A jumped up chicken ..

The chickens are in the barn, safe and dry. They are not able to fly, or rather not far and not up into the sky. Because of the Avian Flu restrictions they are in pens with 6′ fencing panels forming the sides and in the case of the guinea fowl, who do fly and are totally neurotic, the panels form the roof too. The two flocks of chickens are separated to prevent fighting. Chickens can be surprisingly vicious and can launch sometimes fatal attacks on newbies unless there is a cockerel to sort out the domestic violence. I do have one but there isn’t enough room in one henhouse for all the chickens. My husband, Hugh, and I were cladding the outside of the barn and were standing about 7′ up. I was somewhat  startled to suddenly  find myself eyeball to eyeball with one of my fairly new chickens who was standing on top of the Heras fencing panel forming the roof of the guinea fowl pen. She is a brown ranger, supposedly calmer and not so flighty as the white rangers, so I hadn’t wing clipped her or her sisters. As I watched her, wondering how on earth I was going to catch her, she made her way across the guinea fowl roof rather like a tightrope walker, the wire in the panels being only a few millimetres thick. All poultry eyes were on her. Having reached the other side she then jumped off the roof and floated down into the other chicken run, much to the amazement of the 6 chickens there who seemed rooted to the spot, beaks open, eyes out on stalks at her audacity. Bold as brass she went in to check out their henhouse. I ran round praying I could get to her before the other chickens came to and attacked her. I was all fingers and thumbs as I opened the pen door. The chickens were still all in a state of disbelief and I managed to shut her in the henhouse before all hell broke loose. I caught her and took her for a walk to the house to collect a pair of scissors from the kitchen. She seemed to find it all very interesting, particularly the cutlery drawer. Back in the barn she stood patiently whilst I clipped a wing. It doesn’t hurt, just unbalances them. Back in her own pen she looked at me as if to say “Oh well, it was worth a try.” Somewhere down the line her ancestry obviously included crossing with a Harrier jump jet. Hopefully her vertical take offs are under control for a while but I must remember to check regularly for new feather growth or she’ll be up to her tricks again. Life is never dull at Partridge Cottage!

Briony Allen

Did you see the Red Kite? (Milvus milvus)

Seeing a Red Kite soaring high in the sky above you is a true delight! My first memory of seeing one was 29 years ago in north Wales and since then along the M4 corridor. At the time I marvelled at their majesty and size. Imagine my delight when last year I spotted one flying over my garden in Bodle Street Green!

Once a very rare bird, thanks to successful reintroduction projects these wonderful birds can now be seen all over the UK, including East Sussex. They have a length of 58-64cm and a huge wingspan of 1.8m. They weigh typically between 1-1.2kg and have an average lifespan of only 4 years.

How to identify?

The Red kite is a large bird of prey with angled, red wings that are tipped with black and have white patches underneath in the ‘hand’. It has a long, reddish-brown, forked tail and is found in several parts of the country including Wales, South East England, Yorkshire and the East Midlands. Habitats are varied including grassland, heathland and moorland, farmland, woodland, towns and gardens.

Did you know?

Red kites were common in Shakespearean London, where they fed on scraps in the streets and collected rags or stole hung-out washing for nest-building materials. Shakespeare even referred to this habit in ‘The Winter’s Tale’ when he wrote: ‘When the kite builds, look to lesser linen’. The nest of a red kite is an untidy affair, often built on top of an old Crow’s nest. It is lined with sheep’s wool and decorated with all kinds of objects like paper, plastic and cloth.

Conservation Status: Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Listed as Near Threatened on the global IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Thankfully, Wildlife Trusts now work closely with farmers and landowners to ensure that our wildlife is protected and to promote wildlife-friendly practices. They create networks of habitats stretching across town and country that allow wildlife to move about freely and people to enjoy the benefits of nature.

Once considered a threat to game birds and domestic animals like cats and dogs, the red kite was hunted close to extinction in the UK. Now a protected species and following several reintroduction attempts, the number of red kites has recovered. Rather than purely hunting for food, red kites are in fact largely scavengers, so mainly like to eat scraps and small prey like rabbits. Listen out for their ‘mewing’ calls!  They can be seen all year round from January to December.

Flowie Georgiou

May 2020 plants recorded in St. John’s churchyard survey

Upper churchyard..

Cardamine Pratensis Cuckoo Flower, Common Spotted Orchid, a Possible hybrid with Early Purple..has no spots on leaves., Common Stitchwort Stellaria, Self heal Prunella vulgaris, Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea, Celandine Ranunculus ficaria, Three cornered Leek Allium Triquetrum., Dandelion Taraxacum officinale, Spotted medick medicago Arabica, Bellis Perenis Daisy, Ox eye daisy chyrsanthemum leucanthemum, Herb Robert Geranium Roberticanum, Cranesbill, Dog Violet viola canina, Common vetch, Meadow Vetchling, Red Clover, Hawksbit, Speedwell Veronica officinalis, Forget me not myosotis sylvatica, Umbellifers..think Chervil /Cow parsley Anthricum. Knapweed leaves coming.., Yarrow, Sorrel..sheepsbit, Docks, NettleButtercup..cut leaved.., Arums..Cuckoo pints., Wild Strawberry.  ..cinquefoils coming.., Cleavers Galium, Plantain major , Ribwort Plantain, Trefoil and Kidney vetch( leaves..not in flower yet), Comfrey and big coarse garden daisies by fence next to Toll Farm..think some loosestrife too , Fleabane, Hedge and Trees..Holly, Holm oak ,Ivy Hawthorn  Bay Conifers Yew Horse Chestnuts , Apple, Mexican orange? Small leaved Elms, Privet , Conifers , Bay, Hawthorn, Bullace, Dogrose, Lime tree, Oaks in hedge.

