Butterflies and why they matter!

Butterfly Conservation’s Bill Downey engaged the Friends of Juniper Hall with a feast of photos of these beautiful creatures of the summer – a welcome diversion on a damp November day. Evolving alongside flowering plants over the past 150 million years, their existence remains sensitive to changing conditions due to their short life cycles. They represent canaries in the mine and are closely monitored through 155 long-term survey transects orchestrated by Bill in Surrey alone. These contribute to the evidence of a worrying situation with 80% declines since the 1970s. Bill and teams of volunteers work hard to enhance habitats for butterflies, promoting the growth of the all-important food plants for their caterpillars, such as kidney vetch and horseshoe vetch on the North Downs.

Bill put our knowledge to the test with photos of six different species some had previously lumped together as ‘cabbage whites’ (large whites, small whites, green-veined whites, brimstones, orange tips and wood whites)! He limited the quiz on ‘blues’ to those found on chalk grasslands – still an impressive number of stunning little butterflies with exquisite and subtly different markings.

Secret Life of Seals

The Friends of Juniper Hall’s latest talk – on Thursday 12th October – delved into the fascinating secret life of seals! As always, the talk was followed by a hearty lunch of soup, sandwiches and dessert and a chance for a good natter.

One of Juniper Hall’s Tutors, Stephen Savage, fondly recollects the young rescued seal that occupied his bath one night back in 1994, starting him off on an enduring passion for studying and conserving seals on the Sussex coast.  Sussex hosts both harbour seal and grey seal species in its waters, told apart mainly from the shape of their heads.  In addition, each individual animal has a unique set of markings on its coat. 

Now the Sussex “County Recorder” for sea mammals, Stephen has been instrumental in building a photographic database of the county’s individual seals, and tracking their movements with the help of increasing submissions of mobile phone photos taken by members of the public. This has helped uncover that it is mainly transient young seals that habitually use the Sussex coast and rivers until they mature and move on to suitable breeding habitats such as those found around Norfolk.  

Stephen has spent countless hours watching seals going about their lives, hunting fish (commonly mullet), hauling out and resting on the county’s river banks and in the outer part of Eastbourne’s Royal Sovereign Harbour, and studying their interactions with swans, cows and other animals, and their responses to human disturbances like boats, people and their dogs. He has helped establish seal protection areas and continually promotes the importance of giving seals space and tranquility, delighting in their presence from a respectful distance. 

Mid-summer evening dinner & AGM

The Friends of Juniper Hall members gathered for dinner overlooking the front lawn which was full of excited student activity in the summer evening sunshine – so good to see Juniper Hall delivering its core function of getting people out enjoying the natural environment.

Before the wine and wonderful food was our AGM where our Chair, Mavis, reported 2022 as a good year – the first full year of Friends activity since Covid. Treasurer, Bryony, reported a good financial year and Centre Manager, Maddy, made us all smile describing the value of the projects we were able to fund last year at Juniper Hall: 25,000 students have already used the new teaching pond, and in this month alone, 500 students have used the dining room benches. We were also celebrating the 35 years that David Streeter has been at the helm of the Friends as President, presenting him with a ‘Thank You’ rose and some wine as he retires.

Gardening for Wildlife

The attentive May talk audience relaxed as one of our members, Peter Almond, described how gardening for wildlife is as much about what you don’t do as what you do do. Peter gave us an entertaining insight into the gradual development of his garden into a wildlife haven, creatively providing food, water, shelter and breeding sites for a lovely diversity of species.

The talk dispelled some of the common myths about wildlife gardening: it’s not only large gardens that are good for wildlife but each one of the millions of small gardens is also really important; it’s not only native plants that support wildlife but a diversity of plants is important; it’s not always a good thing to feed birds, but only if the feeders are kept clean.

Some easy wins Peter enjoyed were raising the head of his mower on its less frequent outings from the shed, and observing ‘No Mow May’; leaving leaves, leaving seed heads as food for birds over winter, leaving piles of logs, and definitely leaving all pesticides firmly on the shop shelves. Some of his positive actions included installing a pond, creating a compost heap, introducing a fruit tree and a perennial wildflower meadow now buzzing with insect life.

Some poignant words Peter read from Pam Ayres’ “The Last Hedgehog” lingered on the air as we left for the dining room. . . . .

Pond dipping and tending the raised beds

Having marvelled at the water boatmen, caddis fly larvae, pond snails, water fleas and other exciting inhabitants of the new pond, a small band of new volunteers joined Juniper Hall’s Grounds and Estates Officer, Jeremy, clear the raised beds and herb garden and plant some bulbs and wonderfully scented herbs. The single April shower of the day coincided nicely with a break for lunch and Juniper Hall cakes!

Blue Carbon and the Magic of Mangroves

Friends of Juniper Hall’s March meeting – a fascinating exploration of the long-understood role played by mangrove forests in stabilising coastlines and providing nursery areas, and the role for which they are becoming increasingly important – that of storing carbon. Our speaker, FSC’s Simon Waller, related case studies from around the tropical world, documenting the concerning declines in these habitats from varied pressures, and some of the efforts to protect and restore them.

Christmas lunch

The Friends joined the staff for their annual festive three-course lunch on 9th December, followed by a relaxed chat over coffee and an update from Maddy, the Centre Manager. Maddy reflected that this was the first Christmas lunch for three years as a result of the pandemic, but Juniper Hall had returned to its vibrant existence, filled with the buzz of excited students exploring the natural world.