Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts tagged ‘South Downs National Park’

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Macro Monday 7th May 2020

I was on lockdown leave last week (the holiday you booked last year but aren’t able to go on, not that I’m complaining). One morning I was reading a book on the sofa – Horizons by Barry Lopez, which I haved really enjoyed – and I heard what sounded like very a noisy daddy longlegs entering the room. I looked up and a damselfly was resting on the wall. I ran to get my little camera and took some photos.

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It was a female azure damselfly, the second damselfly I’ve recorded in my garden this year. I helped it onto the tip of my finger and took it over to the window. It flew away and landed on the curtains. The light was beautiful and soft, helped by the curtains. In the end it slipped off into the sunny garden.

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Out there some hyper-goth-punk has taken residence in the raspberry patch. Really I think it’s a vapourer moth. This one will be worth watching. I’ll keep you posted. It’s a nightmare to photograph.

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The cranesbills are flowering now in my garden and they’re a good place to find spiders. They’re a bad place to find spiders if you’re an aphid.

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I’m not sure what kind of spider this is (there is a new book coming out in September that I’m waiting for) but I would guess it was a crab spider. Please let me know if you do.

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Spiders do make you realise how much of a nightmare they would be to sit next to on the bus.

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Ok, I know what you’re thinking: you have a nice garden. You’re too kind, but it’s not mine. This is the South Downs National Park. I visited the South Downs for the first time in three months with one aim in mind: macro.

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At one point this year I didn’t think I’d have the chance to visit the chalk downs. I was prepared for that, because I think the health of the wider populace is more important than getting to look at some flowers in a field, or a wood, whether or not they’re on my dad’s farm in Northumberland. Needless to say I drove the 30 minutes to the South Downs to check my eyesight. I believe I acted reasonably.

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Turns out my eyesight is good but not this good. To really get close to this chalk milkwort I need a macro lens. Lucky for me, I had one! The flowers of this very small plant look to me a bit like spiders, too.

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This rock rose was growing in amongst some of the drier grasslands, starved of decent rain for a long while. May was the sunniest on record. We need rain, so bad.

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It was a windy day up on the Downs and butterflies were having a tricky time of it. To be honest, I can’t remember it not being windy on the Downs…

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I’m fairly certain this is a brown argus, which I hit the deck to get closer to. It was having a wild thyme. I also saw brimstone, common blue and small heath.

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On the lane I picked up this cinnabar moth, a species which is lives on ragwort. They develop from the iconic orange and black caterpillars that you can find on a-plant-so-hated-someone-made-a-website-to-defend-it. In macro terms of keeping beautiful insects distracted long enough to have their picture taken, ragwort has been good to me. I’m a fan.

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You may know that chalk formed about 65 million years ago from the shells of molloscs in an ocean. That ocean is gone but I found a tiny piece of chalk in one of the dusty, dry exposed areas of the grasslands. I think the black spots may be the early development of a lichen. I thought it was so beautiful as an object, like a piece of cave art, its canvas so many millions of years in the making.

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This photo was taken with my macro lens. It was lovely to see a skylark again.

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Ebernoe - 8-11-2019 blog-75

Fungi Friday 3rd April 2020 (or Friday 9th November 2019)

I can’t get out to anywhere that has mushrooms to photograph and we’re also experiencing something of a dry spell in Sussex. That means that this week I’m posting about my fungal highlight of autumn 2019, which took place on Friday 9th November. Consider this a bit of a sporting or cinematic classics TV show, until we’re allowed to venture further and any spring rain arrives. The inconsistent nature of mushroom fruiting bodies means I may have to wheel this out again to keep it going every week.

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It was mid-November with autumn at its peak. The colours of the beech trees were at their most explosive. In the woodlands of the Sussex Weald, there were millions of mushrooms. They seemed to be under every footstep and fruiting from every fallen tree.

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It was clear it was peak mushroom time. The bonnets were out en masse and many leaves were still on the trees. I have come to think that fungi hunting is so much easier before the leaves fall. The leaf litter created by oak and beech is very hefty.

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I would also consider using hazel as an indicator. When those leaves start to yellow and fall, you know it’s going to be more difficult. Winter is on its way.

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Bonnets are some of the best fungi to photograph because they’re often elevated on the limbs of fallen trees, meaning you don’t have to scrabble around on the ground. It’s also a very nice height for a tripod. A tripod gives you the steadiness to use slow shutter speeds which makes it so much easier to take pics in a dark woodland in autumn. Also, mushrooms don’t move!

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What I am looking for in general is a mushroom that can be isolated. A macro lens gives a very shallow depth of field, which means that the focus is thin and the background easily blurs. This kind of thing is perfect. I don’t focus stack images (a complex process of threading images together which have different stages of focus) but this would look really good with every aspect in focus.

