Lake Wood, Uckfield.

Uckfield Naturally

Uckfield is blessed with being located in a ghyll valley probably formed by water erosion during the last Ice Age (Dryas) abut 10,000 years ago, and is built around an old river crossing.

Originally a farming and milling community, Uckfield has evolved into a dormitory and market town, writes ecologist Dr Martyn Stenning.

We have also inherited the estates of large landlords, the Streatfeilds and the Nevills.

These estates were managed in a traditional way for generations and built up a high biodiversity which should be protected.

Moral duty

We have a legal and moral duty to look after dormice, sticklebacks, kingfishers and dragonflies in the face of challenges from ambitious development and a lack of understanding of the natural environment.

To this end, Uckfield Town Council has set aside a few key areas as sanctuaries for nature.

These include West Park Local Nature reserve (WPLNR), Hempstead Meadows Local Nature Reserve (HMLNR), Boothland Wood, Harland’s Pond, Nightingale Wood.

There are places preserved by others too including Lake Wood (Woodland Trust), Lime Tree Avenue (LTA, Lime Aid) the Millennium Green (Millennium Green Trust).

Lives in our hands

All of these places are occupied by thousands of species of animals, plants, fungi and other lower organisms such as algae and bacteria. Their lives are in our hands.

They could be swept away with the stroke of a pen, or allowed to share this prosperous environment with us.

Many good people are giving up their time to help manage these sites in different ways, from simply walking through and reporting problems, picking up litter, attending committee meetings, actively wardening, helping with tasks such as combating alien (plant) invaders.

We have an excellent full time ranger in Rachel Thornley who tends the council sites and organises work on them. We also have volunteers who look after the other sites.

Fascinating wildlife

If you visit these sites and wait and watch, you will be rewarded with the sight of many forms of fascinating wildlife.

Some forms are easier to see than others, such as the rabbits of the Millennium Green or the mallards in the river.

With patience, you will see kingfishers at the river or in Lake Wood. You will find sticklebacks in Hempstead Meadows pools and grass snakes sunning themselves on the paths.

Hidden away, there are dormice, hundreds of species of moths all associated with different plants and coming out mainly at night.

Vulnerable bats

There are about seven species of bat which feed on these moths, but are vulnerable to cats that are allowed to be out at night.

Foxes roam the whole area looking for food, mainly rabbits. Deer roam the quieter places and are also mainly nocturnal for fear of being shot.

We may even have otters in the Uck as they have returned to Sussex after almost going extinct several decades ago. These will feed on the trout, eels and other fish which abound in the Uck.

Above our heads the swifts scream in the summer breeding season in the roofs our churches and larger houses.

Glorious honey

In the lime trees of LTA mistle thrushes, song thrushes, blackbirds and wrens breed in the summer. The trees support hundreds of insects, especially bees which make glorious honey.

Only by looking after these wonderful places will the wildlife be sustained.

Let’s not lose them on our watch, but enjoy them as part of our sustainable community.

If you would like to be more involved with these sites, either visit the Volunteer Bureau in the High Street or contact the Ranger on 07759291021 or Martyn Stenning on 07759 722655.

* Dr Stenning is an ecologist at the University of Sussex. He lives in Uckfield and helps to protect and manage ecologically important sites in the town. He is chairman of the nature reserves for Hempstead Meadows and West Park, chairman of Lime Aid and involved in the management of Lake Wood.

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