The Friends of Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve (FHCPNR) have released their programme of events for 2020, which provides a clear insight into changes in our surrounding natural world. Ben Bruges met David Jeffery, who, along with Denise his wife, has volunteered to lead the Friends’ new events team.

Summer view from the County Park towards the newly designated MCZ
PHOTOGRAPH: Ben Bruges

Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve consists of 853 acres of “ancient gill woodland, heathland, grassland and farmland together with 5 kilometres of dramatic sandstone cliffs and coastline” (according to the HBC leaflet 2018) with many rare flora and fauna. The park is maintained on a shoestring with only one warden, and that’s where FHCPNR come in – their aim is to be supportive of the management, maintenance and improvement of the country park while advocating for preservation of a unique habitat. 

Headline changes include the sad loss of the ponies (see HIP Issue 134 Hastings Country Park to say goodbye to well-loved ponies) who had been doing such a good job in keeping down the bracken and the announcement of a new marine conservation zone. There is also a new Visitor Centre which is nearing completion and is already being referred to on social media as the “huff and puff building” because, yes, it’s built with straw, but, no, a wolf couldn’t blow it down, even if there were any wolves in the park. All of these changes are reflected in the events organised for this year: free to members and only £4 for guests, they are a good way to start to explore the natural surroundings of Hastings. 

The new Visitor’s Centre showing recent progress
PHOTOGRAPH: Ben Bruges

Husband and wife team David and Denise Jeffery hope to develop events that have a conservation and volunteering focus whilst keeping the popular approach of informative, outdoors, active meetups led by experts. They are pleased that the new developments, the new Visitor Centre and the declaration of the Marine Conservation Zone of Beachy Head East (www.beachyheadeast.org) are featured in the new programme. 

The first event, on 25th January at 11am (in the warmth of the All Saints Church Hall), is a talk about the innovative architecture and construction of the new Visitor Centre, the UK’s first straw-built public building. Caitlin Byrne, the newly appointed education officer, will explain her outreach work and Mary Rawlinson, director of Green & Castle Ltd (the sustainability experts involved in the Visitor Centre) will talk more about the building project. Apparently, a huge mallet called a ‘persuader’ is used to put the straw bales into place, and David is enthusiastic: “It’s clear it’s going to be a very striking building, in terms of the function it performs and the stunning location. It will use a lot of glass, so any visitor will have really good views around the bay to Rye and further east”. 

Living Seas, the last event on 21st November, (also at 11am in the warm All Saints Church Hall) will feature Sarah Ward from the Sussex Wildlife Trust introducing the newly declared Marine Conservation Zone. David hopes that this could lead to potential volunteer action. As he says, “People have got the David Attenborough plastics message and regularly clean up the beach, but maybe next year we’ll look into doing a bioblitz on the beach below the Country Park to look at the range of species as well as clean-up activities.” 

In between these two events are several others – most are outside and you will need to dust off those walking boots. 

Talk on Fairlight Church from Haydon Luke (local historian), and others
PHOTOGRAPH: Ben Bruges

Do the bioblitz!
The Friends want to encourage involvement in conservation volunteering (cutting back gorse, renewing paths and other maintenance work), as well as citizen-science volunteering. Therefore, one of the themes of the events programme is biodiversity recording:
• On 18th April, Clare Blencowe, the manager of Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre (SBRC), will explain the importance of recording for wildlife conservation; 
• On 18th July, Simon Young, a biodiversity recorder from Fairlight, will lead a fun and practical ‘bioblitz’ session identifying and recording flora and fauna from lichens to peregrine falcons;  
• On 12th September, Martin Allison, the county recorder for fungi, will lead an investigation into finding and identifying autumn fungi growing in the Country Park. 
• The birds aren’t left out either – an early start on 17th October with Alan Park, birder, will help participants spot and identify early autumn migrants flying through the Country Park. 

Clare Morris of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation UK has been conducting a reptile survey in the Country Park since last spring. She also works in RSPCA Mallydams and previously was a zookeeper specializing in reptiles. She confirmed declining numbers of common lizards and also spotted slow worms but is interested in reports of adders and would like visitors to report any sightings.  

These bioblitz events can be taken at any level, but it is hoped they may trigger an active involvement in recording biodiversity in the country park, to add to the base line of current records supplied by SBRC. David explains, “The records can show which flora or fauna are declining in the county and whether invasive species are coming in and becoming more prolific, fitting into the National Biodiversity Network, and building a picture nationally”.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly in the old quarry
PHOTOGRAPH: Ben Bruges

Attracting Greta’s generation
David and Denise’s programme is intended to provide interest and information to a broad interest group but also to attract new younger members. As David says, “When you look at what Greta’s done in terms of environmental activism, there’s a new generation that can take on the climate and environmental issues, in terms of environmental degradation, threat to species and so on. We’ve got that in miniature. And that’s a part of what the Friends does; that’s the focus – existing members, new members and the next generation of activists.” 

David was brought up on the Downs. He loves the distinctiveness of the geomorphology. “The Park is well-used recreationally in some parts, but also has wildish places, so there’s quite a mix within the park itself and the biodiversity is incredible. It’s also a habitat that’s at risk, we’re not like the National Trust with huge resources. It’s an area where there’s work to be done to stop it from degrading, so there’s scope for citizen activism.” 

David is clear that future event plans will depend on the level of interest generated and they will take the lead from those who turn up. He’s interested in whether the Friends have the capacity to sustain a set of events aimed specifically at young people, for example. The events team will also explore having joint or shared activities with sister organisations such as Rye Bay Friends and Saving Hastings as well as other nearby Country Parks.

Events are £4 or free to Friends. Find out more at www.friendsofhastings
countrypark.org/events.html


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