Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Devil’s Jumps and Humps

One of the many features which make the South Downs National Park such a special place is its wealth of ancient monuments, particularly those which are so visible along the well-trodden paths across its chalk hilltops. These include the great Iron Age forts such as Cissbury Ring, and the more modest but widespread Bronze Age barrows, which themselves seem to mimic Kipling’s “blunt, bow-headed whale-backed Downs” in miniature.

These relics provide many people with a strong sense of connection with our ancestors, through a landscape which has probably changed surprisingly little, at least in those parts which we now protect and cherish. The Murray Downland Trust looks after one such area near Treyford, where the Devil’s Jumps sits in a commanding position, affording spectacular views over downland to the northwest and across the Weald to the north.

These five, large, Bronze Age bell barrows are exceptionally well-preserved, ranging from 26 metres to 34 metres in diameter, and up to 4.8 metres in height (Dyer, 2001). Two additional, smaller barrows have been documented (Arscott, 1993), although very little physical evidence of them remains. Early (C19th) excavations revealed human bones in two of the barrows, consistent with their widely accepted function as ancient burial mounds.
The Devil’s Jumps should not be confused with the Devil’s Humps, which lie approximately 6 Km to the south within the Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve. The Devil was clearly very active in this part of Sussex, if the wealth of associated folklore is to be believed. Here, on Bow Hill, another impressive line of Bronze Age barrows can be found, together with other archaeological features and earthworks which are more difficult to interpret.

The Devil’s Jumps barrow cemetery at Treyford (Grid Reference SU824173) is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and lies within one of the five reserves managed by the Murray Downland Trust (MDT). In 2009 the MDT was granted permission to push back the line of mostly coniferous trees which had encroached upon this important site, reinstating the more open setting of its earlier history. Grazing with livestock now prevents the development of scrub and has meant that more delicate chalk grassland plants are returning, along with their associated fauna. The painting to the right, by Michael Codd (Photo Credit: West Sussex County Council), depicts a reconstruction of the site, giving some idea of how it may have looked during Bronze Age times.
The five main barrows are arranged in a linear manner, running approximately northwest to southeast, in alignment with the setting sun on the summer solstice. There can surely be no better time to visit the Devil’s Jumps, which is probably most conveniently approached from the hamlet of Hooksway to the southwest, involving a steady climb on foot of approximately 1.25 Km. You can enjoy a drink at the picturesque Royal Oak on the way up or down, but please consider the ‘Patrons Only’ parking arrangements behind the pub before setting off.

It is difficult to define the nature of the relationship that many have with these places; places which clearly meant so much to our ancestors. The enduring nature of the landscape in which they are set is clearly part of the story. It seems probable that our visual appreciation of the panoramic views usually associated with these locations is similar to that perceived through Bronze Age eyes. Indeed, the theories of evolutionary psychology suggest that early man developed an aesthetic appreciation of landscape in order to enhance survival and reproductive fitness (Dutton, 2003). What looks good to us probably looked good to the barrow builders.
For me, the wildlife which is so closely associated with these places provides a bridge back in time. Although there will have been changes amongst the flora and fauna, many of the species inhabiting these sites today will have been present during their construction. Since the end of the last major ice age 12,000 years ago, and certainly since 8,500 years ago, when Britain became isolated from the rest of Europe as the land connecting us was flooded, our butterfly fauna has probably remained fairly constant.

Two butterfly species which today seem particularly fond of Iron and Bronze Age monuments on chalk are the beautiful Adonis Blue and Marsh Fritillary, although the latter has sadly been lost from Sussex. Almost certainly, by the time the Devil’s Jumps were constructed 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, these quite sedentary species would have become established on the livestock-grazed downland turf.

