Wildlife: the new Sussex natives
PUBLISHED: 00:16 02 February 2011 | UPDATED: 20:36 20 February 2013
We humans play our part in determining the world around us and the fate of its various species. Mike Russell, of Sussex Wildlife Trust, introduces us to some "new arrivals"
In a naturally functioning world, species come, species go, and some arrive of their own accord while others require a helping hand. There are now a number of birds, animals and plants in Sussex that have arrived and settled with us due, in some way, to human intervention.
The Canada goose has been here for over 400 years so is now really considered a native although it was originally brought over from North America. These big, bold birds are a common sight around fields, lakes and ponds in Sussex and are also happy visiting urban parks providing there is water to swim in and grass to graze.
In their homeland they are an entirely migratory species as they breed in the Tundra but the population that has developed in the UK has no need to migrate so has become a more sedentary species. Hardcore birdwatchers will dismiss them as not real geese, but the sight and sound of a skein of Canada geese passing over your head at dusk is a very evocative experience.
Not yet anywhere near as common as the Canada goose is the Egyptian goose. This is a bird of Africa; if you watch wildlife films about Africa they quite often appear in the background, especially near waterholes. They are common and widespread on that continent and have been venerated since ancient times, often appearing in the hieroglyphics on ancient buildings in Egypt. Smaller than Canada geese but striking in appearance these noisy birds are starting to spread and are now reported regularly in Sussex. Although they originate in a warm climate they seemed to have adapted quite readily to ours and are now very much established as one of 'our' birds.
Like the Egyptian goose, the mandarin duck is also an escapee from wildfowl collections. A native of China, they almost became extinct and it was those ducks that were part of wildfowl collections which have enabled them to be brought back from the brink of extinction. It is now widely thought that there are more wild mandarin ducks in the UK than China! Male mandarin ducks are just exquisite to look at, resembling a delicate wooden carving with a multitude of different colours. Many of those found in Sussex originated from the Arundel Wildfowl Trust from where a few pioneers made it over the boundary fences and colonised Swanborough Lake. They have now spread into many parts of West Sussex and although they are very colourful they are not always easy to see. One surprising fact about mandarins is that they like to nest high up in holes in trees, behaviour you don't normally expect from a duck!
One other pioneer to look out for that I'm sure will become more common in the next few years is the ring-necked parakeet. Residents of south and west London are more than familiar with this bird as they are a common sight with flocks noisily flying across parks and gardens. In fact they are considered by some as a nuisance and pest, particularly where they roost in their thousands near to people's homes.
You would expect exotic birds like these parakeets not to thrive in our climate but they do in fact originate from Nepal and northern India in the Himalayas so can more than cope with our cold winters. There are a few urban myths that have grown up around how they got out into the wild, the two best being that they escaped from Elstree Film Studios during the filming of The Millionairess (where Peter Sellers played an Indian doctor) in 1960, while the other one is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix from his flat in London during the summer of love (1967 for those of you who weren't around at the time!). Neither has been proven but they do make good stories.
Our wildlife will change; either through what we do, changes in the climate or other natural causes. Some will have a negative impact while others will be benign, but it will happen and for most species we might just have to accept their presence and even in some cases, enjoy it.