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This is also what’s so nice about elevated fungi. You can play around and get some nice bokeh (the circles in the background). This is created by daylight flooding through the leaves – can you see the wash of green? I used a small LED light to light the gills of the bonnets. They look almost like paper or plastic to me. The idea also occurred to me that the white bokeh circles look like the mushrooms, too.

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These are probably more bonnets. Again, taking a photo of the gills underneath can create a really beautiful effect. I could have pulled the bit of dead wood off to reveal the other mushroom but I fundamentally disagree with damaging habitats for the sake of a photo.

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A species I learned last year was buttercap (or at least I think I have). This is said to be a common species. I like the fairytale shape of the stipe as it bulges at the base.

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The woodland was entering peak autumn colour. These beech leaves still held traces of their chlorophyll.

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It was a beautiful day to be in the woods. I can’t tell you how much a woodland stream adds to the overall experience!

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With what is approaching a lake, you’re spoiled rotten.

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Back to the shrooms. I found probably the biggest fungus I have ever seen, though you could argue it is several fruiting bodies fused together. I even added some in-photo text to help explain the situation to you. Very advanced. This is a bracket fungus that looks more like a ray. It’s probably artist’s bracket, a Ganoderma species. Below it you can see some smaller mushrooms, these are all deceivers. They were just about covering the entire area here. It was almost impossible not to step on one. By the way don’t worry that’s my hand not a mushroom burglar’s.

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All in all this was my peak mushroom experience in autumn 2019.

Thanks for reading.

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Blackdown, West Sussex, March 2020

We climb the hill on a winding, muddy path through woodland. The trees are sprawling yew, rotten beech and broken holly. On the thick, black soil holly leaves have fallen. We listen to the spinning coins of a goldcrest’s song as it moves close over our heads in the twigs of a yew. These tiny birds weigh little more than a 20p piece and must eat 90% of their body weight each day to survive in winter.

The light at the top of the hill comes through the branches. Woodland becomes heath of gorse, bilberry and birch. The voices of a walking group echo down as we step up through sandier soils now. A screen of crooked birches are splayed across the view, desperate to keep its secret. Their birchen secret is out.

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From up here, the highest point in the South Downs National Park, the Sussex Weald opens out. Soft brush woods are broken by fields where individual oaks express themselves as they once would have, in landscapes kept open by now extinct herbivores like aurochs and wild horses.

Then there are the folding Downs catching in a spill of light from the west. The beechen clump of Chanctonbury Ring, with the heavy metal orchids of Truleigh Hill further east.

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A woman is here with her son and his girlfriend, walking the dog. She tells them in a faintly Irish accent that you can see the Isle of Wight on a good day. This is not one of those days.

The families and walkers are dissipating and the view is now ours for a moment. Just as the last person leaves, a call rings out from the woodland we crept up through.

One call, and then the truncated follow-up. A tawny owl, calling from the rafters of the Weald at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.

The Sussex Weald

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The Sullington Yew, Sullington, West Sussex

The South Downs is renowned for its ancient churches. Its chalk soils have also proven hospitable to yew trees. Some of the most extensive yew woodlands in the UK (if not Europe) are on the chalk of the North and South Downs in southern England.

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I had a couple of minutes in the village of Sullington at the foot of the South Downs close to Storrington in West Sussex. The village is made up largely of an ancient farmstead and the Church of St. Mary.

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The Sullington yew sits in the churchyard, supposedly 1200 years old. To me it looks like it could be younger due to its lack of hollowing in the heart of the tree. If it’s that old it would pre-date the church by several hundred years. It is true that many yew trees pre-date the churches they share a plot with. Yew trees hold strong spiritual significance to pre-Roman/Saxon Brits who were Pagan. Therefore churches came later, being Christian, on sacred Pagan sites.

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The church itself is built of flint, sandstone and other materials. Part of it is Saxon, meaning it survived the Norman Conquest of 1066. It is thought to originate from 1050.

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Here’s the tree on the Ancient Tree Inventory.

 

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Midhurst - 15-1-2019 blog-1

Flooding from the river Rother in West Sussex

Fungi Friday: 17th January 2020

Storm Brendon rocked up this week in Sussex and gave freedom of movement to the Arun and Rother. Temperatures have tickled 11 degrees but are set to crunch back down this weekend. Mushrooms must think, guys, WTAF?

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I see images of nice looking shrooms on social media, things like velvet shank glowing orange like sweets on tree trunks. All I saw were the melted ice lollies of sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasiculare) on an embankment. It gets worse:

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Probably some bonnets, like a scene from the Netflix drama You. The rain has been too much for these Mycena. But have hope.

