Nutbourne Common Recreation Ground

Inside the Recreation Ground
Inside the Recreation Ground

The Recreation ground at Nutbourne Common is one of several Public Open Spaces controlled by Pulborough Parish Council.

Originally under the control of the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor, following the Inclosure Act of 11th September 1855, it was made over to Pulborough Parish Council in 1894, when parish councils first came into being. More recently, the Charity Commissioners have agreed that the trustees can be the Parish Council as a whole.

It had been all but abandoned for the last few decades but from 2006, some measures have been taken to bring it back into use by more than just a few local dog walkers.

Scrub and saplings have been cleared from the central area under the guidance of Sussex Wealden Greensand Heath Project. Following the advice of a qualified tree surgeon, a number of trees have been made safe, with Tree Preservation Orders of many of the larger ones. Heather seeding will be going ahead at the end of the summer but it is worth noting that a self-seeded heather has been found in the clearing. The benefits of heather to the countryside are diverse but in particular, it encourages butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles and birds and the open space encourages wild plant growth. If you are lucky, you may even spy an adder sunning himself. He will quickly hide and only attack if threatened.

The stolen signpost in Nutbourne Road has been replaced so that people can more easily find the site. (The original was found to be a major component in a fete's Bash the Rat game). The broken-down gate at the North entrance was replaced by a hardwood field gate and the stile at the South entrance was replaced and a dog gate added. Much to the dismay of some locals, the latter were vandalised shortly afterwards. The miscreant sawed off the top rung of the stile and stole the dog gate's shutter. These have now been replaced by a wooden gate.

The new gate (2007)
The new gate (2007)

The rotting and missing perimeter fence has been replaced using stock fencing. (A perimeter fence is a requirement imposed by the 1855 Inclosures Act). The Parish Council's Byelaws have been posted on at the North gate and dog-fouling notices (since stolen) were placed at each end of the public footpath, which runs through it.

We have received messages of congratulations from several Nutbourne residents but critical comments from others. The latter would like:

1. The name changed from the formal Nutbourne Recreation Ground title of the charitable trust to something less redolent of children's play equipment and games of cricket. As the Parish Council has no plan to install such equipment or make formal games possible, it sees no justification in going to the legal expense involved in changing the name.

2. The area to be abandoned to nature. Whilst the trustees are sympathetic to wildlife, they would be failing in their duties if they continued to let this happen. The Charity Commissioners would not be too pleased either!

Right now it is a very pleasant and safe place to take a stroll and observe the wildlife that has made its home on the site, or bring a picnic! The Parish Council recommends all Pulborough residents to visit and see for themselves. There is no parking but it can be accessed on foot by following the signposted track by Bramfold Farm in Nutbourne Road.

Pulborough Parish Council, July 2008

Lowland Heathland

Lowland heathland (as distinct from upland moorland) is an extremely important habitat. Although we might seem to have a reasonable amount of it in the UK, it is a very rare habitat globally. We have 20% of the world's total but what we have left in Britain is only one sixth of what existed in 1800. It supports many rare and endangered species including nightjar, Dartford warbler, woodlark, sand lizard, smooth snake and a wide range of invertebrate species including silver-studded blue butterflies and the field cricket (which is restricted to Lord's Piece heathland near Petworth plus a few sites where we have re-introduced it recently).

Heathland is found at low altitude on poor, acidic and often sandy soils. Specialised plants and animals have adapted to these conditions like sundews, which get additional nutrients from trapping insects and sand lizards that incubate their eggs in sandy soils on hot, south-facing banks. Many heathlands in Sussex (such as Ambersham Common, Iping Common, Lavington Common and Woolbeding Common are scheduled as Sites of Special Scientific Interest for their endangered heathland wildlife. This signifies a nationally important site. Heathland has declined for a variety of reasons: farmers have improved poor land with artificial fertilisers to grow crops or pasture, landowners were given very generous grants to plant trees from the Forestry Commission from World War 1 until fairly recently, quarries were dug to extract sand for building and commons were neglected by the parish commoners.

Commoners used to maintain the open heath in a variety of ways: by turning out a range of farm animals for the rough grazing, by cutting heather for thatching material, by cutting peat and heather turves for fuel and by cutting birch for besom brooms for sale in towns (a big industry in the south east 150+ years ago). Neglected heathlands are fairly quickly lost to invasive species like birch and bracken and often have the appearance of well-established woodland after 100 years (I have a Victorian postcard of Midhurst Common, which shows open heath where now large trees are growing). Most heathland was created by man about 4,500 years ago when the original woodland was cleared. However, the specialised heathland species have existed for a lot longer than this and it is now thought that a patchwork of heathland was originally created by large herds of big grazing animals such as the extinct aurochs (wild cattle) and tarpans (wild horses) which would graze out tree saplings and keep the forests looking much more open. Dense woodland may therefore be a relatively modern phenomenon as a result of our ancestors wiping out the large wild animals in Europe.

In 1992 the UK attended the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro and agreed to take action to conserve threatened habitats. Lowland heathland was one of the 16 most endangered habitats selected by the government and a Biodiversity Action Plan was established to conserve, restore and re-create heathland. Subsequently the Sussex Biodiversity Action Plan set targets to conserve and re-create heathland at the county level. So re-creating heathland where it once was found, however small the area, helps to meet our international treaty obligations. Bracken is a native plant but it is highly invasive. Originally it was controlled by the trampling of grazing animals, by people cutting it for livestock bedding and by late spring frosts. It spreads mainly by underground rhyzomes and smothers low growing plants, eventually creating a monoculture of bracken fronds. These have some value to wildlife such as shelter for deer but generally much less wildlife value than the habitat the bracken replaced. Bracken now covers thousands of acres in the UK and quickly invades heathlands or acidic grasslands when traditional management ceases.

Rob Free, South Downs Joint Committee, June 2008