Firehills, Hastings Country Park

Field meeting reports
Picture of Calluna vulgaris (Heather)
Calluna vulgaris (Heather) re-established on the heath. Photo: Helen Proctor

Meeting date: 13 August 2016

(Leaders: Judy Clark, Ellen Campbell and Jacqueline Rose)

This additional meeting was arranged in order to assist the Hastings Botany Group with a botanical survey. A group of eight members of the SBRS and Hastings Botany Group met at the information centre where wonderful views in glorious sunshine raised our expectations of an interesting day ahead of us. The purpose was to monitor the effectiveness of the coastal heathland restoration programme, which is being managed by Hastings Borough Council as part of a Higher Level Stewardship Agreement. Surveys are being repeated every three years over the ten year period of the grant.  Frequencies of taxa were recorded on the DAFOR scale. The heathland restoration on the Firehills has been quite dramatic, heavy machinery being brought in to remove the old even-aged and leggy gorse, and the whole area then scraped. The task for the day was to look at two adjacent blocks of heathland that had been scraped the previous year, and were grassing over nicely.  In two groups we set about zig-zagging over our respective areas. A corner patch more recently cleared of gorse had a splendid display of Senecio sylvaticus (Heath Groundsel).

Picture of Senecio sylvaticus (Heath Groundsel)
Senecio sylvaticus (Heath Groundsel). Photo: Jacqueline Rose

A surprise was a single flowering plant of Hieracium (Hawkweed) hidden in the long grass, almost certainly H sabaudum which grows elsewhere in the Country Park. Veronica officinalis (Heath Speedwell) and Potentilla erecta (Tormentil) and Galium saxatile (Heath Bedstraw), which will make a wonderful frothy display as it spreads, suggested that things are going the right way. The other group found Brachypodium pinnatum, a grass that has puzzled us because it is supposed to grow on chalk. Wolley-Dod mentions this site, ‘These stations are not on chalk’. Current thinking is that there are two separate species, B. pinnatum (Heath False-Brome) and B rupestre (Tor Grass) but no reliable diagnostic features have yet been found to separate them. This is an obvious candidate for true B. pinnatum.  Late last autumn Calluna vulgaris (Heather) cuttings were brought from Ashdown Forest, and scattered over some of the scraped areas. Small sprigs of it were found in this block. It had disappeared from the Firehills, but it is possible that these newly germinated plants are from an existing seed bank rather than from the introduced seed. Between us we recorded 54 species. A successful patch of restored heathland was colourful with Erica cinerea (Bell Heather), Potentilla erecta (Tormentil), Ulex europaea and U. minor (Common and Dwarf Gorse) and Cuscuta epithymum (Dodder).

Picture of Cuscuta epithymum (Dodder)
Cuscuta epithymum (Dodder). Photo: Jacqueline Rose
Picture of Firehills
Newly-grassed Firehills. Photo: Jacqueline Rose