Archive for Combe Haven

Drowned lands

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on January 7, 2018 by cliffdean

The plan for Saturday was a walk around Wet Level, following the Rother  up as far as Potman’s Heath before turning back through the narrow lanes SW of Wittersham, where I first led a walk (in nicer weather) 5 years ago. Since I’d not been there for a while I thought it best to have a recce and it’s just as well I did since this was the view from Blackwall Bridge; our route, to the left of that concrete bank, lay under a couple of feet of water. In addition, the forecast was poor, leading me to postpone the walk, but then improved…

In the end, a couple of us made an impromptu visit to Combe Valley a closer flooded river valley but with more assured access. It was a gloomy morning so the photos are very dull compared with those on the Friends of Combe Valley News FB page, but they give the idea. After heavy rain, this green valley is turned into a huge lake to hold back water and prevent flooding of the coastal ribbon development at Bulverhythe.

The Flood Attenuation Pond was doing its job, the raised water level having lifted the unidentified water weed that covered its surface in summer and let it rolled back by the brisk wind. As I suspected, the duck numbers there were lower – about a dozen each of Gadwall & Wigeon – since in the rest of the valley they were spoiled for choice with shallow lakes spreading all along it.

Out in the middle though, the small flocks of the same species were a similar size so might well have been the very same birds that had just moved about, the exceptions being 3 Tufted Ducks and about 50 Teal. Gliding about were 18 Mute Swans and over on the slopes to the south were 77 Greylags and a single Canada Goose

More than 30 Snipe zig-zagged up from the fields to the south of the Link Road and further down a tight flock of about 50 Pied Wagtails was running about on floating vegetation. There were several Stonechats flicking their wings on tall weeds, Cetti’s Warblers loud in cover and Buzzards mewing overhead..

It seems quite astonishing that, until recently, developers were proposing to build a “Sports Village” and a load of houses on the football fields further down the valley, having miraculously remained ignorant of all the recent debate about building on flood plains. You can find out more on the Bulverhytheprotectors FB page.

Once we had cut back up to the Greenway E of Decoy Pond, we followed it as far as the old railway line, where I was pleased to see that the Quarry Wood team had been busy felling trees to expose the beautiful sandstone face of the eponymous excavation.

There were few birds until we reached the cutting near Samson’s Lane, when we ran into a mixed flock of small birds including Blue & Great Tit, Treecreepers & Goldcrests. Among them was a Marsh Tit – not really surprising but nonetheless the first I’d seen here, but then I heard the click of a Hawfinch and after a few minutes wait, caught sight of it in the top of the scrub which now fills this damp hollow – another new bird for me here. Even though, exceptionally, they are being seen all over the place, I can’t get used to seeing them. (Two local places where they’re quite easy: Hastings Cemetery & “Feathers”, Salehurst where, in both cases, they’re attracted to Yew.

Back in the lane, we came across this Green Hellebore, a rare plant in the wild in Sussex but this one now doubt originating in an adjacent garden.

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Mountains & meadows

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 14, 2016 by cliffdean

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This is Water Pipit habitat in Combe Haven. There were 2-3 there this morning. It’s one of the scarcest wintering birds in the county, with known sites thinly scattered as you can see in the map below taken from “Birds of Sussex”.

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Yet the easternmost sites shown here are not Combe Haven (which surprises me because I thought I’d seen them there during the Atlas period – I’ve only just noticed this) but Pett Level & Pannel Valley and the upper Brede Valley (where there were 3 yesterday). During the early 2000s, remarkably high numbers were seen at Combe Haven – up to 57 – but in more recent times I don’t think the total has ever exceeded single figures. They are difficult to see since they hang about in inaccessibly soggy places. If you disturb one, it immediately heads off into the distance, distinguished only by its shrill flight call and – if you’re lucky – a glimpse of white flanks & outer-tail feathers. If you do get a Cracking View of a winter bird it has a few more diagnostic features while if you’re lucky enough to get a look at one in spring it’s very pretty – sometimes at first glance almost like a Wheatear.

If you do want a better look, then go to the Alps where they nest among gentians and the clunking of cow-bells. I would love to know where these Crowhurst birds spend their summer but, according to the Migration Atlas, there is not a single recovery of a ringed bird between breeding & UK wintering sites. If we knew, we could set up a great twinning scheme between this abused valley and some lovely mountain reserve…..

