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 

Rifle Range Post 10

There were two open days over the summer, the second of which was part of our now regular slot in the Big Picnic. To compliment the rifle range experience for both events, a couple of extra items were brought down: a bench and marking disc.

Bench and marking disc

The replica bench was made to fit into the slots in the wall of the gallery in front of target frame number 1 – there would originally have been eight benches, one associated with each target frame. The marking disk consists of a large wooden circle on a pole, black on one side, white on the other and its dimensions came from the 1931 edition of Small Arms Training, Volume V. Back in the 1940s a marker would raise the disc up above the mantlet and indicate the value of the shot just fired using a series of recognized signals, to the shooters out in the field.

We were extremely lucky to have a VIP come to visit on this occasion – Gilbert Saunders, of the Partridge Green Home Guard. Having not fired a shot on the site for over 70 years, Gilbert amazed us all by picking up the marking disk and immediately recalling the method of scoring shots, with all the correct terminology. It was a real pleasure to have him visit and tell us about his experiences here.

Gilbert demonstrates how to mark a shot

A range of weapons and equipment of the type used on the range from 1860 to the 1940s, at the first open day of 2019

A view from 200 yards at the Big Picnic 2019

Looking down range over a Bren Gun

Finally, the photo below shows the range in its current state – after all the hard work of the volunteers.

Thanks to all who have helped out.

The markers’ gallery as it is today could almost be mistaken as being from a working rifle range

Rifle Range Post 9

The far end of the markers’ gallery has been suffering from soil slipping down the slope and filling up target pit 8. Cleaning out the pit was becoming a bit of a regular task, so in a bid to limit the soil slippage, it was agreed we should build a sleeper wall.

The end of the markers’ gallery before we started the wall – note the two angle irons from a previous attempt to stop soil slippage, over thirty years ago

Mike and Mark, from the SDS Conservation team helped out with this project, hauling the sleepers down the gallery and digging the slot in which they would lay.

Mike and Mark getting stuck in, backfilling the area around the sleepers

We hammered in two supporting angle irons, which were then wired to two others further up the slope (following instructions from the 1921 military engineering manual, of course).

The sleeper wall, supported by angle irons

Hopefully this will stem the tide of soil for a least a few years. Thanks to Mike and Mark – couldn’t have done it without your help!

The team after finishing the wall, smiling despite the fact there was no tea available (the lighter for the stove had been left at home).

Rifle Range Post 10

Rifle Range Post 8

As the year draws to a close, it seems like a good time for a round-up of what has been happening at the rifle range in 2019.

The main project we completed was the de-rusting and painting the target frames in the markers’ gallery with red oxide  – a slow and messy job. We also cleaned up the roof support brackets (with the help of Tom and the South Downs National Park volunteers).

Steve paints frame number 8

All eight frames now painted

Work continues on the carriages, however and we still have a few left to sort out. To clean them up, they first need to be raised from the floor of the target pit, which requires freeing the rusted runners and then propping them up to work on.

Robin starting to paint up a carriage

A freshly painted and propped-up carriage

Some of the carriages will need more than a coat of paint to get them ship shape.

A well preserved carriage at the back and one needing a bit of TLC at the front

The Oxford Allen mowers have finally been removed from site, Bill, Steve, Robin and I hauling them out into the field for collection.

Bill, Steve and Robin and the two mowers

Tim, from Ralph Restorations, very kindly came to pick them up them back in July and both mowers fitted perfectly into the small wooden trailer. It was a shame to see them go, but they were becoming a bit of a problem with the nocturnal visitors at the site – we often found the mowers and their associated bits scattered around the markers’ gallery, mostly in the target pits. They had to go before some serious damage was done.

Tim takes the mowers away

Rifle Range Post 9


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.