Sussex Wildlife Trust's Community Action team went back to college this week. We received an invite from Seaford College (near Petworth) to take a look at the wildlife improvements being made on their expansive 400 acre campus.
Seaford College's Paul Boarer (Estates Manager - Grounds) has been working hard to make areas of the college wildlife friendly.
Our first stop was an impressive chalk bank created by Paul with support and advice from Charles Winchester of the South Downs National Park Authority and local resident (and SWT volunteer) Matthew Sennitt. This long bank will be fantastic for wildlife in the future. Students will be planting chalk flowers along the bank and, as it develops, it will be a haven for insects and basking reptiles. We're really interested in seeing how this develops.
Paul was particularly proud of a recent wildflower meadow that has been created at the college. And so he should be - it looked amazing and was alive with bees, butterflies, beetles and other insects.
In the past few weeks the warm weather has encouraged the emergence of many Marbled White butterflies. There were plenty enjoying the meadow including this mating pair.
James Duncan spotted a Downland Villa - a relative of the bee-fly - flying through the meadow flowers. This bee-fly species was once feared extinct in Britain but was re-discovered in The Cotswolds in 2000. Since its discovery in Sussex in 2016 this insect seems to be doing very well and spreading across the county. Wild flower meadows like the one created by Paul are helping this species, and many others, to recover.
Around the college grounds large areas have been left unmowed allowing the wild flowers, grasses and the insects that depend on them to flourish. This in turn is helping the local birds, mammals and reptiles too. By leaving areas under some of the college's impressive parkland trees unmown they are avoiding compaction of the soil by vehicles. This compaction affects root systems, the fragile networks which provide life to trees.
The harvesting of a large swathe of Western Hemlock conifers - planted as a crop many decades ago on the north slope of the Downs - is giving Paul the opportunity to plan replacing this dense, dark, regimented plantation with a wildlife friendly habitat of native tree species. This part of the South Downs is the only known home in Sussex of the Plumed Prominent moth. Adding a few Field Maple trees to the replanting plan - the foodplant of the moth's caterpillar- will hopefully assist this species. The adjacent Duncton Hangar was known as the best site in Britain for the rare Cheese Snail. You may be reassured to know that the name comes from its appearance (like a wheel of cheese) as opposed to its taste.
In other woodland areas Paul is managing the woodland to create more glades allowing sunlight back into the wood. There were plenty of Silver-washed Fritillary butterflies enjoying these new glades when we visited.
It was great to see so many areas of the college being managed with wildlife in mind. We finished our tour on a bank behind the college which was full of orchids, twayblades and bellflowers. 2021 has been a great year for orchids across the county and this bank certainly looked impressive.
I spotted the distinctive hoverfly Chrysotoxum bicinctum buzzing around. It seemed to be enjoying the bank as much as me.
It was great to see the work that Paul, Matthew, Charles and Seaford College are undertaking for wildlife - it's certainly making a big difference.