RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Dedicated band preserving our rich heritage

FIFTY-FIVE of us gathered in a Selsey home for an evening of talk and food.

The sofas and chairs overflowed. There was excited chatter: of water voles and roe deer, of bats and blackthorn bushes, Bracklesham Bay and Medmerry Marshes.

This was the Manhood and Wildlife Heritage Group.

They are utterly dedicated to the conservation of good old Selsey Bill, a place I too have loved for 50 years.

This was the seal sea of ancient time that became Celseye, Selesia; where St Wilfred set up his cathedral in AD 680, where Patrick Moore gazed at the stars, where Eric Coates wrote the Desert Island Discs theme tune, where air speed record holder Teddy Donaldson lived and sped at over 600 miles per hour over the Sleepy Lagoon offshore.

From here, parts of D-Day were launched, the most famous mousetrap in the world was made, where twitchers from all over Britain come to stare at this end of the ocean to record the migration of its birds between the continents.

Here the Selsey Tram narrow-gauge railway trundled, the fossils of rhinoceros and hippopotamus bones were discovered, and the bones of the Hawkhurst smuggling gang were displayed in their gibbet.

The memories of this peninsula are as endless as the wind and the waves that hammer its shores.

People who came to the holiday camp as youngsters years ago now return to help guard this priceless heritage.

At the party, I talked to a lady who had come down from Heathrow for the day, just to be among friends and be out working in the open.

I talked to a man who was upset and puzzled, as I am myself, with the amount of litter people drop when they go about the streets and down the byways anywhere in Britain, and how he clears up just to keep our world tidy.

Others had been clearing out local ponds at Hunston and Sidlesham so that water voles could have clear places for their grazing.

Our host of the evening was working hard at the kitchen worktop, dishing out beef stew and mashed potatoes and just had time between filling volunteers’ plates to tell me how he had been planting blackthorn shrubs that day in hedges and field corners.

This activity will of course go to help that unusual little butterfly the brown hairstreak whose caterpillars feed on

the leaves.

Selsey folk love their trees and hedges, their seashore flowers that are nowadays rare around the UK coasts, their history of famous people and weird and wonderful deeds in the depths of the centuries which keep bobbing back.

I was honoured to have been asked to be president of this group of workers.

Of course they are looking for more volunteers, whether to spend time at Pagham Harbour centre, patrolling the seawalls there or talking to visitors, or making habitat for the rare marsh orchids or counting birds. Website mwhg.org.uk will give you the full picture better than I can in so short a space.