Nature reserve is just off High Street

Hempstead Meadows nature reserve lies in the centre of Uckfield just metres from the traffic-congested High Street.

It is owned by the town council, nestles beside the River Uck and behind the Co-op supermarket car park and is a haven for wildlife, mammals, reptiles, birds, insects and plants.

The land was bought from farmer Percy Phillips and it was only afterwards that the council realised it was rich in flora and fauna and began work to have it designated a Local Nature Reserve.

There is an information board, a circular walk and benches where people can rest and soak up the atmosphere.

Ecologist Dr Martyn Stenning, who works at the University of Sussex at Falmer, has previously been reported saying he had spotted the ecological value of the land while travelling in and out of Uckfield by train and was prompted to join the town council for a time and help make sure that area of flood plain was protected.

He was worried at one stage to learn it was being considered as a potential integrated transport depot for the town and relieved when it received its nature reserve designation.

The flood plain was formed about 10,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age and benefited from deposits of soils and nutrients washed onto the land when the river flooded, he said.

Farmers had always valued flood plain grazing, because the land didn’t need fertilising, and a cycle would have been followed at Hempstead Meadows with grass allowed to grow in the spring ready for a hay crop to be harvested in June.

Then grazing animals would have been moved on until October when they had to return to high ground because of the risk of flooding.

The water of the Uck itself was some of the most pure in the whole of the Ouse catchment area, said Dr Stenning, and supported a huge range of pollution-sensitive species like migrating sea trout, mayflies and demoiselle damsel flies.

The kingfisher bred on the river and it was likely the otter was coming back.

The ecological value of wetland – at the Hempstead play area end of the reserve – brought into the reserve in 2008 was superior to that of other town council-owned land in Uckfield, according to ranger Jo Heading.

Jo, an East Sussex County Council ranger, said at the time the land was given to the council by developers Rydon Homes: ‘It is a very valuable bit of wetland and seems to stay wet through the year. It is rare to find land like this that hasn’t been drained by farmers for grazing land or to plant crops.’

It was alive with dragon flies, damsel flies, butterflies and a big range of wild flowers, she said. If people are very quiet and still and took binoculars they might spot snipe, shy and sensitive birds which would be frightened away by noise.

See also:

Promise yourself two visits to this spot

Uckfield News

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