After an incredibly dry summer left many of our pools dried out, I can now report that we are well and truly a wetland again with recent rain having filled up all of the pools and ditches on the brooks.

We're still trying to finish off some of the habitat management work having to balance the desire to get the work done with the risk that we might get the tractor stuck! We'd still like to continue rotavating the edges of some of the scrapes, grips and pools - this helps to create the gently-sloping muddy edges that provide great feeding opportunities for our wetland birds (and in some in cases helps to ensure that we can see them better).  The rotavator was funded by a generous donation from the Sussex Ornithological Society - thank you!

The current view from West Mead with the tractor and rotavator in the distance (Photo: Joe Bassett)

Once it is too wet to continue out on the wet grassland, our attention will turn to the hedgerows and scrub. Over this weekend, the South of England Hedge Laying Society will be demonstrating their craft and laying the hedgerow between Winpenny Hide and Adder Alley. Hedgelaying helps to regenerate the hedgerows; without it the trees will mature & start to become straggly and gaps will begin to appear. We'll be retaining some of the trees as 'standards' whilst others will be cut and layed .The cutting stimulates new growth and creates lovely dense hedgerow. 

The hedgerows here at Pulborough Brooks are incredibly important for our wildlife, acting as wildlife corridors for our 10 species of bat and for our population of adders, shelter for small mammals and birds and nesting habitat for our warblers.  At this time of year the hedgerows also provide an important source of food with sloes, haws, hips and berries - we're just waiting for the redwings and fieldfares to arrive from Scandinavia to raid them!  The new growth on managed hedgerows is also of vital importance to our 'star' butterfly species - the brown hairstreak - who lays her eggs in the fork of a blackthorn twig between old and new growth.

Egg laying Brown Hairstreak (Photo: Anna Allum)

Every year we gather a team of staff and volunteers to search for the eggs and record the number and location - we've been seeing a year on year increase of the number of eggs located and one of the best spots in January 2019 was on the section of hedgerow that had been layed by the South Downs National Park team the previous winter.  I'll admit that some of the increase in the number of eggs found could be that there are more of us who have now 'got our eye in' when it comes to spotting pin-head sized eggs amongst thorny bushes!

Cluster of Brown Hairstreak eggs found in our 2019 survey (Photo: Phil Thornton)

If you've not been for a while you'll also notice that we've been doing rather a lot of digging in the field at the T-junction (where you decide whether to take the trail clockwise or anticlockwise). The two in-field ponds have been merged and expanded and have also been clay lined. This larger pond should now hold water for longer and we're hoping to repeat the success of the pond at redstart corner which has been brilliant for dragonflies and water voles this summer. I'm hoping that it might even be large enough for Daubenton's bats who fly in circuits above water whilst hunting for insects in the evening. We do detect these bats amongst the woodland and hedgerow after sunset and then they head out onto the brooks and the river once it they have the cover of darkness.

In addition to the pond we've created some additional wet features - ditches and large puddles - and will be planting up the area with scrub and trees.  Over time this will develop into a lovely area of damp scrub which is perfect for breeding nightingales.

Nightingale (Photo: Anne Harwood)

I'm hoping that in a few years time I'll be able to sit on the bench and be surrounded by even more bird song.

The tree planting will also extend into adjacent fields with a mixture of native species being planted. Some areas will be developed as woodland and others as scrub - all valuable habitat for a host of wildlife. The trees have been obtained from the Woodland Trust and we'll be planting them on Saturday 30 November as part of our Wild Winter Weekend and as part of the Woodland Trust's Big Climate Fightback. The Big Climate Fightback is a campaign to get one million people to join the fight against climate change by pledging to plant a tree by Saturday 30 November 2019. So, if you'd like to join in then come along to our weekend event.

We've now recorded over 2000 species on the nature reserve and it's not a great place for nature due to chance alone - our team of wardens and volunteers work incredibly hard to manage the site and create the right habitat for special and threatened wildlife. At the same time we're trying to improve the views of wildlife for our visitors, bringing things closer to the hides and the trails for people to see - our wardens have promised me some Kingfisher posts in front of Nettleys and Winpenny hides (I'll be doing another post about recent sightings, but I'll mention good views of Kingfisher over recent days).

Kingfisher at Winpenny Hide (Photo: Mike Jerome)

In November I shall be commandeering our teenage RSPB Phoenix youth group to refurbish the willow dome and bird feeding area at the far end of the Wildlife Explorer Meadow. Last winter this became a really popular area for our woodland and hedgerow birds - I regularly saw nuthatch, great spotted woodpecker and even bullfinches as well as tits and finches. We may even try to set up a small reflection pool for bird photography.

Nuthatch (Photo: Chris Prince)

The work that we do here on the reserve is only possible because of the support of individuals and organisations - through membership subscriptions and donations and the income generated through events, entry fees and the shop & cafe. We've also been supported by the Sussex Ornithological Society this year who have funded the renovation of Jupp's View and the purchase of the rotavator. Much of the tree planting has been funded through generous memorial donations. Thank you.

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