This article appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of the Tablehurst and Plawhatch Newsletter.
Over the last seventy years the diversity of living things on farmland has declined astonishingly. Where there used to be abundant birds, butterflies, moths and plants, most typical farmland nowadays has a much reduced range of species. This can be problematic as we lose many of the subtle biological checks and balances in the way our local environments function.
Mercifully, on farms like Tablehurst which do not adopt destructive agricultural practices it is still possible to find a wide variety of wildlife. Knowing this, eighteen months ago Forest Row Natural History Group started an ongoing project to record as many species as possible within the kilometre square that contains the major part of the farm. In part this had been inspired by a visit to the farm in 2014 by David Streeter, one of the foremost British botanists, who was interested in observing once-common arable weeds. Many such species are now surprisingly rare, and the highlight of that survey was the discovery of Corn Chamomile (Anthemis arvensis) on the edge of one of the paths right in the middle of the farm.
The kilometre square project started on 1 January 2015 when we found 117 different species, and we have so far recorded 685 species in total. This is still only the beginning, and much remains to be discovered, not least among the beetles, moths and flies, which are huge groups that have barely been recorded yet.
The kilometre square itself includes a small section of the Forest Way and the river Medway, Tablehurst Field and the little reservoir, and most of the top end of Long Field and part of Spanden Field and wood. It also includes the bottom of Hazel wood, Clay Field and the wonderful meadow at Pixton Hill, and extends slightly east of Emerson College. As such, the square contains a great variety of lovely habitats, some of which (such as the river and ponds) we’ve not yet looked at in much detail at all.
It has been a delight simply finding many common species that are easily overlooked, such as the Plaited Door Snail, and the Garlic Snail, which really does smell of garlic. On other occasions we’ve looked at specific plants to find what lives on them, since many animals are very fussy about where they live. The rather cute Gorse Weevil is a good example.
It has been interesting to discover that it is not hard to find species that have never been recorded in this part of Sussex before. This has been particularly true of the moths, and with only a few evenings catching them we’ve found Burnished Brass, Bird-cherry Ermine, the gorgeous Black Rustic, Pink-barred Sallow, and the Sprawler (what great names!).
Pixton Meadow has been a great delight too, and is a wonderful example of a habitat that was once really common but is now a very unusual sight. Among many other things we’ve seen there, some highlights have been the day-flying moth Yellow Shell, the White-legged Damselfly, and some gorgeous picture-winged flies, such as Urophora jaceana.
Some relatively rare species have turned up too, including the sawfly Pamphilius gyllenhali, and the moss Oxyrrhynchium schleicheri (in Gill Wood), but the most significant find so far has been the Small Teasel (Dipsacus pilosus), which is one of only a handful of records in the county in the last decade.
We will be continuing to record species this year, focussing on groups that we’ve still barely covered, particularly the moths and beetles, but there are many other reasonably common species we’ve not managed to find yet. Tablehurst is undoubtedly a very special place, with a good mix of habitats, and a treasure for the village.
The totals as at 11 June:
|Group||Number of species|
|Fungi other than Lichens||47|
|Bryophytes (mosses and liverworts)||68|
|Arachnids (spiders and mites)||15|
|Myriapods (centipedes, millipedes and woodlice)||4|
|Insects: Odonata (dragonflies)||17|
|Insects: orthopteroids (grasshoppers and crickets)||6|
|Insects: hemipteroids (bugs)||9|
|Insects: Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants)||16|
|Insects: Coleoptera (beetles)||28|
|Insects: Diptera (flies)||24|
|Insects: Lepidoptera butterflies||20|
|Insects: Lepidoptera moths||87|
|Insects: remaining small orders||2|