The Sussex Wildlife Trust is based at Woods Mill Nature Trail which hosts not just the SWT offices but also a considerable amount of carefully-managed reserve. Whilst small in size, the reserve offers ample parking and a huge diversity of habitats including deciduous woodland, open pasture and aquatic and semi-aquatic environments thanks to the river running through the site and the man-made pools and ponds.
Apparently originally privately-owned, the site hosts a fascinating range of old masonry lying around close to the office buildings which give the site a strange, almost monastic feel, and at least for nerds like me provide a lot of added interest as you try to figure out what you’re looking at and what it was going to be used for.
I visited the Woods Mill Nature Trail in late April/early May but thanks for work commitments I have only now had the time to write up this little piece about the site. When I visited earlier on in the year there were signs of plants and animals everywhere.
A (private) deciduous wood on the site was simply dripping with wild flowers like Stitchwort and Bluebells and you could well imagine deer and foxes bounding around in the woods. Incidentally I was also lucky enough a few weeks ago to get a decent photo of some Bluebell seed pods now that the flowering season has come to an end and the seeds are ready to disperse.
The open pasture, with a stream running through it, was alive with a variety of grasses and wild flowers including Lady’s Smock which was attracting Orange Tip butterflies in droves. This area is also apparently excellent for swallows and swifts hunting insects and also for birds of prey flowing low looking for small mammals to catch.
Indeed, the Trust hosts several nest boxes specifically for birds of prey – kestrels and owls for example – which are used on a regular basis and so visitors have an excellent potential of getting great views of these animals going about their normal everyday lives.
Lastly in the evening a number of species of bat may be seen flying low over the pasture hunting for insects after the swallows have gone to roost for the evening.
Education is an integral element of the site and so school parties and professional training courses are invited in on a regular basis. One interesting element of this are the dipping pools and lake which allow children to find and identify a host of aquatic animals. On the day I visited the pools were literally alive with newts and every few seconds another would swim elegantly to the top for a breath of air before disappearing beneath the surface to continue with their mating.
All these various habitats also encourage a wide range of plants and personally I was particularly taken by the sweetly-scented Yellow Archangel with it’s crown of buttery-yellow flowers which the bees couldn’t stay away from. The simple yet elegant Garlic Mustard was also growing strongly in the shade of the trees near the dipping pond attracting numerous hover flies.
Lastly, as a self-confessed bug fanatic, I happily spent quite some time watching a number of wolf spiders hunting amongst the nettles near the entrance to the site and these nettle-beds themselves provide food and homes for a range of our British butterfly species such as Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshell.
In many ways Woods Mill is a perfect day out. Certainly the site is reasonably small but with excellent parking and toilets available, together with a huge variety of species there really is something here for every nature lover. Take the time to just sit yourself down on one of the many benches scattered around the site and just sit back and watch as the wildlife goes about it’s normal business.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Sussex Wildlife Trust for their hospitality during our visit and I would also strongly recommend that if you are based in or near Sussex that you seriously consider joining the SWT. They do some amazing work – about which I hope to bring you more information over the next few weeks – and are a passionate group working tirelessly to protect our native wildlife. More information on the Sussex Wildlife Trust is available from their website which can be found at http://www.sussexwt.org.uk