Field meeting reports
Picture of Sorbus aria x vestita 'Wilfrid Fox'
Sorbus aria x vestita ‘Wilfrid Fox’. Photo: Helen Proctor

Meeting date: 30 May 2015

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

The meeting was billed as “Hastings habitats”, including Alexandra Park, and our intention was to show just what plant treasures are to be found in urban Hastings.  The upper part of Alexandra Park is quite informal, and it was there that we started with a walk through remnant woodland that had been planted many years ago with a variety of mostly unusual trees, including a number of different Hollies.  We had Owen Johnson with us so identification was a breeze.  Native species growing happily among these exotics included Sanicula europaea (Sanicle) and Melampyrum pratense (Common Cow-wheat), but our pièce de resistance was a shady bank covered in flowering Hieracium grandidens.

Next destination was Old Roar Ghyll at the top of the Park – how many towns can boast a ghyll in the middle of an urban area?  A splendid display of Milium effusum (Wood Millet) greeted us as we entered the ghyll.  A Hastings speciality, the parasitic Lathraea squamaria (Toothwort), grows on ledges on the sandstone as well as on the ground, looking ghostly white in the cool light.  One of its hosts here is the Railway Poplar, a form of Populus x canadensis.  We continued to Little Roar waterfall at the top of the ghyll, pausing to examine species including naturalised Potentilla indica (Yellow-flowered Strawberry) and, Carex strigosa (Thin-spiked Wood Sedge), which was common along our route.  By now stomachs were rumbling, so it was a brisk walk to Owen’s house, where we ate lunch in unusual comfort and enjoyed the luxury of non-thermos tea, followed by a walk into the depths of his wonderful garden, once a clay pit.

The afternoon was spent looking at an entirely different habitat still well within the urban area: sandy grassland around the castle rocks on the West Hill.  On the top we found Sedum anglicum (English Stonecrop), rare in Sussex, and Trifolium arvense (Hare’s-foot Clover), both abundant and coming into flower, as well as T. subterraneum (Subterranean Clover) in full flower. Osmunda regalis (Royal Fern) – not a regal size here – and Blechnum spicant (Hard Fern) grow in the crevices of the rocks.  The latter fooled several as it wasn’t looking very well in such an open habitat.  And a small Brome may turn out to be Bromus hordeaceus ssp. ferronii if its awns begin to curve outwards as it matures.

Rita was quite relieved to find she did not need to climb down the rocks to reach the base! An easy path took us to lots of flowering Ornithopus perpusillus (Bird’s-foot) but best of all was about five plants of the equally tiny Vicia lathyroides (Spring Vetch), also in flower. It has been known from this location for over 150 years. We made nearly 200 records, some of which were new to these well-recorded tetrads.

The group study Carex acutiformis
The group study Carex acutiformis