We know from artefacts that Bronze Age people were undoubtedly appreciative of fine, decorative objects. It therefore seems quite plausible that the inhabitants of these areas may have looked at butterflies through affectionate eyes, as they flitted across the slopes and ramparts between cattle and sheep. Today we can still see other ‘habitat specialists’ including the Dark Green Fritillary, Chalkhill Blue (pictured) and Marbled White on many of the MDT reserves. Perhaps it is this constancy that provides a feeling of comfort when visiting these monuments, in a world where so much is changing so quickly.

One thing is sure, a unique and inextricably linked set of components including geology, landscape, flora and fauna, and the very visible signs of human history, combine to create a strong sense of place, which has an almost magical quality. It is good to know that, along with others, the MDT is doing such a good job in looking after these precious places.

Neil Hulme

 

 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Mistletoe Season

The last two Wednesday work parties at Heyshott Escarpment have been well attended, with a total of twenty participants representing both the Murray Downland Trust and Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch. The work has involved cutting back Hazel scrub and invasive Ash so that a new fence can be erected. This will allow for controlled grazing of selected areas of the reserve, providing the mosaic of habitat types necessary to keep a wide range of species happy. The clearance is equally important in allowing more light to penetrate areas of floristically rich grassland which are currently too shady for many invertebrates, including butterflies. The images show recent work close to the eastern entry point from the path known as ‘Old Chalky’, and around pits in the central part of the reserve.

Although my own journey to reach Heyshott each week is quite a long one, it takes me through some of the most scenic parts of West Sussex, over Bury Hill, past Lord’s Piece, and along the dam wall of the beautiful Burton Mill Pond. On my way to the most recent work party (11th December) the usual, panoramic view from the top of Bury Hill was obscured by a thick shroud of mist, which filled the Arun Valley floor. After stopping briefly to take a few photographs I soon descended below the mist-line and only climbed back through it as I approached the group of volunteers already busy at work on the slopes.

Once the day’s work was complete, I headed to the western flank of the reserve to collect some Mistletoe for the house. Mistletoe (Viscum album) is a hemi-parasitic plant which grows on a wide variety of host trees, most notably the cultivated Apple. The sticky seed attaches to and pierces the branch of a host using a structure called the haustorium, through which it steals mineral nutrients and water. It does do some work itself, manufacturing photosynthetic products (sugars) via its evergreen leaves. Mistletoe is only really common in the S and SW Midlands, and occurs quite sparingly across Sussex. However, it grows on several trees on and around Heyshott Escarpment, typically set in open locations. One tree in particular is smothered in the plant, undoubtedly to its detriment; too much Mistletoe will stunt and can even kill its host.


Mistletoe, or at least our native species, is distributed by the winter activities of birds, most famously by the Mistle Thrush. I flushed two of these birds as I approached. After feasting on the white berries the thrush will excrete sticky, semi-digested pulp and seeds, which might stick to a fork or cleft in a tree and then germinate.

The Mistletoe Matters Consultancy considers that the distribution of the plant may be increasing, possibly due to the increased activity of another bird. The Blackcap is apparently more efficient at placing seed in suitable locations, as it tends to wipe the seeds from its beak on branches, having only ingested the pulp. This member of the warbler family used to invariably migrate south to mainland Europe. However, with climate change, an increasing number now stay with us to over-winter in the UK.


Please note that the next Heyshott work party (Wednesday 18th December) will be the last before we reconvene on Wednesday 8th January 2014.

Neil Hulme

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Working Wednesdays

Although some of the heavier duties are performed by contractors, the mainstay of habitat management work at Heyshott Escarpment, and on other Murray Downland Trust reserves, is performed by a dedicated band of volunteers. This is a chance to make a real difference and leave a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy. The work being performed at Heyshott and further afield will ensure that the precious downland habitat in the care of the trust, and the wildlife it supports, are well catered for long into the distant future. It’s also a great way to keep fit, both physically and mentally. If you attend, you will be visiting one of the most beautiful spots within the South Downs National Park, so bring your camera along to record the stunning views and autumn colours.

