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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Chailey Commons: Marsh Gentians and other flowers, bryophytes, fungi, lichens & insects 25.08.23

We always seem to see something special when we visit the Chailey Commons. Dave Bangs, The Land of the Brighton Line: A field guide to the Middle Sussex and South East Surrey Weald (2018) p. 209


I visited Chailey specifically to find the Marsh Gentian, because of Wildflower Hour! If you like wild flowers and you are on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, I'd really recommend #wildflowerhour (wildflowerhour (@wildflower_hour) / X (twitter.com); Wild Flower Hour #wildflowerhour | Facebook. Wild Flower Hour (@wildflowerhour) • Instagram photos and videos). It is a project of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Every Sunday, between 20.00-21.00, people post wild flowers they have seen. Its really fun. It is a great incentive to widen your botanical knowledge, and visit places in your patch you may not visit that frequently


Each week there is a challenge; but you don't need to stick to it; you can post any wild flowers you've seen in the week. For Sunday (27.08.23) the challenge was to find a flowering member of the Gentian family (Gentianaceae). So, I went to Chailey Common to see if I could find some Marsh Gentians - rare, but I knew they had been seen there. I am a member of the Sussex Botanical Recording Society and I read a report of a previous SBRS field meeting described their location: Chailey Commons - Sussex Botanical Recording Society (sussexflora.org.uk)


Chailey Commons are easy to reach by public transport from Brighton: get a frequent 28 or 29 bus from Brighton to Lewes Regency 28 - Brighton-Hailsham and Eastbourne | Brighton & Hove Buses and then get one of the hour Compass Buss 121 services 121-from-24-07-2023.pdf (compass-travel.co.uk) to North Chailey. For more information about Chailey Common see the website of the Chailey Common Society: chaileycommons.org.uk


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


Please note, 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. This is not a systematic survey of the flowers, bryophytes, fungi and lichens on Chailey Commons; it is an account of the things that I noticed on a very enjoyable walk around the Commons from 11.00 to 17.00


Chailey Common is a good example of the sub-atlantic English heath habitat. A variety of heathland plant communities are represented which in turn support diverse invertebrate and bird communities. The mosaic of heath vegetation lies on Ashdown Sands and comprises acidic grassland, marshy grassland, wet and dry heath, and areas of continuous bracken Pteridium aquilinum. Species-rich acidic flushes are periodically associated with the small seasonal streams, and the two ponds have marginal plant communities. SSSI citation 1001918 (naturalengland.org.uk)


I looked for the Bog Asphodel and Sundews listed in the citation but could not find any on the Chailey Commons. In 2023 the only places I have found Sundew are at Lavington Common and Hesworth Common; and Bog Asphodel I have only found at Hesworth Common; see my post Eerie Nature. Parasitic & insectivorous plants. Hesworth & Lavington Commons. West Sussex. 17.07.23


Chailey Commons consist of five common. I started by walking through the north of Memorial Common; then I walked through the north part Pound Common into Romany Ridge Common. After exploring Romany Common I walked back through Pound Common and found the Marsh Gentians in the south of Pound Common; then I explored the southern part of Memorial Common. I then explored Red House Common. I did not have time to explore Lane End Common.


Map from the Chailey Commons sign:


Memorial Common


Memorial Common has wet and dry heath and some marginal areas of woodland; and a memorial to Garth Christian and Charles Constant


“You who walk these commons remember with gratitude Garth Christian and Charles Constant whose loving imagination and unsparing labour led to the establishment of the Chailey Common nature reserve. Their ashes are scattered on the land they loved 1971″

Fifty years ago Garth Christian saved the marsh gentian from going extinct from the area Chailey Common - Wikipedia


Red House Common is the largest common with a wide north slope and a feature windmill. Chailey Windmill is a Grade II listed Smock Mill and stands on an historic site beside the yew tree said to mark the centre of Sussex. Records show that mills have stood here since at least 1590. It is a smock mill with a cap sitting on a spindle chaileycommons.org.uk/Home.php


Romany Ridge Common has Dry and wet heath - springs and streams creating interesting habitat [and] has Historical war time features. chaileycommons.org.uk/Home.php


Pound Common also has dry and wet heath; and is the location of the Marsh Gentians


Lane End Common Compact and dry woodland heath rich in insects and wood ants.

