Return to Beaney’s Lane

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2022 by cliffdean

Finding myself with (at least) a couple of hours to kill at the Conquest Hospital last week, I took my Third Walk Ever down the ancient lane that runs alongside, up from Hastings, over The Ridge, thence down towards Westfield. Accounts of my two previous visits, from 2011 & 2018 are below:

Yeakell & Gardner 1778-83

Certain things have not changed: the derelict industrial site remains, albeit a bit more overgrown, as do the piles of concrete lying the far side of the lane.

But the entrance to the lane itself is less fortified, the protected status of the SSSI woodland is clearly signalled (repeatedly ) and the trash has been cleared.

So it’s now a nice historic lane, similar to that to the west of Beauport park, with a huge embankment on its eastern flank and an outgrown Hornbeam hedge on the other side.

What’s different though, since those earlier posts, is the significance the wood has acquired in supplying the Sweet Chestnut cladding for Rye Harbour Discovery Centre.

In harvesting the Chestnut, the woodland has been opened up to sunlight, under which the regrowth has provided habitat for a wide range of insects and birds. InWood have used a very economical technique if finger-jointing, seen in the photo below, which securely connects even quite small lengths of timber so that little is wasted.

Allotment at the turn of the year

Posted in Uncategorized on October 1, 2022 by cliffdean

The sound that you hear straight away on arrival is the twitter of Goldfinches, massed in a Bullace halfway down the hedge. Hard to count as they come in and out of the shadows and flutter down to drink from puddles in the black plastic cocooning a vacant plot. But their thirst does not come from the astringent fruits – unlike the nearby Blackbird which swallows them whole – for they seem to be pecking among the leaves. There are one or two Greenfinches there too

Apart from the traffic of Rooks & Jackdaws from their base the far side of the pub, the Crows on the wires at the foot of the horse paddock and the Magpies keeping watch from the hedgerow, autumnal Jays have reappeared on the scene, lured in by the bumper crop of golden acorns.

A Buzzard flaps down from the side. I see them overhead often enough but this is the first I’ve seen actually eyeing up the vegetable plots, though the Kestrels know well enough about the little beasts that scuttle about here.

A few Chiffchaffs are still foraging here, but now joined by a Goldcrest and later as the sun warms up flying insects, Swallows appear though the House Martin colony across the road, next door to the hairdressers, is now silent. Overhead, Meadow Pipits are making their steady way southwards.

A chorus of Starlings has arrived to whistle on the wires and below them a furtive Wren speeds between cluttered sheds, boards & weeds. From the trees come small calls of Blue, Great, Coal & Long-tailed Tits and somewhere a Mistle Thrush is rattling. there must be song thrushes here too but, for months on end at this time of year, you just don’t see them

In luck with a Longspur

Posted in Uncategorized on September 30, 2022 by cliffdean

A lovely bright morning for a quick walk along Pett sea wall. Cold! Autumn attire of lined trousers and a thick fleece but no bag or water required since I’d only be out an hour or so.

Seasonal shifts at the canal: the EA have stripped off the waterside vegetation and the Coots are back on the water. In addition, adjacent PLPT compartments have been mown so the whole area is much more open than a few weeks ago.

The morning sunshine is catching the scrub on the face of Toot Rock which, consequently, is busy with Chiffchaffs & Blackcaps. Then there’s the screaming trill of young Kestrels as they crash into a tall willow where one bird flounders upside down, wings spread as the other stands menacingly over it. I’m no more able to make sense of this than the numerous Jackdaws & Magpies which congregate to watch the show. Even the Undercover Bullfinches turn up to have a look. As with squabbling youngsters in general, however, it may be less deadly than it sounds and they eventually extricate themselves and fly off.

At the far end of the Rock, by the abandoned Tamarisk, I should return to the sea wall but it’s such a beautiful morning and I have plenty of time so instead head off down the canal for a Pett Circular. Already, Meadow Pipits, Chaffinches & Swallows are moving overhead along with several Skylarks, a Grey Wagtail & a Siskin. House Sparrows, Chaffinches. Linnets & Blue Tits are in the canalside bushes and then surprisingly, the loud buzz of a Brambling comes from among them – they go over in autumn but rarely settle.

