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Dawn and Dusk at Markstakes Common

When bluebells give way to bracken

I needed to get up there after a week away and was sad to find little new. The wood now with a dense canopy feels dormant and predictable. I used up three poo bags collecting 11 dog shits. The first 250m into the woods are becoming a ‘dog shit alley’. Does it matter? The woods can accommodate it. Should people know better. What is the answer? Bins? Signage? Education? Patrols? Threats? CCTV?

Simply shite

I only returned this evening as I was on the way back from the swimming club and sundown is at 9:05. I did a tour, enjoying honey soft glows on the tree tops and then bats. I tried video, even slow motion … one was flying a figure of eight circuit that included flying at me then away again.

Notable Ash

Lewes Mayor Making 19 May 2023

This was my fifth time to attend Lewes Mayor Making and this the first of a second term of four years. We didn’t need to make a play of 12 Green Councillors out of 18 – there would be change with an emphasis on climate resilience and sorting out the problems Lewes has in our heads and now on the agenda. 

There were little differences; several of us chose not to wear the Victoriana, or academic robes as I would know them. We may don the garb and the equally anachronistic headgear for public celebrations such as the kids moving on parade ‘Moving On’. 

Before the event, many of us picked Dirk Campbell’s brains on his escapade with Jacob Rees-Mogg at the National Conservative’s Conference. It amused us, those of us who are, have been, or toyed with being active in Extinction Rebellion. The way forward with these kinds of action is getting a point over with humour, even humility, as well as surprise —as if the subjects of our invective are the characters in a Private Eye cartoon. 

There was also talk between Greens and Lib-Dems about how the local elections at District and Town had gone, no longer rivals, we could congratulate and commiserate. 

The double semi-circle of councillor seats were placed in reverse alphabetical order, which had me dead centre in the front row, rather than consigned to the rear. The perfect spot for the best photos, but I kept my phone down, just for notes, until the event was over. Had I mini-tripod for the camera, I may have run it as video and picked the best clips from it. An ‘Owl’ streamed the event live – high audience figures are doubtful!

The most excellent Rev Ben Brown (there’s something ‘Bill and Ted’ about his demeanour IMHO) spoke about what good leadership requires; he developed an idea of  ‘vulnerable leadership’, something more than being humble, to with with listening and creating an ‘open space so that others can be heard’. He should be doing ‘Thought for the Day’ on BBC Radio 4. 

The Vote of thanks to the outgoing Mayor, Shirley Sains, suggests to me why I may not be taking it on:  

118 events

10 full town councils

6 extraordinary meetings

2 town twinning events in each of Germany and France 

Amd church services across Sussex. And on in London to attend.

Her departing words were that Lewes should ‘grow but not at the expense of our unique heritage’; we all agree. 

Cllr Dr Wendy Maples proposed Matthew Bird as Mayor, talking of his visibility in the community, his achievements at Lewes District with sustainability, and his involvement with the likes of Love Our House and Rights for Rivers. To cap it all, Matthew’s day job is at Sussex Wildlife. The newly appointed mayor then spoke briefly of the challenge of change over the last year, his gratitude to the staff and colleagues, and, addressing his daughter, how we need to make the town fit for her generation—a point perhaps lost on her.

Cllr. Janet Baah proposed Imogen Makepeace as Deputy Mayor, something a long time overdue and in the previous administration unnecessarily resisted by a group of Liberal Democrats who took offense at her stand on some issues important to her (and the Greens).

We then had a succinct, well-choreographed full council without grandstanding, points of order, or interruptions that plagued us over the previous four years. This bodes well for the future. We’re going to get on, know when to step forward, share our duties, and do the town proud. 

In a moment of reflection, I dwelt on the history of the Town Hall, built in the early 18th century as a hotel and staging post. Through the window, I could see 1613 emblazoned on the building. Lewes goes back, of course, to the Norman Conquest and the castle on our hill above the lowest fording point over the Ouse. Matthew returns to the river, its place in the community, why the town is even here, and how we must return the river to the heart of things instead of exploiting it as a dump. 

Given his career involvement with sustainability initiatives as well as his regional interest in the restoration and protection of the River Ouse through organisations such as Love Our Ouse and the Rights of Rivers, Matthew Bird is a touchstone for environmental issues in Sussex, not just in Lewes and Lewes District. When he appeared on the Town Hall stage to offer a toast, he put on a ‘Coat of Hope,’ the creation of artist Barbara Keal, the very coat that had wended its way from Newhaven to Glasgow for Cop26 in November 2021. The newly appointed mayor explained what this coat of hope represented and what meaning it would bring to his tenure, stating that due to the drought last year, events that were predicted to happen in 2030 had already occurred in 2022. 

