Staff Nature Walk around the Estate

Words by David, Vineyard Team Member

Last week, I took an evening stroll around the Rathfinny Estate.

It was a rather special, memorable evening, shared with a group of fellow Rathfinny people. Our guide, Rathfinny’s Brand Ambassador, Richard James, led us on an educational walk and talk about the biodiversity in the Cradle Valley. I’ve worked at the Vineyard for a few years and live next to the South Downs National Park so I really didn’t expect so many surprises. How wrong I was!

Let’s set the scene

Richard, like so many of us at Rathfinny, wears more than one hat. He has a background in ecology, with an intimate knowledge of the local natural environment. We climbed the wooded ridge that faces the south side of the Estate, bathed in the amber colours of a perfect, chilly, autumn sunset. From this elevated position, the entire scope of Rathfinny is breath-taking. It’s not just the sight of the wide expanse of row after row of vines- green symmetrical pencil lines drawn along the valley floor- that catches the eye. It’s the accompanying stillness and serenity that is so uplifting. The stillness is interrupted by birdsong; green woodpecker, wren, buzzard, kestrel, great tit, wheatear announcing early autumn. A huge flock of Brent Geese, in perfect ‘V’ formation, flies low overhead on their evening journey to Cuckmere Haven, the cacophony of the avian equivalent to a Vulcan bomber.

Skylark Field at Rathfinny
Eye Bright Flower

Biodiversity in the South Downs

Below our feet, Richard explains Rathfinny’s ongoing work, along with the National Trust, to support and reintroduce the biodiversity of the South Downs. One square metre of Downs grassland can have greater biodiversity than an equivalent patch of sub-tropical forest. Reduction of invasive species such as tor-grass, too rough and sharp for sheep, no problem for cattle to munch and trample. Or Cotoneaster, a highly invasive garden escapee. Just two examples that need to be controlled.

Natural Products

We marvelled at the tiny, narrow Yellow Wort, its single stem supporting two evenly spaced, integrated leaves and a single muted yellow flower. Its design allows it to collect water straight from leaf to stem, so it doesn’t need to encroach on other plant spaces in order to survive. Salad Burnet, its leaves a substitute for cucumber. Great Mullein, used by the Romans as a sandal softener. Eyebright, popular with Victorian women, it made their eyes weep and therefore appear more attractive!

Spider at Rathfinny
Sunset Sparkling Wine

A Wasp Spider?

The Solitary Bee is abundant at Rathfinny. The females make single burrows where they await the arrival of a passionate male. A Wasp Spider in the middle of its inexplicable Z shaped web. Encouraged by the wild flowers introduced among the vines, tiny black bees hover near ground level, dining on insects harmful to vines. One day, these may help reduce the need for pesticides.

Back at the Tasting Room, we watched the sun dip behind the ridge through the lens of a glass of Sussex Sparkling. What a way to end such an informative, entertaining stroll!

Vineyard Map
Self-guided tour

Vineyard Walking Trail

Like the sound of David’s walk? Then why not come and explore the Estate for yourself! Collect a free trail map from the Cellar Door which is open 10am-5pm daily. Dogs are welcome on a lead.