Autumn Wildlife at Saddlescombe Farm

A group of bleeding mycena fungi on a fallen tree

Summer has come to a close. The swallows and house martins have left the farm, the days have shortened and the low light of early dewy mornings picks out the epic spiders' webs. On the hill autumn mists return, fungi sprout, and shrubs and bushes are full of birds feeding on the many nuts and fruits.

Autumn is a time of colour.  Take a walk on Newtimber hill and look out for the jewel-like waxcap fungi hidden amongst the grass, or explore the Newtimber Holt as the leaves change and see if you can spot Britain’s tallest native tree.
 

Wildlife to look out for


Devil’s-bit scabious

Devil's-bit scabious on the South Downs
Devil's-bit scabious on the South Downs
Devil's-bit scabious on the South Downs

This lovely purple pin cushion will keep on flowering well into October and sometimes beyond.  Aptly named for this area, it gets its name from the Latin ‘scabere’ (meaning to scratch) as it was used as treatment for skin conditions during the bubonic plague.  The Devil’s-bit part of its name comes from a legend that the Devil was upset about the plant's healing properties and bit off its roots and from this day onwards its roots are rather truncated. 


Waxcap fungi

Waxcap fungi on the South Downs
Waxcap fungi on the South Downs
Waxcap fungi on the South Downs


The chalk downland of Newtimber Hill and Devil’s Dyke are waxcap grasslands.  Waxcaps are colourful little waxy fungi that can only be found in nutrient-poor, unimproved grasslands that are often ancient undisturbed pastures. The grasslands of the UK are amongst the most important in the world for grassland fungi, and because much of UK pasture has now been ‘improved’ (i.e. had fertilisers applied to it) many species are now rare and declining.


Robin's pincushion

Robin's pincushion on the South Downs
Robin's pincushion on the South Downs
Robin's pincushion on the South Downs

This amazing structure found on the stems of dog roses is actually formed by larvae of a tiny gall wasp.  The female gall wasp lays her eggs on the stem which then swells up into this odd shape.  Each gall holds many grubs which feed on the gall tissues throughout the winter and emerge as wasps in the spring.  Although the gall looks rather extreme this process does not harm the plant.


Long Tailed Tits

Long-tailed tit
Long-tailed tit
Long-tailed tit


In autumn and winter, these little balls of feathers on sticks fly in noisy flocks of normally between 5 and 30 (although flocks have been seen with up to 50 members) and can be seen raiding bushes for fruit and seeds.  They are massively sociable and this chaotic little gang is an extended family of related birds.  They feed together and, as the nights get colder, sleep together in a little squashed line.