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I was expecting to “see” Water Pipits today but that was not the case with a bird I’d never seen here before. I’d just finished talking to a dog-walker and set counting a small line of Gadwall on the far side of the flood when an adult Little Gull flew across my field of view. They’re beautiful, dainty gulls which I rarely see around here and never way from the coast. However in the last week a number have been turning up, including one in the Brede Valley yesterday so it wasn’t a complete surprise. while I watched it dipping down to the water in typically marsh-tern-like fashion, another appeared, and then an immature with the black W wing-pattern. There were a lot of other gulls idling on the banks or water, including c30 GBs and one Mediterranean.

Otherwise, the usual inexplicably small numbers of wildfowl, the usual birds but more than 50 sp all the same.

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Virgin tarmac

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 18, 2015 by cliffdean

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Months overdue and wildly over budget, the Link road remains silent, with no date set for its opening. The sound-baffling banks are built, the trees planted, the surface laid but no traffic passes, save for that still involved in construction. The compensatory “Greenway” is even less complete. How long before Bexhill Road flows freely as promised and the £1bn of promised regeneration floods into the town?

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In the meantime, yet another “last before the traffic noise” RXbirdwalk worked its way down the Powdermill Valley, very soon surprised by a fine Peregrine which glided overhead and perched close to an elevated Crows‘ nest at the peak of a tall pylon while the owners glared from a lower arm. As everywhere else, flocks of Goldfinches, Lesser Redpolls & Siskins circulated while Skylarks trilled high overhead and Swallows sped south.

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Two pluses arising from landscaping and mitigation: 1) the embankment is greening over, no longer looking like the scar it did  few months ago; 2) the largest flood attenuation pond is full and has begun to attract wildfowl. Since it is inaccessible and not shot over, this looks set to develop well, though in the medium term varying water levels will doubtless permit the infestation of Crassula at the margins and in the long term reed and willow seem bound to obstruct the view. At the moment though there is a fair size body of water, today attracting 77 Teal, 5 Shoveler, 33 Greylags, a Mute Swan and a small flock of Herring & Black-headed Gulls.

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There were a few Reed Buntings round the edges, a few Yellowhammers in the hedges (more of both further down the valley) and about 80 Linnets on the adjacent arable (many more further over – at least 200 in all). At the far end, an elegant Grey Wagtail was poking round a brand-new culvert.

Once out of the underpass, we found the first pair of Stonechats (maybe 3 pairs altogether) but not a lot in the Promising Bushes beneath the ghost of the viaduct. There had been a few Chiffchaffs & Goldcrests along the oaks, a few more down the main stream, a few Cetti’s Warblers, a pair of Kestrels, 35 Lapwings in the air & several Meadow Pipits – too early, I guess, for Water Pipits.

Returning westwards, we followed a Cetti’s Warbler along the stream, had surprisingly good views of two disputing in a dead rose briar and flushed a couple of Snipe. The other flood attenuation pond is not easy to see from the river bank, but a Little Egret was easy enough to pick out. The bridleway back to the village has been closed for ages because of the construction work but I’d been told the various fences were negotiable. While I asked advice from an unhelpful dog-walking lady who’d approached from that direction the others started shouting, “Owl!!”. It seems I’d been looking in the wrong direction when a Short-eared Owl flew up from the opposite bank, just metres away and glided away across the field. Everyone else had the celebrated Cracking Views while I glimpsed the owl just as it sailed into the shadows of a prostrate willow where it remained merely as a silhouette. Thy have been seen just about everywhere along the coast this week but until now nowhere that I had been.

61 species on this walk.

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Scar Fever

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 10, 2015 by cliffdean

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I hadn’t looked at the BHLR site or upper Combe Haven for about a month so decided a visit was in order in spite of the wind and grey sky. I believe the Link Road was supposed to have been open by now but looks a long way from completion as big yellow machines continue to trundle along a great sandy scar.

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It looks terrible, but I have to remind myself that maybe within a year, definitely in two, the groundworks will have greened over, the machines gone. Within ten years few people will be able to remember what it was like before without reference to photos. Few people go there anyway, which I believe was one of the factors contributing to the valley’s downfall as an invaluable inter-urban green island of tranquillity.

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There are parts of the valley which look much the same as before, providing you don’t look to left (attenuation pond, embankment) or right (archaeological excavation).

Plenty more people will see it in future but from vehicles as they take a short-cut between traffic jams at Baldslow and Little Common, contributing noise, fumes and inevitable litter to the scene. And one might hope too for more pedestrian traffic along the footpath network as it becomes better promoted by the Combe Valley Countryside Park, not to mention cyclists and equestrians on the newly installed Greenway.

