Crowhurst Nature Reserve is a four and a half acre community-owned woodland in Crowhurst, East Sussex, known locally as Quarry Wood. It was bought by the village for the village in 1999 to protect and preserve it.
Paul Johnson is the warden and has been writing a series of articles called Tales from Quarry Wood for the village magazine since 2008. Our little reserve is the central thread and star turn, but his themes often range further, taking in ecology, botany, mycology, history, mythology, Latin and literature. All with a healthy dose of irreverence and the odd bit of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Click here for more about Paul and Crowhurst Nature Reserve; the most recent article is below and you can explore all the previous articles through the chronological year tabs above or take a more meandering approach using the tags.
Hello everyone. Looking back twelve months at an article with a remarkably similar title, I hope you will forgive me for returning to a corresponding outlook on how this particular year has treated us.
Last year ended with us looking back at the effects of the Anthropocene and remembering the powerful words of Sir David Attenborough at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. We recollected the way the now familiar weather patterns of mild winter, prolonged heatwave, gale force winds and torrential rain affected our local flora, fauna, and fungi and how this was reflected in the results of our various surveys. We were able to report a hugely successful mothing weekend, adding twenty-eight new sightings to our records. We finished off 2019 with a slightly soggy, but very enjoyable, event to celebrate twenty years since the village acquired the land which has since become our fantastic little reserve. A haven for wildlife and superb community woodland.
This year, as you would expect, has been oh so different. Tales from Quarry Wood started by revisiting the topic of the Anthropocene, climate change, an increase in natural disasters and a rather bleak appraisal of the future of many species. We then emphasised the importance of monitoring at both international and local levels and, as we did in February 2019, looked forward to the various surveys and events throughout the coming year.
We gave also a progress report on our splendid Fungi Dome which was coming along nicely at that time. Our vision for 2020 was complete and falling into place admirably.
The March edition of the Crowhurst News found TQW exploring the wonders of spalted wood while giving a friendly nod in the direction of our fabulous Ukulele Group. The fungi link enabled us to segue with seamless ease to the fact that, after many hours of hard labour and despite the countryside being battered by a series of storms, our Fungi Dome had been completed. We were delighted with the way it looked and that so many fungal species were already in situ, especially the Cobalt Crust (Terana caerulea) which neither Lorna nor I had seen before.
Alas, as we are all too aware, those Spring storms were not the only destructive force to sweep across the country and, indeed, the world. What followed affected the lives of every person in the UK and just about every other country and territory in the world. I am of course referring to the dreadful Corona Virus pandemic which we are still, quite clearly, in the thick of.
Amidst the abject misery of bereavement, job loss, isolation and loneliness, I suspect that many people in Britain are beginning to wonder if life will ever return to the way it was. Some people feel that ‘the way it was’ provided the conditions for so many of our problems that are rife in society to flourish. Christmas, perhaps more than any other time of the year, concentrates the feeling of despair nurtured by seclusion, solitude and, in many cases, economic hardship. My thoughts go out to everyone suffering during the festive season of this most extraordinary and wretched year.
Fortunately, there were some much needed moments of light relief in Crowhurst throughout the Summer of social distancing, courtesy of Crowhurst Community Arts. Nonsense Rhymes, Scarecrows and an amazing Book Swap scheme kept many of the villagers occupied; I even discovered my inner Trojan! People up and down the county continue to enjoy a series of short walks that Lorna explored and mapped, wearing out several pairs of boots in the process.
With the exception of the RSPB Bird Count carried out in January, all of our regular surveys and events in Quarry Wood were cancelled this year. However, our little reserve needed regular inspections throughout the drought weeks, followed by the wet and windy weeks. There has been much to enjoy and write about. The Fungi Dome is living up to its name, the pond is once again a pond and not a muddy wallow, the birdsong was magnificent throughout the year and the plants provided a majestic display for our pleasure and edification.
A late season venture into the world of natural artwork was rather more temporary than we imagined. The squirrels made short work of our attempt to highlight the bottom of a venerable Field Maple (Acer campestre) with chestnuts in the style of Andy Goldsworthy. Overnight a grey cloud had descended and treated it, quite rightly, for what it was, a nicely laid out spread of one of their favourite comestibles!
Clearly, this Christmas will not be same as many people have got used to in recent years. Perhaps our best present this year will be our friends and family and the chance to get out and enjoy the natural world together.
Twas Christmas broach’d the mightiest ale; ‘Twas Christmas told the merriest tale; A Christmas gambol oft could cheer The poor man’s heart through half the year. Extract from Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field – Sir Walter Scott (1808)
Happy Christmas One and All!
Paul Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is some of the nonsense poetry that we wrote for the Arty Farties’ silly poetry exchange during the March/April lockdown. (Lorna and I are both on that team too!)
