Last week Matt and I were lucky enough to spare an hour or two to have a look around the wet heath areas on Black Down with Sussex Dragonfly Society recorder and expert John Luck. John really knows his stuff and its always a pleasure discussing habitat management with him as well as seeing what we can find around the ponds.

The wet heath on Black Down is a really important habitat, and one that we had been worried about due to alternating very wet and very dry weather patterns.

Its looking good at the moment though and was bursting with life.

Dragonflies have long been a favourite of mine, they are masters of the air, supreme hunters that live fascinating life cycles. They spend most of their lives as larvae in the ponds where they are the terror of other water bourne invertibrates which they hunt mercilessly. Then (after as much as 2 years under the water) they crawl up a likely looking plant stem, shed their larval coat and emerge blinking into the sunlight to spend a few brief weeks on the wing. They mate, lay their eggs and then die as the seasons advance.

In the photo above I caught a Southern Hawker on the wing buzzing over the top of the Common Darter perched on the log. Southern Hawkers are pretty big insects, with a wingspan approaching 10cm. They are incredible in the air, if you get chance to go for a walk up on Black Down (or by your local pond if you can’t get here) I would recomend spending a few minutes seeing if you can spy a hawker on the wing, its pretty impressive.

Black Down is the most important site in West Sussex for the Black Darter dragonfly, you can see it there in numbers unlike anywhere else in the county. They are our smallest dragonfly species, and a bit more shy than the big hawkers, they are really pretty though, especially the newly emerged ones, which have a glossy sheen to their fresh new wings.

There are lots of Common Darters up there on the wing at the moment too. They make a really vibrant splash of colour in the air over the ponds as their red bodies catch the sunlight. If you are patient and spend a bit of time watching them getting to know their flight patterns, just occassionally you get rewarded with a really close up view.

On an entirely different topic all together… I spent yesterday on the Isle of Wight helping our collegues over there round up goats, ah the glamour of a job with an NT countryside team!

The staff from the island came over last year to help us make shingles for Speckled Wood. They were the best performing group we had and between them did really well for us, thanks guys. (The prize for most shingles by an individual vollunteer went to Paul from CNN in London, thanks to him too!). So we reckoned we owed them a return favour, that favour was called in yesterday.

On Tennysons Down above Ventor on the southern tip of the island the trust has a small flock of goats grazing on the steep slopes helping to keep the scrub at bay. Once a year the goats are rounded up to be checked over, foot trimmed and generally be given a goaty MOT.

We were there to help, because its a very steep large hill with lots of hidden valleys and woodland on it for the goats to hide in. The days volunteers were lined up at one end of the hill and between us all we drove the goats ever forward across the slopes towards a pen at the far end. It was tough work, on very steep slopes, the view out to see was spectacular though, and a trip to the island (with a brief paddle in the sea on the way back to the ferry) made for a nice change and a bit of a breath of fresh air.