Located astride the Greenwich Meridian Line chaileycommons.org.uk/Home.php



Notice boards on the Commons



Memorial Common


There are many interesting rushes on the Commons. This is Juncus inflexus, Hard Rush; a very common rush. I have only started attending to grasses, sedges and rushes recently; they are fascinating. I would recommend the Species Recovery Trust's A Field Guide to Grasses, Sedges and Rushes by Dominic Price A Field Guide to Grasses, Sedges and Rushes | SpeciesRecoveryTrust


Bell Heather, Erica cinerea. There was much Bell Heather and Ling (Common Heather, Calluna vulgaris) on the commons, but little Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix ,a type of heather that like wet heath). There was less wet heath than I expected; I do not know whether there is actually less wet heath at Chailey Commons than in previous times or whether my expectation were wrong. This year, I have walked several of the Greensand lowland heaths in West Sussex (Iping, Stedham, Midhurst, Heyshott, Ambersham, Graffham, Lavington, Duncton, Sutton, Coates and Hesworth) see South Downs Walks: The Serpent Trail, and with the exception of Lavington and Hesworth, there were less wet areas than I anticipated from reading Francis Rose's account of the them in The Landscapes of Vegetation of Sussex. It is likely that a mixture of climate change and land management of the Greensand Heaths of West Sussex is the cause of the current seeming reduction of the amount of wet heath


Gatekeeper, Pyronia tithonus on Gorse

I saw relatively low abundance and diversity of butterflies on the Commons; I saw mostly Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers; but this is in line with the general lower abundance of many butterflies this year in Sussex, probably as a result of last year's drought


Whilst the common supports a variety of butterflies, including... the silver-studded blue Plebejus argus, grayling Hipparchia semele, pearl-bordered fritillary Boloria euphrosyne and high brown fritillary Argynnis adippe ... small pearl-bordered fritillary Boloria selene and green hairstreak Callophrys rubi. 1001918 (naturalengland.org.uk) my visit was after the typical flight times of these butterflies, and the Silver Studded Blues, I believe, are extinct at Chailey Commons (and are still only extant in Sussex at Chapel Common, Iping and Stedham Common and Ashdown Forest (see Blencowe & Hulme, The Butterflies of Sussex: A Twenty-First Century Atlas (2017), pp. 278-283).


It will be interesting to know how these species faired this year at Chailey Commons


Drought is a major problem [for butterflies] as plants wither and die, meaning female butterflies may struggle to find anywhere to lay their eggs, or there is not enough food for the caterpillars when they hatch.


“The knock-on effect is fewer butterflies in the following generation. We have already seen an indication of this in the 2022 data for some of those species with a generation that flies in late summer and autumn, and sadly we can expect to see a decline in numbers of other species in 2023 too.” [Dr Richard Fox, head of science for Butterfly Conservation]


Data gathered by the UKBMS has previously revealed the negative impacts of droughts on butterflies in 1976 and 1995. Some species have never recovered their former abundance levels after the 1976 drought, although scientists say that habitat destruction is a major factor in their failure to bounce back.


Unlike in 1976, today most British butterfly species are in decline, and therefore the negative effect of seasonal droughts could be more long-lasting. According to the 2022 State of the UK’s Butterflies report by Butterfly Conservation, 80% of species have declined in abundance or distribution or both since the 1970s. Fears for UK butterfly numbers after die-off in 2022 heatwave | Butterflies | The Guardian



Dwarf Gorse, Ulex minor


Common Heather, Calluna vulgaris


Around the base of a Silver Birch, Betula pendula, in a small area of wood at the north-west of Memorial Common, there were abundant Cladonia spp. (trumpet/pixie cup) lichens; probably Cladonia fimbriata (Trumpet Lichen) and Cladonia pyxidata (Pebbled Pixie Cup) and the moss Campylus introflexus (Heath Star-Moss)


Probably Cladonia fimbriata


Probably Cladonia pyxidata


Heath Star Moss

Heath Star Moss is a pioneer species ... [ It is] an introduced species first found in Britain in 1941, but now occurs all over the British Isles. Campylopus introflexus - British Bryological Society


Theses lichens and moss are growing at the base of the Birch:


Waterpepper, Persicaria hydropiper; a plant of wet habitat; here around a wetter area of the heath

Water-pepper, also known as Persicaria hydropiper, is a versatile and highly sought-after herb that has been used for medicinal and culinary purposes for centuries. This aquatic plant is a member of the Polygonaceae family and is found in wet and marshy areas throughout much of the world.


One of the key features of water-pepper is its pungent, peppery flavor. This makes it a popular ingredient in traditional dishes, sauces, and condiments. It is often used as a substitute for black pepper, as its flavor is similar, but slightly milder. This herb can be dried, ground, and used as a spice in many recipes, or it can be added fresh to salads, soups, and stews.


In addition to its culinary uses, water-pepper has also been used for medicinal purposes. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-bacterial properties. Traditional healers have used it to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive problems, skin conditions, and fever. Water Pepper Plant - All You Need To Know | Wildflower Web


Please note: all comments on the culinary or medicine uses of plants in my blog posts are quotes from other sources; I am not recommending or endorsing the claims made by quoted sources for the culinary or medicinal uses of plants.