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Where there are non-chemical treated fence posts, there is hope. That hope comes in the form of our symbiotic fungi-algae friends, the lichens. This is a great time of year for lichens due to the amount of rain and their resistance to winter weather. They are hard to shift.

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The fruiting bodies here are known as apothecia. I love them. They are like cartoon eyes or mouths. Wonder what they’re trying to say. Obviously it’s a climate warning.

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This one just takes the biscuit. My lichen guide is in Ireland where it belongs, with all the other lichens. So I’m sailing in the dark and just here to appreciate the beauty of these ancient, life-giving organisms.

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These fencing rails are a reminder of how important dead wood is in the biosphere as a structural support for biodiversity. No doubt lots of other organisms will make a home for themselves in these lichens.

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This is a finger post with the yellow being the paint of an arrow pointing in the direction of the public footpath. I love the little apothecia eye cups on the right hand side.

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Living wood also provides a platform for lichens to grow. I can’t cope with the colour range in the species which dominates the image here. They were growing on the bark of a fairly young beech tree. A few people did glance over when they saw me effectively hiding behind the tree with a camera. In actual fact the camera was jammed up against the bark taking macro pics. Still, could have gone wrong.

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Here you can see the brown streaks which are fissures in the maturing bark as it grows. Patches of foliose or leafy lichens are growing in among the crustose species.

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This was their view, an oak tree fanned out before the South Downs ridge. Not a bad place to be for a lichen.

The British Lichen Society are running the hashtag #LichenJanuary. Lichens are for everyone so it’s good to see such a niche group spreading their knowledge to the masses(?) for free.

Thanks for reading and please share any interesting lichen finds (or indeed identifications) in the comments. Some interesting mycological articles this week:

Mushrooms and orange peel: could biotech clean up the building industry?

Ikea to use packaging made from mushrooms that will decompose in a garden within weeks

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Due to Christmas hols I’m a couple of days late to Fungi Friday on my blog, morphing instead to Mushroom Monday!

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time at Lullington Heath in the South Downs National Park. Lullington Heath is a National Nature Reserve with the super rare habitat chalk heath. It had lots of little waxcaps fruiting at the time.

As you can see Lullington Heath is dominated by gorse which affects the diversity of plants and fungi that can prosper there.

The gorse forms a scrubby woodland and provides ample habitat for one of the most striking species of fungus: yellow brain. It’s also known as witches’ butter, a lovely colloquial name that hints at the role fungi has in British folklore.

This is the yellow brain from the pics above. I cut it out before it was cleared and brought it into the sun. I hid it further away in the gorse afterwards.

It’s actually parasitic on crust fungi which you can see on the right hand side here.

Keep an eye out for my fungal year 2019, an account of things I found and photographed this year, which I’ll be hoping to post in January.

Merry Christmas to all the funguys and gals out there!

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Cowdray - 3-12-2019 blog-2

Midhurst, West Sussex, December 2019

The cloud bares blue sky wounds above the Cowdray Ruins, as mist rises from the Rother. The sun breaks from the cover and melts the frosty rushes, droplets glimmer in brambles. Bull rushes thaw like over-frozen choc ices emerging from the bottom of the freezer.

A song thrush sings from the woods nearby and it has little competition. Except for a couple shouting at their dog as it flashes through the low rushes. Imagine if a song thursh was actually just saying ‘kids, go to school’, ‘where’s my breakfast’, ‘what’s the time-what’s the time-what’s the time’. Its beauty would shrivel away and it would become an annoyance. The mystery gives it life.

The dog runs free through the rushes, its paws sloshing as it seeks the scent at the end of its nose. Its owners’ cries grow louder, angry, fear creeping in. With it a small bird, a wader, bursts from the rushes and arrows out towards the town. It has a white breast and a long, thin bill, curving as it reaches the tip. Its wings are sharp like a modern fighter jet. I’m sure it’s a snipe.

The bird will have been roosting over night in the rushes and now will seek more wet grasslands, probably where the Rother snakes behind Midhurst and where there are less people. Not that there are really so many here. On spring evenings they perform an otherworldly song flight, something that I first heard over reedbeds in Poland a few years ago.

They sing in a bizarre, electronic kind of way, but also like someone skilled at blowing through a large blade of grass. That evening I watched it soar and swoop over the reeds and river. Birds hold such potential for us, the promise of their weird songs, in these dark winter months, offers hope.

The Sussex Weald

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WB-MH - 29-8-2019 djg-5

Woolbeding to Midhurst on the New Lipchis Way, West Sussex, August 2019

Download my route for this walk on ViewRanger

In late August 2019 a friend and I took an evening hike on a section of the New Lipchis Way. This was in addition to a previous walk from Midhurst to Singleton. The 7 mile walk began at Older Hill with astonishing views across the heathlands of the Sussex Weald to the hills of the South Downs. It’s easy to forget (or not even realise) how wooded southern England is. The stretches of woodland in the Weald are some of the most contiguous and largest in the UK. In these images they look like the Amazon rainforest. Against the foot of the Downs they offer awe-inspiring views.