Between October and March (inclusive) each year, work parties set off from ‘Upper Cranmore’ (GU29 0DL, Grid Ref SU899178) at 9.00 am every Wednesday, unless inclement weather is likely to make working on the slopes hazardous or particularly unpleasant. If arriving later, it is relatively easy to find the group out on the reserve, by listening for power-tools or looking for bonfire smoke. By heading for Grid Ref SU899168 you should be close enough to see volunteers at work. The image (right) shows an entirely male group, but women regularly attend these work parties, as do all age groups. The slopes are steep in places, so a reasonable level of fitness and mobility is required. Everyone receives a warm welcome.
Appropriate, protective clothing (warm and waterproof) is essential, including strong footwear, gloves and eye protection. Tools (bow saws, rakes etc.) are made available and there are duties to suit everyone.

Further details can be provided by Mark Colvin (07818 405859), Colin Knight (07704 830104) or Neil Hulme (07778 306816).
Neil Hulme

Four Seasons on Heyshott Escarpment

There can be few places in Sussex where the four seasons are as well defined as they are on Heyshott Escarpment, due largely to its almost unique physical characteristics. The particularly steep, north-facing slope, created by ancient uplift and subsequent erosion, has been further chiselled out by men in pursuit of chalk, although this activity ceased in the 1930s and most signs of quarrying have now healed over. As man’s influence on this landscape decreased, so the woodland began to take hold, with much of the uppermost slope now curtained with mature trees.

This combination of features means that the low winter sun fails to touch the turf for many months and the slopes become dark, damp and almost silent. Even birdsong is reduced to occasional, single notes, suggesting that the system is just ticking over in shutdown mode, rather than completely dead. Occasionally the peace is broken as a flock of chattering Fieldfares passes overhead, or the throttled call of a cock pheasant echoes off the steep coombe walls. It’s hard to believe that spring will ever come here, particularly when the temperature plummets and the escarpment is blanketed in an iron-hard frost. The presence of Wednesday morning volunteers is only given away by the plume of wood smoke which is visible from the village below, as it hangs low and thick in the moist air.
When spring does arrive it comes with a rush. Birdsong is now rich and full, often accompanied by the drumming of woodpeckers. Spring butterflies appear in rapid succession and specialities of Heyshott, such as the Duke of Burgundy and Dingy Skipper, fly in unusually high numbers here. As the work of the Murray Downland Trust (MDT) and its partners continues to improve the habitat for wildlife, exciting changes are evident. In 2013 the endangered Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly made a surprising and most welcome return, after being absent since the 1990s. It is the renewed human activity on the slopes which is revitalising this rare and fragile ecosystem.
Cowslips and Early Purple orchids add the first, bold splashes of colour as the slopes come alive, soon to be followed by more discreet orchids such as the Fly, White Helleborine and Greater Butterfly, which tuck themselves away in shady nooks along the woodland margins. Spring is the time when most naturalists visit the escarpment, and every year the MDT and Butterfly Conservation run a well attended guided walk to see the rich flora and fauna which make this area so special.

Insect interest extends well beyond the butterflies. My favourite bee lives here. Osmia bicolor is a solitary mason bee which lays its eggs in empty snail shells. It then craftily conceals the shell with dried grasses, carefully dropping each stem to form a straw wigwam.

The passage from spring to summer is marked by an abrupt change in the butterfly population. ‘Dukes’, Dingy and Grizzled Skippers and the iridescent Green Hairstreak are all but gone by mid June, when the ubiquitous Meadow Brown appears; this species will dominate the slopes for the remainder of the season. Marbled Whites emerge a little later in their bold black and white livery, along with the aptly named Chalkhill Blue. Although secretive and seldom seen, the magnificent Purple Emperor now glides through the canopy above the deep, central coombe, with females seeking out shady sallows on which to lay their eggs. Wheeling buzzards are particularly vocal at this time of year, as they call to their newly fledged young.
Heyshott Escarpment is spectacularly beautiful at all times of year, but perhaps never more so than in the autumn. When the Beech, Maple, Hazel and Hawthorn leaves begin to lose their chlorophyll, increasingly vivid bronze, yellow and red pigments are unmasked. I can never decide whether the Beech colours are particularly rich at Heyshott, or whether my appreciation of them is simply enhanced by their surroundings. The work party season is now underway again and one of the joys of participation is being there to see how the colours change with the ebb and flow of the seasons. Heyshott Escarpment will soon fall once more into a deep slumber.