“We are unprepared, but it is within our power to find local solutions,” he explained. “If any town can show the way, it’s Lewes.” 

Despite his overarching theme of climate change, Matthew quickly turned his attention to the people of Lewes. He warned those attending Mayor Making to be “aware of pockets and people who struggle to stay afloat,” noting that 600 families rely on food banks and require our assistance. He stated that rather than supporting individual charities, he would direct the mayor’s fund to food banks. He then expressed concern about the number of closed shops and other unused buildings in town and how these spaces could be used by collaborating with the Lewes District, the Chamber of Commerce, and younger people. To conclude, Matthew returned to the environment and a topic near and dear to his heart—the significance of the river—emphasizing that sewage was only a small part of the pollution problem. He spoke passionately about the Ouse, saying that “it is the reason why the town exists” and that rivers are “entities in their own right.” 

For the following hour or more, I moved around familiar faces and was introduced to some old ones, from Lewes Priory to the Pells Pool, Lewes Urban Arboretum, and others. I have some new acquaintances and may have some tasks and challenges for the next four years: Finance Committee, Buildings and Assets Committee, Outside Bodies: The Railway Land Wildlife Trust and Lewes Priory Trust 

The Power of Trees

Start the Week on BBC Radio 4 at 9:15am on a Monday is too often what sets me off on a new intellectual journey. The talk between three speakers was on trees, their mythology and our latest knowledge.

I know have this book.

Book Cover

It’s for me thinking! It’s certainly overturned a few of my theories based on observations over the last couple of decades. I guess it should make me even more concerned for our ancient woods, what can be done to protect them from busy-body people and how younger forests can be saved for the future and new ones created. Essentially by leaving Mother Earth to do her thing – but of course is humans have to intervene, usually long before we have adequate knowledge to do so.

A year ago to the day I first came across Markstakes Common

A year ago I put our car into a pothole in north Chailey. I drove in in hope but nursing a flat I finally pulled into Markstakes Lane to change the tyre. Afterwards, wondering where the lane would lead I drove on, was curious about the farm gate into woods which jacked the usual ‘Private Woods Keep Out’ signs so stopped.

I long ago surpassed 100 visits, and including Monday mornings working with Friends of Markstakes Common on simple woodland / heathland management tasks have surely reached 125 or more visits. I usually take photos, often record the soundscape and even use AllTraills so could provide an exact record.

In the last two days (and three visits) I have been treated to early purple orchids, fungi: dead men’s fingers, a lot of sulphur tuft and witches butter, as well as carpets of bluebells which mist people come here for at this time of year.

Dead Men’s Fingers

I take note of and photograph a tiny, drawing pin sized mushroom on the Shallow Pond log pile.

Any ideas?

That and I note and get a GridPoint a multi-stemmed hornbeam ‘PosNot’ and oak. I think they are worthy, but so of course is the entire wood.

Multi-stemmed hornbeam & companion oak
Oak with recently fallen large bough on the ground

Spring has sprung

Markstakes Common

Just a day later, after heavy run and the sun out I would say that spring has fully sprung in Sussex.

Today the bluebells are out and forming a carpet, from a distance a blue sheen above the underlying green of the woodland floor. Though almost exclusively Hornbeam the tree canopy is a verdant bright green-yellow.

Hornbeam leaves

I search out familiar decayed stumped and fallen stems venturing right across to the eastern boundary. I video gently streams flowing. The paths themselves running south to north and north to south from the watershed are quagmires of trickling water.

Woodland stream after heavy rain

Those birch logs with the various jelly fungi show promise of a brain jelly; many of the parchment fungi or Turkey tail have rehydrated with the rain.

Curtain Crust

Jonathan’s Virtual Magical Markstakes Mushroom Tour 2023

Yesterday I made my 100th visit to Markstakes Common. I may have inadvertently drifted this way once or twice from Scarecrow Wood, but until late last April I’d never entered by the northern gate. On 25th April, last year, returning from Haywards Heath, I put the car into one of your infamous potholes just south of the Primary School, limped on, looking for somewhere to pull over, turned off onto Markstakes Lane and pulled over on Green Lane to change the tyre. Once done, pointing down Markstakes Lane anyway, I saw the wall, the farm gate, a wood beyond, a car pulled over … and no signs warning ‘Private Wood: Keep Out’. Impartial to a wood, I’ve been visiting Woodland Trust woods across Sussex for a couple of years, I pulled over, stepped through the gate, saw the stream, the mature oaks and not a lot more on that first ‘visit’. I put it down as somewhere to return to. A place to walk the dog, notable trees, Friends of Markstakes Common all came later. It was September or October before I started to take any notice of the mushrooms, or fungi, as I ought to call them.

