Friday, September 25, 2009

Killingan Coppice in autumn

The coppice just up our road is rapidly moving into autumn mode.

20090925 Killingan Coppice autumn ferns

Many of the new sprouts from the cut stools have been grazed of by rabbits and/or deer and I expect this will get worse as winter comes in.  Brambles (see below) like thorny trip wires are spreading rapidly in some places growing flat over the ground like a blanket.  By this time next year walking through the area will probably be difficult.

20090925 Killingan Coppice bramble

In other places there is still much bare ground and, despite recent rains, no sign of any seedlings or woodland fungi.  The hornbeam and other tree species' seed that germinated in spring all seem to be doing well though.  On some of the bonfire sites the bonfire moss, Funaria hygrometrica, is growing thickly and has produced many bright orange sporophytes.

Here and there flowers are still brightening the ground like the pink musk mallow (Malva moschata) and the yellow smooth hawksbeard (Crepis capillaris) below.

20090925 Killingan Coppice Malva moschata

20090925 Killingan Coppice Crepis capillaris

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Selsey Bill Rant

Yesterday I made my first visit to Selsey and Selsey Bill in West Sussex. I had been working nearby and had half an hour or so to spare, so I made may way to this most southerly point in Sussex.

The final stretch of road ran through what was effectively a large, suburban-style estate on the road to nowhere with total coverage by bungalows, semis and the occasional grander structure, all with their nurseryman’s catalogue gardens. Chichester, the nearest large urban area, is some nine miles away. The gardens are more wildlife friendly though than the vast open fields spreading across the flat Manhood Peninsula to the north of Selsey.

Why, I wondered, had the planners allowed the end of this thrust of land to be covered in houses. Apart from the beach there seem to be few places to walk, though there is Pagham Harbour not to far distant by car.

The Bill itself is an extraordinary place. The road just runs out and there is a single metal bar to stop cars driving into the sea, plus a litter of tired street furniture and wonky fences. If people didn’t live there, the place would benefit from a good tsunami.

20090912 Selsey Bill 014

Immediately to the east of the dead end there is a playing field style open space, but everywhere else the houses and gardens encroach as closely as they can to the pebbly, breakwatered beach. Strange constructions of concrete like a parkour course allow passage on foot around the private properties and, at one place, there are some strange eyeless amphorae made of concrete and beach pebbles – perhaps an attempt to create a Mediterranean feel to the place. They reminded me of Easter Island moai staring inscrutably out to sea from their platforms.

20090912 Selsey Bill 010

Despite this wrecked landscape, the sun was warm, the sea blue with its waves eternally marching towards the shore. I even made a few wildlife records including some tiny wrack flies, Thoracochaeta zosterae, in washed up seaweed. The most southerly invertebrate records in Sussex no doubt.

Selsey Bill has a sadness about it and it is a kind of monument to our corporate inability to look after our own environment. It epitomises our disastrous tendency to want to cover memorable places with houses as though the residents can gain some sort of apotheosis by owning a bit of what might otherwise be a wonderful wild place (or the middle of a potato field). How very peculiar that the most southerly part of our area, the Land’s End of Sussex, should be part of somebody’s garden.

I think I shall start a campaign to forbid any building within half a mile of the sea (ports and harbours excepted). The state should buy existing houses as they are vacated and demolish them, allowing the land to re-wild in its own way but enabling the public to go there.

20090912 Selsey Bill 012

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nature's symmetries

People have always been fascinated by the way an often chaotic-seeming nature produces intricate patterns of organisation.

20090906 Metre & South View 006

Recently I have bee intrigued by the roundness of ivy flowers and the way that insects, such as the fever flies (Dilophus febrilis) distribute themselves apparently in orderly fashion across the flower heads.

These insects - they all seem to be females - were in the flower heads for a couple of days then they all suddenly disappeared.

20090906 Metre & South View 021a

Caper spurge (Euphorbia lathyrus) is really a weed in our garden and does not, as sometimes suggested, drive away moles.  The leaves arrange themselves with great symmetry in four rows around the central stalk.  Very few British plants seem to be like this, but I have seen some unrelated plant species from New Zealand that are similar.

Caper spurge is not a British native but a long-standing resident species known as an archaeophyte and originally from places further south.  It is widely naturalised out side its native range.