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Above heather can be seen in flower, an icon of the Greensand Hills, with birch trees blending with oaks all the way to the Downs.

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Stedham Marsh is a very wet area in winter but we met it on a beautiful evening when a dry period had given us free reign over the tracks and paths.

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Mushrooms were beginning to fruit at this time. The woods were littered with brittlegills (Russula). You can see how dry it is here by the colour of the mushrooms (they’re usually more red) and the leaf litter is crisp.

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We weren’t foraging (and I’m not telling you that you have permission to do so here) but this boletus mushroom had already been uprooted and it made for a lovely image. There were hundreds of mushrooms on this walk.

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My walking buddy Jonathan agreed to pose under this huge Ganoderma bracket fungus.

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Another Boletus edulis along the way. They seem most happy in the drier progression into autumn, before the October storms when much of the leaf cover is pulled down.

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As with all walks in southern England, the walk crossed through farmsteads and settlements. This beautiful carriage was sitting at the side of a track like something from the days of John Clare when gypsies were free to roam the open landscapes of England.

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The Rother is one of the main features of this amazing walk. The river has much of its natural form, winding its way through the area. The sun created long shadows of alder trees in the water.

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Iping bridge is a local icon dating from the 17th century. It reminds me a little bit of the Anglo-Saxon helmet found in the hoard at Sutton Hoo.

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This selection of milk churns is throwback to times past. One of the things you notice about villages in southern England is how they have lost their working class rural element and have become places for wealthier middle class people. If you were here in the early 1900s it would have been different but the shifting rural economies of the post-war period have changed these communities.

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Walking in late August, the trees were heavy with acorns in what turned out to be a mast-year for oaks.

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Stedham Hall is pretty difficult to miss. It is a Victorian building built on top of something much older. How can people cope with so many rooms?

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The walk reaches Midhurst through Woolbeding, an area owned by the National Trust. Here we ended the walk under a pink and purple sky. Herdwick sheep grazed the grasslands between oak trees.

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Arriving in Midhurst you can find plenty of places to rest up after the near 7-mile walk.

The Sussex Weald

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Midhurst astro - 6-11-2019 blog-2

Midhurst, West Sussex, November 2019

Nightfall. The traffic throbs white and red along North Street. The streetlamps light a line of trees penning the cars in against the buildings that crowd one side of the road. The illuminated frame of a church window stands between two black trees like a section of the Taj Mahal.

I’m here to drink in the swelling night sky. Above Midhurst the Plough sits like an advert for something half-formed or untranslated. As the night deepens more stars cluster around iconic constellations I can’t put a name to.

People pass on a couple of occasions, one man greets me, his scotty dog with a green collar glowing around its neck in the dark. The night has not dimmed its senses, it seems enlivened, sniffing at the night with ears pricked up.

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Over the Rother, where it funnels past the Cowdray ruins, the moon draws up mist from the river, matched in the cloud that sits beneath its white beam. Who knows what could be creeping in towards me under that white veil.

Aeroplanes blink and roar in the sky, male pheasants clash in metal at the margins of the wet grasslands separating the Cowdray ruins from the Midhurst traffic. The stars seep through yet more.

Explore the Sussex Weald

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Woolbeding - 6-11-2019 blog-1

The Rother, Midhurst, November 2019

Autumn is entering its deepest phase but summer’s life still has a breath. Along the Rother path a neon spider pushes across the mud into the wet grass. The young oaks stand like upright bonfires burning from green to gold. College students wile away their lunchbreaks on the urban netherlands of the Rother. One young woman sits on the exposed roots of a tree watching the sluice, while another rests her head on the concrete structure supporting a drainage pipe. Her male friend stands by, nervous, unsure of how to respond.

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Passing through the woods the trunk of an ancient hornbeam has been revealed again from the screen of saplings and bramble. The latter’s leaves bright yellow with flecks of red like nicks of flesh. A small flock of tits, wrens and robins lift up at the arable edges, ticking into the green bowers of a mature oak. They cross the felled and repurposed trunk of an old conifer with electrical wires, warning: RISK OF DEATH KEEP OFF.

At the gate into Woolbeding autumn crashes into view. Reds, yellows, and browns glow in a break of the sun from clouds. The South Downs loom in silhouette beyond austere pine plantations on Midhurst Common, framing the autumn trees that edge the fields I’m entering. In the meadows dandelions and knapweeds flower in isolation. The air has warmed in recent days and these flowers have taken their chance.

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Explore the Sussex Weald

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