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Waterfall Little Roar

Little Roar Ghyll All photos by Zelly Restorick

Lost Little Roar rediscovered

A lost temperate rainforest world is soon to be revealed in the heart of Hastings, reports HOT’s Zelly Restorick. Since April, a team of people, paid and volunteer, have been involved in clearing a path through the wilderness to re-discover the lost beauty of Little Roar ghyll, a waterfall in the depths of Alexandra Park. Sibling to the better known Old Roar, Little Roar has been largely inaccessible to any but the most determined of human visitors since the Great Storm of 1987.

‘How many towns can say that they have their own waterfall?’, asks Martin Felstead, Sussex Wildlife Trust’s ‘Access to Nature’ Project Officer with a smile. Martin is part of the team currently working within the nature reserve in Alexandra Park. ‘You hear people talking about the poverty in Hastings and that it’s a deprived area, but we’re rich when it comes to our parks and woodlands. And being in them is free to everyone.’

One of the first questions I asked Martin was the meaning of the word ‘ghyll’ or ‘gill’? It’s believed to date back to the 11th century Norse word ‘gil’, meaning ‘steep sided valley’. ‘Ken Brooks, a local geologist, famous for his discoveries of dinosaur footprints at Rock A’ Nore, says it is rare to find such an example of geological exposure in an urban landscape’, Martin explained. ‘One hundred and forty million years ago, this area was part of a huge river system stretching to what is now France, although at the time, the English Channel didn’t exist. Dinosaurs such as the iguanodon would have roamed here. It’s like a mini Jurassic Park.’

Ashdown Sandstone is the main geological ingredient of the rock face, with a layer of softer Wadhurst Clay at the bottom, causing the waterfall to slowly-slowly retreat upstream. When heavy rain falls, the waterfall is transformed. Within 5-10 minutes, flash-flood water is vigorously flowing over the rocks and plants. A couple of project volunteers who’d witnessed this, told me it was truly an awe-inspiring sight.

The ancient river system cut a deep valley into the landscape, creating an eco-system rich in flora and fauna. A stream now runs along the bottom and the steep banks are populated by 4-500 year old ancient woodland trees, stretching their branches up to the sky. With only a few gaps in the canopy, the area is constantly shaded, damp and humid, creating an unusual eco-system. Experiencing only a small temperature range, the environment is sheltered on a frosty night or a hot day giving rise to an interesting variety of plant-life including long-established mosses, lichen, ferns and bracket fungi. It provides a safe haven for all kinds of insects, birds and animals, especially as no herbicides, pesticides or chemicals have been used here.

However, the work team discovered plenty of evidence of human activity in the seemingly inevitable form of miscellaneous rubbish, including scaffolding apparatus, fishing line and equipment, construction material, pipes, plastic bags and other detritus, either washed down the valley by the rains or dumped from the backs of people’s gardens. Happily, thanks to the hard work of the project team, this is all cleared now.

‘How will the area be affected by the increase in human traffic?’, I asked Martin, wondering if it might have been better for these other species if the area had remained hidden. ‘We’re building a specific path and we hope that people will stick to the path and be respectful of the area’, he explained. ‘No good letting fear of misuse get in the way. How can people learn about and appreciate nature if it’s inaccessible?’

Little Roar Ghyll viewing platform

Little Roar Ghyll viewing platform

The work includes constructing a viewing deck, a path with edging and steps leading to an interpretation board, showing details of the geology of the area, the flora and fauna and photos from the past of a frozen Little Roar and a Victorian gentlewoman visitor to Old Roar Ghyll, plus a painting of the area as it is now by Martin Felstead. ‘We hope it will be useful to all visitors, but especially teachers and their students visiting the area,’ explained Martin. Alison Hawkins, Hastings Museum archivist, has also been immensely helpful, sharing her knowledge and insights about this part of the park.

Poets and artists of the Romantic Movement were particularly drawn to this area, as were the Victorians, who loved it’s gothic, grotto-like atmosphere and used it as a venue for tea parties. It fell into disuse in the 1930’s – and until recently, the trees felled by the Great Storm in the 80’s had formed a natural obstruction to most visitors of the human variety.

The viewing platform, edging, the steps and the interpretation board have all been made from recycled plastic bottles, built by two companies, one based in the UK and one in Holland. Designed to last for fifty years, there won’t be any large maintenance bills for the local council.

Once opened to the public, the area will be included in the council rangers’ and environmental police patrols, plus it’s hoped that local residents and volunteers will help with looking after and maintaining the environment.

Martin and Derek at Little Roar Ghyll

Martin Felstead and Derek Wheeler at Little Roar Ghyll

The initiative has come from Sussex Wildlife Trust as part of their three year ‘Access to Nature’ project, which will finish at the end of 2012. The aims of the project are ‘to create new opportunities for local people to engage with and benefit from nature, specifically targeting those people who are unfamiliar with natural spaces’. They’ve also worked at Church Wood in Hollington and Summerfields Wood in Bohemia. Big Lottery provided the funding and Natural England, a government body that oversees nature issues, has also been involved.

It’s been wet, slippery and tough work, exacerbated and often delayed by the rain of recent months. Twenty tonnes of flint have been brought into the area, greatly helped by Alan Taylor Groundworks of Hastings, who has been especially generous with his time and advice. Volunteers from Hastings Trust and the Prince’s Trust and members of the Ranger Service have also provided invaluable help in the design and construction of the pathway and platform.

Martin spoke to me about the health giving properties of being in natural spaces and the link between being in nature and increased emotional, physical and mental well-being. ‘Children and adults change when they’re in places like this – both their behaviour and their attitude to life.’

Derek Wheeler, one of the volunteers from Hastings Trust, told me how being involved had benefited him. ‘It’s giving me something to do and means I’m not sitting at home looking at four walls. It gets me out of the house. I’m enjoying it… it’s good to be out in the fresh air. I didn’t know this place was here and I’ll definitely come back when it’s finished – to relax. It’s a wonderful place.’

Work will be finished in a couple of months – and would have been completed much earlier barring the weather conditions – but at the moment, it’s still a construction site and not open to members of the public due to health and safety considerations.

Southern Water are also busy cleaning up the local water system. £1.5 million has been invested in the Old Roar Ghyll Pollution Prevention Scheme, which began in May. Heavy rains have overloaded the combined water system, causing manholes to overflow, discharging a combination of surface and storm water and sewage, which has flooded and polluted the ghyll. As the water from the valley flows into the sea, this is vital environmental work, which will greatly improve the water quality. Work is scheduled to be completed in October of this year.

Plant life

Long established plant life

So, by the autumn, Little Roar will be open to [hopefully respectful and thoughtful] visitors, offering a tranquil and peaceful space to anyone seeking some time away from life’s frantic pace.

Let me end with a lovely story Martin told me about one man who had visited the area whilst the team were working, having been told by his doctor to find natural running water, where released ions would help his respiratory problems. Within a short time of sitting by the waterfall, he was breathing normally, no longer needing his regular breathing aids. “Life wouldn’t be worth living’, he said, ‘if it wasn’t for places like this.’

o Sussex Wildlife Trust : www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk : Taking Care of Sussex

Also found on Facebook and Twitter

The aim of Sussex Wildlife Trust : to conserve and enhance the Sussex landscape, its wildlife and habitats and inspire people to care about their natural environment to help safeguard our country for future generations.

o Natural England : www.naturalengland.org.uk

o Southern Water : www.southernwater.co.uk

o Hastings Museum and Art Gallery : www.hmag.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted 17:16 Tuesday, Aug 21, 2012 In: Green Times

Also in: Green Times

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