Landport Bottom update: it’s sheep and orchids season!

As midsummer sneaks up on us, it’s a lovely time to take a walk on Landport Bottom. There are a couple of things to be aware of if you’re heading up to this beautiful site.

Sheep are returning to the Pond field to graze from the week of June 17. This means that any dog walkers must keep their dogs on a lead while walking through this field.

At the same time, the rare orchids – dactylorhiza fuchsii – that grow on the site, will be blooming. This year we are trialling an electric fenced enclosure at the southern end of the Pond field, which will protect the orchids from the sheep. This will be in place for approximately 8 weeks.

Why are there sheep in the field?

Landport Bottom is being slowly restored to natural chalk grassland, an ecosystem only found in North-West Europe which is now very rare, fragmented, and of international conservation importance. This means using sheep grazing to maintain the grassland.

The conservation of Landport Bottom is guided by the Landport Bottom Management Plan, which you can read on this website. According to Sussex Wildlife Trust, chalk grassland is “a habitat so intricately diverse that it has been dubbed the European equivalent of the tropical rainforest.”

What about the orchids?

Given the different ecological requirements of the site, it is always a tricky decision to take as to where to put the sheep when they return from Plumpton after lambing in the early summer.

The Pond field has the thickest sward, and most scrub appearing, so is the obvious choice for the sheep to graze, but it is also where the highest density of orchids are located.

Sheep are rather partial to a tender orchid stem, but we are conscious that ideally, they need to set seed for next year’s growth before getting nibbled.

In an attempt to protect the orchids, and following advice from the SDNPA ranger and Chalk ranger we have taken the decision to work with Plumpton college to trial an electric fence enclosure to keep the sheep out of the main orchid growing area.

Where will the fence be?

The fence will be located at the southern end of the Pond field and will not cross any existing paths, only being located in the centre of the field.

The fencing will appear and stay for approximately 8 weeks after the orchids appear which will give them a chance to sew seed.

We ask that people are mindful in keeping children and dogs away from the fence to avoid any unexpected shocks. In line with our existing policy, dogs should be on a lead and under close control at all times when livestock are in the field.