Hastings Country Park is absolutely magical at the moment - more even than usual! There is a quality to the silence here which we haven't known in fifteen years - it’s always a peaceful place but the current lack of aircraft noise, traffic and general comings and goings has been a revelation. There are far more walkers than usual (plenty of room for social distance, don’t worry!), the majority of them local people whom we’ve never seen before which is fantastic. I hope they keep using this wonderful resource long after life returns to its usual preoccupations. This challenging moment is the clearest possible reminder of the vital importance of this oasis of unspoiled countryside on the outskirts of our town. Let’s pray that it can be preserved for future generations so that they can enjoy it as we do.
Easter was a good time for birds up here on the farm. On Good Friday our first swallows arrived at breakfast time - such a happy and optimistic moment, even in a more “normal” year.
A few minutes later a kite flew in front of the house - I know they have been seen in the Country Park before, but never by me. The Kite was back in the morning of Easter Monday, and I now learn has been spotted quite a bit around the Hastings, Brede, and Fairlight area, perhaps looking for new territory?
On another day we had a pair of Wigeon on our pond - another first! They stayed for the morning, but sadly then moved on.
I hope many of you are able to walk up here to make the most of all the Country Park has to offer.
Dear Friend of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve,
Welcome to this week's Nature Reserve Hello!
The Lesser Celandine, Ficaria verna, is such a cheering sight in the woods and on the sunny banks of the Country Park where its bright yellow flowers form gleaming pockets of colour in early spring. The word celandine comes from the Greek chelidon meaning ‘swallow’ because both they and the bird of thatname appear first around the same time and are thought to herald spring. Traditionally the 21st of February was known as Celandine Day, the date when, in 1795, the naturalist Gilbert White first noted them flowering en masse in his Hampshire Village of Selbourne. Over the years there has been little change in this date. The plant is an important nectar source for queen bumblebees and other pollinators as they emerge from hibernation, as well as for early insects
While everyone believes that the daffodil was William Wordsworth’s favourite plant, it was actually the lesser celandine about which he wrote three poems including ‘To the Small Celandine’ which contains this verse:
Ere a leaf is on a bush,
In the time before the thrush
Has a thought about her nest,
Though wilt come with half a call,
Spreading out thy glossy breast
Like a careless Prodigal
Telling tales about the sun
When we’ve little warmth, or none.
In our gardens the lesser celandine is often less welcome because it can spread rapidly, but its season is soon over and soon it will die back and disappear into summer dormancy as it will in the Country Park – until next February.
Dear Friend of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve,
I hope you are keeping well and staying safe.
Please find attached the second installment of our series Nature Reserve Hello! It's called 'Garden Birds and Summer Migrants' and has been written by myself.
I realise that not everyone will be fortunate to have a garden but you'll be able to see many of the birds that I mention if you go out for your daily exercise. For some of you, this will take in the Hastings Country Park which is revelling in its spring glory.
Enjoy the article!
FoHCPNR Membership Administrator
Garden Birds and Summer Migrants by Caroline Russell
Like many of you, I spend a small fortune on birdfeed each year. I’d hate to tot it up but I’m sure you’ll agree - it’s worth every penny for the simple, every day pleasure of watching the garden birds!
My garden is awash with birds. It’s all go, all the time, throughout the year!
Goldfinch are the most frequent visitor. A small flock, or ‘charm’, come and go throughout the day. I’ve counted 20 plus at times. Goldfinch bring the colour with their red faces and yellow wing-bars. They’re quite skittish and at threats unbeknown to me, they fly up together tobounce away twittering. Delightful!
Chaffinch and Greenfinch also enjoy my
hospitality. They arrive in drips and drabs,
of no more than four or five. Look out for
the male chaffinch - a bird with a pink face and chest, a grey cap and nape and two white wing-bars. His song is that of a fast cricket bowler, picking up pace before the ball is released to whistle through the air. Greenfinch are chunky greenish looking birds with flashes of yellow in their wings and tail. In recent years, Greenfinch were particularly hard hit by a nasty parasitic infection but it’s good to see that they are making a recovery.
