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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Butt's Meadow and Babylon Down, Eastbourne. 17.02.24

Updated: Mar 29

I reached Butt's Meadow by train and bus from Brighton. I got the train from Brighton to Polegate (4 trains and hour, 2 direct, 2 change at Lewes; journey time ca. 30 mins), I then got the 51 bus 51 Bus Route & Timetable: Heathfield - Eastbourne | Stagecoach (stagecoachbus.com) from Polegate Train Station to Coopers Hill Bus stop on the A2270  (2 busses an hour; journey time ca. 10 minutes) and turn south downs Cooper's Lane after getting off the bus. Walk down Cooper's Lane (south) and then turn right (west) into Butt's Lane; the opening to Butt's Meadow is a little way along Butt's Lane from old Willingdon


Butt's Meadow is a chalk downland meadow south of Butt's Bow - on the OS map below it is not named but you can see its Dew Pond (a small oval on the map). It is a Changing Chalk project Changing Chalk project | Sussex | National Trust being managed by the Lewes Railway Land Trust Wildlife Trust The Changing Chalk Partnership (railwaylandproject.org)







The purpose of my trip was to see what lichens were in the ancient woodland, in preparation for leading a potential introduction to lichens session for the conservation volunteer working with Changing Chalk.


I explored the lichens of the Hawthorn and Blackthorn trees to the north of the meadow, and the concrete edge of the Dew Pond (on which there were various lichens). I then explore the woods to the west and south of the Meadow on Babylon Down. To the west there was what looked like the remnant of an ancient "hanger wood"; wet and with many Heart's-Tongue Ferns. he name "Hanger" comes from Old English/Anglo-Saxon term for "wood on a hill" or "wooded hill". Below this was an area of Ash (possibly planted after WWII).

many of which had died due to Ash Die Back; there were also many Yews, which may have been introduced (in ornamental planting), as large areas of Yew on chalk are rare (outside Kingly Vale, West Sussex, and Box Hill, Surrey)



What is a lichen? A lichen is not a single organism; it is a stable symbiotic association between a fungus and algae and/or cyanobacteria. Like all fungi, lichen fungi require carbon as a food source; this is provided by their symbiotic algae and/or cyanobacteria, that are photosynthetic. The lichen symbiosis is thought to be a mutualism, since both the fungi and the photosynthetic partners, called photobionts, benefit. What is a Lichen? | The British Lichen Society


Lichen names. Most lichens only have a Latin binomial name, as there are very few vernacular names e.g., "Lungwort" and "Greenshield Lichen", that have developed through folk use. I have given English names to all the lichens in this post. Where possible I have used the English name suggested by the British Lichen Society, but where they do not suggest a name I use the English name used by iNaturalist; but these are not necessarily names that have common currency across anglophone countries, they are just names that have been made up, and iNaturalist doesn't itself have an English name for every lichen


Trees at Butt's Meadow


Flavoparmelia caperata, Common Greenshield Lichen, on Hawthorn



Xanthoria parietina, Common Orange Lichen, on Hawthorn



Physcia adscendens, Hooded Rosette Lichen (on Hawthorn)






Dew Pond edge (concrete)


Ptychostomum sp. moss, probably Ptychostomum capillare, Capillary Thread-moss (sample examined at home) 



Circinaria contorta, Chiseled Sunken Disk Lichen




Grimmia pulvinata; Grey Grimmia moss




Babylon Woods


Lecidella elaeochroma, Lecidella Lichen




Mercurialis perennis Dog's Mercury


Dog’s mercury is an ancient woodland indicator. This means it can be used to determine if a wood is long-established, even in areas which no longer have tree cover. All parts of dog’s mercury are poisonous. It can induce jaundice, diarrhoea, vomiting and even death. Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis) - Woodland Trust



Taxus baccata, English Yew


Yew is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers grow on separate trees. These are visible in March and April. Male flowers are insignificant white-yellow globe-like structures. Female flowers are bud-like and scaly, and green when young but becoming brown and acorn-like with age. Yew (Taxus baccata) - British Trees - Woodland Trust



Dead Fraxinus excelsior, Ash


Ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) is the most devastating tree disease since dutch elm disease killed 60 million elm trees in the UK during two epidemics in the 1920s and 1970s. The disease is changing the profile of the landscape across the UK and will undoubtedly change how we view a span of the downland in Eastbourne.

The disease is spread by an airborne fungus. It attacks the vascular system of trees, killing young trees very quickly and more mature specimens over a longer period.


The airborne fungus has reached and spread rapidly throughout Eastbourne, leaving thousands of trees dead or dying. Currently there is no preventative treatment available. A diseased tree becomes weakened, with branches or the tree itself at risk of falling onto footpaths, roads and property. The council is working with the Forestry Commission to remove the trees in Eastbourne that are infected with ash dieback. Action on Ash Dieback – The ash dieback plague is spreading across the UK (actionashdieback.co.uk)



The degree of ash dieback on Babylon Down was huge, and deeply distressing


Graphis sp. lichen, probably G. scripta; on dead Ash



Lecanora chlarotera or hybocarpa. These lichens are visually indistinguishable; they can only be separated by examining the crystals in their apothecia (the fruiting bodies of the lichen that contain its spores; look like "fam tarts") using a compound microscope with polarising filters.




It was good to see three young Daphne laureola, Spurge-Laurel amongst the dead Ash. Spurge-Laurels are ancient woodland indicator species and are significantly in decline in Sussex.


An evergreen, low-growing shrub of heavy, neutral to basic soils in deciduous woodland, often in quite deep shade. It reproduces chiefly by seed, which is distributed by birds. It flowers in the winter and early spring and requires cross-pollination by flies or moths, so seed-set is often poor. Daphne laureola L. in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020



The presence of spurge laurel also shows the wood has been there for some time since it is considered an ancient woodland indicator. The Thicket - Huntingdonshire.gov.uk

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