It may not be obvious to the casual visitor but the countryside around Twineham and Wineham is of national importance to rare and endangered wildlife.
Within just a few square miles it is possible to see more than 60 listed species, including thriving populations of Nightingales and Barn Owls, Crested Newts and the very rare Hairstreak butterfly.
So how has this unprotected area managed to buck the trend for declining native species?
The answer lies hidden deep in the archives of local history, which show that unlike much of the Sussex’s countryside, this area has remained largely unchanged for the past 200 years. This continuity is clear to see in 18th century Tithe and Ordinance Survey maps, with today’s hedgerows, field boundaries, shaws, ponds and waterways easily identified on both.
“A review of the 1879 Ordnance Survey map of Sussex, Sheet XXXVIII shows the landscape is little changed through time,” says LAMBS’ Ecologist, Jacky Thompson (Wildlife Splash). “There is a continuity of landscape features such as woodlands, fields and ponds and boundary features such as tree-lines and ancient tracks.
“Ponds are a real feature of this landscape and at least fifty are found scattered throughout the entire area ranging from small, shallow and ephemeral to large, deep and permanent. The wide diversity in temperature, depth, shade and drying regimes is likely to have resulted in a good diversity of aquatic invertebrates. Moreover, a good proportion of these ponds are marked on the 1879 ordnance survey map providing a continuous habitat for the last 136 years and probably much longer.”
But there is reason for this habitat’s resilience – one which has protected its hedgerows and woodlands from the intensive farming practices which devastated Sussex wildlife throughout the 20th Century.
Local historian Peter McKergow provides a further clue in his account of Twineham village life in the 1900s:
“The river meadow had a raised wooden walk way called ‘clappers’ and a handrail. This would be used for days after heavy rain. The brook had vegetation and trees growing round it so that the floods lasted a much longer period.”
It would seem that the area’s historic tendency to flood may have kept its rich and varied wildlife habitats safe from both intensive agriculture and over development.
Recent flooding is well documented, but this is no modern phenomena – Wineham was an inland port in the 1800s and the very name ‘Twineham’ originates from old English, meaning, “The homestead between two streams.”
Sussex Biodiversity records provide further evidence of this watery history – showing an overwhelming predominance of ‘wet grassland’ much of which is underwater in winter. The result is a unique wildlife haven of wetlands, woodlands, ponds, hedgerows and pasture which many man-made nature reserves could only dream of.
Surely this landscape deserves some proper protection.
*For the latest update on local wildlife news from Low Weald Wildlife please see Tom’s August blog ‘Hunting Hairstreaks’.