House Sparrow visit the bird feeders in mostly twos or threes. A colony resides in my neighbour’s thick Viburnum bush. The chirping and chatting from that bush is loud and constant. I’m pleased to hear it as this bird species is on our high priority conservation list. This is somewhat surprising when you consider that the House Sparrow has held the No. 1 spot on the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch for the past 17 years
The Wren is another Little Brown Job. But don’t dismiss it too quickly. It’s got some lovely, delicate markings and that bold eye stripe is a corker! They’re difficult to see for any length of time as they dash between the shrubs. They make up for this poor show with a belter of a song - a loud trill that lasts for several seconds. A pair of Wrens occupied my nest box three years ago. When their chicks were born, they were none too happy each time I stepped foot into the garden. A constant, harsh alarm call was instantly set off. Aargh!
What other birds do I get in the garden all year round?
Well, there is the Robin, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Dunnock. A pair of Robin bred in my tool shed two years ago. After they’d raised one clutch, they built another nest and raised a second. Their nests are a work of art and I put them on display on an outside windowsill (as you do!).
Take a look around the margins of your garden if you want to see a Dunnock. I once found a speckled pale blue egg shell in the garden. A quick Google and I identified it as a Dunnock’s.
We get the graceful Collared Dove and in contrast, the fat, plodding Wood Pigeon (for the song of the latter, conjure up Frank Spencer saying ‘My toes hurt Betty’). Both birds come to feed on the seed that has fallen onto the lawn. I can’t help but think that the Wood Pigeon would make an easy catch for a Sparrowhawk, although I’ve never seen one in the garden. I live in hope!
We’ve got wary Blackbirds that watch our every move.
There’s the Starling, with its patches of green and purple iridescence and impressive sound track, and the grey-headed Jackdaw, the smallest of our crow family. Both tend to keep their distance by staying to our roof. The main exception is when the Starlings have chicks to feed and they devour our mealworms in breakneck speed. When fledged, whole families join in the feeding frenzy. The young wait to be fed with their bills wide open. It’s comical to watch.
We currently have the upper hand with the Jackdaws because try as they might, they have yet to succeed in removing the metal mesh that covers our chimney tops. In defeat, they’ve moved in with the neighbours.
You know that spring has finally sprung when you hear your first Chiffchaff singing out their name. These warblers started full on chiff-chaffing a good three weeks ago. I only see them in the garden when they migrate through. Yet I can hear them singing nearby from the fields that back onto my street
Last Monday, during my daily exercise, I had the joy of hearing the wonderfully fluty song of the Black Cap. It was the first of the season for me. I didn’t manage to see the bird but I made up for that on the Saturday.
Sightings of our first Swallows are already trickling in. The House Martin seems to be a bit further behind on its migration, with the only one so far reported in Sussex having been at Hastings on 16th March.
I’m waiting to hear my first Cuckoo, which should be any day now. I’m lucky enough to hear one from my house each year. The same one perhaps? I like to think so.
We’re getting ever closer to the arrival of our Swifts in early May. With lockdown still likely, their arrival will be warmly welcomed this year, particularly by those fortunate enough to live in Hastings Old Town where the birds breed.
Hastings Country Park is a great place to see all these birds flying in straight off the sea!
In mid-March I had the thrill of being in the right place at the right time - our back patio! A Red Kite was flying low over the back gardens of my street. It got as close as two doors down before it got bored and flew off. It was a great sight and a whopping garden tick for me. Red Kites and other raptors have been on the move recently. So it’s always a good idea to look up every now and again.
Binoculars and bird book at the ready
There’s much birdlife to take in at this time of year. With the lockdown, we’ve been afforded a chance to strengthen our bond with nature. Let’s grab it with both hands.