Six months later, armed with six or seven books (referenced below), a list of websites (listed below) and a lot of visits and the number of fungi I’ve photographed has topped 100. Of these though 20% or so I am yet to identify, 20% or more I have probably got wrong. And I am yet to see what Spring and a bit of rain, and summer can produce. Of all the books I’ve assembled, the last one I acquired is my favourite ‘ Fascinated by Fungi’ by Pat O’Reilly. Within reason, I’m starting to wonder if I might find everything he has in here… in the woods and on the heath of Markstakes Common. I’ve use the app: AllTrails for some years. This is the ‘Fungi Tour’ I’ve mapped out.

Use this alongside the excellent resources from Friends of Markstakes Common: this is one of their maps showing the paths, different habitats and ancient trees.

In the last couple of months, I started using the GridRef App so most spots where I take a picture have a reference point, though in a wood a variable of +/- 5-7m only really gets you in the general spot – fine if your looking for a mature tree, not so easy if you’re looking for something that might be as small as a drawing pin. The important thing I have discovered is the need, once you have spotted something of interest, to revisit again and again, until you know where the spot is compared to the paths and trees. Just as importantly when it comes to fungi you then get to see how it develops and changes – which in itself helps with identification. Here I will mention the path, the ponds or a notable tree as a landmarks.

I’ve figured out a circuit, shown in the AllTrails map I’ve shared, that takes around an hour and a half to walk. Any such visit would entail lines such as “to see x or y, you’ll need to come here in late October/early November”, or “you’re only likely to see these after rain, and then only for a week, or two in February” or some such. This ‘virtual tour’ can jump back and forth through time and weather conditions. What follows is selective. Around 40 or so of 80, 90 or more fungi I’ve photographed and tried to identify.

Split Gill

At the north gate, straight in front of you, there’s a length of log, which at different times has some kind of crust on it (Bleeding Broadleaf crust perhaps) and currently, some dehydrated split gill hanging on from last December.

In September you might see this around this spot:

Panther Cap

Panther Cap, I am told, is highly toxic, I readily confused it initially with Grey Spotted Aminata. I didn’t appreciate at the time the need to pay more attention to the skirt and the stem growing from a volva or egg sack. I’ll pay more attention here when (and if) it reappears again this September. 

Sulphur Tuft 

Take the path to the right, heading south along the western path. Just a few steps and there’s a fallen mature oak with its roots exposed over there just to the right of the path. A colony of Sulphur Tuft appears from the soil among the roots of the exposed wood and in late November/December.

Within around ten days later, after a sharp frost and snow, they had rotted to black.

Continue further along the path, as it narrows and you just about tread on the next one.

Glistening Inkcap

This is a relatively small (as opposed to tiny), delicate, widely distributed fungus. It typically grows in clusters, as here on decaying wood – a stump and partially buried wood will do.  

The cap is initially bell-shaped and then flattens with age. 

Continue south on the path, onward towards the ancient beech trees (no.6 and what’s left of no.7)left and right of the path. 

I first spotted puffballs over there in the undergrowth, beneath some holly, towards the boundary with Furzehely Farm. This was the end of October.

While on the other side of the path, toward the stream which only runs after heavy rain fall, I came across this: Common Earth Ball.

Hoof Fungus and Beech Barkspot

The ancient Beech (no. 6.) with its large, fallen bough, in the tight folds of the base of the trunk there is Hoof Fungus, a modest one, squeezed in tightly … as well as Beech Barkspot.

At this point I like to make my way over to the veteran Hornbeam no.5. It’s a wonderfully characterful ancient tree with decaying good all around.

Variable Oysterling or a split gill ? 

I took this photograph on 13 January, during the period of flooding and very mild weather. And it quickly disappeared. I know now I should have collect a couple to examine more closely and to create a spore print. Perhaps someone can idntify it from this picture alone.

All I’ve seen since, on three separate occasions, has been a slime mould, twice on one of the most decayed pieces of wood on the ground, and more recently in the rotting wood on the trunk.

Slime Mould

In a matter of days, what starts as a foamy white blob develops a skin, dries out to brown and solidifies into a hard brown bun tha soon disintegrates.

Slime Mould, veteran Hornbeam no.5 (26 March to 9 April)

Slime mould appears on the most decayed, broken trunks and boughs around the wood.  

Continue south, towards Shallow Pond, to the mouth of the pond, and where for most of the year there has been a leaky dam, although it is common in many spots, you’re always guaranteed to see crust on one of the branches.

