Background information series part 2:

The Burgess Hill Green Circle Network:

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Key: 1) Bedelands LNR 2) Nightingale Lane Meadows 3) Hammonds Ridge Meadows 4) Henry Burt Wood 5) Malthouse Lane Meadows 6) Pookebourne Stream & Balancing Pond 7) Rugby Club 8) Grassmere Meadow 9) Pangden Lane Meadows 10) Fairfield Recreation Ground 11) Sussex Way 21) Batchelors Farm 22) West Park Nature Reserve 25) Railway Fields 42) Roman Meadow. Map courtesy of FoBHGCN.

The Burgess Hill Green Circle Network, (BHGCN) is an ongoing project within and around Burgess Hill, with the aim of linking green sites together in such a way to be beneficial for both people, and wildlife. The sites are owned either by the Burgess Hill Town Council, or the Mid Sussex District Council, and are linked by a series of foot paths, cycle paths and bridleways. These links have enabled people to travel from one site to the next, without having to use a car or having to navigate the ever increasingly  busy traffic on the roads. They also act as wildlife corridors giving animals and even plants, a safer way of moving or colonising between the sites.

Currently the circle is still partially complete as half of the route is still in the planning stages, with the aim of completion in the next year or so. Hopes are to possibly expand the network even further in the future.

The sites cover a great range of habitats, from meadows, ancient woodland, parks and even ponds, and are managed completely by local volunteers under the Friends of Burgess Hill Green Circle Network registered charity. This hard-working community of volunteers’ love for nature and wildlife has fuelled some pretty impressive projects over the years, with the focus on improving the ecological value and aesthetics of their local neighbourhood.  These projects range from building lengths of dry wall for lizards and invertebrates, to creating 5 new ponds. These ponds were designed and created with such care and dedication that after just 4 years they have matured into such a good quality habitat that Natural England has been relocating reptiles and newts, including Great Crested Newts into the area from nearby development sites.

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Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia).

This community doesn’t just stop at management either; they also continue to monitor the sites and their increasing success with wildlife surveys throughout the year. Every event they do is open to anyone who is interested in getting stuck in, from all backgrounds and ages. They are consistently engaging other members of the public with nature, with many open air events including; guided walks and talks, and an annual children’s bug safari which has proven to be very popular! The safari entails children and their parents exploring one of the wildflower meadows with a sweep net, and an I.D. sheet to identify the more common mini-beasts they may encounter.

 

 

It’s clear from just walking around these sites that the hard work of the volunteers is most

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A Marbled White (Melanagia galathea) butterfly feeding on a thistle.

definitely paying off, as they are just teeming with wildlife; such as Marble white (Melanargia galathea) and Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) butterflies, as well as many birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. And let’s not forget the myriad of wildflowers to be found; some of the more unusual or perhaps more overlooked species include the intense, yet tiny magenta-flowered Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia), the mauve-flowered Smooth Tare (Vicia tetrasperma) or the bright yellow-flowered Greater Birds-Foot-Trefoil (Lotus uliginosus).

One of the most interesting finds I’ve had whilst exploring the BHGCN was when I came across a Violet Ground Beetle (Carabus violaceus); this not so little beetle almost looks like some sort of jewel, with it’s iridescent blue and purple colouring contrasting vividly against its matt black carapace. It also proved to be quite speedy so taking a decent photograph proved tricky.

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A newly emerged Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) with part of its chrysalis still attached to it’s left eye.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being a part of this community over the past few weeks, getting involved with things such as the reptile surveys, and I’m very much looking forward to getting involved lots more soon! If you too, would like to get involved just head over to the BHGCN’s contact page.

As always, feel free to comment and enjoy the photos below:

Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank Josh Styles for identifying the more unusual plant species for me. Josh is an extremely talented, up-and-coming botanist with a true passion for his subject; if you ever need a plant identified, then he’s your guy! Feel free to send him a tweet of any plants you come across here.

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Newt Survey:

05/07/16

Welcome back!

Well, last Friday I had a pretty amazing day! I went back to Burgess Hill as planned, to help Dominic Moore with assessing the newt population in a pond within the Burgess Hill Green Circle Network (BHGCN). The pond has a long and beloved history with the locals as being a place where generations of youngsters have spent time catching newts, and is home to both Smooth (Triturus Lissotriton vulgaris) and Great Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus).

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The rather inconspicuous pond, hiding many surprises.

Upon approaching the pond, it doesn’t hold much hope of finding any wildlife within its murky waters, what with the debris and rubbish that has been thrown in, including two for sale signs. But looks can certainly be deceiving!

