Cuckmere Haven & Seaford Head: Chaffinches, Kestrels, waders and WWI training. 19.11.21
Updated: Nov 20, 2021
For information on how to get to Cuckmere Haven and Seaford Head, see Seaford Head and Cuckmere Haven: 100s of Great Black Backed Gulls at dusk. 12.11.21
As usual, these photos are in chronological order of taking.
Some of the photos in this post are not of great photographic quality, as the light levels were very low, especially as the afternoon progressed. The primary purpose of my posts is not to publish good-quality photographs, although I am pleased when I take a photo that I like, but to provide an approximate record of the abundance and diversity of the species I saw; to record the "feel" of the landscape; engender other people's interest in nature; to record walks so that I can savour positive post experiences in the future; and to provide hopefully interesting information about the geology, geography and history of the landscapes I walk through.
Before heading down to the west side Cuckmere path I walked around the Seven Sisters Country park car park at Exceat, and just into Friston Forest, as there are often interesting birds in the woods, or other interesting things, like the albino Squirrel, see Albino Squirrel - Friston Forest. 05.11.21, and in the car park foraging amongst the autumn leaves was a small group of beautiful Chaffinches
And as usual there was a Little Egret in the oxbow lake parallel with the A229
and a Grey Herron
and a Little Grebe diving for small fish.
To the north of the road were the usual Canada Geese
and to the south another Little Egret
As I walked the Cuckmere Inn car park to the start of the path west of the Cuckmere river I saw this beautiful (probably juvenile) Kestrel.
and in the river, at, by now, very low tide, another the many Little Egrets at Cuckmere Haven
To the right, next to one of the drainage ditches was a Grey Heron (as usual), a Herring Gull, and behind the gull and a Curlew
Toward the downs to the wets the usual gaggle of Canada Geese
A Robin in the bramble bush by the oath; I hear the warning call of Robins frequently as I walk in Cuckmere Haven
There was a group of Mallards i one of the pools on the marsh to the wets of the river
and there many roosting Great Black Backed Gulls to the west of the river.
On the east bank of the Cuckmere, many Redshank's and Black Headed Gulls
A Redshank flying in
Dunlin, a Common Sandpiper (?) and Redshanks
The Common Sandpiper (?)
Redshank, a Lapwing and two Black Headed Gulls
Redwing in flight.
A 3rd winter Herring Gull with a crab
Another Little Egret!!!
The beginning of the Seven Sisters
Great Black Backed Gulls flying off to sea.
A Robin in Hope Gap
A Kestrel in Hope Gap (possibly the same seen at Exceat)
The Seven Sisters
When I got home I searched for information on Cuckmere Haven for this post I found out about the extraordinary history of Caribbean Black soldiers training for the battlefields of World War I at Cuckmere Haven.
The Royal Geographical Society's website Discovering Britain provides guides to many fascinating UK walks e.g. Cuckmere Haven, Seaford, East Sussex walk (discoveringbritain.org) which contain details of fascinating walks, with walking guides that include social history. The text below is from the downloadable guide for this walk: Cuckmere Haven walk written guide.pdf (discoveringbritain.org)
I am from Brighton, as did all my family. In my primary (Stanford Road) and secondary (Nevill County Secondary Modern) I never leant anything of the presence of African, Caribbean and Asian soldiers, trained in Cuckmere Haven, despite Cuckmere Haven often being studied in cross-curricula projects or in geography lessons.
‘‘I like the country we are in… It is open hilly chalk country with great ploughed fields and a few copses on the hilltops…”
So wrote the poet Edward Thomas. Thomas walked what he called “the long white roads” of Southern England for 20 years and was intimate with the chalk paths of the South Downs.
But his description above is of the land around Arras in France. There he, along with millions of other men, fought and died in the trenches during the First World War. A war that killed 41 million people. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Thomas saw similarities between the South Downs and northern France. The same massive chalk deposit that forms the South Downs disappears under the English Channel and rises again around Calais.
Much of the fighting took place on this continuation of the vast chalk deposit that underlies most of Southern England. This landscape was certainly not familiar to all the soldiers recruited into the British Army though.
Despite being largely forgotten by the history books, many African, Caribbean and Asian soldiers fought in the First World War. The British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) was formed in 1915 as a separate unit within the British army. The first recruits sailed from Jamaica and arrived to train here at what was then Seaford camp. These men had answered the call to help fight for their ‘Mother Country’ and travelled to Britain at their own expense. Despite this, many were offered poor accommodation, were issued with insufficient food and clothing, and suffered in the harsh British winters. Despite their sacrifice, black soldiers were often assigned dirty and dangerous jobs. These included loading ammunition, laying telephone wires and digging trenches - all vital work in the support of front line troops. They were mainly led by white officers and most were denied the chance to fight in Europe.
‘The Black Soldiers Lament’, an anonymous poem of the time, evoked their experience on the Western Front:
Stripped to the waist and sweated chest
Midday’s reprieve brings much-needed rest
From trenches deep toward the sky.
Non-fighting troops and yet we die.
By the end of the war in 1918, the BWIR had lost 185 soldiers in battle but a further 1,071 from illness. If you have time, do visit Seaford Cemetery. Among the 300 Commonwealth War Graves are 19 headstones commemorating the men of the BWIR, along with a plaque remembering their service on the chapel wall. Now we’ve reached the end of the walk, it’s worth reflecting on our experience of this landscape. We’ve seen stunning views and walked along the bank of a meandering river.
The Cuckmere Valley is a haven for wildflowers and animal life – whether it be the butterflies, dragonflies and bees on the chalk downland or the sheep and cows grazing the water meadows. This landscape is so beloved, it was used in wartime propaganda posters urging people to fight for the essence of England.
It’s a landscape of memorial too for its role in both World Wars and for the untold story of the African, Caribbean and Asian soldiers, trained and stationed here, who offered to fight for Britain at great personal sacrifice.