Thursday, 30 March 2017

Wild daffodils

Last week we were thrilled to see wild daffodils in a place they've never been seen before. There are a few long-established clumps down at the south end of Old Copse, which seem to be spreading, albeit, painfully slowly, and until last week, we thought they were the only wild daffodils in the wood.

The original wild daffodils 

So, it's very pleasing to see some new ones in flower just off the steep track through the birch some 500 yards further north in the wood. The seeds must have been waiting in the ground for a very long time, and once light had been brought in through some selective felling and clearing,  they had seized their opportunity.  Natural regeneration like this seems to make all our work worthwhile. Not only daffodils, but wild violets and other herbaceous plants are also starting to make an appearance in the ground layer, stimulated by the increased light  - and hopefully - better able to survive due to decreasing deer numbers.

Wild daffodils starting to colonise a new clearing.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

RSPB Bird Survey

Marsh tit (library picture)

Willow tit (library picture)

Here is a slightly paraphrased extract from the report on a bird survey carried out by the RSPB in four wooded areas (including our Old Copse wood in the Sussex High Weald) during February/March last year. The surveyors were aiming to locate the presence of Marsh Tits and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers.

Lesser spotted woodpecker (photo Steve Oakes)

Funding was secured by Natural England to undertake woodland bird surveys in 2016. The work was done in the following four woodland  SSSI's (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) in Sussex and Kent: Ashburnham; St  Leonard’s Forest/Old Copse; Cow Wood and Harry’s Wood; West Blean and Thornden Woods.  All four of these woodland SSSI's are notified for woodland and woodland breeding bird assemblage.

The field work undertaken aimed to:

• Check for presence of all resident woodland birds using appropriate survey techniques.

• Confirm breeding and breeding behaviour of key early woodland birds using appropriate
specialist survey techniques.

As funding was for the period prior to the start of the financial year in April 2016 breeding surveys could only be completed for those species that set up on territory early: namely lesser spotted woodpecker, willow tit and marsh tit. However, these are three of the most important woodland birds in a South East context. All three are rare and declining and all three require specialist survey techniques as they are unlikely to be recorded accurately using standard assemblage monitoring techniques. Surveyors also recorded the presence of other woodland birds during the survey.

As an additional comparison site the surveys of the area of Blean woods managed by the RSPB
are included.

Old Copse is Unit 1 (part) marked in purple . For the purposes of the RSPB survey, Old Copse was included as part of the greater St. Leonard's Forest area, which of course - historically -  it was.

 St. Leonard’s Forest survey areas (marked in purple)
Area: Unit 3: 2.08
Unit 4: 46.83
Unit 5: 9.21
Unit 1 (part): 5.6 (Permission to access larger area of Unit 1, in red, not granted)
Total: 63.72
Ownership: Unit 3: Forestry Commission
Unit 4: Forestry Commission
Unit 5: Forestry Commission
Unit 1 (part): Private owner - Sarah Axon

Three surveyors were used, all of whom had expertise in woodland bird surveys and a history of
previous work with the RSPB. The surveyors were Dave Burges (Ashburnham), Martin Allison (St Leonard's Forest and Old Copse, Cow Wood and Harry's Wood) , and Bob Gomes  (West Blean and Thornden  Woods.)

Report on St. Leonard’s Forest.(including Old Copse)

Dates of visits

In addition to the five dawn survey visits, a reconnaissance visit was also made on 11th February
so that the surveyor could familiarise himself with the layout of the wood. The dates and principal
objective of each visit is given in table 6 below.