October was memorable for a number of other reasons. The orbital journeys of planets Mars and Earth brought them closer to each other than they will be for another 67 years; Sussex had a visit from a wandering Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), only the second recorded sighting of this bone-crunching Raptor in the UK; and we had, what is likely to be, the only Quarry Wood work party of the year.
I took great pleasure in sending out a rallying call for the team to reconvene after an enforced break and flex their muscles in the green gym once more. After so many months away there were several tasks that needed our attention.
Who can fail to shudder at the memory of Blind Pew tapping his way up the track to the Admiral Benbow Inn to deliver the feared Black Spot to the doomed Billy Bones? However, before you start wondering if my mind has wandered off ne’er to return, let me confess to introducing another of my tenuous links to a topic, leaf spots!
Another alarm bell situation is the huge decline in biodiversity and the suggestion that we are heading towards the sixth mass extinction event in the history of the planet. This is something we are witness to in a noticeably short space of time, perhaps even during our own lifetime.
While Ma Nature’s denizens have enjoyed a brief interlude in much of human activity (which I notice has been coined as the Anthropause), in the UK and many other countries, there are some parts of the world where the wildlife has not been so fortunate.
Amidst the horror and unmitigated misery that thousands of people are enduring there has been a single message that has shone out like a guiding light, that the environment has enjoyed a break from the battering it normally takes from anthropic activity.
Whether it is elephants swaying down quiet streets in Indian cities, wild goats treating back gardens in Wales as assault courses or lions basking on South African golf courses, the message is the same. While the people are away wildlife are ready and more than willing to take back what is theirs.
The Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne had a remarkable exhibition of wood sculptures by David Nash recently. Some of them small, some of them huge, a breathtaking display.
Nash’s artwork is exquisitely simple, enhancing and spotlighting the intrinsic beauty of the wood, creating shapes that juxtapose natural curves and artist’s carving, opening the timber to put light on expanses of internal surface area, and arranging pieces to provoke awe and inspection.
One of the installations was called “Red Dome”. It was an arrangement of orange/ochre Yew posts in concentric circles, about a metre high in the centre, with rings of decreasing height, perhaps four metres across, creating a dome effect. In each post the tree’s lines and notches and knots could be seen, each independently rich in colour and character. And then, together, in the overall shape, they created a new vision, an echo of the tree-that-was, an exposure of its inner life.
It was striking. It was inspirational.
And so, inspired by David Nash, we decided to create our very own environmental art installation… the Quarry Wood “Fungi Dome”.
It has turned out even better than we imagined – grand in scale, delicate in detail. Beautiful, natural, playful, educational. A slow-mo self-destructing artwork that will showcase all sorts of different fungi side by side.
Separated at birth!
All 180 posts are from trees that have come down here in the last few years; a mixture of sizes and species and stages. There, at the very centre, do you see the Heart of Oak? That is from the huge Oak bough that crashed across the path heading north. The medium-sized smooth-barked Willow? That was the “cross-legged” tree that snapped a couple of years ago, revealing the unexpected orchids. The ones with ancient gnarly ivy wrapped round? From the Old Lane. The Silver Birch? Look all around the birchy glade.
Peer in and you will see curves of bough and knots and gnarls that create beguiling features in their own right.
Over time, we should see lots of fungi, taking over, doing their job… breaking down the wood, taking the nutrients back to the ground. At any one moment, we should see different species at different stages on different wood at different levels of decomposition. As the years pass, we expect the dome to disintegrate. It is going to slowly crumble in front of our eyes, some of the posts rotting quickly, some of them taking longer. Entirely as it should be.
Truth be told, what we weren’t entirely expecting was to see so much fungi already. Candlesnuff, King Alfred’s Cakes, Scarlet Elf Cup, Green Elf Cup, Bleeding Oak Crust, Jelly Ear, lots of Brackets, and quite a few still to be identified.
Green Elf Cup (stain of fruiting bodies); Cobalt Crust; Scarlet Elf Cup
We also discovered something that we have never seen before… because it turns out when you are collecting dead wood for an art installation, you are more likely to see the underside! There, hiding on the bottom of a piece of old Oak, we found the rich blue velvet of Cobalt Crust, seemingly rare in this part of the country, although perhaps just rarely recorded. A rather fabulous splash of unusual colour.
The next phase of the project is to prepare a set of Fungi ID cards to help all the eager fungi spotters… we’re working on it!
For now, enjoy the visual impact of the Dome and the characterful wooden pillars; let your eyes wander and hone in on the fungi that is already there.
Then stand back and relish the beautiful birch glade, the sandrock backdrop, the newt-filled pond, the emerging primroses and wild garlic, and the insects and birds all about you.
Quarry Wood’s Warden, Paul Johnson, gave a talk at the AGM of Crowhurst & District Horticultural Society on 7th October 2016. Click here for the slides outlining the history of our little Reserve and showcasing some of the beauty…