Upper Pond Update

Pond Update: Restoration work at the Old Millpond is continuing and with the recent rain, it’s now filling up fast. Recently we put up a traditional chestnut pale fence around the northern side of the pond. There are two important reasons for this:

  1. We are partnering with Wakehurst Place, Kew to reintroduce a very rare plant called Starfruit (Damasomium alisma) into the pond.  Starfruit is currently extinct in Sussex and was last seen here in the 19th Century. It has a very particular set of habitat requirements, amazingly almost all of which are met by the Millpond. The one extra thing needed is a short period of grazing and poaching by cattle in the autumn. The new fence is a wonderful opportunity to start this, with our trusty herd of Dexters.
  1. Unfortunately what started as an occasional splash around in the pond by a few dogs has now become a regular pastime by a large number of dogs. We have reached a point now where the water is almost continually disturbed and turbid. This is frightening away the resident wildlife, which includes Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail, and preventing aquatic plants from growing. So we’re hoping the fence will also protect the northern side of the pond from excessive disturbance.

Starfruit plant (pic: Richard Lansdown)

Dogs are still able to have a splash in the pond on the south side, so we’re doing our best to keep wildlife and dogs happy! If you’d like to keep up-to-date on developments with the pond as they happen, you can sign up to our newsletter via www.steyningdownland.org (scroll to the bottom of the home page). And if you’re able to help our work in a practical way, just email sds@wistonestate.co.uk 

Bird watching

Songs of the Dawn

Despite some very inclement weather our ‘Songs of the Dawn’ dawn chorus walks have been remarkably successful this year. Nightingale has been in full voice, and Cetti’s Warbler was also heard. It is thought there are two of each species singing presently on the Rifle Range. On the 29th April, we were treated to the song of a Wood Warbler, a first ever record for the Steyning Downland Scheme, although it hasn’t been heard since and was probably on its way to the woods of western Britain. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing last Sunday (14th May), and other birds to be heard include Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and Yellowhammer.

The final Songs of the Dawn Walk for this season (a longer version of our walk, this time without breakfast) takes place on Friday 2 June.  For more details and to book, please follow this link.

Photo of volunteers at tea break

SDS Conservation Volunteers


Vols clearing 1

The Conservation Volunteers have been busy clearing the footpath from Mill Lane Allotments up to Steyning Coombe.  We have also been carrying out maintenance on the fencing in Steyning Coombe to make sure that our heard of Dexter cattle don’t go exploring the Downs.  Our next session is on Saturday 16th July when we will be helping with the Big Seed Shake – meet on the Rifle Range at 10am.  There will also be some other jobs to do around the site in the afternoon.

Contact me if you would like further information or to join our group.   The group will meet again on Wednesday 3rd August.

Sarah Quantrill sdsvolunteers@gmail.com



Bunch of elder flowers

Elderflower cordial anyone?

Bunch of elder flowersThe elder trees are out in bloom and if the weather stays fine this weekend it’s a great time to get out and pick a few heads of elderflower to make some delicious and refreshing elderflower cordial (or even wine!).   Please pick responsibly and leave some flowers for wildlife.

We like this Elderflower Cordial recipe from River Cottage.

Welcome to the Conservation Volunteers!

This is just a quick, introductory blog to ‘say hello’ from the Conservation Volunteers. Our next meeting is next Saturday, 19th March which will be in the Secret Garden over at Pepperscoombe. We’ll meet on Newham Lane at 10am where the 30mph sign is so that everyone can help carry up tools.  The job will be do the second rotational cutting – we did the first section last winter.  Looks like it will be a lovely sunny day!

30mph sign Newham Lane



Muddy path

Leaning Trees and Sloppy Mud

Hopefully we’re now reaching the tail end of another wet and windy winter, but its legacy has been a large number of precariously leaning trees in the Horseshoe Woods and elsewhere on the Steyning Downland Scheme. Some of the more precarious examples are leaning directly over footpaths!

We are working to clear these as soon as possible, but meanwhile please do take care when walking under trees, particularly in windy weather.

Next week, work begins to improve the gateways at either end of the Big Picnic Field. At the moment these are very muddy and apart from being a slippery challenge to walkers, the mud is also stopping our grazier from being able to move her conservation cattle onto the Rifle Range. We will be using chalk rubble to fill in the potholes and create a firmer, more even surface in these areas – the work should only take a couple of days to complete.

Looking forward to a sunny, warm spring!

Bird Survey Group

A group of Steyning birdwatchers has been meeting once a month to carry out an informal survey of birds on the Downland Scheme. The group started in 2012 and has been recording its sightings on Birdtrack, the BTO/RSPB national bird record database. We started with the expectation that we might see as many as 50 species of birds, but passed that total quite early on and now the tally stands at an incredible 83 species. Part of the reason for this is the wide variety of habitats in the area. There is a mixture of woodland, grassland, scrub and hedgerows, ponds and a stream including a lot of the important ‘edge habitat’, transitions between woodland and grassland which give the combination of feeding, nesting sites, cover, and song post resources that are needed by so many species.

The ‘top 20’ most frequently recorded species includes many familiar UK residents that you might be lucky enough to see in your garden. The list includes Greenfinch, Yellowhammer, Long-tailed tit, Green and Great-spotted Woodpeckers, Blackcap and Chiffchaff. The last two we used to think of as summer visitors, but they occur often enough in the winter period to make it into the top 20.
Birds that tend to make exclusive use of the woodlands include Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Goldcrest and Marsh tit, while Moorhen and Mallard tend to be confined to the ponds. The area around the ponds has seen some of our most exciting birds including a Bittern and the elusive Water Rail. The ponds have also attracted Teal and Gadwall.

We are still adding new species. The latest was Stonechat, quite a common species in Sussex, so a surprise that it had taken so long for the first one to turn up. A pair seem to have taken up winter residence on the north side of the rifle range.

If you would like to see the full list of birds we have seen in the last three years follow the links [2012] [2013] [2014].

We meet on the second Sunday of the month in Mill Lane near the Tennis Courts, shortly after dawn and take a slow walk around the area, noting down the birds we see. We welcome beginners as well as experienced birdwatchers to the group. If you wish to take part you need to be fit enough to negotiate the steep slopes and often muddy tracks of the Downland Scheme. Binoculars and stout footwear essential.

Please contact Bob Platt 01903 812404 bobplatt@talktalk.net to confirm arrangements.

view of downland

Goings On

On Sunday afternoon (25th January) some local people heard loud bangs coming from the Rifle Range. This could have been caused in several ways, for example people letting off fireworks or hunting rabbits. In any case the Steyning Downland Scheme has not given permission for hunting or shooting on the land, so please do let us know as soon as you can if you hear or see anything similar in future. You can also call the police if you know shotguns or air rifles are being used.