By Sam Roberts
Since starting work at Sussex Wildlife Trust two years ago, I’ve been trying to visit all 32 nature reserves. Although most are open to the public, some, such as Chailey Warren near Newick, have limited access. So I jumped at the chance to take part in a special planting mission led by Central Sussex Reserves Manager Steve Tillman and his team of conservation volunteers.
Steve and I collected 600 plug plants from Steph Bridges at Kew at Wakehurst Place. These included sneezewort Achillea ptarmica, dyer’s saw-wort Serratula tinctoria, dyer’s greenweed Genista tinctoria and purple betony Stachys officinalis. All have been recorded at the reserve, and thrive in the conditions of moist soil in winter and warm, baked soil in summer.
Most exciting was the rare marsh gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe, which grows in acidic bogs and wet heathlands. The bright blue, trumpet-shaped flowers are only found in three areas of Britain, appearing July to October. Their presence was why the site was purchased back in 1967.
Unfortunately, Chailey Warren’s access issues caused management challenges. Marsh gentian was last recorded in 2011. But help from neighbours in allowing regular access increased our ability to manage, and we’ve been able to cut back bracken and birch, as well as reintroducing Konik and Exmoor ponies to graze dominant grasses. This puts us in a much better position to reintroduce species which have been lost, including the marsh gentian.
This story is a testament to the work of Kew and the Millennium Seed Bank in the conservation of rare species. In 1997, marsh gentian seeds were taken from Chailey Warren, dried and stored. These seeds were used to grow the plugs we returned to the site.
We worked hard at planting with our Hit Squad in the hard, baked soil and managed to dig in all 600 plants. These should kick-start recolonisation, turning wet heath into a landmark reserve once again.