What is still called Carters Flood (you’ll notice the missing apostrophe, but on old maps the farm is called “Carthouse” so maybe there never was a Carter. It’s as bad as Dogs Hill Road – how many Dogs exactly?) is no longer wet meadows but a reed bed, which is all to the good as far as Bearded Tits are concerned because it represents a sizeable extension to their world here. There’s a good deal of pinging before a dozen fly up in October mode.

Here, I met TM, who I usually see on the seawall but who, since the heatwave beach crowds, have re-routed to the canal bank. As usual, we reviewed the current political situation though I can give no further insight to our exchange without recourse to an excessive use of my asterisk key. It was he who put me onto the mordant photomontages of Cold War Steve, rich in art-historical references.

A diversion into the Pannel Valley – abortive since both hides were locked – at least re3sulted in a couple of Hobbies.

By the time I got to Newgate I was too hot, regretting that I had neither water nor a bag to stow surplus garments. I hung my binoculars on a bridge to free myself up for the struggle to get a too-thick fleece into a too-small jacket pocket and once this was, with some difficulty, achieved I set off across to the seawall. In response to some interesting bird a couple of hundred yards along the sheep-track I found myself clutching at my chest, having failed to retrieve my binoculars. However, it was only a couple of hundred metres back to the bridge, not too high a price to pay for absent-mindedness.

But as I trudged back there was a prrrt – tew! over my head, then another, already well west of me. A Lapland Bunting! I haven’t seen or heard one for several years! I didn’t see this one; it can’t have been high up a but was a speedy little bird against a bright blue sky. Not enormously rare but certainly scarce and an example of how a very small sound can have much bigger significance.

And – here comes the School Assembly Theme: if I hadn’t forgotten my binoculars I would by then have been out of earshot…

Bath-time Birding

Posted in Uncategorized on September 20, 2022 by cliffdean

Arriving home after a long train journey from Tynemouth, scattered with nut-flakes and dusted with sugar from the best-ever almond croissant supplied by Pink Lane Bakery, what better way to clean up and relax than in a hot bath? Our bathroom window has the best view from the house, northwards towards Icklesham, across farmland and woods, so one of the first things we did upon purchasing the property many years ago was to replace the inexplicable ribbed glass with clear.

You can’t see the land when you’re lying in the bath but you can get additionally immersed in the cloudscape, especially when northerly winds blow the clouds towards you in from the sea, where they start as mighty architectonic form but soon stretch, curl, lean, roll, collapse and disintegrate as they rise over the warmer land, often vanishing altogether. Today, they were less distinct: grey and scumbled like a Dutch painting from the Golden Age, maybe Cuyp.

Looking upwards at those clouds, I usually see the local hirundines skidding about, maybe some gulls sailing over and perhaps the odd Jackdaw or Woodpigeon perched on the conical top of a neighbour’s threadbare Thuja, which just about makes it into the window’s lower right hand corner. But that’s it – until today, when I noticed lots of little birds flitting out of the shadows and into the sunshine.

They looked like warblers so, for the first time I called for binoculars, which weren’t so great looking at an angle through slightly steamed-up double glazing, and soon attracting their own condensation but in the meantime allowed me to identify – yes- Chiffchaffs but also Blue & Long-tailed Tits, a Robin and…a Willow Warbler!! Other birds not requiring magnification were Collared Dove, House Martins, Jackdaws, Swallows, Starlings & Woodpigeon.

I feel it would be a dangerous move, however, to start a Bath Life-list.

BT, CC,, CD, HM, JD, LT, R, SG, SL, WP, WW……..

A month of Sunlit Flatlands

Posted in Uncategorized on September 1, 2022 by cliffdean

Hoyorredondo – more questions than answers

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2022 by cliffdean

Sierra de Gredos: Hoopoes are pulsing before daylight, while at dusk, Iberian Magpies converge with harsh squeals along the stone-lined lanes to the cluster of stone houses.

Halfway up the mountain, houses huddle and byres lean against granite outcrops. When did they first come here and for what purpose? The soil seems too shallow to grow much but grass, so was it a halfway house for transhumant herds and flocks moving up during the spring? Too cold in the winter, desiccated later?

