My home tetrad

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Picture of Spergularia rubra (Sand Spurrey)
Spergularia rubra (Sand Spurrey)

Source: Smith, Peter B. “My home tetrad.” Sussex Botanical Recording Society Newsletter, no. 91 (November 2020).

Faced with Lockdown, I realised that it created an opportunity to look more intensively at what could be found by walking out of my own front door. We were all encouraged to walk, and I did that in an SBRS sort of way. My home tetrad is TQ50D, centred on the village of Selmeston. It is predominantly arable and pasture, but includes a substantial area of long-established woodland on gault clay. Unusually for East Sussex it has an area of lower greensand, some of which was quarried in the past, and part of which is the basis of a turf farm. The Flora records 363 species present, the great majority recorded earlier by persons other than me. When I became an active recorder some years ago, I needed to add only 23 more records before the cutoff for record submissions to the Flora. This year I have recorded 381 species, with 40 of the earlier records no longer found, but 58 new ones added. Some of these differences are no doubt attributable to my having missed what was present, and some are due to my having recorded rather more casual species derived from gardens and agriculture than was the practice in earlier times. Here I focus on what seem to me the more interesting finds and changes, some good, some not.

Cricket is said to have been played in the village for more than 150 years. The pitch is on greensand and is normally close mown, but COVID delayed that process this year, and that enabled me to scrutinise the outfield more thoroughly. Early in the year I found extensive areas of Montia fontana (Blinks) and a hands and knees search revealed a good colony of Moenchia erecta (Upright Chickweed). The boundary of the cricket field has also been undisturbed for a long period, and in spring had new records for Carex caryophyllea (Spring Sedge) and Viola canina (Heath Dog-violet). Later in the year, there are Silaum silaus (Pepper-saxifrage), Genista tinctoria (Dyer’s Greenweed) and Achillea ptarmica (Sneezewort). Nearby are the disused sandpits. In the past these have been a treasure trove for small clovers, with one of few inland Sussex sites for Trifolium scabrum (Rough Clover). Unfortunately the best area has become overgrown with brambles and this species, as well as T. subterraneum (Subterranean Clover) and T. ornithopodioides (Bird’s-foot Clover), appears lost. Lemna minuta (Least Duckweed) has reached a pond in one of the pits and Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Common Spotted-orchid) does well nearby. The flora of the turf farm follows the cycle of turf removal and subsequent reseeding. This year there was a wonderful mass of Spergula arvensis (Corn Spurrey), and a new record for Spergularia rubra (Sand Spurrey).

The churchyard is managed with conservation in mind, and continues to feature a spreading colony of Hermodactylus tuberosus (Snake’s-head Iris), and varieties of Ulmus agg. whose identities I have not explored. There has been extensive forestry work in part of the woodland area in recent years, and this has opened up some areas, for instance with Galega officinalis (Goat’s-rue) and Hypericum hirsutum (Hairy St John’s-wort). Perhaps due to the forestry work I could not find Platanthera chlorantha (Greater Buttterfly-orchid) or Orchis mascula (Early-purple Orchid) this year, but I do not think that they have been lost. A damp ride revealed Carex strigosa (Thin-spiked Woodsedge). There are no recent records for this species here, but some rather implausible old records for two tetrads further south. It has most likely long been present in this wood.

The verge of the A27 provides a further distinctive habitat. Beta vulgaris ssp. maritima (Sea Beet) has become extensively established on the roadside verge in this section, along with the usual salt-tolerant suspects, Cochlearia danica (Danish Scurvygrass), Spergularia media (Greater Sea-spurrey) and Plantago coronopus (Buck’s-horn Plantain).

Current agricultural practices are making arable margins more accessible than they used to be. This may account for some of the new species that I was able to locate. For instance, I found two separate populations of Euphorbia platyphyllos (Broad-leaved Spurge) and noted that Phalaris paradoxa (Awned Canary-grass) has become widespread round several fields. One definite loss is Ranunculus tripartitus (Three-lobed Crowfoot), which I found a few years ago in a former farmyard pond that later became a neighbour’s garden pond. The house recently changed hands and the new owner has filled in the pond. Overall, I find it rather alarming that there should be such a rapid turnover in the species present as these results suggest. Native species are being lost, and replaced by non-native species. The process continues and is being aided and abetted by farmers sowing field margins with exotic seed-mixes.