Crusts of many kinds can be found all over the place: bright orange, darker, paler – in curtains, veils, lines, ribbons, Turkey tails and more … but for now, here’s a spot, probably because of the water, where for now there is always some. I could show a set of slides on these alone. 

Onwards, to my first mystery fungus. A few weeks ago. I nearly stepped on this gelatinous mass. Two days I was out with a macro-lens, saw some more and and was surprised to find this going on: 

One to identify another time. Hoping it was the right thing to do I scooped up this mass of frogspawn and placed it in the water on the edge of Shallow Pond. 

Jelly ear can be found everywhere too, or at least it feels like that. It seems to colonise an entire rotting limb or decayed bough. Find one like this and show it to a child and you might freak them out. They can look very ear like indeed.

Markstakes Common is a place I enjoy visiting in any kind of weather. In December, when we had that spell of frost and snow, I decided to pay a visit and was rewarded with the delightful discovery of frozen jelly ears. Unlike other softer jellies, like the leafy brain, the ears survived the frost and only went into decay in the first week of April. 

Our goal is a modest looking, well rotted, moss covered log pile.

Shallow Pond Log Pile

There are often treasures buried within. Pay close attention. Really carefully. Some of the late-December goings-on here required a family effort on Boxing Day and some extra ‘young eyes’ : Bonnets, clustered woodtuft, candlesnuff, jelly bean … but the ‘jaw dropping’ moment was when I took a closer look at the tiny red/orange dots in the moss: 

Common Eyelash 

The inner surface of the Common Eyelash is covered with short, black, hair-like structures, giving it the appearance of eyelashes.  The outer surface is smooth and often brightly coloured, ranging from yellow to orange-red. 

And much more besides here:

some yet to be identified, like this tiny fungus in the depth of the log pile, a little larger than a drawing pin. This time I’ve gone back just to see what was going on and again, have been blown away by finding something so odd.

In autumn, this is one of several spots for the candlesnuff fungus, on the logpile and on small pieces of blackened wood around the pond. I’ve followed its appearance, like the tip of a knitting needle, to a piece of broken plastic, then it gains (Antony Gormley arms), and additional limbs, andis white from mid to tip, black at the base … and some it lasts, however much it might dry out until found by a slug and consumed, leaving the remains of a burnt match-like twig. 


For the sake of this tour, we now double back around the top of Shallow Pond.

But if you’re up for a bit more of a hike, head south over to the other side of the path, among the Hornbeam. If, before you approach the notable multi-stem Hornbeam there, you look back towards the path at a log pile close to where water seeps out into a stream. Ignore the logs, look at what I’d call more like a pile of small branches and twigs. This is where I spotted a red Coca-Cola bottle top, only to find on closer inspection, something entirely different: Scarlet elfcup. 

Scarlet Elfcup

Long gone, most consumed by slugs, I presume within days. Rare in southern Britain apparently? 

Just a little further along the stream there (only runs after heavy rainfall), there’s a long fallen hornbeam stem with a large smearing of witch’s butter.

Witch’s Butter

So, double back and circle the Shallow Pond. 

Slimy Beech Cap / Porcelain Fungus

It is here in October that you are likely to find the Beech trunk, from the ground to 16ft smothered in slimy beech cup fungus. Attractive in the first days, it soon poses and melts what I liken to copydex, the slimy, sticky, smelly kids glue. 

Slimy Beech Cap / Porcelain Fungus has a distinctive appearance with a slimy, sticky cap (especially when wet) that ranges in colour from orange-brown to reddish-brown.  The gills on the underside of the cap are initially a bright yellow-orange colour and eventually darken to a rusty-brown colour as the mushroom matures.

Cinder Fungus

There is a dead stump of Beech, 8ft or so tall with slime mould and cinder fungus. 

Cinder Fungus is a common-place wood-rotting fungus with a distinctive appearance, eventually developing a black, charred-looking exterior that resembles burnt wood. It is widespread across Markstakes Common, and in some instance covering old, decaying trunks and boughs of Beech, Oak and Hornbeam 

Artist’s Bracket fungus

Return on the path towards the deep pond, then head east (right if you’re heading north) to what was, I believe, notable Beech no. 7 in 2010, which fell a good 7 or 8 years ago. I saw ‘was’ because it took me six months of searching for it to think it had come down, something I was able to confirm (and should have done earlier) using Jacqui’s photo and Grid Point record, which unless I am mistaken pinpoints this stop. 