As I cross the lowermost pit, passing the old spoil heaps now known as the ‘Camel’s Humps’, and the old lime kilns concealed beneath trees, I always stop for a moment and turn to take in one of my favourite Sussex views. It doesn’t matter whether it is winter, spring, summer or autumn; it is always a pleasure to be here.

Neil Hulme

Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Dukes of Heyshott

The Murray Downland Trust's reserve at Heyshott Escarpment is known for many things, not least some of the most stunning views across West Sussex. The chalk grassland, scrubbier areas and adjacent woodland support a fantastically rich flora and fauna, making this site one of the 'jewels in the crown' of the South Downs National Park.

One species for which the reserve has become particularly well known in recent years is the endangered Duke of Burgundy butterfly. The following article is reproduced from the Murray Downland Trust Seventeenth Annual Report (2011). It gives real hope that, by working in partnerships such as that forged between the Murray Downland Trust and Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch, we can preserve this beautiful and charismatic butterfly for the enjoyment of future generations.

The Dukes of Heyshott 

The Duke of Burgundy is one of the two most rapidly declining and threatened species of butterfly in the UK, which together with the High Brown Fritillary now faces potential extinction unless conservation measures are successful in halting and reversing the current trend of population losses. Fewer than 100 colonies remain, with West Sussex being at the retreating eastern front of the species’ geographical distribution, leaving just isolated outliers in Kent. The vast majority of remaining colonies are very small, comprising no more than a handful of adult insects on the wing at any time during its late April to early June flight season. Populations where maximum daily counts exceed 30 butterflies are now very rare and in 2003 the total number of Duke of Burgundy adults seen in the county was 8. I remember Colin Pratt F.R.E.S., the county recorder, showing me a histogram depicting the number of 2 Km squares occupied by ‘the Duke’ since the 19th Century; extrapolation of the ever-downwards trend clearly suggesting that the species was unlikely to outlive the second decade of the 21st Century in Sussex. This is a butterfly in dire straits. 

The Duke of Burgundy is the flyweight champion of the butterfly world, being so pugnacious that all other species are attacked should they stray across the male’s fiercely guarded territory, irrespective of their size. He is only as large as one of the blue family. The males will often congregate in small ‘leks’ where in-fighting is almost constant between the hours of 11am and 3pm. Although he can occasionally be seen outside these hours ‘the Duke’ is very lazy, rising late and retiring early. Combatants typically spiral upwards in vertical climbs of up to 50 metres before dropping back to their eagerly contested perches on low scrub. The females are better behaved and go about their business of laying eggs as discreetly as possible. These are deposited singly, or sometimes in twos and threes, on the underside of cowslip leaves, or on primrose in more wooded habitats. She is notoriously fussy about her selection of egg-laying sites, this being a critical issue to which I will return. The sexes are broadly similar in appearance, with a network of dark bars and stripes over a ginger-brown base colour, giving the general appearance of a fritillary; indeed this was once called the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary. However, the taxonomists now place this butterfly in a family of its own, at least in the UK, although there are relatives living abroad. At home ‘the Duke’ is unique in that the male has vastly reduced front legs and uses only the rear two pairs for walking, whereas the female has all six legs fully developed.  