If you haven’t already done so, gather up your old pair of binoculars and favourite bird book and keep them to hand on your windowsill. Maybe start a garden bird list. Birdwatchers across the UK are doing just that and revisiting where their love of birds first began - in the garden.
As well as brushing up on your bird ID skills, now is also a great time to learn those bird songs that you are unfamiliar with. The dawn chorus is sounding pretty darn good at the moment and it’s only going to get better. This year, International Dawn Chorus Day is on Sunday 3rd May and no doubt many events have been cancelled to celebrate it. But how about we all partake by setting our alarm clock to an ungodly hour and flinging open our bedroom window or back door?
We’d love to hear how your birdwatching and bird listening is going. What bird do you enjoy the most and why? When did you see your first Swallow? Who’s nesting in your garden? Are you one of the lucky ones to have nesting Swifts or House Martins?
You can share your discoveries with other Friends of Hastings Country Park by posting on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/friendsofhastingscountrypark/
Or you may like to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d be happy to send out an email compilation of everyone’s accounts.
With thanks to Tim Squire for the photographs. If you liked what you saw, head to his new website for more great images on birds, butterflies, insects and landscapes: https://timsquire.co.uk
1.Great Tit. 2. Black Cap. 3 Goldfinch
4 Greenfinches. 5. Sparrow 6. Swallow
Dear Friend of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve,
I hope you are well. If you are unwell or anxious I send best wishes; these are extraordinary times.
As we have had to suspend our events programme, I am seeing if we can send all our members a regular email which includes something of interest about the Country Park. Through self-isolation some of us are going to miss the arrival of Spring and maybe early Summer.
Possible topics for emails might be: What birds are about now in your garden or in the Nature Reserve?; Country Park flowers in the Spring; and, Walks in the Park. Would you like to contribute a piece that could be distributed to fellow members? I would need just a few paragraphs and a photo to pass on. What's your special interest? Geology, artists in the park, a little known fact? Or maybe you could write a short piece about your special walk or perhaps on something historical. Another way that you might contribute to this exchange with fellow members would be to share your photographs, particularly of Country Park flowers and wildlife.
These simply produced emails will be in addition, and complementary to, our stylish newsletter "The Volunteer".
I was thrilled to see the arrival of spring flowers when I walked in Fairlight Glen yesterday. Here is a photo of my first bluebell sighting this year.
With best wishes,
Chair of The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve
In a fascinating insight into the long history and contemporary renovation of the oldest building in the Country Park, Andrew Blackman (owner) and Haydon Luke (local historian) will give FoHCPNR members and visitors an illustrated talk about
Saturday March 7th at 11am
in All Saints Church Hall, All Saints Street, Hastings, TN34 3BP
The first event in the FoHCPNR 2020 programme will be on Saturday 25 January at 11am and will be held in All Saints Church Hall, All Saints Street, Hastings TN34 3BP. It is a presentation by Mary Rawlinson, Chair of the Board for Straw-bale Building UK and consultant to the construction project. Mary will illustrate the architectural and design features of this unique new facility as well as the way in which traditional and new, cutting-edge building materials and techniques are being used in harmony for its construction.
Caitlyn Byrne, the new Education Officer for the Hidden Hastings Heritage Project and a Hastings’ resident, responsible for education and interpretation programmes in the park, will also attend to talk about her plans for the development of these two important new programmes
All Saints’ Church Hall is located at the northern end of All Saints’ Street, Old Town, Hastings, TN34 3BP. Disabled access and toilet facilities are available. Car parking is possible on Old London Road or the Stade car park.
Admission is £4 for visitors and free of charge for Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve. Annual membership (£5 to May 31st) can be taken out at the meeting.
17 January 2020
A year ago in January 2019, the Cabinet of Hastings Borough Council approved a feasibility study for installing 10 acres of industrial scale solar arrays in Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve. The principal aim was to generate money for the Council by selling the power generated. While accepting the need for Hastings to be playing its part in alternative sources of power generation, the Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve (Appendix 1) have been resolutely opposed to this plan since the outset.
