TQ81 S

17th January 2008, Thursday

In recent years, several local landowners have created permissive paths on their land, which provide useful access to sites of interest and links for round-trips. Yesterday, I followed some of these created by three farmers in the upper Pannel Valley, spurred by tetrad topography to vary my usual routes.
These trails are usually signalled by little maps, but they’re not always easy to see. If you go to the Defra website, however, www.countrywalks.defra.gov.uk you can download maps of these paths in order to plan your itinerary.
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Along the lanes, Robins, Blackbirds,Blue and Great Tits were once more conspicuous and numerous and a Chaffinch was in song for the first time this year.
Pale brown rainwater was rushing down little streams I’d never noticed before, and floods lay in the valley bottom, attended by Little Egret, Grey Heron, a crowd of Pied Wagtails, while overhead flapped Marsh Harrier and Buzzard. The swollen waters of the Pannel Sewer had permitted 2 Little Grebes to venture up further than usual.
A rough field was full of noisy Starlings, Fieldfares and Redwings, which all flew up in a swirling mass as a Sparrowhawk hurtled through.
In a narrow wet meadow, where Mistle Thrush song echoed from nearby chestnut trunks, I flushed Woodcock and Grey Wagtail.
Then, while I was trying to get a look at a singing Marsh Tit, a black, white and scarlet fluttering at eye-level from a nearby tree turned out to be a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – very, very difficult to find now in the RX area – a beautiful male with red cap and rosy flushed undersides.

Many Wealden stream valleys retain earthworks, sometimes heroic in scale, relating to previous industrial use. Rushing water turned stones to grind flour or gunpowder; pumped bellows and raised hammers in iron foundries.
Very often a valley bears a series of dams, the lower, deeper pond to provide power, the shallower backup area to grow thatching reeds.
Some survive but most have been abandoned, the earth walls breached, the ponds dried out and overgrown.
Rigorous management work on the Pickham Mill reedbed has stripped away the enclosing willow and alder, leaving a vista of alarmingly exposed muddy ruts and bright orange alder stumps. The build-up of dead reed still needs stripping away, but the vegetation will soon recover as a healthier wetland.
Reed Warblers, which bred in this isolated reedbed until a few years ago, may return and it could provide a habitat for Reed Buntings, which winter in small numbers on surrounding farmland. Water Voles are also said to be present.