In West Sussex there are now less than a dozen sites supporting the Duke of Burgundy and many of these could be lumped together, leaving just 5 population centres. I personally began to work in earnest on ‘the Duke problem’ in 2005, but it was April 2007 before I met up with Bruce Middleton and Butterfly Conservation’s SE Regional Officer Dr Dan Hoare on the slopes of Heyshott Escarpment. At the time the population here had hung on by its fingernails for many years, with maximum daily counts of just 2 or 3 insects at the small ‘lek’ within Compartment 10. Although the management of the reserve at that time suited most of the flora and fauna, it was not quite right for ‘the Duke’. Since then the Murray Downland Trust and Butterfly Conservation Sussex Branch have worked very closely together in improving things for this species. Sometimes conservation necessitates that we rob Peter to pay Paul and it is difficult to please all of the plants, invertebrates and those further up the food-chain all of the time. However, the MDT project team led by Mike Edwards has done a fantastic job in doing just this, although it is of course vital that ongoing monitoring gives early warning of any disadvantageous changes in the other valuable inhabitants of this wonderfully diverse site.  

At the moment everything seems happy, while the results achieved so far for the Duke of Burgundy have been nothing short of remarkable. As changes in the habitat management took effect maximum daily counts began to rise; 7 and 8 in 2008 and 2009, then leaping up to 51 in 2010 and a mighty 115 this spring (2011). It is rare for the term ‘population explosion’ to be applied to this butterfly and these figures buck the national trend, proving that the decline can be reversed where focused efforts are made to satisfy its highly fussy needs. Similar results have been achieved on another Sussex site over the same time period. There are other winged beneficiaries too, as nationally declining species such as the Dingy Skipper are doing exceptionally well here. This butterfly also prefers that seemingly awkward ground between early and mid succession habitats. And there’s the rub. It is only by targeted management that some species with very particular requirements will thrive. It is these species which unfortunately often suffer (and sometimes go extinct) at the hands of a one-size-fits-all philosophy for managing ‘whole habitats’ such as calcicolous grassland. It is due to the care and attention to detail given to the MDT management plan that these tricky species are doing so well, alongside thriving populations of their less demanding neighbours. 

So what is it that makes life so difficult for the Duke of Burgundy, whose food-plants are so widespread across superficially suitable tracts of our landscape? As always with these species the devil is in the detail. The cowslips must be in the correct growth form and in a precisely suitable position for the fussy ‘Duchess’ to consider leaving one or two of her pearly, pale green eggs behind. Leaves that are medium or large sized, fleshy and semi-erect are strongly preferred and these are often found where slightly longer swards are developed, often in the shade of taller scrub or trees, or where ‘soft’, advancing, low scrub edges are to be found. Turf which is over-grazed by the more familiar breeds of sheep soon becomes unsuitably short and tight, hosting only small cowslips with tiny leaves pressed close to the ground in fear. The situation only becomes worse when the rabbit follows with enthusiasm. Scrub cutting must be truly rotational, as continually cutting to the same template soon creates ‘hard’, unsuitable edges. Nearly right is not good enough for this butterfly. 

Of course Heyshott Escarpment is not just about the Duke of Burgundy. It’s a fabulous place to visit at any time of the year, with views from the upper levels which are hard to beat anywhere within our National Park. But springtime is the time to be here, when the early orchids are in flower and ‘the Duke’ is on the wing. The supporting cast is strong, including Dingy and Grizzled Skippers, Brown Argus, Common Blue and the Green Hairstreak, a butterfly so exotically green that it would not look out of place in a South American rainforest.  

As winter approaches I look forward to joining MDT and BC Sussex volunteers on the reserve, where there will be much to do if the exciting plans for this coming work party season are to be completed. This will make even more room for, amongst other things, this charismatic little butterfly. Heyshott Escarpment has already achieved a position amongst the very best Duke of Burgundy sites in the UK. Only time will tell just how good it can get. 