Drystone walls, based on massive boulders and culminating in a loose assemblage of stones that let through points of sparkling light. Everywhere you can hear the nasal calls of Rock Sparrows, but they stay hidden away in cracks, holes and crevices.

At regular intervals, lanes no longer travelled lead off from the the spine road. Cirl Buntings flick over the brambles, attended by dozens of spectacular butterflies: Queen of Spain Fritillary, Purple Shot CopperWoodlarks flute from the dry paddocks.

From the shady interiors of Pyrenean Oaks, Bonelli’s Warblers are rattling and streamlined Golden Orioles dart across the gaps.

But the disposition of fields is not an organic one determined by the random distribution of the outcrops: the walls are straight, the areas regular. At some point, the terrain, rather than being carved out by hand, has been lotted up on a map, the project of a wealthy landowner. Who? When? What were the circumstances that made it worthwhile? Were inhabitants recruited, incentivised?

The answers don’t come readily to a casual tourist.

It’s not now; cows and a bowser occupy just one enclosure; farmsteads, their habitations, barns and fine gateways are collapsing once more into heaps of granite. Few remaining seem to be permanently occupied, others are holiday homes, another is our hotel.

Hardly intended as a temporary structure, with what pulleys, levers and labour was this dolmen-like lintel lifted? Hidden in the tree opposite, a Subalpine Warbler is singing.

Looking for inland migrants

Posted in Uncategorized on August 30, 2022 by cliffdean

A search for flycatchers seemed a good idea at Ashburnham. It wasn’t a terribly good idea, but we searched the farmland fences and branches of dead trees anyway. There were a few Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Common & Lesser Whitethroats zipping between and inevitably deep into the bushes so we tried a hedgerow which followed a ditch originating in a hillside spring.

Crunching across crisp stubble on a field crazed with polygonal fissures, we found that the birds diving ahead of us were Yellowhammers, a species now so restricted in the largely inhospitable arable landscape that it’s a surprise to see one at all, but here there maybe 15 moving about and perching in bushes above vegetation greened by the spring and pink with invasive Himalayan Balsam.

Down at the lake another colourful yet invasive plant I identified, with the aid of Google Lens was Nymphoides peltata Yellow Floating Heart. I couldn’t recall having seen it before – maybe since I don’t usually visit this site at this time of year – but the plant atlas shows it as widespread, especially along the RM Canal E of Rye.

The yellow theme continued along the lakeside with Crab Apples and through the Woods with the eponymous Chicken…

…but birds were few though the silence was leavened by the sounds of hymn-singing which floated from the house through an open window and of laughter as young girls cartwheeled across the stable yard.

Far From Rottingdean

Posted in Uncategorized on August 21, 2022 by cliffdean

I continue to be fascinated by this invasive alien which occupies the riverside shingle between the Red-roofed Hut and the Riverside Blockhouse. Last year, I wrote a short article about it for the Friends’ Newsletter. Since a bit of time has now passed, perhaps I’ll repeat it here:


…and very much further from Sicily, whence it originated, a little purple flower has travelled, first with assistance of humans then, putatively of gulls, to find a home by the rivermouth at Rye Harbour. Just beyond Norton’s Hut you can see the colourful curvilinear mats of Rottingdean Sea Lavender (Limonium hypblaeum) hunkered down in a hollow behind a fresh bank of pebbles thrown up by the latest over-topping tide.

It was cultivated as a garden plant at the White Horse Hotel, Rottingdean since at least the early 1950s and first recorded as an escape on the nearby chalk cliffs in 1979. It was first noted on the nature reserve by the Rother around 2002 but its UK distribution remains very limited.

This low-lying plant grows in dense rosettes that smother the shingle and has spread quickly in this one spot on the reserve. As with many alien species, it has the potential to become invasive, which it has in other countries. There were initial concerns that it would compete for space with the native Sea Heath (Frankenia laevis ) which was formerly restricted to a small patch of the same habitat. However Sea Heath has now spread across large parts of Flat Beach and the new saltmarsh habitat on the far side of the path, so is no longer in jeopardy. That’s unless Rottingdean Sea Lavender should follow…so there’s a watching brief on its progress. But for the present it can be appreciated as a photogenic plant favoured by insects (including the scarce Saltmarsh Horsefly, Silvery Leaf-Cutter Bee & Brown-banded Bee) in summer and birds (including the rare Twite and Shore Lark) foraging its seeds in winter.

