RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...The drum roll which announces a new year

I heard my first great spotted woodpecker in early January down at Apuldram church. I love that rattle on the dead branch. It always announces a new year.

A month later one was drumming his song on the old dead oak that stands in the coppice wood. To the very top the cock bird flew. He is recognised by the red patch on his head.

I watched him through my binoculars. Like a percussionist in an orchestra he positioned himself ready, with legs apart firmly planted to balance the blows. I could see him getting ready, shifting his grip.

He stared at the instrument he was about to hit, turned head this way then that. Seemed to take a deep breath, then raised his head on that springy neck and let fly with his beak. His drum roll went out across the wood, a good half mile in all directions.

The oak stick standing as hard as iron at the very top of the oak vibrated enough to make the faintest blur. It was polished white by the weather.

It is a treasured sounding board for these birds. His grandfather had used it.

How many people in Sussex have heard the great spotted roll his rataplan? Quite a few according to information received by the Sussex Ornithological Society and published in their annual report. A total of 2,750 records were confirmed at 106 sites and probables for another 125.

It is classed as common resident, compared to the green woodpecker as a fairly common resident of medium conservation concern. In comparison, the magpie is a very common resident. This gives an idea of their status then.

It is encouraging because a great number of landowners are leaving dead trees standing upright, which is what woodpeckers need. Of course this may simply be a result of landowners leaving their woods to fend for themselves, judging by the vast acreage of hazel coppice wood in the south which has been abandoned and used simply as land investment sink holes.

I see many dead trees on my walks around the county and have to conclude landowners don’t know they are there.

Then there are others, more responsible perhaps, who have purposefully left dead trees knowing they are no hazard to human safety and will be used by the large number of Red Data insect species from beetles to wasps which must also have dead dry standing upright timber.

Top of that food chain are the wonderful woodpeckers.

That certainly is how this nature reserve works at West Dean. The old oak with the woodpecker clapper died 15 years ago, is still upright, is completely bald of any bark for ten years, is riddled with holes and is a valued part of the orchestra which helps play the spring symphony of natural notation, a wake-up call in the woods.