at Brockwood.

In September they joined the Steyning Downland Scheme in planting 1,500 primrose and cowslip plugs, cleared 25 bin bags of invasive New Zealand pigmy weed removed from Woodland SNCI pond; carried out wart-biter bush cricket translocations from Castle Hill to Deep Dean and carried out survey training for Breaky Bottom Survey Group – looking at Wart-biter crickets and habitat management at Castle Hill National Nature Reserve. With bird nesting season over a new season of scrub ‘bashing’ began.

In October they coppiced to support the pearl bordered fritillary butterfly at Rewell Wood SSSI and completed the second year of hazel coppice rotation with a landowner near Selborne, trained local community groups to survey for harvest mice and laid a hedge around a campsite at Stedham used by youth groups to experience the outdoors as well as by Duke of Edinburgh award students.

In November they began the annual monitoring for harvest mice nests in the Selbourne Partnership area, cleared invasive vegetation from two Scheduled Ancient Monuments above Cocking in West Sussex, constructed and installed ‘cages’ to protect juniper bushes from browsing livestock and deer – once relatively common on the Downs, juniper is now very rare and needs careful management and protection to secure its future.

In December they cleared scrub from a tumuli in Bishopstone and replaced two stiles with a kissing gate – both protecting and improving access to this heritage.

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