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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Castle Hill Local Nature Reserve, Newhaven. 16.02.24

Updated: Apr 21

I reached Castle Hill by bus from Brighton. I got the 12X bus to Newhaven Lower Place (journey time ca. 30 mins; 12: bus; 40 mins; 12A bus: 50mins; 12X runs every 20 minutes). After getting off the bus, in the Lower Place (a mini bus garage) off the ring road, north, walk through the town centre, cross the ring road south (at pedestrian crossing) and walk down the pavement of the B road (orange on the map) on the west side of the estuary. The entrance to the reserve is an access road to the Fort, turn right (east) walking south, just south of the Marina.


Castle Hill is a nature reserve the includes the cliffs where the South Downs meet the sea at Newhaven; the vegetated shingle below the cliffs; and a north-facing scarp slope, with hawthorn scrub, and some other trees and shrubs (Pedunculate Oak, Hazel, Gorse, Bramble). Scrub is often described as a ‘successional habitat’, meaning that it is temporary and in transition between one habitat (more open areas such as grassland and heathland) and another (generally woodland, unless the soils are very poor) KWT Land Mgt Advice_Sheet 7 - Scrub -value for wildlife&mgt.pdf (kentwildlifetrust.org.uk)


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; see The Changing Chalk Partnership (railwaylandproject.org)


Up on the cliff tops, next to Newhaven Fort, this reserve offers spectacular views over the Ouse Estuary, the Downs, Seaford Head and out to sea. We guarantee it's worth the walk.

Fort Road, Newhaven BN9 9DS Map Reference: TQ 446 002


Wildlife: The cliff top is the most sensitive habitat here and a good example of maritime grassland. The grass is kept short by a combination of rabbit grazing and mowing, allowing carpets of yellow Birds-foot-trefoil and pink Thrift to bloom.


The large north-facing hill is dominated by gorse and scrub, which provides an important habitat for lots of birds including the Lesser Whitethroat, which migrates here in summer all the way from Africa. Walk around the hidden paths on a spring morning and you are surrounded by a chorus of bird song.


Amongst the scrub we have created open glades with the help of volunteers. In summer these sunny sheltered clearings are full to bursting with a mix of acid and chalk grassland wild flowers and alive with insects and butterflies.


Below the site, on the West Beach, there are small areas of vegetated shingle and rock pools at low tide. From here you are dwarfed by the huge cliff face, a geological formation of international importance and home to a noisy colony of nesting Fulmars.


Wildlife Designations: Local Nature Reserve (LNR) and Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI). The cliffs are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Castle Hill Nature Reserve, Newhaven - Lewes and Eastbourne Councils (lewes-eastbourne.gov.uk)


All sections of text in italics are quotations, sources sited.


I am only an amateur naturalist; thus all identifications are provisional; if you note a mistake in identification please feel free to tell me. If you want to contact me about any aspect of this blog, email me at simeon[underscore]elliott[at]gmail[dot]com.


Please note this post is not a systematic survey of the this location (I do not have the level of knowledge to, nor did I have sufficient time do that); it is just the things I happened to notice.


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


Cliff Top WWII defences


In 1941 by a gun battery was built; replacing those of the to the west of Palmerston fort built in the 19th century. The 19th century fort is now a museum, and is not part of the nature reserve; and its currently closed for refurbishment, see: Newhaven Fort | Historic Military Museum | Unlock The Secrets


The following were in the concrete remains of the gun battery


Didymodon sp., possibly D. vinealis, Soft-tufted Beard-moss



Growing on concrete WW2 fort defences. Locally common on dry walls and unshaded, base-rich rock, D. vinealis usually favours stone, but occasionally occurs on hard or stony, calcareous ground and in short, dry turf. Didymodon-vinealis.pdf (britishbryologicalsociety.org.uk)


Calogaya decipiens, Broken Yokes lichen



Probably Myriolecis albescens



Variospora flavescens



Lecanora campestris



Cliff Top Hawthorn and Blackthorn


Graphis sp. lichen, probably G. scripta



Candelariella vitellina, Common Goldspeck, Lecanora campestris or hybocarpa and Lecidella eleachroma, Lecidella Lichen



A Zygodon sp. moss, possibly, Z. viridissimus, Green Yoke-moss



Lepraria finkii ,Fluffy Dust Lichen, on Hawthorn



Ramalina fastigiata Dotted Ribbon Lichen on Hawthorn



Ramalina farinacea Farinose Cartilage Lichen, on Hawthorn



Ramalina canariensis Inelegant Strap Lichen; not a great vernacular lichen!