The Council engaged consultants, Public Power Solutions, to look at various aspects of this proposal; they have now reported back. Apparently as a result, the Council has changed its mind about where solar arrays might now be put (Press Release issued 8 January 2020). The current preferred sites are in permanent pastures immediately above Fairlight Glen and at North’s Seat on the other side of Fairlight Road (Map at Appendix 2). Sites in front of Fairlight Place and above Warren Glen appear to have been dropped.
In addition, the Council later asked the consultants to consider the feasibility of installing solar arrays on Council owned land elsewhere in the Borough. The Council’sdraft budget for 2020/21 and 2021/2 earmarks funds for solar arrays, but is not clear at present how those funds might be split between the Nature Reserve and other Council owned areas.
In December, the Council contacted Natural England, as the Government’senvironmental regulator, under its Discretionary Advice Service, asking for comment on the proposals. Their reply is awaited but could take up to six months.
Subject to the views of Natural England and other considerations, the Council would then need to decide whether to move to a formal planning stage.
Views of the Friends
In June 2019 and January 2020, the Friends made two submissions to Natural England setting out in detail the environmental case against the Council’s plan. Thesesubmissions were freely shared with the Council and others.
In summary, the Friends base their opposition on the following grounds:
The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve remain resolute in our opposition to this deeply inappropriate plan. We are glad to support the Council in its work to establish solar arrays on sites which are less environmentally precious including sites within and outside the Borough.
The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve is a community organisation ofabout 190 mainly local people which works to “protect, promote and enhance the natural environment of the Reserve”. We organise events, publish a newsletter and have worked with the Council over many years. In 2020 we are pleased to be celebrating with the Council and Groundwork Trust the opening of a new visitor centre and working with them to enhance education, interpretation and volunteering.
The two proposed sites for Ground Mounted Solar Arrays are shown in red.
All the land shown in colour is part of the Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve.
The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve
17th January 2020
Open letter to Cllr Maya Evans from Michael Moor, Chair of the Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve
30 October 2019
Solar arrays in Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve
I am writing this open letter on behalf of the Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve in response to your piece in Hastings Independent Press of 18 October about the Council’s proposal to set up about 10 acres of solar arrays in the Nature Reserve for which the Council has the responsibility of stewardship.
We understand your wish to try to draw some red lines on the project as an implicit attempt to mitigate the inevitable tension between the Council’s primary aim of securing income from a solar installation there on the one hand and the environmental damage to a sensitive ecosystem on the other. However, we feel that, in the interests of good decision-making by the Council, some of the arguments behind those red lines need to be challenged. The matters concerned relate to 1) Biodiversity; 2) Concrete foundations and cleaning fluids; and 3) Farming and the protected landscape.
Your article suggests in its headline that solar panels bring biodiversity as a matter of course. This is frankly a tendentious statement and we would be interested to know on what studies you might be drawing to reach such a conclusion. As far as we and our advisers aware, existing independent research only suggests that biodiversity might increase under solar arrays in comparison to fields which are a monoculture in terms of a crop (e.g. barley). With conventional farming practices, these arable fields will have been managed to reduce biodiversity in terms of wild flowers, invertebrates and crop diseases.
This research cannot be interpreted to mean that biodiversity would increase in the fields immediately above and adjoining the Fairlight Glen SSSI and the field at North’s Seat which are being considered by the Council for solar arrays. As permanent pasture these fields are important in terms of carbon sequestration and provide a habitat or food for a range of flora and fauna. We regard it as disingenuous to try to argue that these fields are already “developed”, and are not greenfield sites. It is inevitable that the construction of solar arrays in these fields would result in the disturbance of the soil structure, loss of sequestered carbon, and a loss of biodiversity.
