Hailsham & District

2012.05.01 Abbots Wood

Five members of the Group went on this field trip which was above all a 'nightingalefest'. Male nightingales were everywhere we went, singing enthusiastically to attract females, too difficult to count but Sussex Ornithological Society (SOS) observers had counted over 23 the previous day. We even managed to see one darting about and singing and glimpsed sight of another one. Other birds we saw or heard included a heron, many chiffchaffs, greenfinches, blackcaps, wrens, chaffinches, blackbirds, a goldcrest, robins, a tree creeper running up a tree, song thrushes, green woodpeckers, a willow warbler, and possibly a garden warbler.

Plants were also in abundance and included celandines, dandelions, bittercress, chickweed, garlic mustard (jack by the hedge), common forget-me-nots, ground ivy, wild strawberry, stitchwort, ajuga reptans (bugle), wood spurge, red campion and gorse not to mention swathes of bluebells, primroses and still several patches of wood anemones. We did not really get round to noting many trees and bushes but these included oak, hornbeam, silver birch, blackthorn, honeysuckle, privet and blackberry.

Insect life was also interesting. Abbots Wood is famed for its wood ants, in this case we saw southern wood ants. They were fascinating, rebuilding their nests with pine needles and other material often twice as large as the individual ant. Other insects noted were the common bee wasp (which is in fact a bee parasitizing mining bees by laying its eggs in their burrows), common carder-bee and a tree bumble bee (one of our less common bumblebees which only started colonising Britain in 2001). We did not see any pearl bordered fritillaries, another insect for which Abbots Wood is famed and which have only recently been re-introduced there with great success; the morning was too damp and overcast for butterflies. They are there and the SOS observers had noted at least 50 the previous day.

In Victorian times and even up to the second World War Abbots Wood was a naturalists paradise. However from 1941 it suffered a half century of clearance and conifer planting which destroyed the great majority of its semi woodland cover. This only ceased around 1993 when the Forestry Commission started to carry out large scale ancient woodland and habitat restoration.

Do try and get there this spring, preferably before the male nightingales have found a mate, and you might even see a pearl bordered fritillary!