Punctelia jeckeri, Powdered Speckled Shield Lichen. The orange is free-living alga of the Trentepohlia genus. I initially thought the black spots were a lichenicolous fungus. Lichenicolous fungi are fungi that grow on lichens. Obligate lichenicolous fungi are unable to grow on any other substrate. Facultative lichenicolous fungi occur on lichens but can also occur on other substrates. Introduction to Lichenicolous Fungi.pdf (britishlichensociety.org.uk) However, after consultation with an expert on lichenicolous fungus, they are probably pycnidia, structures which protect non-sexual spores of the P. jeckeri. Pycnidia are structures that are rarely seen on P. jeckeri.




Clifftop Vascular Plants


Asplenium scolopendrium, Hart's-tongue Fern







North-facing scarp


The north-face scarp of Castle Hill has abundant Hawthorns with Gorse, with some Oaks, and Hazel, and some other broadleaved tress. It appears to have a a very moist microclimate, which is demonstrated by the presence of abundant Hart's-Tongue Fern and Soft-Shield Fern. It is mostly scrub succeeding to woodland,


Metzgeria furcata, Forked Veilwort, a liverwort common to damp woodland



Possibly Arthonia radiata, Asterisk Lichen



Bjerkandera adusta, Smoky Bracket fungus; a plant pathogen that causes white rot in live trees, but most commonly appears on dead wood.



Probably Hypnum andoi, Mamillate Plait-Moss on Hawthorn (acid bark). Locally abundant on acidic bark and rock, and more or less dominant in woodland in upland districts, often on bark apparently too acidic for the other frequently dominant moss of this habitat, Isothecium myosuroides but generally decreasing rapidly in abundance away from the shade and shelter of woodland. Hypnum-andoi.pdf (britishbryologicalsociety.org.uk)



Polystichum setiferum, Soft Shield Fern



The sori [grow] on the back of the frond. A sorus (pl.: sori) is a cluster of sporangia (structures producing and containing spores) in ferns. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorus


Soft-shield ferns are easy to identify by the "thumb" on the leaflets of the frond.


Soft-shield fern can be an ancient woodland indicator plant, see: Frances Rose Indicators of ancient woodland .The use of vascular plants in evaluating ancient woods for nature conservation 01027625.PDF (basingstoke.gov.uk). However, this area of woodland is probably not ancient, but recent in origin, resulting from secondary scrub succession on cleared land, here cleared through grazing. However, it still has great ecological value even though it is not ancient


Ferns are most commonly plants of shaded damp forest [and woods] of both temperate and tropical zones. Fern - Medicinal, Ornamental, Food | Britannica


Juncus effusus Soft Rush next to the pond



Myriophyllum aquaticum Parrot's Feather an invasive alien from South America; it is now classed as an invasive of critical risk and was banned from sale after April 2014. It is widespread in England and Wales. Parrot's-feather | NatureSpot



Flavoparmelia caperata Common Greenshield Lichen, on Hawthorn



Lepraria finkii Fluffy Dust Lichen, with a moss popping through in places



Parmotrema perlatum Black Stone Flower. specimen taken from an Oak, Quercus robur) note back and rhizines (like roots, but not roots, as lichens take no nourishment from their substrate, as all their energy is synthesized by their algal/cyanobacterial photobiont). The rhyzines just fix the lichen to its substrate



Metzgeria furcata Forked Veilwort (specimen taken from an Oak, Quercus robur)



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