Project area parishes

The Parish of Ebernoe: History and Wildlife by Frances Abraham

The parish of Ebernoe was formed in 1988 from outlying parts of Kirdford, Northchapel and Petworth parishes, and it still has the atmosphere of a place which is not quite a place. It consists of the hamlets of Colhook, Ebernoe itself, and Balls Cross, but there is no village centre. At its heart are the three wooded commons of Colhook Common, Ebernoe Common and Langhurst Common.

Ebernoe owes its rich wildlife partly to its complex geology – in some places the Weald Clay is laced with bands of limestone and sandstone, and in others overlaid by acidic soils – and partly to its history. This area on the heavy clay was settled later than southern parts of Sussex with lighter soils, and retained its ‘Wildwood’ for longer. In the Saxon period cattle and pigs were driven northwards to the Wealden forests to feast on acorns and beechmast, but it was probably not until the land hunger (and iron-shod ploughs) of the thirteenth century that permanent settlements were created and fields were cultivated. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries this was an industrial area, with ironworks and glassworks using the abundant wood for fuel, locally dug minerals, and water for power. When heavy industry moved to the Midlands as coal and coke replaced wood, an agricultural peace descended.

Just as the ‘Wildwood’ had been grazed by large herbivores such as Wild Boar, the Commons were grazed by domestic cattle and pigs until WWII. This has created their characteristic patchwork of high forest, scrub and open grassy, flowery glades. The varied structure accounts in large part for the exceptionally rich wildlife of the Commons, which support at least 70 plant species indicative of ancient woodland, alongside species of old grassland and heathland in the glades. In places there are huge old oaks and beeches. Fungi and invertebrates benefit from dead wood, and bats roost and breed under the loose bark of old trees. Butterflies include white admirals and purple emperors.

Beyond the Commons are numerous coppices, most of which also contain species of ancient woodland, such as bluebell, wood anemone and wild daffodil. A few small pastures, mainly those in awkward, hard-to-cultivate sites, have survived the onslaughts of twentieth century agriculture, and have plants indicative of old grassland such as cowslip, sneezewort, dyer’s-greenweed and pepper-saxifrage. Many of the small farm ponds have gone, but Furnace Pond on Ebernoe Common, created to power an iron furnace by damming a stream, contributes a range of aquatic and marshland species to the parish flora. Some of the hedgerows are exceptionally species-rich, and studies indicate that they may date from the original enclosures of perhaps 700 years ago.

 

The Brick Kiln at Ebernoe Common ©Reuben Beckett

Ebernoe owes its rich wildlife partly to its complex geology – in some places the Weald Clay is laced with bands of limestone and sandstone, and in others overlaid by acidic soils – and partly to its history.