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What about birds? By no means ideal weather for seeing or hearing them but one immediately striking sounds was that of Whitethroats singing along the scrubby banks and hedgerows, though the latter have in places been trashed even where the road is not involved. I counted 15 singing males in 2 miles, which seemed a good density to me. Yellowhammers, however, were no so good, with just 3 males and a female (compared with 10 singing males in the same area before the road) but they breed later and have lost more habitat so the picture may become clearer later in the season.

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The other unavoidable feature is the open water now lying in two large flood attenuation ponds. That north of the road in the Powdermill Valley now attracts a small gathering of Herring, Black-headed & Lesser Black-backed Gulls in addition to loafing drake Mallards and 5 Shelduck, the latter, I would guess, nesting somewhere nearby in rabbit holes from which they prudently absent themselves during daylight hours. The muddy margins of this pond look as if they might attract migrant waders (of which there are almost none in the county right now) and, interestingly, were patrolled by 4 Little Egrets for whom it is now the breeding season. On the pond south of the road there was a Little Grebe.

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The organic curve of this ancient lane down to the original – prehistoric? – crossing point has now been severed.

The one wader species present was Lapwing, a relic population of which has hung on here in spite of everything whereas it has vanished as a breeding bird in the rest of the Hastings hinterland. As far as I could see they were occupying 2 or 3 sites in the upper valley though I was unable to see any further down on the wet meadows, which in any case look too dry this spring.

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The previously untouched Powdermill Stream has now been touched, its wildlife-rich banks scooped out to ease not only the flow but the anxiety of Crowhursters who fear flooding. A culvert is being installed further down to replace a previous one which, in heavy rain, blocked quickly with debris, backing the stream up into the village.

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The vegetation will grow again and maybe this time the culvert will be more effective.

I should emphasise that I’m likely to miss a lot on my brief and infrequent visits; the very few more regular observers would have a better picture but tend not to share it with the wider world.

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The contractors are keen to promote good working practices on the site, but there’s still a fair bit of litter around, from bits of plastic fencing to coffee cups. I assume they’ll tidy all this up once the work is completed. The intrusive plastic boxes floating here, however, have been left by Oxford Archaeology, from whom one might have expected better. Maybe they’re coming back?

What else? Plenty of Linnets in the scrubby areas along the main stream. Other warblers present were Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed, Sedge & Cetti’s Warblers, the latter now spreading up the valley as far as Acton’s Farm. Finally…a new species for me in the valley, frankly a rather unlikely one. There are usually a few Hobbies around, so when I a slim-winged bird glided towards me I assumed that’s what it was until it banked, revealing itself as a …. Fulmar – a bird which should really be out at sea though they do sometimes go on inland Mystery Tours. 53 species altogether.

A New View

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 21, 2014 by cliffdean

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Terrible photos, taken with my phone through the mud-spattered windows of the contractors’ minibus on a tour yesterday of the Link Road construction site, where a new landscape is unfolding.

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When I began visiting the upper Combe Haven a few years ago I was surprised to find a large enclave invisible from roads and served only by a web of unsurfaced tracks. You could at the most glimpse the valley for a fraction of a second as you crossed the Harley Shute railway bridge but risk death to do it on that narrow, busy bend but that was it. Otherwise unseen by outsiders, the valley’s advocates were few when it came to road schemes, unlike the well-known Heritage Icons of Winchelsea & Rye which had seen off the road planners some years before.

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Such was the condition of the steepest support track that we had to approach the two ends of the project separately, Entering across fields I’d surveyed just a couple of winters ago at Worsham Farm. The extent of the works and the unfamiliarity of the viewpoint often made it hard to recognize an area I know pretty well by now. I could pick out the mast and barn roofs of Glover’s Fm (the house itself having been “accidentally” burned down a few weeks ago) and was then surprised to find us passing a bungalow at Acton’s Fm, formerly in a quiet spot at the junction of a track and a disused green lane.

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 Dropping down to the valley floor, we passed a busy team of archaeologists kneeling among little flags. They should be finishing about now but keep uncovering exciting stuff in the layers of once-populous landscape hidden just beneath the present-day surface. A possible island community is the latest reported find.

