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.

Ma Nature’s holiday

Hello everyone. Many apologies for the silence over the past few months, along with the rest of the world the TQW team have been coping with the necessary restrictions imposed upon our lifestyles. 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. The virtual channels feeding into the oceans of social media information are awash with reports and images of wildlife attempting to claim back some of their land. 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.

Sadly, some anthropic activity has continued in these troubled times, and has left its mark on our little reserve. A couple of random acts of vandalism resulted in trees being hacked, our stunning Dome having to be repaired and our striking, wooden Guardian of the Wood knocked down and rolled through the wildflowers. I understand that people are unsettled, frustrated and possibly bored at this time, but it is depressing to see pent up energy channelled into destruction rather than creativity.

Since writing this article, our magnificent carved wooden head has gone missing. We think it is most likely that he has been unceremoniously dumped into a hedgerow or ditch somewhere. Let us know if you spot him.

We’ll miss him, watching over the entrance, welcoming nature lovers, and here, wearing his crown of ivy to mark May Day!

That said, I know for a fact that Quarry Wood is simply bursting with life at present. The air is full of birdsong, Robins and Wrens flutter through the undergrowth, Blackbirds riffle through the ground cover, Corvids squabble in the canopy and Buzzards call out as they spiral up into the brilliant blue sky. Is it my imagination or is the sky a more vivid shade of blue at the moment?

Fledglings appear to rule the roost as parent birds are sent out to hunt for whatever their little ones desire. The tell-tale holes in the Chestnut tree close to the entrance are not the only sign that a pair of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major) have set up residence there. The clamour their hungry younglings are making can be heard at a distance as they wait with obvious impatience for their parents to supply them with beakfuls of high protein insects.

The pond is still fairly full, though a few more rain showers would top it up nicely! Unfortunately, the frogspawn we were so excited about in February did not amount to anything. Whether through disease or ravenous newts, the gelatinous clumps just seemed to die in the water with only a small handful of tadpoles breaking free to wriggle away. The newts, on the other hand, are still there gliding under the Duckweed and treading water just below the surface without even a flicker of movement. We are starting to see our bejewelled display of Damsels and Dragons as they flit over the pond, only to all but disappear as they rest on a leafy branch.

Many of our seasonal flowers came and went without comment. The Bluebells, Townhall Clock and Celandine have gone for another year leaving the Early Purple Orchids and Wild Garlic to follow close behind. The colour continues with Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) and the beautiful, though poisonous, Woody Nightshade or Bitter Sweet (Solanum dulcamara) along with many others that you seem to notice for the first time on each stroll through the wood. Spectacular displays of creamy Blackthorn and Hawthorn are fading into memory and the snowy seed of Aspen cover the woodland floor like an unseasonal sprinkling of snow.

I must admit to having a first-time sighting last month, or at least an incident that appeared to be worthy of the title. Not so unusual I hear you cry, given the number of species out there! Nevertheless, the fact that it is one of our most common trees, the ubiquitous Holly tree (Ilex aquifolium), made it the subject of my wonderment. What gave me cause to stop and stare was seeing this fine specimen in full flower. I appreciate that Holly trees have to reach a certain age before they produce a significant number of flowers, and I have been told by those in the know that this has been a particularly good year for Holly flowers. Nevertheless, as far as I can recall, I have not seen the creamy white Holly flowers before; and, if that is the case, where have I been for the last half a century! Perhaps it is a case of seeing without it registering, a greenhorn’s gaffe for a supposedly experienced nature watcher!

Something I did notice on my last inspection of the reserve were some promising signs in the Ash Die-back zone. Some of the saplings that appeared to be stricken and, on the way out, seem to be recovering, and new healthy stems are growing around the dead areas. It is far too early to be optimistic, but we will be monitoring our lovely Ash trees with a less doom-laden air of inevitability.

Have lessons been learnt? I would like to say yes, people have seen the benefit of slowing down the rat race and appreciating the nature around us. However, this morning, instead of the usual loud bird song that has been greeting me as I woke up, I heard the sound of traffic floating across the marshes and fields. Has Ma Nature’s holiday come to an end? I truly hope not.

and a deeper silence
when the crickets

Leonard Cohen – From The Spice-Box of Earth (1961)

Stay safe everybody, let us do the best by our planet and, in doing so, by each and every one of us.

Put me right at

Paul Johnson

The Quarry Wood pond – 14th May 2020

Image credits: original Quarry Wood photography: Lorna Neville; img 3: Greater Spotted Woodpecker by Airwolfhound used under Creative Commons License 2.0; img 9: Holly by steve p2008 used under CC2.0.

The Quarry Wood Fungi Dome

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.

Lorna Neville