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Stepping Out - half term walk

A STEEP learning-curve awaited the small group of people who responded to a dual invitation to explore Bexhill’s beautiful Highwoods.

The Half-Term Walk is an established tradition, organised jointly as part of Bexhill Museum’s Stepping Out series of informative town walks and by hosts Highwoods Preservation Society.

This year’s event was in memory of former museum volunteer and HPS president and woodland warden Alan Malpass, who died two years ago.

Sadly, the day was cold and windy. But what the Wednesday, June 1 walk lacked in numbers it made up for both in the wealth of fascinating facts revealed by the walk-leaders and by the close interest shown by both young and old.

The Half-Term Walk is aimed primarily as an introduction to the magic of this Site of Special Scientific Interest. Alan Malpass used to quip that “well-behaved adults” were also welcome…

With his gift for putting over a serious point through the medium of humour, Alan would also ask a youngster at the start of the walk how many eyes they had, how many ears and “how many mouths.”

His message was that if they used eyes and ears twice and much as their mouths they would be rewarded by seeing and hearing far more!

Walk-leaders Heather Morrey of Bexhill Museum and HPS chairman John Heasman and woodland warden Alan Dengate soon proved the point.

A two-hour stroll along the Janet Baker access-for-all trail and back through a recently-coppiced section of the woods revealed some gems.

Alan placed his hand onto a Wood Ants’ nest to demonstrate how the ants squirt painful formic acid to protect their domain. His hand was immediately covered with angry ants. The visitors learned how Jays and Crows use Wood Ants to rid themselves of mites.

The visitors saw the pond created in memory of Alan Malpass and found Alans’ favourite woodland poems on notices. They saw Jays, Blue Tits, Nuthatches and other woodland birds using the HPS feeding tables. They visited “Woodhenge” the circle of tree-trunk stools created for the forest schools which operate in the woods.

They learned how the ancient tradition of coppicing helps maintain the health of the woods and provide a variety of habitat for wildlife and saw forest school members scampering about the woods.

They were shown how the Leaf Miner burrows between the layers within a tree leaf and how Birch Polypore Fungus helps break down decaying dead timber.

Sadly, the group missed by a single day the fledging of a Great Spotted Woodpecker chick which had earlier been observed plucking up the courage to launch itself from its nest-hole 20ft from the ground in a dying Scots Pine.

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