| These dew ponds have been on the Downs possibly since medieval times|
|The trees cast long shadows over the curving slopes of the South Downs as the sun rises. Dark clouds dissipate and drift off towards the sea. A chalk and grass track winds up and down into the distance. Beside the track is a large dish-shaped mound, edged by bushes. This dew pond – as with the others along the Downs – has been here as long as the sheep, possibly dating back to medieval times. The chalky soil allows rainwater to drain straight down into the ground, so farmers dug circular troughs to catch water for their flocks.|
The base of the pond was usually lined with straw and puddled clay, which was wetted and beaten down to create an impermeable surface. A layer of burnt lime was used to stop worms breaking up the clay. It was once thought that the main source of water was the dew but the ponds simply catch rain. Sheep still graze in the neighbouring field.
Nearby, in one of the field margins, an open area attracts dozens of rabbits, which hop, chase, chew and wash. A grey partridge stands guard while its chicks bounce around it. A brown hare emerges from the tall grass and flowers, its black-tipped ears flicking over its back. Soft peewit cries announce the arrival of a group of five lapwings. They too linger on the chalk, picking up insects among the stones and small flowers. One of the lapwings is paler than the others, with scalloping on its lighter green back, and grey-green neck markings. Its short tuft is the final clue that this is a juvenile – a very rare sign that these birds still breed on the South Downs.
Suddenly the rabbits dart for cover and the young lapwing scurries into the long grass while two adults swoop into the air, calling furiously. The low-flying shapes of two red kites cast broad shadows across the ground. The lapwings dive-bomb the raptors, which unhurriedly float away over the fields and down the slopes.