Anyway, it was noted that there were bracket fungi in a hallowed stem then, in 2010, these were still vibrant and present, some of them probably several years old. The rest of the tree is down, and hosting its own fungi. This is artist’s bracket fungus, also known as the artist’s conk 

They are hard, with a woody fruiting body that can be used as a medium for artists to create drawings

Turkey Tail

Further down the fallen trunk, there’s a branch that looks like the head of a rocking horse that develops a quite complete covering of Turkey Tail. 

On your right (south), theres a dead hornbeam that’s still alive. It’s not a famous tree, but maybe it should be. The broken branches on the ground and higher up are home to fungi, slimes, lichens, and mosses, while the top of the trunk has produced many successful shoots. I rather think, like that logpile by the Shallow Pond, that there is an entire world of fungi to explore there, but as several look like slime moulds and crusts of various kinds, I’ll leave these for a future foray. 

There’s a kids’ den with an abundance of jellyear on the large decaying oak bough it rests against.  This is worth a visit in October/November after heavy rain, and in March/April too. 

As you head towards the notable Beech with its companion oak, there’s a stump here that develops a considerable amount of Turkey Tail (or some crust or other!) 

I then head towards the footbridge over the woodland stream (that flows from the south) to the ‘land of the birch polypore. They are abundant here and present right across the woods wherever there is decaying Birch.

As well as these, blushing bracket: Flat and woody, becoming darker with age. Apparently it can be used as sandpaper, and historically as a firestarter. 

Join the path and once again head south, past the Beech with the apt mushroom cut into it, to the spot where a shelf of stacked smoky bracket appears later in the year, and may or may not break off or be broken off. 

Then head south again, we’re doing a loop to the edge of the wood, then doubling back along the eastern boundary. Here on a large, long fallen oak bough that I first spotted Oyster mushroom. Also on the barely living, rotten-through oak, which is covered in cinder fungus; when you look for it, I hadn’t noticed it before so maybe it’s because it is early spring, it is to be found everywhere.

What is this? 

Onwards to Oyster Mushroom 

Onwards, and the logs on the left is where I first spotted King Alfred’s Conk, which is also present right across the wood. Candlesnuff fungus also appears around here. 

Having emerged from the woods, take the path, always a muddy quagmire after rain and for many days afterwards, through the Heather Glade where I inadvertently lifted the tiniest, most delicate Heather bonnet (he thinks) when working there in the glade with Friends of Markstakes. 

Seeing them together, I can see which might be a bonnet, a parasol, or a parachute. 

Then, we head south to visit the wonderful ancient Hornbeam no.22. This was where I saw ‘split gill’ for the first time.

Unless I am mistaken, ‘Split Gill’ comes in many forms, and though there is a colony of it on this fallen branch or stem, I want to take us off to the far south-east edge of the Common, to say ‘hi’ to ancient Hornbeam no.22.

Quoting Pat O’Reilly:

Small, bracket-like, hairy/like wet felt, sometimes tinged purple (the best) as here, but beneath the cap are radial gill-flds, each of which is centrally split. In prolonged dry weather the gills close over the fertile surfaces of the fruiting body. Rehydrating when moistened by rain, which causes the gills to reopen, and exposed to the air, spores are released. Split Gills can survive several such cycles (p.230 Pat O’Reilly)

Double back on the east path, by the boundary, returning north towards the gate… and possibly three types, including jelly brains.

And corals galore… 

Also here: Fool’s Funnel:

Duck into the woods to find a long fallen, moss covered beech, with a dead Hornbeam companion and a younger Hornbeam that has exploited the tree’s demise, where I first spotted and was amazed by Porcelain, but home to others:

Green Elf-cup…

Finally, having doubled back on the path by the smoky bracket and walking towards Notable Oak 13 there is a spot along the left hand side of the path where Amethyst has been found.

And many, many, many more besides: especially the more normal looking ones. 

References and further reading:


Mushrooms. Collins Gem. All you need to know about …

Fascinated by Fungi : Pat O’Reilly

Foraging Pocket Guide: Marlow Renton and Eric Biggane

Mushroom and Toadstools. David Pegler.

Fungi Swatch Book: The Woodland Trust 

Fantastic Fungi : How Mushrooms can heal, shift consciousness & Save the Planet : Editor/Contributor Paul Stamets

From Another Kingdom. The Amazing World of Fungi: Edited by Lynne Boddy and Max Coleman

Fungarium: Curated by Katie Scott and Ester Gaya


Collins Fungi Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Mushrooms & Toadstools of Britain & Ireland: Stefan Buczaki, Chris Shields & Denys Ovenden

Fungi: Bran Spooner and Peter Roberts

Entangled Life. How Fungi make our worlds, change our minds and shape our futures: Merlin Sheldrak

Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World: Paul Stamets

Woodlands: Oliver Rackham 


To be added 

MyCoPortal > ​​

Short Slide Presentation >

Extended Slide Presentation >

Markstakes March Meanderings

This was my eleventh visit to Markstakes Common this month – the thirtieth this year.

