Cuckmere Valley

Field meeting reports

Meeting date: 25-26 June 2005

(Leader: Helen Proctor)

The purpose of the meeting was to introduce members to plants special to the lower Cuckmere Valley, and to record for the new Sussex Flora. Twenty members of the BSBI and SBRS assembled at the Seven Sisters Country Park at Exceat, and heard a short introductory talk by the Park Manager, Robin Thorpe. The Country Park lies in four tetrads, which necessitated close attention to detail with the GPS!

As the party left the car park, a large plant of Centaurea calcitrapa (Red Star-thistle) was noted. Possibly native in Sussex, it occurs frequently on disturbed ground in the Park and by the Cuckmere river, as far inland as Litlington. Large amounts of Ruppia cirrhosa (Spiral Tasselweed) were found in brackish water – the only known site in East Sussex. Also uncommon in Sussex, Carex distans (Distant Sedge) had colonised the bank of a ditch.

A detour was made up the hillside to study an area of Bromus erectus (Upright Brome) chalk grassland which had benefitted from winter grazing. Phyteuma orbiculare (Round-headed Rampion) was just coming into flower. Twelve plants of Orchis ustulata (Burnt-tip Orchid) were seen, together with Gymnadenia conopsea (Fragrant Orchid) and Anacamptis pyramidalis (Pyramidal Orchid).

The route took the party along a raised footpath through saltmarsh near the river, where several plants of Raphanus raphanistrum ssp. maritimum (Sea Radish) and Crithmum maritimum (Rock Samphire) occurred. Crambe maritima (Sea Kale) and Glaucium flavum (Yellow Horned-poppy) were abundant on the shingle. Patches of formerly grazed turf had a varied flora including Sagina maritima (Sea Pearlwort), Lotus glaber (Narrow-leaved Bird’s-foot-trefoil) and Geranium columbinum (Long-stalked Crane’s-bill). This area just behind the shingle bank had been swept clean by a storm in 2000.

On Sunday, members met at High and Over, and walked downhill to see Marrubium vulgare (White Horehound). About 20 plants of Hyoscyamus niger (Henbane) were also seen here. Scattered Ranunculus parviflorus (Small-flowered Buttercup) in fruit occurred in short turf. The party then crossed the road to Cradle Hill, where a dewpond contained several aquatics, including Stratiotes aloides (Water-soldier), Ranunculus trichophyllus (Thread-leaved Water-crowfoot) and Callitriche obtusangula (Blunt-fruited Water-starwort). Long-established chalk grassland on steep slopes produced a large list of typical plants, including two colonies of the late-flowering form of Orchis ustulata. Many hundreds of plants of Thesium humifusum (Bastard-toadflax) were seen. Lower down, former arable had reverted to chalk grassland, allowing a comparison to be made of the flora of the two areas. Two plants of Valerianella dentata (Narrow-fruited Cornsalad) were found here.

The meeting was blessed with dry, mild weather on both days. A total of 562 records were collected.