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.

That was the year that was!

Hello Everyone! We started the year with these words calling out across the globe: –

We are now so numerous, so powerful, so all pervasive, the mechanisms we have for destruction are so wholesale and so frightening that we can exterminate whole ecosystems without even noticing it.
Sir David Attenborough, Opening day of the World Economic Forum, Davos, 2019

With this message from the Alps in mind we plunged into the late winter months on a note of determined optimism, sinews stiffened, and loins girded. Amidst a flurry of political turmoil and doom-laden environmental prophesies we vowed to do our best for the planet by watching over our patch, protecting habitats and monitoring our Flora and Fauna; all while keeping a weather eye on the bigger picture and holistic vantage point (see Welcome to The Anthropocene – February 2019).

Now that we have arrived at the Year’s swan song, I will be the first to admit that 2019 proved to be a tad troublesome for those of us who like to spend time in the woods and organise outdoor events. The year got off to a promising start with a stunning display of Scarlet Elf Cup fungus (Sarcoscypha coccinea) which featured on the first of our Nature Notes. We also had spectacular waves of colour as our wildflowers swept across the woodland floor, hedgerows and verges (see Ma Nature’s Palette – May 2019)

However, the mild weather in the first quarter of the year encouraged many birds to nest early even though the first broods almost certainly starved to death as their parents failed to find enough caterpillars and grubs to feed their fledglings. Although the Feathered Folk appeared to be much in evidence, we were saddened with the results of our Big Garden Birdwatch in January which reflected the national trend in decreasing numbers of Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and Robins (Erithacus rubecula).

Familiar birds were not the only absentees in the spring. Amphibians too were noticeable by their absence on the reserve, or at least the frogs were. Pond sweeps proved fruitless and we found ourselves in the sorry position of having nothing to report to the Freshwater Habitats Trust for their Spawn Survey between January and March.

Early Summer had us sweltering during the hottest June on record followed swiftly by July, nothing less than the hottest month ever to be recorded! Our Quarry Wood pond disappeared in little more than a few puffs of water vapour and our resident Mallard Ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) just about had time to nest before they were left high and dry.

Dragonfly & Butterfly Walk – July 2019

The heatwave which threatened to leave the woodland floor a desiccated, crispy zone was curtailed by showers of torrential rain which battered our foliage with such force it left many flowers cowering in submission. Despite these monsoon-like deluges, which fell even in tarmac-melting July, the pond took several months to recharge and has struggled to reach its present level of 90% full.

Late Summer and Autumn were plagued by more unruly weather, in particular the relentless south-westerlies which became so blustery at times they almost did for the Village Fayre as well as forcing us to postpone Moth Weekends and our QW event celebrating the fact that it is twenty years since the village bought the land that is now our little reserve.

Moth Spotting – August 2019

Nevertheless, we Quarry Wooders are nothing if not resilient. After a few false starts we had a moth weekend with a bumper haul. A lull in the wind during the first week of August found over 150 moths in the light trap, thirty-seven species identified on site with twenty-eight new sightings for our records.

Moths were to be the main theme for our twentieth anniversary event planned for National Moth Night in September. Unfortunately, the elements were against us that weekend and again for the following weekend. Undaunted, we grasped the opportunity of a small ‘window’ in the squally weather in mid-October and enjoyed a very successful morning where young and old enjoyed moth sightings, a plethora of fungi, some local history, live music and a cheery fire (see Two Decades in a Window – October 2019).

We may not have had it very easy over the past twelve months, but we are unbowed in our determination to carry on with some quality conservation work on our patch. We may not have had the all-encompassing event we envisaged in October, but we are certain that what we did have was a display that has given everyone a flavour of what we hope to achieve in the future; but more of that in the new year.

Quarry Wood is not the only village institution celebrating a score of years, the venerable Arty Farties will be starting their twentieth year in 2020. I am delighted to proclaim that they are planning a series of environmentally themed events to mark the occasion. I for one, cannot wait to see what they come up with!

So, with everyone taking up the cause, let us cut out the glitter, filter out the foil, snub the throw-away plastic toys and enjoy the Festive Season with Ma Nature top of our card list!

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.”
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (1843)

Merry Christmas, One and All!

Paul Johnson

“Merry Christmas” from the Quarry Wooders, enjoying a drop of mulled wine over the camp fire 22/12/19

Twenty years on!

In the last twenty years, the Reserve has been sensitively managed by a group of local volunteers: clearance to make it accessible and safe; creating pathways, benches and glades; nature-based community events; and an ongoing species-monitoring programme to gradually build the conservation portfolio. It has a highly regarded fernery and a superb diversity of fungi, the accredited moth list is growing, the pond is measured fortnightly, there is an Ash Die-back monitoring zone, and a new bird-watching area has been opened up on the top tier. Many different birds fill the woodland canopy, and there is a plethora of insects and pondlife; there are resident rabbits, squirrels and badgers, and signs of foxes and deer passing through regularly.

A beautiful little Nature Reserve, rich in history, geology, ecology, biodiversity, conservation, trees, birds, flowers and fungi … enjoy!

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The Rains Came!

Hello everyone! June was also noteworthy for the first of the summer storms, giving many people in Sussex the nearest thing to experiencing a night in Thrudheim during one of Thor’s temper tantrums. The rain, while almost certainly being the wrong kind, had quite the impact on the local Fauna and Flora. Trees which were starting to take on a decidedly jaded appearance are now glowing with newfound vim and vigour, while the Ferns on the recently, de-brambled rockface in our little reserve now display their fronds with a haughty demeanour like so many verdant Fleurs-de-Lis.

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The Twin Goddesses

Hello everyone! During one of several moments in the course of a day when my mind wanders off into the ether and I find myself pondering the imponderables, I often turn to wordplay and consider the foibles of our beloved language. Today I was thinking of all those pairings that only sound correct when voiced in a certain order. It seems almost inconceivable to talk about white and black, drink and food, mash and bangers and, heaven forbid Wise and Morecambe! On reflection, it would not be earth shattering if the sequence of any of the above was, to paraphrase a certain Lancastrian gentleman, not necessarily in the right order!

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