The glistening inkcap cluster on the stump by the edge of the eastern path, not 20m from the northern entrance, has turned into a mass of dark brown and black that attracts flies. Here they are a week ago, and today.

I’m getting to know the ancient Beech [no. 6]. Deeply embedded in the base of the trunk there is a large bracket fungus. This looks like hoof fungus, a parasitic fungus that feeds on living or dead trees, especially hardwoods like birch and beech. It forms a large conk-like mass, as here. The hoof fungus can cause a white rot in the wood, breaking down the lignin and cellulose and leaving behind a soft, spongy texture. A large stem has already come down from this Beech; in time Beech [no.6] will go the way of Beech [no.7].

Companion trees intrigue me; there are plenty around Markstakes Common worthy of study.  Here, the ‘partially dead’ Hornbeam (as reported in the 2010 survey) has many ‘epicormic shoots,’ indicating that it is exploiting having leaves that emerge earlier than its companion beech. The already fallen stem of the beech has opened up the canopy which the hornbeam can now exploit; if a second stem eventually breaks, the hornbeam’s chances will increase. There is a life-and-death tussle going on here for resources that could continue for many more decades, even centuries.

As well as the hoof fungus there is what I think is Beech Barkspot Diatrype disciformis covering the fallen, decaying stem, but also on the living trunk. 

I spot a single bluebell. So my first sighting was around 27th March this year. 

I did this in Laughton Common Wood a few days ago. For now there are just carpets of dense green bluebell leaves, the flowers will emerge in the next week or so.

I take pictures of the subsequent stage of the false puffball ball on a long fallen and well decayed limb of ancient Hornbeam (no. 5) 

On a lengthy, broken, rotting silver birch stump in the Mire, I discovered this slime mould for the first time. My interest is in witnessing that transformation over a week to 10 days from foamy slime, which develops a skin, to what appears to dry out from the inside out to leave a dust-like brown. The interior gradually changes into microscopic spores that resemble brown dust as the skin develops. The outer skin disintegrates, allowing the spores to be dispersed by wind and rain.

I find that cinder fungus is widespread. It has helped to be able to name it; somehow, this makes spotting it all the easier. 

Here I find it on a tall, mature, and soon-to-fall) beech tree  (possibly 80–100 years old) by Deep Pond and the path. It’s also on the characterful broken beech, a tree trunk that shows resilience to dying out completely with a sapling-like stem growing out of a shard of bark nine feet tall.

There’s curtain crust or parchment on a branch at the mouth of Shallow Pond.

The bird song is loud and varied, there are dragonflies and bees. Spring is springing. 

MP3 File > The sounds of the wood 

Then I nearly stepped on a jelly-like, translucent blob in the well-rotted oak and hornbeam leaves at the mouth of the shallow pond. It made me think of melted ice. There is more of it in the leaf litter 10 yards away. It’s frog-spawn.

You can find two hornbeams ‘kissing’ (or are they doing something more! I’m thinking this a tree that was pollarded 100yrs or more ago. 

Split gill on long broken off young hornbeam across the path at TQ 39713 17890 

There’s what I am calling a ‘PosNot’ here at TQ 39713 18011- a ‘possible notable tree’ that was missed in the last survey of 2010. There is a fallen hornbeam (no.23) similar to this which has been recognised. The branches which have found themselves on the ground are riddled in fungus, much of the rest of the lower trunk is covered in moss.

There was a den here last week with one branch covered in jelly ears. The jelly ear branch was gone, and the den was destroyed. 

I might as well record them here as I note them often enough: a pair of oak companions: when two trees become one’ ?

There’s blushing bracket, since last year at TQ 39756 18122. Having turned red, on a moss covered log. 

There are signs of a Green Elf cup in/on pieces of blue tarnished wood. I’ll know where to look later this year for signs of the tiny green cups when they appear. 

And another’ posnot’ younger fallen Hornbeam.

I stumble across a mass of rotting black and jelly ear on a long branch of fallen oak at TQ 39754 18158. It is part of a kid’s den. 

Nature Notes from Markstakes Common 

26 March 2023 

Today’s visit started in the last 15 minutes of a long spell of heavy rain; the woodland streams were seeping water like an upturned bucket on a linoleum kitchen floor. The area cleared by Friends of Markstakes Common has taken on the appearance of a mire’ the willow saplings clearly well suited to this environment.

