A Year in the Life of the Sussex Wildlife Trust Ecologist - Answers

04 February 2021 | Posted in Glenn Norris , Nature Reserves
A Year in the Life of the Sussex Wildlife Trust Ecologist - Answers
Dartford Warbler © Derek Middleton

By Glenn Norris

Reserves Ecologist

A massive thank you from me for listening to my online talk on what I got up to in 2020.  Let’s hope for more of the same in 2021 and a chance to meet in person early next year.  There were plenty of questions that I didn’t have time to answer on the night so I’ve answered some of them below.

How long would the lobster survive on the beach out of water?  The photo was actually taken underwater! The rockpools at Hope Gap are so clear that it looks like it’s out of the water.  The only danger would be if it was spotted by a sharp-eyed gull that fancied a posh breakfast.

Which reserve can you find the Dartford Warbler?  Dartford Warblers have been recorded at 11 of our 32 reserves, but the best places to go are Stedham and Iping Commons near Midhurst, or Old Lodgein the Ashdown Forest.  We also have recent records from Graffham Common, near Petworth.

How is the badger population doing in Sussex? Badgers benefit from being a protected species under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and appear to be doing very well throughout the country.  More info on their status can be found on the Mammal Society website.  They have only been recorded on 13 of our reserves, but this is likely due to under-recording than lack of presence.  Where we have setts, they appear to be very active.

There was a late frost in our area, near Old Lodge.  How did this affect the wildlife?  The majority of wildlife has been here long enough to cope with a late frost, unless it is particularly vast and unseasonable where it could slow the appearance of flowering plants and kill a few invertebrates.  Interestingly at Old Lodge, due to its elevation it is always slightly colder and later than our other reserves and so has a community of invertebrates associated with the colder and wetter north-western regions of the UK.

Just read George Monbiot's book called "Feral" - he claims that sheep do more harm than good and are not helping re-wilding projects, what are your thoughts on this?  We only use cattle on our ‘wilding’ project at Butcherlands as they're more versatile grazers.  However, the wildlife on the Downs is inextricably linked with human activity as it's basically an artificial landscape created by sheep grazing and that's the best way at keeping them in suitable condition for the species that have adapted to live there and that’s the reason we manage a flock at the Trust. 

Is the Midland Hawthorn good for wildlife even though it has a double flower? The majority of truly native Midland Hawthorn only have single flowers and are equivalent to Hawthorn in their benefits to wildlife.  From those I’ve seen, the double-flowered varieties aren’t thick enough to prevent access to pollinators.

Where can I find instructions on how to make a trap similar to those used at the Southerham dew pond?  If there is any chance of Great Crested Newts being present within a waterbody you intend to survey, you would need at least a Level 1 Great Crested Newt Licence to undertake any surveys for amphibians that would involve disturbance, e.g. bottle trapping, netting, torching.

Will you be doing a presentation on orchids? Do you allow photographers? I’m not planning to do anything on orchids coming up, but I am in the process of writing up my final report about the orchids on Malling Down which may be of interest.  If you mean do we allow photographers to present their images then that is a question of the Community and Wildlife Team who organise the webinars.  If you mean taking photos of the orchids on the reserves, then absolutely yes.

Was the early-summer last year hotter than usual?  Do you think this contributed to the rare sights or flower reappearance?  It may have had some effect in increasing the abundance of certain species that benefit from a hot dry spring/early summer, but in the case of Field Fleawort, it is in a part of Ditchling Beacon not regularly walked so it may have been there all along.  It is a small plant and flowers early so is easily missed.

Where was the Violet Helleborine found?  We have a good population of Violet Helleborine in the woods at Marline Valley near Hastings, but it has also been recorded at Ebernoe and The Mens near Petworth.

Do you spend much time at Rye Harbour or mostly the Downs and Grassland? Well spotted.  Unfortunately I rarely get to go to Rye Harbour.  This is partly because the reserve already has an excellent team in Barry, Chris and Dave that do the monitoring there, but also it’s so massive that it needs its own team;  I’m already spread across the other 31 reserves.  I do still manage to get a bit of ad hoc recording in every now and then though!

Is the cave system at Marehill Quarry man-made? Yes, the quarry was used to mine fine-grade sand for the iron-industry in the 19th Century, which is why there is that regular pillared structure.  It was then briefly used as a mushroom farm in the mid-20th Century but went unused until the Trust bought it.  The bats roost in the little cracks in the ceiling.

Did you see any obvious impact in pollution from traffic and aircraft during 2020?  Simply, no. I think the period of low emissions was too short and indicators of air pollution such as lichens are slow-growing.

Could you start the Marsh Gentian in a tray to plant out later if seeds are limited?  Exactly.  Spreading see would be too risky with limited stock so RHS Wakehurst attempted to germinate them for us to plug plant later.

So what did you study at university and did you go back for further study in ecology?  I studied Zoology at university and then was lucky enough to get a traineeship with the Scottish Wildlife Trust learning how to become an ecological consultant and this was where I honed most of my survey skills.  I had had enough of academia by that point and wanted to get some serious experience.

What happened to the Kestrel?  As you can imagine, most labs have been diverted their workload to the pandemic so there is a big delay in finding out what happened to the kestrel.  I will definitely write about it when I get the autopsy results.

How big are the black tongue fungi at Southerham?  They’re quite small, about 5-7cm in height but against a green background they are quite easy to spot.  They look like dead fallen leaves from a distance.

Can you organise a talk about lichens? I love studying them through my Opticron x 15 magnifier, which has LED lighting. Shoreham Old Wooden Bridge is one of the best places in Sussex to see them.  Sounds like a request our Communities and Wildlife Team would be able to address.  Unfortunately, it would be me speaking as I’m still at the start of my lichen journey!