Never has the sun beaten down so strongly upon Bepton Down as during the late spring and summer of 2018.
After a very wet and fairly cold winter spring brought welcome relief and lovely warm days. This set Bepton Down on quick recovery from a very slow start. A deluge of rain occurred on the 28th May at around lunchtime. It did not last long and came after several weeks of dry weather. Little did we realise then that this was to be the last of proper rain for weeks. This was to come during the weekend of the 28th/29th July. On the Sunday the rain came in a gentle but steady flow and the air temperature was at last cooler than the high twenties which had been the norm for days on end. Unfortunately it turned hot again after that and the beneficial moisture was soon gone.
On Bepton Down the slow start gave way to a frenetic burst of floral life which came and went far more quickly than in most years. The orchids were excellent for the most part but did not last nearly as long as usual. Even the later flowering pyramidal orchids seemed to be going over a month earlier than usual.
The good work done by the teaser rams belonging to local sheep farmers, Laura and Andrew Hodgkins, proved invaluable in the initial stages as the sward had been kept short after the total cut and removal of spent vegetation in the late Autumn of 2017. The cowslips were magnificent. The work put in by Matthew Dowse, South Downs National Park Ranger, and his team of volunteers in the winter in the lower portion of the Public Access Land was also beneficial and we hope for a continued effort in that line in the coming colder months.
However Rome wasn’t built in a day and some of the undesirable species such as Hemp Agrimony, brambles. dog wood etc were soon showing signs of attempting to make a rapid comeback.
A small herd of Sussex Cattle belonging to the Hodgkins family put in an appearance in July and soon got to work on the sward. They are an ancient breed descended from the draught oxen which were a common sight on the Weald in days of yore. It is basically a beef producing breed which is suited to both cold winters and hot summers as they have a thin summer coat and many sweat glands, but grow a thick coat in the winter season. They are medium sized animal with dark red-brown coats and creamy white tail switches. They have a relatively long body. The breed is naturally horned, but polled animals are commonly seen.
Matthew and another team of volunteers came and spent a few hours on the Down on the 18th July and did a sterling job of work on some of the stands of undesirable vegetation. This was duly removed so as not to enrich the ground.
So far 2018 has been a vast improvement on previous years and seasons and slowly but surely Bepton Down will continue on the long road to recovery as long as this impetus is maintained.
Our thanks to all those who have been contributing factors in the progress witnessed so far. Bepton Down looks forward to having another cut where needed in the autumn of 2018 to remove areas of unpalatable growth which the beautiful Sussex Cattle have shunned. It also looks forward to the return of the teaser rams once their job is done during the tupping season.