I’m intrigued by the sharply defined limits of its growth areas and by the vigorous flowering at the colonising edges. I’ve only noticed the latter this year, but that could be my lack of attention. You can see both features in the photo above, where the marginal tufts are larger and covered in flowers whereas older plants within the patch remain as deep crimson leaf rosettes, perhaps with much reduced flowering.

My guess is that those vigorous lines are the expansionist vanguard, dumping loads of seed onto ground as yet unoccupied. If anyone knows one way or the other, I’d be pleased to be confirmed or corrected.

The palest, freshest, most disturbed shingle is generally where the river over-topped on an exceptionally high tide (as in the foreground of the photo below) perhaps burying the existent plants, but I’m puzzled about the curving area in the two photos above. It looks too far from the river to result from a tidal wash but is too wide and discontinuous to be an animal track.

Within the growth areas, the rosettes bind the shingle, stabilising it so that animal and human trampling has little effect. In the photo above you can see that the pebbles look whiter than those surrounding it. The dead foliage provides the beginnings of a soil and the undisturbed stones are more readily encrusted with lichens.

A characteristic which hardyl shows i na photo but is evident to the eye, especially in raking light, is the way plants follow and therefore emphasise contours otherwise too subtle to notice in a rhythmic mesh of curves and diagonals.

Nostalgie de la Boue

Posted in Uncategorized on August 8, 2022 by cliffdean

One hot day follows another in this suddenly golden land, from which we sometimes see distant clouds but rain remains absent from the forecast.

The soil cracks, the streams shrink, the lawn-mowers are thankfully silent and at Pett Pools the receding water reveals a slim silver sliver of mud to which a meagre selection of passing waders is attracted: Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint.

It wasn’t always like this. No, in recent years the level has held, the mud submerged and the waders went on their way. But from 1975 to 2000 the Pett Pools Project gave them cause to pause.

Every mid-July, a team of SOS volunteers operated a pump with which water from the “Roadside Pool” (which soon became the “Wader Pool”) was transferred to the pool behind – the “Back Pool”, to leave a broadening muddy margin upon which a variety and number of waders now inconceivable would feed. Hopes were pinned on the reassuring chug of the pump borne on the night wind but it was hired only for the initial draining, after which we were at the mercy of the elements. Hopes could be blasted by an early downpour while a prolonged dry spell, albeit mitigated by returning some water from the back pool, would reduce the feeding area to cracked mud, revived by no amount of subsequent rain.

Southern Water Authority staff electro-fished the shallows to rescue floundering Carp (the whole project had been inspired by such an initiative.

There followed a season of hypnotic hours bearing witness to the season’s turn, with waders tugged back & forth by the tide’s lunar drag while birdwatchers remained suspended between twin gravities of birding and domestic responsibility, like players on poker machines, waiting for that one last bit of luck…

Apart from flocks of commoner (but not that common) birds, some rarities were WW Tern, Sandpipers: Pectoral (where, + Temminck’s Stint in 1995, that Joan Medlock told me of the availability of the house where we have lived ever since), Baird’s (where, in 1989, Bob G told me of Kitty French’s suicide), White-rumped, Least (we were in Australia for that one and only heard about it later by letter (no email then)).

Was the early morning better because of lack of disturbance – maybe something that had flown in overnight? Or was high tide the deciding factor, whatever the time of day? Or evening, when birds flew in to roost and the still air echoed to the piping of…well, sandpipers…..

If daylight allowed on return from summer holidays in foreign parts – Pett Pools was the first stop, for birds, for bird news (no mobiles then, no internet).

By October, summer showers and equinoctial storms had refilled the pool, leaving huddled Dunlin hopping between last marginal lumps of rain-wet mud, a huddled tern perched on the depth indicator, a late warbler working its way through the wind-tossed reed.

A report was produced each year.

All this was years ago before Canada Geese, before Ruddy Ducks, before Birdline, when the Pannel Valley was still growing potatoes and there were jetskis on Castle Water. When you saw WW Terns once a year and Sparrowhawks twice. There were Tree Sparrows then but Little Egrets had not yet been invented.

