Posted 9 December 2016 by Andrew Gardner
Sussex nature reserves are as beautiful in winter as they are in summer - tranquil, atmospheric places where you can stroll or sit in a hide, and observe the birds and small animals going about their lives in the ever-changing light. Sometimes sitting in the shelter of a hide, just watching how clouds pattern the lake and ripples sweep into the reeds, leads you to spot a bird you would otherwise have missed. Or sit by the bird-feeders and see many different species fly in for a winter feast when there's little else to forage. All this, and I'm no birder, just someone who loves nature and the countryside.
I was fascinated to read in the Sussex Wildlife Trust publication about how even nature wardens learn by looking. When Rye Harbour nature reserve was created they particularly wanted to protect little terns that nested there, so they put up basic fences and signs to stop people disturbing them. But that enabled foxes to poach undisturbed, so electric fences were added - and then beefed up to stop badgers helping themselves too - and ground-nesting birds could live in peace.
That is, until crows and kestrels decided the fence posts were great places to perch and stake out their prey so then spikes were put on the posts to make them less inviting.
Trouble was, these efforts didn't just keep the birds safe from predators - they also protected rabbits, which munched through the vital shingle plants. So rabbits had to be excluded from some areas to let the sea peas and least lettuce grow, and now those are thriving too and provide homes for rare insects.
Now, how on earth do you do all that and protect all the different species? How do you make sure the ecology is able to do its natural thing? You could have all the theory in the world, but really only learn by watching and adapting.
So if you're taking a winter break in Sussex (click here to check our late availability) and the weather keeps you indoors, just look out of your window - a country cottage garden or a coastal retreat makes a perfect wildlife-watching spot. All you need is time and patience...