Just south of the gate, there’s a fallen branch covered in split gill. Densely packed in shelves, they are daily nondescript from above, but below there are those amazing gills to admire, wonderfully drawn like something that might appear in a pre-Raphaelite stained glass window.

Taking the western path south through the Common, there’s a long-ago fallen oak stem, not a very big one, and an obstacle to avoid tripping over most of the year. Today it is covered in Mica Cap: some old and falling apart, others freshly emerging from the decaying bark. I took one home to create a spore print and it duly melted away into a wet, inky black mass.

I like to keep an eye on a couple of our’ notable Hornbeams so I cross over to the western boundary. The oldest Hornbeam and our only ‘veteran’ had a few porcelain fungi on it several weeks ago. This ancient tree looks brutally gnarled, with many broken limbs rotting on the woodland floor. I note how many stronger competitors are growing up around it, some exploiting spaces created by a large fallen stem. It is in this decaying stem that I see slime mould. There are patches of this around the Common, always on pieces of wood so decayed it is hard to believe there is anything left to give. 

My attention is on the trees, notable and ‘possible notables’ (PosNots, as I call them), but I clock the primrose by the flowing boundary stream that wraps from ‘Deep Pond’ and I tread carefully around carpets of bluebells, which have yet to produce a stem or flowers. Gorse is in flower, and catkins gradually flaking away. 

There’s a good deal of Hairy Curtain Crust (Stereum hirsutum) about on an immature, decayed oak stem on the boundary mound, west of Shallow Pond; then again south of ‘The Mire’ on fallen stems, branches and twigs and on what I call the ‘Rocking Horse Head’ a decaying branch of fallen notable Beech No.7 (the rotten trunk of which played host to bracket fungus when noted in 2010 and still has a small colony of ‘Artist’s Bracket’ (Gandoerma applantum). 

Jelly Ear is out in abundance too, on a long decayed Hornbeam branch also between Shallow Pond and the western boundary, but also on a branch used in den building. Brownish in colour, rubbery, gelatinous texture growing on dead and decaying wood in this case most likely on beech (or possibly willow). How I identify one long, rotted branch from another is currently beyond my skills, though indeed, these old branches used for making dens are from different trees. The local trees are Beech, Hornbeam and Oak, with noticeable swathes of Silver Birch, and willow elsewhere. 

Slime mould is not a fungus (nor is it a plant or animal). On first appearance, I think of them as a branch of polypores; they appear in similar spots, but of course they’re not using graving to release spores from pores. The release as such comes as the entire slime mould body transmogrifies from a white, gluttonous mass with a thin skin into a dried out, firm dry nodule, which eventually crumbles away (some of the decayed tree stem with it) into dust. I first spotted a couple (possibly the same mass in two lumps) on a long decayed broken stem of Silver Birch in ‘The Mire’ to the south of the Common. In the past week, this has changed from a white, glutinous mass the size of my fist to a brown nodule that is softening and will soon crumble to dust. I found another on a long-fallen, well-decayed Hornbeam branch under the Veteran Hornbeam (No. 5).  

The sound of spring, birds and bees, is somewhat diminished by the slow rumble, then roar, of jets departing and arriving at Gatwick airport (20 miles to the northwest; Chailey, like Lewes, is on a direct flight path from Seaford, one of the busiest airspaces on the planet). 

The Scarlet elfcup has been consumed by the locals—I’m thinking slugs and birds. Do squirrels or rabbits nibble on them? The only whole Scarlet elfcup left is tucked well amongst the branches. Humans do a neater job of foraging. I don’t forage on ‘my patch,” as it were. As an area that ought to be designated an area of Scientific Interest we ought not to forage (IMHO)

Black witch’s butter, or jelly fungus, has appeared on long-fallen Hornbeam here too. Black, gelatinous, smooth, and shiny. I think of it more as “Crow’s Snot” if we need a more suitable PC wording. Spores are produced on tiny bumps that are scattered across this fruiting body. 

I said hi to the notable Beech with companion oak (no. 31) and a nearby long-dead and fallen Hornbeam (though another fallen Hornbeam has life in it yet). 

I also make note of a companion ‘winner takes all’ (as I classify them): Hornbeam—one long, dead. I have a growing collection of ‘companions,” which I am sure demonstrate that there is nothing symbiotic going on here, not between different species nor between the same species—one or the other eventually trumps the others. All of these are conflated by holly or yew, or trees falling across their paths. 