It is also inevitable that solar panels will have a shading effect on the ground beneath them, thus also reducing total photosynthesis, and hence carbon sequestration and biodiversity. In the initial report to the Council’s Cabinet in January, an estimate was made of the carbon supposedly saved by installing solar panels. From the Council’s studies so far we have not seen any attempt to factor in the carbon cost of making, transporting, installing, managing and eventually decommissioning solar arrays, as well as the continuing reduction in carbon sequestration. If the Council were to make this calculation (as it should) the result would indicate a substantial discount from the initial optimistic guess at carbon saved.
You suggested as one of your red lines that the fields might be managed in part with reseeded wildflowers. However, their creation and management also have environmental implications. To achieve any substantial biodiversity improvements, the soil across the whole fields would have to be disturbed. These sites comprise improved pasture, so simply seeding with a wildflower mix without doing anything else is unlikely to be successful. The wildflowers one might want are unlikely to establish well because these fields are nutrient-rich and there would be too much competition. Good soil preparation (with removal of topsoil if nutrient levels are high) is actually regarded as key to re-creation of wildflower meadows, be they real meadows containing only native species of local provenance, or the sort that are called wildflower meadows but where non-local species and non-native species are used.
If wildflower re-seeding with non-local provenance and/or non-native species is what is proposed there may also be issues with doing this close to the SSSI. In addition, the carbon input and loss for establishing and managing wildflower meadows would need to be factored into the Council’s estimate for carbon saved from installation of solar arrays (see above). We are also sceptical about the survival of wildflowers in the face of work required to maintain the panels.
2. Concrete foundations and cleaning fluids
We are pleased that you are now thinking about your red lines in relation to the foundations and cleaning methods, but it is optimistic to think that red lines against the use of concrete foundations and chemical cleaning fluids could be sustained in practice. Concrete is the foundation of choice for contractors installing solar panels because they provide a more stable structure than alternatives. But, of course, the manufacture and transport of concrete comes with a carbon cost. And its installation inevitably causes substantial damage to soil structure and thus to carbon sequestration.
We agree that it is sensible to try to stipulate that no chemical cleaning fluids should be used for any solar arrays, particularly given the risk that they might run off downhill into the SSSI site. But anecdotal evidence from other parts of the country indicates that, irrespective of what a cleaning contract might say, contractors resort to such fluids when faced with a difficult cleaning task, for example removing bird faeces from solar panels. With the strong bird population in the trees surrounding the proposed sites and others perching on the panels this could be a significant issue for cleaning solar panels in the Country Park. It would be difficult to ensure compliance with a contractual condition that would require regular inspection and supervision.
3. Farming and the protected landscape
In the third paragraph of your article, you say that “much of the Country Park is used for farming”. This implies that in those parts of the Nature Reserve where farming does take place biodiversity conservation is secondary. We believe that this sends the wrong message, and is contrary to the Council’s management plan for the area. Farming is carried on there in a manner wholly consistent with the overall purpose of the Nature Reserve.
You state that none of the protected sites comprise protected land. But you fail to mention that they fall within a statutorily protected Local Nature Reserve, within SSSI Impact Risk Zones and an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. National planning policy affords AONBs the highest status of protection in relation to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty. These designations imply a considerable degree of environmental protection. The High Weald Coast, of which the Country Park is a substantial part, is in the East Sussex Landscape Assessment characterised as assessed a largely unspoilt and tranquil landscape with few intrusive features. This characterisation and assessment of the landscape beauty are independent and objective, not a matter of perception as you suggested. You also ignore the fact that the solar panels will have to be surrounded by security fencing to ensure public safety and potential damage by intruders, and there will be associated cabling and transformers.
In conclusion, the purpose of management of the Country Park is to conserve and enhance biodiversity, and that farming methods may be used is integral to promoting its biodiversity. The Country Park is not designated ‘Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve’ for nothing, and nature has to come first.