 And so, after setting up the various trays and containers with water ready for anything we may catch, I donned a pair of waders, grabbed a net and cautiously entered the water. Being careful not to fall over from hidden branches and rocks and the like, I began to sweep the net around the vegetation in front of me, growing around the edge of the pond. It wasn’t long before I caught my first newt tadpole, which on further inspection turned out to be a Smooth Newt. It was also accompanied with a few large backswimmers (also known as a Water Boatman) and some large fresh water snails – most likely The Great Pond Snail (Lymnaea stagnalis).

After every sweep of the net, any newts or tadpoles were transferred to a water filled

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A Smooth Newt (Triturus Lissotriton vulgaris) tadpole.

carrier bag attached to the belt of my waders, acting as a temporary holder for them. After a few sweeps I would return to the bank where I would transfer them to Dominic, where he would place them into their containers based on their size; as if placed together the larger individuals would cannibalise the smaller ones, which is not what we wanted obviously. However, after some time it became apparent that we simply didn’t have enough room for all the Smooth Newts so we decided to simply make a note of any that we caught, and return them straight back to the pond behind me to ensure I wouldn’t double count them.

 By the time I reached the end of the pond where the vegetation was more densely populated, the carrier bag had split and was unusable, so I had to transfer any catch directly to Dominic on the bank. This turned out to entail an awful lot of walking for poor Dominic in the end as this area proved to be the preferred habitat for the Great Crested Newts.

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An adult male Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus).

It wasn’t long before I caught the only adult Great Crested Newt of the day, and the first one I’d caught in my life, so to say I was a little bit excited by this was probably an understatement! I was even more delighted when, upon inspecting it further, it turned out to be a male which still had a fair amount of its breeding crest along its back.

From there, it turned out to be a very successful day as I caught many Great Crested tadpoles, sometimes 2-3 at a time, my best being 4 in one go!

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Some of the many Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus) tadpoles we caught.

At the final count we had caught around 30 odd Great Crested Newts in all – it’s not easy to count them when they are all together in a small tank, as they keep moving! As I mentioned earlier we caught many Smooth Newts, both adults and tadpoles of varying sizes, though they tended to be smaller than the majority of the Great Crested Tadpoles. We were particularly pleased to catch 3 very impressive adult male Smooth Newts, one of which was still pretty much in full breeding colours.

 It wasn’t until I was back upon the bank and able to get a closer look, that I was able to truly admire these fascinating and prehistoric-looking creatures! – And take a few choice photographs of course.

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The spectacular adult male Smooth Newt (Triturus Lissotriton vulgaris) in near breeding colours!

 It has to be said that this, along with the rest of the work I’ve been doing with Dominic at Bedelands and within the BHGCN is precisely the reason I began my journey to becoming an ecologist. My whole life I’ve wanted a job where I’m hands on with nature and working to try and save/protect it. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to handle these amazing creatures under the supervision of Dominic, who holds a current licence to do so, and will also go towards gaining such a licence for myself with enough time and experience.

It is because of the Great Crested Newts’ protected status, that Dominic is currently in talks to implement some management plans with the local and district councils, as the pond we visited that day is prone to drying out. In the past, the pond used to dry out around mid/late August, but in recent years with the ever increasing temperatures and dry summers we have been having, the pond has been drying up ever sooner in the year; with it completely drying up last year by mid-June!  Unfortunately the young newts in the pond require there to be water in the pond till around August, as before this, they are still developing the lungs required to breathe air. If the pond dries up before their lungs are fully developed, that entire generation of newts would unfortunately not survive.

After the survey, we took the time to return to some of the other ponds nearby, which are also a part of the BHGCN. I was able to take some pretty impressive photos of some of the wildlife, but you will have to wait till my next post to see them as they are more fitting for the final part of my background information 2 part series, this time focusing on the BHGCN.

So until then, get out there and get stuck in with something in your local area! As always enjoy the photo’s below and feel free to share and comment.

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Bedelands Nature Reserve:

28/06/16

After my initial post on Sunday, I’ve had several people ask me where the survey took place. This has inspired me to write a 2 part series giving readers some in-depth background information on Bedelands and the Burgess Hill Green Circle Network (BHGCN). I feel that as I became involved with Bedelands before the BHGCN, it’s only natural that the first part be dedicated to this relatively small yet surprisingly diverse reserve; abundant in many species of plants, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds.

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Click the map to take you to google maps.

The reserve is situated on the northern edge of Burgess Hill and is accessible through the nearby town football club, which for those of you lucky enough to have your own car has a small but free carpark. Please keep in mind though as it is so small, it might be difficult to find space on days when the club is in use. As for those of you who, like me have to rely on public transport, the reserve is about a ten minute walk from the Wivelsfield train station; simply make a left turn upon exiting the station and follow the road signs on Leylands Rd and along Maple Drive.  The Sussex Bus company also run two services; the 40 & 40X which stop by Janes Lane; from which you just need to navigate the roundabout and head along Leylands Rd and follow the aforementioned road signs.

