By Alex Oxborough
AS the days grow longer, the last days of spring bring bustling activity to the countryside as wildflowers blossom and young are born. It’s a great time to get out and explore the variety of wildlife experiences West Sussex has to offer.
Heralds of summer— Swallows return
Aerial acrobats and high-speed feeders, Swallows begin returning to the UK from Africa at the end of March. By May they can be admired in open grassland throughout the county, busily collecting insects to feed their young. Part of the heraldic shield of Sussex, they are a welcome sign of warmer weather to come.
Butterfly atlas project needs volunteers
Whether you see a Brimstone basking in Bognor or a Comma cavorting in Cuckfield, the Sussex Butterfly Atlas project would like to hear about your butterfly sightings this summer. Simply email your name, what species you spotted, where you saw it (details of how to give the grid reference are on the website) and when. Your valuable conservation data will be used to create the most comprehensive ever distribution map of the 45 species of butterfly in West and East Sussex, many of which are under threat.
Despite having a voice that would have Simon Cowell reaching for his chequebook, Nightingales are publicity-shy. Arriving in south-east England in April, throughout May the males give virtuoso vocal performances to attract females from the safety of dense hedgerows and thickets. Sussex is one of the best places in the UK to hear them, so keep an ear out at night for their distinctive acrobatic melodies. The Sussex Wildlife Trust are hosting ‘An Evening with Nightingales’ at their Woods Mill reserve, near Henfield, on the 3, 8 and 17 May.
3th 8th and 17th May, £9 members, £12 non-members www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/events/
Chichester Harbour Walking Festival
To celebrate 30 years of organising walks around Chichester Harbour, from the 22nd to the 25th May the Chichester Harbour Conservancy is organising a week-long walking festival. Covering a different part of the coastline each day, the pre-booked guided walks will take in the wetlands, farmland and villages that make up the internationally important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Home to the only group of Common Seals in the eastern English Channel, the harbour also abounds with diverse plant and bird life, many of which are rare or endangered.
22nd to 25th May. Costs vary. www.conservancy.co.uk/page/walks-activities.
Parklife—Fallow Deer fawns at Petworth House
The point of all that machismo during the autumn rut becomes apparent at Petworth House in May, as fawns start to appear among the herd of Fallow Deer. The UK’s largest herd of Fallow Deer, they have been grazing the sweeping magnificence of the 700-acres of ‘Capability’ Brown-designed parkland for centuries. Budding artists and photographers are bound to find inspiration as they wander the parkland in the footsteps of the great English landscape painter JMW Turner.
Throughout May. Entry to the parkland of Petworth House is free. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/petworth-house/
Peak season for Plantlife reserve
The early summer months of May and June are the best time to see native wildflowers at their best at Plantlife’s Furnace Meadow and Brick Kiln Rough nature reserves near Balls Cross. Just six acres of meadow in total, the small but perfectly formed reserve boasts beauties such as Early-Purple Orchids, Adders Tongues and Cowslips.
Entry free. www.plantlife.org.uk/nature_reserves
Electric bicycle hire network for South Downs
Make tracks not carbon footprints in the South Downs National Park this summer, with the arrival of the South-East’s first electric bike hire network. Taking the slog out of cycling, the electric bikes charge when you peddle downhill, making going back uphill a far more attractive prospect. Stretching from Petersfield in Hampshire to Midhurst in West Sussex, the network is an extension of a successful scheme in the Lake District National Park, where ebikes have opened up areas of countryside previously only accessible to the fittest.
Available now from outlets in Midhurst, Farnham, Alton and Petersfield. Hire will cost from £10 per half day. www.electricbicyclenetwork.com/hiring/south-downs/