It was Before Barry Yates and the first year was Before Cliff Dean.

Every year, we saw so many wader species, in such a variety of plumages, at such close range, that we were all experts, more or less. Yet when a Stint turned up this week, we really had to think and discuss which it was because we’re now out of practice.

Here’s a roll-call of people from that era. Some are still with us, others not, and I’m sure I’ve missed some: John Ashbee, Cliff Barwood, Kevin Blackman, Pat & Mary Bonham, Trevor Buttle, Alf Davies, Mick Erends, Bernard & Diana Flack, John Gale, John Goodman, Andrew Grace, Stan Grant, Bob Greenhalf, Ralph Harbord, Robin Harris, Geoffrey Harrison, Ted Kennard, Phil Luffingham, Dave Pankhurst, Pete Rouse, Steve Rumsey, Alf & Iris Simpson, Tim Thomas, John Trowell, John Willsher, Malcolm Wilmshurst. On the marsh and beach: Laurie Cooke, William Dunlop, Babbo Osborne.

Old iron

Posted in Uncategorized on August 7, 2022 by cliffdean

To the north of Camber Castle, just past the Honeybee Tree, is scattered the brickwork of an old Looker’s hut. In autumn, migrant Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails seem to like the vicinity, probably recognising the perpetual aridity of the site as attractive to the insects on which they feed. Right now, the whole landscape is desiccated so that the old shingle ridges show up more clearly than usual as they contrast with the greener grass growing inthe silt of the former estuary.

This aerial photo shows with reasonable clarity the hooked spurs at the end of each successive storm ridge where the stones were swept round by the surge of the flood tide. The well-drained shingle shows as brown, the creeks and river course green. The Honeybee willow is where the paths meet and the hut remains show as pale patches of disturbed sand to the north.

The former tidal landscape is shown well in this map from 1590 in the British Library, but what struck me is the house shown more or less where the Looker’s hut stood. I has assumed that remote position on the estuary foreshore had never been occupied by more than a humble 19th century hut but this suggests a building had stood in that spot three hundred years before. It looks like a more substantial house as well but, comparing it with urban representations on the map, it could just be a symbol. Whatever it was, it was there forty years before the Castle was decommissioned.

I’ve walked past this spot hundreds of times but, until the other week, paid no attention to the bits of rusty agricultural machinery scattered about. It’s obvious enough but I’d just never looked. We were actually trying to count a group of Egyptian Geese half-hidden by the slope of the ancient shore when I paused to search for the usual manufacturer’s name embossed in the metalwork. I could trace B A U.

I knew at once that This Was A Job for my old friend Tim, for whom no oxidising junk in a bramble thicket is anonymous. I sent him my photo and next thing I knew he had been down there and scraped back the dry soil in the cause of Industrial Archaeology:

“A closer look at the wheels hubs and the cutter bar at the old Shepherds hut to the north of Castle Water,” he emailed me.

“The finger bar in my opinion is nothing to do with the wheels etc and is a separate article and part of an old mower.”

“The two sets of wheels and axles have cast iron centres with the name of the manufacturer which is  H C Bauly of Bow, Wagon & Wheel Works, London. This company went into liquidation in 1932.”

“The axles have the remains of leaf springs, but the wheels appear to have plain metal rims which would suggest that this was from a trailer as driving wheels would have a grip pattern, however there could have been  a solid rubber band on the outside of the rim common to steam lorries that have disappeared over time.”

So that was one mystery cleared up. But not so simple:

“As most agricultural trailers don’t have springs I guess these come from an industrial past such as aggregates which the area is known for.”

As far as I’m aware, no-one has taken any interest in this stuff before. Reasons for that are generously offered by those who, for instance, do not follow the Facebook “Corrugated Iron Appreciation Society” page. If you are one of those people, here are some examples to whet your appetite:

On the doorstep at Winchelsea Beach. This lean-to leans against a very much more solid concrete WWII blockhouse.

…while this barn near Knepp is not only the beneficiary of vigorously gestural Abstract Expressionism but also bears the sign of a manufacturer new to me: CROGGON.