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Front Line

Conspicuous in our coastal landscape are the many layers of fortification and anti-invasion defence, from the Roman forts at Pevensey and Stutfall, the Norman Castle at Hastings, mediaeval fortified towns at Rye and Winchelsea, Camber Castle from the time of Henry VIII, the Napoleonic-era Royal Military Canal and Martello Towers, post WWI Sound Mirrors at Lade & Hythe, then a mass of concrete and entrenchment from WWII.

In general, the more ancient of these are celebrated and protected yet the most recent are hardly noticed. This does not necessarily mean they are threatened - reinforced concrete is, after all, designed with threats in mind - yet the smaller Second World War defences can be shifted or obscured so that their former disposition, function and significance is hard to discern.

I was pleased last week to happen upon "East Sussex Under Attack" by Chris Butler, which attempts a comprehensive catalogue of historic defences across the county and which immediately clarified, modified or corrected what I thought I knew about defensive structures in this area.

The front line for invasion is of course one and the same as the front line for the arrival of migrant birds and therefore much frequented by bird-watchers who find themselves all too often seeking the fragrant shelter of an old block-house or passing the lonely roots of a long-lost radar station. (I was at first pleased then later a bit worried at the number of pill-boxes I recognised as I flicked through the pages.)

Rye Harbour and Camber Castle receive detailed attention for their rich heritage of defences from different eras. I was particularly pleased to find the purpose of those odd corrugated huts to the west of the Castle: the one shaped like an upturned boat is apparently a Stanton shelter which formed the control centre for the decoy site at Camber Castle. I had never heard of this decoy site but details can be found here.

These odd concrete buildings lack the romantic aura of the nearby castle and for that reason could easily be lost. In his introduction to the book Chris Butler relates that "in Seaford some 30 per cent of the surviving Second World War sites present in the mid-1990s have been demolished during the last 10 years!"


Rye Harbour

Cold but bright conditions this morning after the days of rain and good to see a few birds again. Highlights  around the Beach Reserve included a Spotted Redshank, 12 Snipe and 3 Mediterranean Gulls from the Denny Hide, Ternery Pool attracted 500 Lapwing, 12 Ruff, 205 Teal and a drake Goldeneye. Harbour Farm pools were fairly quite except the western end which held 150 Lapwing, 45 Shoveler, 39 Teal and 30 Gadwall, 4 Goldeneye including another drake were by the barns a Barn Owl was also hunting along the bank. Good numbers (180) of Curlew were roosting on the new saltmarsh area well into late morning with an additional 250 birds departing at day break, at least two Avocet were feeding in the creek systems. At Castle Water a Bittern gave flight views from the viewpoint, 9 Ruff were amongst 100 Lapwing in the fields at the northern end of the main pit, 3 Marsh Harrier and flocks of Teal, Shoveler, Wigeon and Gadwall were on view from the hide.


Signs of Spring

I never cease to be amazed by the speed with which our plants respond to the stimuli of milder weather and the now gradually-lengthening days. Thus on Rye Hill yesterday I was surprised to find leaves emerging on a Hawthorn bush. Already some leaves have burst through on Elders, even on the cut-leaved form of the shrub that grows on the Hill. On the roadside banks as the road dips downhill towards Rye, vigorous plants of Lesser Celandine already have flower stalks with the yellow star-like blooms ready to open out in any burst of sunshine. Although known as an early Spring flower, this buttercup can flower strongly before even Snowdrops and Crocuses have got going. Alexanders plants are looking very green and healthy in the damp weather. These leaves start to form in late Autumn and in the very mild conditions of the closing months of 2011 the plant flowered vigorously from mid-November right through the winter until severe frosts in early February laid the plants low; the devastation was very noticeable on the roadside verges between Rye and Broad Oak. This winter however Alexanders has wisely decided not to flower but by March, given a good run of mild weather, its pale yellow umbels should be gracing our roadsides.


World Wetlands Day

2 February each year is World Wetlands Day. It marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea. For more info click here.

To celebrate this there is a guided walk starting at 3pm at Rye Harbour - details here. The walk with 15 people saw 200+ Curlew, 100ish Golden Plover and one Grey, ten male Ruff, Spotted Redshank with Common Redshank, Little Stint with Dunlin, some almost invisible Snipe and an Avocet.


Fairlight to Rye

A pleasant if windy morning, especially after yesterdays awful weather.

My walk from Fairlight began well with 20 Linnets in the village communal vegetable plot-the biggest flock I've seen all winter . Sloshing through the mud and water, I flushed a Woodcock in Market Wood, where a Buzzard was overhead As it was windy I headed inland up the military canal rather than viewing Pett Levels from the seawall. I soon found a flock of geese quite close to the path: Greylags, but also 24 Brent Geese and 2 Pink footed Geese. The latter first turned up on Saturday, with around 80 Whitefronts, I couldn't see any of those today. A Barn Owl was sitting on a post behind Carter's Flood, A Mediterranean Gull was among gulls flushed by a  Peregrine speeding over the centre of the levels.

After walking along the back of the levels- not much apart from 6 Herons together on the path that looked like they wanted to occupy the heronry- I carried on through Winchelsea beach towards Castle Water. Here I flushed a Green Sandpiper from a very muddy paddock-they seem scarce this winter.

After a  rain shower [with complete rainbow over Camber Castle], very bright light illuminated the wildfowl in front of the hide superbly, these included a close pair of Pintail.

After stopping briefly at the Bittern viewpoint, I carried on to the harbour and did the short circular walk around Flat Beach and the new saltmarsh, hard going in the very strong wind, but Avocet and Spotted Redshank were added to the day list.