I also make note of PosNots, which are possible notable trees that may have been missed in the 2010/2013 surveys. This is an oak with honeysuckle growing from one fat stem, as well as ferns and lots of lichen and moss, with other ‘ancient’ characteristics of rotten branches and fallen decaying branches. It is by the path running north and south towards the southeast corner.

Returning from this sortie I inspect the ‘Oyster’ log and half-living stump. It has a fungus or slime mould all over the bark. There are no remaining signs that Oyster mushrooms were ever here. 

Holly is shedding copious leaves; I guess this is because the canopy will imminently close into semi-darkness and the over-winter advantage Holly has is gone.

I circle what I have called the ‘Arthur Rackham’ Hornbeam. I imagine it suffered damage in the storm of October 1987 and has been growing back ever since. I find it wonderfully photogenic and atmospheric. Once the canopy closes in it is hidden in the gloom – another indication that it may struggle to survive against younger competing trees.

Nature Notes from Sussex Woods

Grey willow catkins, gorse in flower, slime mould, split gills, bitter oyster, half consumed scarlet elfcup, emerging bluebells, notable hornbeams and beech, and the trickle of a woodland stream – some of the pleasures of a walk in the woods in March. The rain was needed. The ground was brittle and hard after a dry February. All of this, and large fallen limbs from trees, and ancient woodland bank boundaries.

Life Drawing at Charleston

I’m in the Hay Barn life drawing at least 10 times a year and have possibly done 50 or more of these in the last six years, yet I also pack to go with trepidation, as if I will be doing a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon and will forget how to keep my balance.

With the restaurant closed we take lunch. As usual I scrape some of last night’s lunch into a tupperware box, add some rice, take some soya milk, decaf: coffee and water.

Materials include: wallpaper backing, A3 sketch pad and a small sketch pad. I also took watercolour pencils, pastels, a large variety of pencils and charcoal. The rest I leave to the organiser Silvea Macrea-Brown: easel, drawing board and clips … and providing a model.

Liz is back

Liz inspired me last summer to move my art into the garden and start producing additional works based on the sketches made during these life drawing sessions. I took a long a display book containing some of my early efforts a printmaking too – featuring her.

There’s a pattern to the session. Arrivals between 9:50 and 10:05am for a 10.00am start. Chairs into a semi-circle, set up, some introductions and small talk: hello Susie, Ken, Charles, Lucinda, Laura etc: hello Silvia. Good to see you again Liz.

I tape three layers of wallpaper backing paper to a drawing board; this is how I start. three, four or five fast sketches on the single sheet just to ‘get my hand it’ – something might come out of it, something bold with a sense of movement and mood, or not.

Just relax. I tell myself. Let go. Follow the advice. Be bold, be fast, use my left hand.

Not wax crayons today, but something more sophisticated: pastels. I soon learn that they don’t have the rigidity of a child’s wax crayon. I break most of the box and get as much pastel onto me as I do the paper. That, and as I get through the sheets I smudge a lot.

I think I’ll go back to wax crayon! I can be more brutal with the movement. And this two tone thing might work better. I can’t see if I got much from this exercise other than warming up my hand/shoulder and brain. I like some of the colour combinations though.

These poses were around 3 minutes each.

For a short spell I used a fancy Japanese biro I got from Lawrences – it behaves more like the Lamy fountain pen I’ve used before. Saves on paper; I get a few drawings per page.

And as I show above, I try drawing with my left hand for a few minutes. Had I stuck with this a little longer it is surprising how quickly the non-dominant hand can pick up where the dominant hand left off. There are advantages to this – it frees up the mind, opens up the subconscious, offers you the unexpected.

I then revert to the larger sheets, each drawing complete in around 2 minutes. My aim is to create something simple and expressive that I can use in larger format, as a print. maybe a mural on a wall. I like to think big. One drawing per page, using, for want of a change, watercolour pencils, sometimes as a pair, rather than sketching with a soft HB or large pieces of charcoal.

The longer poses rarely work for me. I become too fiddly and exact. Perhaps I should be drawing large. I’m not good at slowing it down, even though my taught methodology was the three hour pose with a great deal of measuring and careful, exact placing of the image on the page. Not today, not today. Maybe instead of one 35 pose I should break it into 10 poese, or certainly 6 or 7.

Lunch was before or after these. We take over a large, Arthurian round table in the restaurant for an hour. I spent a good deal of time at talking to Liz about her music, planned travels to the Congo and ways to get more attention for her singing and songwriting.

Afterwards, it is back to the drawing-board – literally.

I took along my Liz Portfolio of chine collée prints I have made over the last two weeks. Silvea liked these and asked for photos. Liz liked them too so I let her pick on. She went for something simple – the blue block of colour over her torso in mid ‘qi-dong’.

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