FOOTNOTE: Duke of Burgundy numbers fell back significantly during the spring of 2012, as they did on the majority of sites. This was undoubtedly due to the exceptionally adverse weather suffered throughout the flight season. However, clear signs of recovery were observed in 2013 and we will hopefully see the population grow further over the next year or two.

Neil Hulme

Dedication

In the September 2012 MDT newsletter, Sue Edwards wrote the following, wonderfully thought-provoking article on the inspiration behind the Trust: Betty Murray. It inspired me and further compounded my views that the sometimes controversial nature of the work we are undertaking at Heyshott, is indeed the right course of action; consequently I felt it worthy of sharing with a wider audience …

Betty Murray



An appreciation of a Founder of the MDT ...

Sometimes, as human beings, we become so enmeshed in the immediacy of the present that we tend to forget about the past. With the formation of the South Downs National Park and the changes which it is likely to bring to our very special part of the UK, it is perhaps apposite that we remember – and give thanks for – a very special member of our community whose vision and energy years ago paved the way for so many of the amenities which we enjoy locally today and, perhaps, take for granted. I refer, of course, to K.M. Elisabeth Murray, popularly and respectfully known as Betty Murray.

A woman of tremendous mental and physical strength and determination she was, first and foremost, an intellectual. Although functioning in an age when women still, largely, expected and accepted male dominance, she bucked the trend without a second thought and made her presence felt in numerous parts of the local landscape. Her tenure as Principal of Bishop Otter College, in Chichester (a training establishment for teachers), between 1948 and 1970, led to her recognition as one of the foremost mid-twentieth century figures in education. Under her guidance the College underwent a succession of major changes, progressing from being a genteel – almost boarding school – environment for young ladies to the admission, in 1960, of men. During the 1960s she instigated and oversaw an ambitious building programme for the College, including new student accommodation for which, using her artistic colour sense, she spent considerable effort and time selecting appropriate furnishings and d├ęcor. Under her guidance the student numbers almost trebled. A firm believer in the idea of community, she had, early on, instigated the tradition of The Trundle Walk, where all College members gathered together, early in the first term of the year, to climb the hill together. Upon joining this walk in the 1960s, men were advised that the Principal would always get to the top first. Taking this to mean that one was required to be courteous and allow Miss Murray to be the first to reach the hilltop, several of the men were then amazed to find their Principal striding onwards and upwards at a considerable pace and easily outstripping their efforts!

A College chaplain professed to feeling more in awe of her than of any bishop! Intimidation, however, was not her intention nor was it her modus operandi: she simply inspired awe and respect in those who came into contact with her, not least through her devotion to duty (which was paramount) but also through her perception of what was required for a task and her personal efforts to research it; her incisive comments; and her ability to understand people and their lives.

The Downs in all its moods excited and moved her. She possessed a keen eye for the beauty of landscapes and worked assiduously to preserve and protect them. Her strong aesthetic sense did not, however, lead her into promoting an adherence to the status quo and allowing Nature to take its course; rather, taking the avant-garde approach which she applied as much to her work at Bishop Otter College – as well as on numerous other bodies –  she strove to keep rampant Nature at bay and to promote the natural attributes of native chalk downland, recognising the potential for the richness of flora and fauna which provides endless delight for the senses.

The Down behind her Heyshott home was a constant source of delight and wonder. However, during the 1939-1945 war years the Downs became forbidden territory, having been taken over by the army for the purpose of military training. Sandpits were used for the development and use of flame-throwers. Many areas of the Downs were ploughed up, consequently grazing declined and, eventually, the production of arable crops took over from the previously traditional practice of sheep-grazing. The Downs at Heyshott were used as ranges, which resulted in some areas becoming threatened by developing tree seedlings, much to the consternation of Betty Murray and her brother, Kenneth (who visited, biennially, from his work as an archaeologist in Nigeria). To ensure that the inevitable was not permitted to happen, the two intrepid countryside rangers would choose propitious moments to venture into temporary army land and wage war on the encroaching trees and scrub!