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Map courtesy of the Burgess Hill Green Circle Network

Bedelands  is the largest green site in Burgess hill covering an area of 33 hectares, with a variety of habitats including; ancient woodlands, ponds of various depths and sizes including a dipping pond and 7 meadows; many of which are positively teaming with wildflowers. Over the last few years Dominic Moore, in conjunction with the Mid Sussex District Council, has worked hard to restore these meadows to increase the abundance and diversity of wildflowers that grow there. His work has certainly made a difference! The first time I visited Bedelands I, along with my parents and older sister who accompanied me, were simply in awe of the quality of these meadows which, as we ventured further into the reserve became more and more impressive. The sheer diversity of the flowers and their different colours was astounding! From the bright yellows of the Buttercups (Ranunculus acris), Yellow Rattle (Rhinanthus minor) & Bird’s-Foot-Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), whites of the Ox Eye Daises (Leucanthemum vulgare) to the purple hues of the Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) & the Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii )– of which I have never seen so many in one place! (take look at the photos below) It was a truly magical experience… until the heavens opened; such is the infamous British summer.

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The mass of Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsia).

 It is to no surprise of mine then, that this has not gone unnoticed, as both the Millennium Seedbank and the High Weald Landscape Trust harvest seed from these meadows to help populate other areas throughout the UK. Aside from the riot of colour, there are other signs that these meadows are in healthy condition; the sheer number of grasshoppers present is such that is not unlike a mini plague when walking through the grass as they all hop on mass to avoid your footfalls, the many different species of bees to the many other invertebrate species to be found there.

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A British Glow Worm larvae (Lampyris noctiluca).

One of which was an exciting first for me, as we stumbled across a British Glow Worm larvae (Lampyris noctiluca) scuttling across one of the foot paths.

 

 

 

 

Dominic hasn’t stopped at just the meadows either, he and a team of volunteers have been working hard to remove a lot of the holly which has taken over the undergrowth in the woodlands.  This has opened up the forest floor allowing more light to reach the ground and as a consequence of such the area has seen a significant increase in the population of bluebells and other spring plants. I’ve been shown some pretty impressive photos of this year’s bluebells and I must admit I felt I had missed out as they looked spectacular which has made me vow to myself to be sure to catch them next spring for sure! This work is at the time of this writing still ongoing and this coming autumn Dominic and his team of volunteers plan on removing the holly in other areas on the reserve.  Removing the holly also presented him with the opportunity to enrich the woodland with more hazel saplings to support the reserve’s population of endangered Hazel Dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius).

Throughout the year, Dominic holds events aimed at local children’s groups and the general public such as pond dipping and bug hunts enabling people to get up close and hands on with the local plants and wildlife. For more information, or if you would like to become a volunteer, just head over to the “contact us” section of the BHGCN website.

I’ve truly enjoyed my visits thus far to Bedelands, and as yet I know I have barely even scratched the surface of what there is to see and do there .To say that I’m looking forward to my future adventures and exploration there would be an understatement. As usual I hope you enjoy the photos below, and feel free to comment.

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The plan for the summer and reptile & amphipian surveys with the Burgess Hill Green Circle:

26/06/16

The summer break is officially upon those of us at Universities across the country, swiftly followed by the question “What do I do with myself now?”. For myself I decided that I didn’t want to solely bum around the beaches of Brighton, I wanted to get out into the local area and get my hands dirty with some worthwhile work experience getting close to all the wildlife and nature I’ve been learning about over the past 6 months. With this in mind I had a chat with a couple of tutors and was put in contact with Dominic Moore who is responsible for the care and management of the Bedelands Nature Reserve in Burgess Hill and heads the Burgess Hill Green Circle Network. Since our initial conversation I have visited the reserve several times, one of which Dominic kindly showed me around and discussed upcoming plans for the reserve.

On my last visit I was able to help out with a reptile and amphibian survey on a site which is partIMG_1091 of the Green Circle which had a variety different habitats and ponds. It turned out to be an excellent day with many different species present, some of which were a first for me such as Great Crested Newts (Triturus cristatus) and a gravid adult female Common Lizard (Lacerta Zootoca vivipara). The weather was warm and sunny leading to plenty of butterflies such as Ringlets (Aphantopus hyperantus), Large Skippers (Ochlodes venata) and Marbled Whites (Melanargia galathea) and dragonflies as well as the plentiful Slow Worms (Anguis fragilis) and the odd Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) which were very placid and happy to be handled. Hope you enjoy the photos below, I’ll be volunteering at Beledands 2/3 days a week for the summer so watch this space for more adventures.  

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