Two tales from the Sussex woods

Ahead of speaking at the Sussex Ornithological Society conference on Saturday I stayed in a B&B nearby on Friday night. It was quite a posh B&B , and very nice, but hard to find. Well, it wasn’t the B&B’s fault that it was hard to find, I think that was partly my fault and partly a closed road nearby.  The diversion caused by the closed road was very exciting, it took me on a c30 minute diversion through woods with Fallow Deer and Foxes running across them, through towns and villages and then brought me back, precisely, to the place where the road was blocked.  Hmmm.

Never mind, when it doubt, ask at the pub and there was a pub down the other road and the people at the Sloop Inn said I was almost where I wanted to be.  In fact they said ‘See those lights? That’s where you are going’ so that was quite easy. If only I had adopted the ‘Ask at the pub’ strategy earlier – but earlier I hadn’t noticed the pub and had put too much, way too much, faith in the satnav and the diversion signs.

Never mind, the good thing about being near a pub is that any uncertainty about where to eat that evening had disappeared – The Sloop Inn it was, and very nice it was too.  Good beer, good food, pleasant staff, a nice bar with WiFi and very close to the B&B. Hooray!

As I was settling into my second pint, the landlady and a gentleman in a tweed jacket were setting some questions for an up-coming quiz at the pub and I couldn’t help but point out to the man that he had got the title of the government minister in the question wrong (the details don’t matter) and so we got chatting and he admitted to being a livestock farmer and I admitted to having worked for the RSPB. He told me that Margaret Beckett had been the most loathed Agriculture Secretary ever and I said we’d quite liked her. We agreed to differ, in a very friendly way, just two blokes in a bar, and he said, as people often do,  ‘Well I expect we agree on lots of other things’ and I said ‘I wouldn’t be too sure about that’ so we ran through a few other government ministers  (Nick Brown,  Elliot Morley, Owen Paterson) and our views were poles apart which made us both laugh.  But we did find something we agreed on – Michael Gove.  My farming friend said ‘This Gove guy looks promising, but I’m not sure I trust him yet’ and I said that was exactly what the whole environment movement was saying too. So we found some common ground. Hooray!

On the short walk back to the B&B I was thinking that it said something about Michael Gove that we had that shared view.  You can decide whether it says good things or bad things.

And so to bed – and through the skylight of the B&B I was distracted by the clear sky and shining stars (The Plough) for a few minutes.


In the morning when I awoke there were still stars and as expected after a clear night in January, the ground, once visible, was frosty.

In the next door field the grass was white with frost. First one Magpie was feeding, and then two acting like a pair. I watched them hopping about in the knee-high (that’s Magpie knees) grass.  They would hop or walk a few inches and then turn over the dead leaves that were littering the field. When I say turn over it was more like ‘toss away brusquely’ than ‘turn over’. There was an awful lot of leaf tossing going on but I didn’t see either Magpie definitely eat anything for at least 10 minutes. Were they finding small morsels that I didn’t see them eat?  Maybe. Why the leaf tossing – what’s that all about?  And how many leaves have to be tossed before a Magpie finds something worth eating?


8 Replies to “Two tales from the Sussex woods”

  1. My view is very similar concerning Mr. Gove. I don’t think he has yet proved his worth towards better protection of wildlife and the environment. He has made some encouraging statements but little of positive value to wildlife has yet emerged from Defra, his Department. In fact there are certain very negative moves such as brood management of Hen harriers circulating in Defra’s.
    Overall I remain suspicious, as in recent years very few if any Tory ministers at Defra have brought any real benefit to wildlife and the environment. The recent Tory history in this area is very poor indeed and mostly negative. Perhaps Mr Gove can reverse this historical trend, but I have great doubts. He would need to overcome the strong vested interests of the Tory party most of which work against better wildlife and environmental protection.

  2. Interesting Mark — the Magpie foraging behaviour seems new. Or is it that Magpies are common so they are not observed very much?
    If this behaviour is special to these Sussex woods, did this pair learn it by watching their local Blackbirds? And do they need to suss the ergonomics of their method given its apparent lack of productivity in such frosty conditions?
    The last question is a sort of economicy-type, pre-Brexfast one which is probably too difficult even for Magpies to answer.

  3. I suspect that the key to Gove’s influence – good or bad – will be how long May lasts. If she lasts a good long time, say until the next scheduled election , he’ll have a long time at Defra to rehabilitate himself and to try to put himself in a good position come leadership election time, both of which probably bode well for us.

    On the other hand, if May goes, the chances of him staying at Defra are slim I think (whoever wins the leadership and whoever he supports), and so we’ll get whichever also-ran needs a completely irrelevant consolation prize just as a way to shut them up – like that awful Leadsom person.

    So weirdly I find myself hoping May stays on as PM! Certainly none of the other plausible Tory candidates are more appealing, Gove included.

    I feel a need for a shower now I’ve said that… what a mess we’re in, to think that May is the least worst option for PM amongst that little shoal of self-serving political minnows.

    And sorry but no, I don’t think Corbyn would be better. His Labour party has shown no sign of understanding or caring about the natural environment beyond a few platitudes about plastics and climate change. Individual MPs have said some good stuff, but as a party Labour’s still hopeless on the environment. Shame, and a wasted opportunity for them.

    1. The Labour Party are certainly missing a trick.

      Regarding climate change: Piers Corbyn is a long-time adversary of mine. He is a charlatan and climate change denier. What is his relation to his brother, on this, I wonder?

  4. I went to a B&B like that6 in Sussex a few years ago. The sat nav got us there fine – but it took us ages to find out where we were on the OS map so we could find our way to the pub for supper !

  5. Labour – possibly as delusional than the Tories ,whats his name seems to think that leaving the EU will give him the freedom to put his Marxist plans into action, nice bloke,but could he organise a student union?
    Lib Dems – well meaning but irrelevant and toxic thanks to their Tory links.
    SNP – populist, mixed policies but best of a bad bunch.
    Tories -well the Tories are the party of the rich and privileged , like Labour- delusional they think they can return to a land of cream teas , union jacks, empire and bugger jolly foreigner. As for Gove you are kidding yourself- he’s a Tory.
    As for our poor environment -well lets be honest it doesn’t look good, it is not a priority for any of them.There is however one I have so far not mentioned -The Greens , anybody with even the slightest concern for our environment and our children’s future should not even be considering any other option. the argument is of course is that its a wasted vote, they don’t have enough clout , well they won’t till we waken up and vote for them .The alternative is -well we’re doomed.
    Get your shaking hand over the dislike button Colonel.

    1. The rules of the EU would prevent any Labour Government from supporting a strategic industry. Remainers are opposed to that, so it is no wonder that Corbyn would rather leave. EU rules are gradually being applied to the NHS, and limits the UK’s independence on how it regulates competition in the NHS (see the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). Corbyn cannot fully reform the NHS within the EU.

      As for the Greens, they are in denial that there is a human population ‘problem’.

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