Plants as in upper churchyard (but no orchids) including

Willow Herb, Sow Thistle, Yarrow, Elder, Comfrey, Grasses..wood grass, Meadow Foxtail, Barren brome , Dogs tail, Sedges

Lower Churchyard

By shed amongst bramble a Columbine, Wood belt between 2 parts of churchyard , Thistle not sure which type yet.., Grass vetchling, Purple vetch, Sycamore seeding.., Bryony climbing in hedges..

This is as far as I got.. I need to do more……….but this is for now..

Margaret Harding

A Trek Along Trolliloes Stream

Trolliloes Stream flows from Furnace Brook, south-east through Hole Farm, and merges into Pebsham Stream after Chilsham Lane. There is a public footpath running alongside its entire length, making its flora and fauna all the more accessible. We would love to share some of the interesting (at least to us!) facts and folklore surrounding some of the species that call the Trolliloes Stream and surrounding woodland home. The month of March in Sussex’s natural world is one of beginnings, and few trees begin sooner than the black or common alder, Alnus glutinosa. Alders tend to grow best when their roots are in water, hence their abundancy along Trolliloes. Unusual among trees at this time of the year, alders have started flowering in the form of catkins. Being monoecious (hermaphroditic), each individual tree produces both male and female catkins. The male catkins are significantly longer than their female counterparts and provide pollinators such as bees with an important early source of pollen and nectar. Once fertilised the female catkins of the alder morph into cones, the only native deciduous tree to do so. As the female catkins of the black alder morph, the twigs and leaves can sometimes become sticky, hence ‘glutinosa’ in its binomial name. The combination of purple catkins and cones give the alder a distinctive purple sheen in spring, allowing them to be easily identified even from a distance.

Interestingly, alder wood is extremely durable and resists rotting when wet, and as a result, has been used by humans for centuries in the construction of boats, waterpipes, bowls and English clogs. The wood is so durable whilst submerged in water that most of the grand old city of Venice is built upon alder piles! The bark of an alder can also be used to make a black/brown dye, and its flowers a green dye, used to colour the clothes of the common population of England throughout the Middle Ages. Arguably the most significant regional use of alders is in the production of gunpowder, for which the local area became world-renowned (alder makes excellent charcoal which is an essential component of the explosive). In 1722, the creator of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe, wrote of Battle; “it is remarkable for little but making the finest gunpowder”. Iron mining and smithing was prolific across the Weald of East Sussex, with even the Romans depending on its ore reserves.

More locally, The Hardings’ house on Hole Farm was built for the foreman of a nearby iron foundry. Upon the arrival of gunpowder to Europe in the 13th century, these local ironworks turned to focus on cannonballs, and it made sense to produce gunpowder nearby. In 1676, a man called John Hammond acquired a license to build a gunpowder mill near Battle, utilising the small river of Aston which rises on Senlac Hill. It is after his subsequent five mills that Powdermill Lane is named. The local powder mills became the prime source of gunpowder for the British army and navy for two centuries, providing the likes of Clive of India, Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington with a means of waging war. There is even a rumour that the 36 barrels of gunpowder placed under Parliament by Fawkes and his co-conspirators on the 5th November 1605 were full of Battle gunpowder.

In folklore, the alder tree has long been associated with death, perhaps a result of its staining red sap when cut, and coppiced alder rods were indeed used for the measuring of corpses and coffins in pre-Christian England. Additionally, alders were associated with bad luck; in Ireland, it was considered bad luck to simply pass an alder on your travels. This may well have been due to their prevalence in swamps. Flooded woodlands were seldom visited, and therefore made excellent hideaways for outlaws and criminals, who even used green dye from alder catkins to camouflage their clothes. According to Norse mythology, fairies also dye their clothes using these catkins in order to blend in with their alder homes.

Aside from human uses, alders are still an incredibly important native tree of UK woodland. They provide numerous services to the ecosystem, strengthening stream and river banks providing flood control, holding nitrogen-fixing bacteria in nodules on their roots supplying nitrites essential in plant growth, and feeding both pollinators and songbirds after the hard months of winter.

So who knows? The humble alders of Trolliloes Stream could have helped outlaws evade justice, held the food of Medieval locals, and even aided in the defeat of Napoleon at Trafalgar and Waterloo.

Ed Stroud & Olly Morgan