Table 6. Dates and objectives of visits to St. Leonard’s Forest in February/March 2016.
Visit number Date Objective
1 11/02/16 Reconnaissance
2 16/02/16 Marsh/willow tit survey
3 02/03/16 Lesser spotted woodpecker survey
4 08/03/16 Lesser spotted woodpecker survey
5 17/03/16 Marsh/willow tit survey
6 21/03/16 Lesser spotted woodpecker survey

Target species

A total of 6 to 7 marsh tit territories were identified (Table 7). One territory (at TQ215309) may
have been just outside the survey area). Two of the territories were in Old Copse. They tended to
be in the wetter areas close to Gills or lakes (figure 7). St. Leonard’s Forest is a wet woodland
compared to sites further east such as Tudeley and Blean and it seems probable that this is an
important factor in the good numbers of marsh tits still present.

Table 7. Location of marsh tit territories at St. Leonard’s Forest based on five visits in March 2016.
Territory No Grid reference Location
1 TQ215309 Lily Beds
2 TQ208304 Sheepwash Gill
3 TQ212303 Scragged Oak Hill
4 TQ211301 Inholme Gill
5 TQ208300 Sheepwash Wood
6 TQ219294 Old Copse
7 TQ218292 Old Copse

No willow tits were found. Willow tit also depends on wetness but has a preference for younger
woodlands dominated by birch, hawthorn, willow, hazel and alder. It uses scrub vegetation of 2 to
4 m in height and is possible that this was not present in sufficient quantity on the site to retain
willow tit. However, it should be noted that willow tit has suffered widespread declines so it is
unlikely that its loss here is simply a site specific issue.

No lesser spotted woodpecker were found within the survey area. There are areas of St. Leonard’s
that are conifer plantation, some of it recently felled, which is less suitable for this species than
deciduous woodland. That may be a factor, especially to the north of the survey area. However the
south of the survey area included wet deciduous woodland that looked very suitable habitat. In fact
there was a record of a calling bird from outside the woodland boundary. It was heard on one
occasion south of the Hammerpond Road car park. It is possible that the southern part of the
survey area was in the territory of this bird but, at the least, its presence suggests that this species
might re-colonise St. Leonard’s Forest in the future if there is enough suitable habitat. Replacing
conifer blocks with deciduous woodland and increasing the quantity of deadwood would both be
beneficial for this species.

It is hoped that the survey will be repeated and developed in April, and July/August this year.  It will be interesting to know if our work done in the Old Copse wet wood,  birchwood, and the Scots Pine Plantation during the past year has had any effect on the Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker population.

 Link to the full report:

Sunday, 12 March 2017


Recently, we saw a couple of  white and brown ducks  on the pond that we hadn't seen before. We tried to identify them but couldn't find anything similar in the bird books. Eventually we decided that they were domestic ducks who had left home to raise a brood on the pond. Despite looking very different to the mallards they were accepted and could be seen cruising up and down the water with them.

I had my camera with me one day, and while enjoying a cup of tea on the cabin deck I spotted our new ducks, and thought I would get a snapshot. More difficult than it sounds. By the time I got down to the Pond they had paddled away into the reeds. But it was lucky that I'd made the effort to try and get a photo because I stumbled, almost literally,  across Karl, who fishes on the pond, and is also a keen wildlife photographer, and who, like me, was trying to get a photo of these new visitors. Sitting quietly, waiting for a bite, he is perfectly placed to observe and record the local wildlife . We don't have much time to do this, and are usually making too much noise, so are very happy that Karl allowed us to put some of his excellent photos on the blog. Here are a few of them. Click on them to enlarge.

Two new visitors

.........and one of them with a Fallow Deer

 We do have rather too many of these pretty  Fallow Deer in the wood. 

Grass Snake



Greater Spotted Woodpecker

Marsh tit (red-listed)

Bat, species to be determined , though we know there are Daubentons and Pipistrelles in the wood.

I think this robin has just spotted something to eat.

Not a rare Dormouse unfortunately, just a common wood mouse,    
sometimes known as the long tailed field mouse, but endearing all the same.
Dragonflies (or Damselflies ) in flight. There are many  varieties, some rare, on or near the pond. 

Buzzard, with beautiful under wing markings.