A summer afternoon in the first week of June. We drove through the green, hazy, hot landscape of West Sussex and decided to break our journey for an hour or so. In the valley of the River Arun, just south of the country town of Pulborough, lie the meadows and woods of the RSPB`s Pulborough Brooks Reserve. It was the first day of our holiday and we felt a sense of freedom and relaxation as we sat with tea and a cake on the terrace overlooking the valley. As we watched, two deer broke out of their woodland shelter and crossed the meadow.
Pulborough Brooks is a reserve that aims to provide a natural wetland and woodland habitat for wild birds, mammals and plants. Shaded walks wind between hedgerows and fields. There are hides along the way, so that feeding birds can be observed without being disturbed. Some of the watermeadows leading down to the river were once intensively farmed and there was little room for wildlife. After an appeal some years ago, the RSPB bought this land and has been busy returning it to its natural watermeadow state. As the River Arun flows southwards, draining the chalk hills of the South Downs, the birds and plants that have thrived in its watermeadows for centuries are gradually returning.
As we walked along the dusty pathways, the air was alive with birdsong. Up in the hawthorn and goat willow, chaffinches, robins, blackbirds and great tits were calling. In the peak time for nesting and raising their young, adult birds were busy collecting food for hungry nestlings in woods and hedgerows.
The land is drained by numerous pools and ditches, where red campion, nettle and blackberry flourished in the damp green shade of trees and hedges.
A view across watermeadows towards the meandering river. In the late afternoon heat, there were a few lapwing by the waters edge and a herd of deer grazed in the distance.
At the edge of a woodland path, honey scented crosswort was growing.
Yellow flag iris in a damp spot by the path.
An enlarged image of the crosswort, showing the tiny cruciate flowers that give this herb its name.
Goat willow and crack willow beside a brook that drains the wetland.
The magnificent bull presiding over his little herd of White Park Cattle in the grazed pasture......
....and here are his wives.
The grassy borders of many pathways are home to families of rabbits. Up by the cattle pasture, a warren of rabbit holes was alive and hopping with baby rabbits. This one stopped eating and lay down to sunbathe, quite unperturbed by passing human intruders.
A rare sight. A stunning black and scarlet Cinnabar Moth, resting on a ragwort plant. Ragwort is poisonous to grazing animals and DEFRA demands that landowners keep their fields clear of this dangerous weed. However, carefully monitored areas of ragwort on a nature reserve are vital to the survival of the Cinnabar Moth, which lays its eggs on the plant. Later in the summer, bright yellow and black striped caterpillars will hatch and feed on the ragwort leaves.
A view from a woodland path, down across the watermeadows towards the outskirts of Pulborough.
What a place to live! This lovely old red-bricked house borders the edge of the watermeadows.
A view from a woodland hide. Little Egrets are a breed of wader that has arrived in Britain in recent years. This small group were stalking the wet marsh in search of food, sometimes stabbing down through the shallow water with their long, sharp bills. The slow, determined movement of a stalking egret, followed by the pouncing stab for food, resembles that of our native grey heron. Out on the marsh, a tall grey heron could be seen in the distance, standing sentry over another wetland pool.
Traditional breeds of cattle graze the rich watermeadow grassland which borders the edge of hillside Pulborough.
Cow in a water mirror.
Wild Dog-Rose against a blue, late afternoon sky.
We walked back slowly through the woodland tracks, stopping as we went to admire fine views across the marsh or to watch a bird or an insect by the path. It was tempting to stay and watch the feeding birds gather by the water as dusk fell, but it was time to move on. Time to drive the winding Sussex roads, back across the Downs towards the sea.
More information about Pulborough Brooks can be found on the RSPB website
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