Common and Bell Heather


Holly Blue, Celastrina argiolus, on Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum.

The same Holly Blue on Gorse


Redshank, Persicaria masculosa; a Persicaria sp. that likes wet habitats


A Bolete fungi, Family Boletaceae


Kite-tailed Robberfly, Tolmerus atricapillus


Blackening Brittlegills, Russula nigricans


Probably, Ochre Brittlegill, Rusala ochroleuca

Scleroderma citrinum, Common Earthball


The wet wood on Memorial Common, near Beggars Wood Road, had a number of interesting ferns and bryophytes.


Here is a beautiful Lady Fern, Athyrium filix-femina has a short erect rhizome with many large scales. From this arises a crown of usually outwardly arched twice or three times pinnate yellowy green fronds 20 to 100 cm long with pinnules deeply cut. The j-shaped or half moon shaped sori are diagnostic. Lady-fern | NatureSpot

Fern spores are the tiny, genetic bases for new plants. They are found contained in a casing, called sporangia, and grouped into bunches, called sori, on the underside of the leaves. Fern Spore Propagation - How To Propagate A Fern Plant (gardeningknowhow.com)


Probably Sphagnum palustre in the bog around the fern. The most shade-tolerant of the ... [Sphagnales], found in sites that are moderately enriched with nutrients, for example wet woodland, ditches, stream margins and flushes. Sphagnum-palustre.pdf (britishbryologicalsociety.org.uk)


Pound Common


Pound Common Pond


Common Darter, Sympetrum pneumonanthe


Sender Rush, Juncus tenuis. A neophyte (introduced species)


A winter-green, densely tufted perennial herb found on damp open ground ... heathlands and fens, and by lake and pond margins, ... Usually on acid soils though not confined to them. Spreading prodigiously by seed. ... This species was first recorded from Angus in 1796, but did not begin to spread widely until the late 19th century. It has never been cultivated in our area and was probably originally introduced in fodder for livestock or soil attached to trees, timber or other raw materials imported from North America. Juncus tenuis Willd. in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020


Marsh Bestrew, Gallium palustre


European Water-Plantain Alisma plantago-aquatica


Common Water Crowsfoot, Ranunculus aquatilis


Pound Common - Wet Heath


The famous Chailey Commons Marsh Gentians, Gentiana pneumonanthe, were one of the reasons for the preservation work undertaken Garth Christian & Charles Constant; their work is commemorated on the stone tablet above.


They were growing with Common Heather, some Bell Heather and Dwarf Gorse, in a depression which was previously presumably wetter than it was when I saw them, when it was quite dry.

A perennial herb of open, damp acidic heathland, grasslands and transitions between heathlands and mires, commonly associated with Erica tetralix and Molinia caerulea. The soils are mainly acidic (pH 4–⁠6), nutrient-poor, peaty soils over glacial drift, sands and sandy clays with a relatively high water table throughout the year. The opening up of the habitat, for example by grazing or occasional light burning, favours this species by promoting flowering and the production of seed. Lowland. Gentiana pneumonanthe L. in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020

G. pneumonanthe had already undergone a dramatic decline by the 1930s due to afforestation, heathland reclamation and drainage. This decline has continued to the present day, with a lack of management now a major factor contributing to extirpation. It is now a great rarity in many counties except in South Hampshire and Dorset where the majority of British populations are now concentrated. Gentiana pneumonanthe L. in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020


Romany Ridge Common


I looked for Sundew and Bog Asphodel in the wet areas but I couldn't find any; but in a wet area (that had significantly dried out) at the south of the common, just before the woodland at Wildfields, I saw a number of interesting plants that like wet conditions:


Soft Rush, Juncus effusus


Gypsywort, Lycopus europaeus


A rhizomatous perennial herb of wet habitats ... it is tolerant of temporary flooding, and is often an early colonist of exposed mud Lycopus europaeus L. in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020


Lesser Skullcap, Scutellaria minor

A perennial herb of wet heaths, bogs, marshes and moist, heathy woodlands on acidic, oligotrophic or slightly mesotrophic soils. ... Many populations of S. minor were lost before 1930. The species’ range has continued to contract in core areas as a result of drainage and habitat loss Scutellaria minor Huds. in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020


Red House Common


I spent very little time at Red House Common, as I has spent so much time at Memorial Common, Pound Common and Romany Ridge Common


Rosebay Willowherb, Chamaenerion angustifolium


Lesser Hornet Hoverfly, Volucella inanis


Ancient Oak, Quercus robur


Lords and Ladies (Cuckoo Pint). Arum maculatum. The red berries of fruiting Lords and Ladies seem to be very abundant this year, and plumper; probably as a result of rain, in comparison to last year (the year of drought)


I had an excellent day at the Chailey Commons; I look forward to returning soon.

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