By the end of the Second World War, natural chalk downland had become an increasingly scarce commodity throughout the long stretch of the South Downs. As an active member of the Society of Sussex Downsmen from 1948 onwards, serving as one of its District Officers for forty years, Betty Murray spent many happy and energetic hours on the Downs, clearing scrub and protecting rights of way. She waymarked country footpaths and worked assiduously to help restore the Downs, particularly those at Heyshott, to their former open glory, ensuring that the habitat was suitable for re-colonisation by the beautiful chalk-loving flora in which she – and others – took such delight. There were many other claims on her intellect and time during this period, often to do with public enquiries; but one senses that she was never happier than when wielding an axe or attacking scrub.

A keen archaeologist, Betty Murray was fascinated by the wealth of material in the area, whether it be appreciating local bronze age barrows or working to ensure that the treasures of the Roman Palace at Fishbourne remained in situ and accessible to the public. Her trail-blazing proclivities provided her with the vision and energy to be a major force behind the creation of the Pallant House Gallery, which houses one of the best collections of 20th Century British art in the world. As a determined advocate of a civilised physical environment, Betty Murray also oversaw the creation of what was to become a significant art collection at Bishop Otter College, collecting works from some of the more modern artists and, at least in the early days of the collection, displaying it around the college for all to enjoy and admire. Chichester District Museum, the Sussex Historic Churches Trust and the Sussex Record Society are just a few of the organisations which also enjoyed her tremendous mental energy and physical determination.

Quiet and thoughtful, with her intelligence shining through in everything with which she became involved, Betty Murray led by example and, by undertaking projects with wholehearted intention and belief, encouraged others to follow suit. The idea of a community working together was an important one to her and, although she was never afraid to court controversy – in her view, anything was preferable to apathy – she valued the feeling of people working together for the good of a common cause and of being willing to experiment as they did so. Her enlightened thinking, within the confines of a positive framework, enabled her to continue to push forward the bounds of civilisation and to observe, with satisfaction, the outcomes.

The Murray Downland Trust came into being in 1994, nearly twenty years after the agreement of a lease with the Cowdray Estate which established the reserves at Heyshott; and also at the Devil’s Jumps, leased from the West Dean Estate. Originally, Betty Murray chaired the advisory committee which was set up, under the auspices of the Society of Sussex Downsmen, to manage the reserves. This committee included several individuals who are, today, still involved with the Trust. After the Society decided that it could no longer justify the expense of supporting the Heyshott and Devil’s Jumps Reserves, it agreed to provide a sum of money to allow the formation of an independent group to do so, hence The Murray Downland Trust was formed: a fitting tribute to its new Patron and indefatigable champion of chalk downland. Today, the Trust continues to celebrate her vision and enlightened thinking, preserving and managing for a new generation the wonderful first-hand experience of exploring chalk downland, and providing oases of beauty and calm to promote the well-being of mind, body and spirit in our increasingly hectic lives.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Blog creation

This blog was created on 13th November 2013 to inform about the conservation work of the Murray Downland Trust in the counties of Sussex and Hampshire. It provides a forum for discussion and makes available details of our conservation work parties which run throughout the winter months. We look forward to your contributions.

So who are The Murray Downland Trust (MDT)?

In brief, The Murray Downland Trust came into being in 1994. It is named after both Dr K. M. Elisabeth (Betty) Murray (1909-98), former Principal of Bishop Otter College (Chichester), and her brother, Kenneth Murray. The Murrays were pioneers of downland conservation at Heyshott, West Sussex. The objectives of the Trust are to rescue and enhance neglected areas of unimproved chalk downland in the counties of Sussex and Hampshire, revealing their richness in terms of the species of flora and fauna present. Five reserves are currently under their stewardship. These are at Buriton Down (Hampshire), Under Beacon, The Devil's Jumps, Heyshott Down and Heyshott Escarpment (West Sussex). All reserves are located within the South Downs National Park.