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There are flood-attenuation ponds which will hold water temporarily during the wettest weather (but could remain damp enough to be of wildlife value) road-attenuation ponds – high banked and impermeable – to take potentially polluting run-off, and ecological ponds of more subtle design to accommodate displaced amphibians.  However, even the contractors had a problem distinguishing these among the widespread flooding of the valley.

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These two culverts will take the outflow from the Powdermill Valley: that in the background will support the road and the nearer one the “Greenway”. They are furnished with “mammal ledges” to permit passage of wildlife beneath the road during periods of inundation.

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This is where we were the other day – the underpass in which at present the pathway looks vulnerable to flooding. But many adjustments are still to be made.

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Finally, we had to turn around at the former railway embankment where, sadly, the old bridge has been demolished. Unstable apparently. To the left is the green, single span bridge which will carry the lane down from Adam’s Fm.

UCL @ CVCP

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on November 13, 2014 by cliffdean

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Wednesday: I had the pleasure of accompanying a group of MSc students on a field trip to Combe Haven where they were learning about landscape evaluation and the BHLR. The large flood-attenuation pond just north of the road embankment already looks pretty full, which makes me wonder about its effectiveness if we have another winter as wet as the last one. Another aspect which concerns me is that it has regular, steep banks which are not very wildlife-friendly but I hear from the contractors just today that the pond is not yet complete so maybe some sculpting is due.

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We had the good fortune to coincide with the arrival of a team from Oxford Archaeology, whose leader obligingly talked to us about the nature and significance of their findings while his cohort squelched around in the mud among a forest of little yellow flags, each signifying the location of worked flints from a prehistoric shore. I had forgotten about the mysterious pits they’ve uncovered, which seem to have had heated flints plunged into them for reasons as yet unclear. Maybe a bath, maybe brewing beer…

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With an eye on an approaching shower, the grimly urban new underpass became a welcome shelter within which information from handouts could be delivered. It began to resemble a piece of performance art as the leader Ben struggled to enunciate the pros & cons of the road project against a background of drilling, hammering and lumbering construction vehicles. But the rain missed us.

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The plan had been to cut straight across towards Sidley but it soon became clear that the footpath was underwater, requiring us instead to follow the river downstream towards Mysterious Bulverhythe. A Water Pipit flew past, Stonechats whirred around the dead vegetation and Redwings & Fieldfares spilt from the Hawthorns. In spite of the extensive water, however, there was not a single duck.

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Soon we reached a point at which the riverside footpath was deeply flooded (waterproof footwear is not a priority in the student world) so we turned back, hoping to take the path behind the tip, but soon that too was flooded. Ten it was noticed that the south bank was dry and seemed to lead straight to a kissing gate for the continuation of the footpath. This was indeed the case….except that the far side of the gate was also under a couple of feet of water. Unwilling to accept defeat pioneering spirit seized several of the group who began to drag in branches of felled willow until a springy and unstable bridge permitted a slow and wobbly crossing. Everyone had wet feet by then anyway. (Not me though, thanks to my expensive-yet-proving-worthwhile Dirt Boots.)

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The path down past the holiday park seemed to be getting more and more flooded. I realized that of course it was high tide, so the stream was backing up, but I’m pleased to report that everyone got through & what’s more I got back to Crowhurst, finding another Water Pipit, 3 Chiffchaffs & 3 Kestrels en route. Steaming mugs of cocoa all round….

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Back to the 17 Arches

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 12, 2014 by cliffdean

DSC_0118Looking north, Adam’s Farm to the left.

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Thanks to Sharon Bigg for finding this.

There’s an interesting exhibition at Bexhill Museum just now about the Bexhill Branch Line. If you like trains there are plenty of pictures of those, but what interested me were those photos showing the landscape during that period (first half 20th century). The illustrations here are poor – photos of photos of photos – but just about good enough to show some of the features.

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Looking south. viaduct to the right. The bridge right centre has only just been uncovered during clearance for the BHLR, having been enclosed in woodland for 40+ years.

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A conspicuous contrast between these photos and the present scene is the openness of the trackside environment. There are also views of the construction work, a salutary reminder of the former devastation wrought on countryside much more remote than it is at present.

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Present Link Road construction, looking north from Acton’s Fm towards Glover’s Bridge.

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Looking north on the branch line’s opening day. The slope on the far side is still bare soil whereas in the top photo it has become vegetated. Even though it’s late May, the area below the viaduct appears to be flooded.

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Looking north from the Glover’s Farm bridge.

There’s also a very interesting display about Bexhill during the First World War.

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“First, they came for the botanists…”