Flowers, butterflies and birds on view

West Dean woods.
West Dean woods.

ARE YOU interested in wild flowers? What about butterflies and birds? If yes, then come along to the Open Day this Saturday at West Dean Woods, May 5.

There is a nature reserve around my home. It is only 40 acres but it preserves a remnant of the old coppice woodlands which used to cover much of Sussex and Kent. Much of this old sylviculture system has been abandoned. A great shame because it supported in its heyday one of the most valuable wildlife ecosystems on the planet.

If you happen to own a bit of this old woodland you can see on Saturday how to manage it for the enormous crops of wild flowers, birds and butterflies which it supports.

The land here belongs to the West Dean Estate, an Educational Trust set up by the late Edward James, art philanthropist and connoisseur whose old home is now the College at West Dean. This runs courses on countryside and art.

The reserve will be open 10am-4pm. It is situated two and a half miles north of West Dean village along the minor road to Chilgrove and there is limited parking along roadside verges or you may catch a minibus transport from West Dean Gardens car park on the A286.

I have studied the bird life in this reserve for 37 years and find that 56 species of birds have bred at one time or another in the 40 acres, with a a regular corps of 40 species year to year. These include great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, buzzard, kestrel, marsh tit, long-tailed tit, hawfinch, nightjar, willow warbler and even crossbill.

Most of these birds I see in my garden, and many of them drink daily from my frying pan water outside the kitchen window.

My wife has been monitoring butterflies every week for thirty years and she finds that about 30 species are always present. These include purple emperor, white admiral, silver-washed fritillary, which are all the high forest species. She has also recorded in the past pearl-bordered fritillaries but these have now vanished.

The reserve has over 300 species of wild flowers which include cowslip, cuckoo flower, spotted orchids, greater butterfly orchids, twayblades, gromwell, and four species of violet. Volunteers cut the hazel coppice on a six to eight year rotation and the produce realises £4,000 p.a.

Pheasant shooting is another winter resource with regular drives through the coverts. I shall be leading walks every hour and selling copies of my new book of West Sussex walks and there will be RSPB in attendance, also Sussex Wildlife Trust who lease the reserve from West Dean Estate. I think there will also be examples of coppice produce being made.

If it rains, wear the right sort of clothing.

Richard Williamson