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Action for Access Sussex Walk

June 3, 2011

ACTION FOR ACCESS

Walking and working for a people’s countryside

Walking the Vale of the Brooks, south of Lewes

Saturday June 11th meeting at Lewes rail station at 11.00am and finishing back there about 4.00pm

(but folk can easily return earlier or go on to Southease station, if they wish)

This wetland vastness is as remote from the middle of Brighton or London as Atlantis…

 This is a land of lost content…all flat greenness and Buttercups, Yellow Flag, bird song and huge skies (when you escape the noise of the encircling roads…the A26, A27, and villages road). Long lines of reed-filled ditches (or ‘sewers’, or ‘brooks’,  to use the local names); and others full of Frogbit and Crowfoot; the scratchy jangling song of Reed Warblers, smart white-collared Reed Bunting, Marsh Frogs loud croaking and plopping into safety, Snipe zig-zagging low over soaked winter meadows, Barn Owls ghosting the ditches in those same  harsh times, Kingfisher – blue jewel – flashing by, and  Lapwings flap, flapping flight. The Downs are far-off green rumples, shaped with shadows.

After decades of arable intensification which saw the landscape dried, and fossil saltmarsh channels’ ancient creases ironed out, the small brooks lost and all ploughed level, or turning into lines of dry thorn scrub, and domestic tips and commercial fish ponds nibbling at the edges, we now see a limited return to erstwhile usages as wet grazing pastures and haylage. The RSPB has made an important 80 acre purchase.

We should be able freely to walk this special place…It is, after all, with our taxes that the improvements are being made, and it is our consumer purchases that buy the beef and lamb and grain products grown here.

But we can’t.

Though these brooklands sprawl along the river for 4.6 long miles, and 2 miles at their widest, the largest part of them has no legal public access beyond the path along the Ouse bank.

Though they are crossed by many raised medieval village causeways (known locally as ‘walls’) – Well Green Lane, Swanborough Drove, Norton Wall, Sutton Wall, Northease Wall, Pool Bar Wall, White Wall – and though they are marked by strange (and often lost) names – The Shine, The Sound, Broadwater, Bormer Brook, Itford Shallows, Bramble, Cliff, Piddinghoe, Deans and other Shallows, and many lost fordings – like Iford and Itford – we have no legal right to be there.

Though this was still a landscape of commons in the age of Cromwell and right through till the cusp of modernity in the time of young Queen Victoria, we have no legal right to be there now.

To be sure, some small part is open under Stewardship’s agri-environmental scheme and that farmer is friendly; and, to be sure, you can take the Rodmell Wall, or the Lane to Southease station, and a couple of other paths…but the wildness of the place is still forbidden to you.

The helicopter whirrings of green, blue, red, yellow, brown Dragon and Damselflies are not for you. The Great Silver Diving Beetles, (now found only here and in three  other wide marshlands), the thumb-sized gold and green Dytiscus Diving Beetles, the Sticklebacks, the young Eels, the many, many kinds of water snail (so many where the clear chalk streams’ influence is strong that your kick-net bottom fills with them like gravel), the Arrowhead, the Water Plantain, the Flowering Rush, the rare and special tiny beasties found only here and scarce at all elsewhere…they are not for us…just some few experts and officials that the landowners need satisfy to get their pay cheques cleared. 

We shall respectfully walk to see some of these treasures. On our rehearsal walk a Cuckoo called persistently from north, from south, and further south again…or was it two, or even three ? What Reed Warblers were about to have their broods usurped by its cunning mate’s foundlings ? Swifts flew screaming overhead…unusual sight outside our towns.  Skylarks belted out their trills above some far-off buttercup meadows, and a Meadow Pipit parachuted down and down. Herons flapped, a Redshank alarmed, and even a solitary Cormorant flapped towards its customary pylon. (On which, in winter, you may count up to 80 of its friends). A Linnet showed off its almost Robin-like red breast and a Wagtail kept it company. We chewed some Horseradish shoots and flowers and wondered why we bother with the sauce…the flowers taste just as good.

Today, I returned again for more exploring and we were privileged to see two Grass Snakes, a Brown Hare, two Egrets, dozens of Cormorants, many Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings, half a dozen species of Sedge, and more Sussex cattle and sheep than I’ve had hot dinners…

We hope this walk will be blessed with sun and shadow, warmth and peace, and that all the birds will be singing once again…

Led by Dave Bangs. Notes by him as well.

Wear strong shoes, SORRY, NO DOGS, children doubly welcome, bring eyeglass & magnifying glass if you have them,  binoculars, warm enuf clothes, and a bite and a drink. Be prepared to cross the odd wire fence (though hopefully not), for which help will be given in getting over.

ACTION FOR ACCESS
walking and working for a people’s countryside

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