Hailsham & District

West Rise Marsh - 29 February 2012

Twelve members of the Group visited West Rise Marsh in Eastbourne. This is a very interesting site in many ways. It centres on an old gravel pit, now a lake, which is surrounded by previously existing marshes. It is leased by West Rise Junior School and used by the school for environmental studies and for practical projects such as building a walkway into the lake. The school have also adopted a small herd of water buffalo, three originally but now six with three calves. These roam the park. It attracts a wide variety of wildlife, particularly seagulls and wildfowl but recently short eared owls, rare yellow-legged and Caspian gulls and ravens have been seen there. Yet it is in effect surrounded by housing and factory estates and almost adjacent to Willingdon Drove.

Walking around the lake we noted Mediterranean gulls, tufted ducks, great crested and (probably) black necked grebes, coots, mallards, wigeon, teal, gadwall, three swans and a heron taking flight, pied wagtails and a kestrel. Buff-tailed bumblebees were buzzing around the pussy willow, early in the season for them.

The marsh is also a host to interesting plants, some herbal, and is used for herbal walks. One plant we found is thought to be Hemlock Water Dropwort, aka dead tongue. This plant has a sweetish and not unpleasant taste but is virulently poisonous. The name 'dead tongue' was given because of its paralysing effects on organs of speech. Its leaves are somewhat celery-like in form and flowers, borne on umbels, bloom in June and July. One root is sufficient to kill a cow and it has been referred to as the most poisonous of all British plants and is particularly dangerous because of its similarity to several edible plants.

Useful herbal plants known to grow in the area are Hawthorn, a superb heart and circulatory tonic, and Cleavers, aka goose grass and sticky-willy, is a gentle lymphatic cleanser, it is recommended as a spring tonic, being the earliest of the traditional spring tonic herbs to sprout. Guelder Rose, aka Crampbark, also grows here and is useful for relieving muscle tension. The reeds surrounding the lake are extensive and very good cover for wildlife.

However the highlight of the visit had to be the buffalo, domesticated but nevertheless very impressive. We were able to get pretty close to them and observed that quite frequently the young suckled not from the side but from the rear (this apparently happens with cattle but not usually). We were a bit wary of them and found that if they appeared frisky and we felt nervous the best course was to stand still. Jane (illustrated) demonstrates this course of action!