Welcome to Open Sky!

Next gathering Sunday 12th November, 3.00pm, meeting in the Upper Lodges car park, Stanmer Park

Open Sky is a gathering of people who are looking for deeper connections with nature, with God and with each other. We meet in the woods in Brighton on the second Sunday afternoon of each month. Come and join us!

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Spiders and webs

We’re enjoying re-visiting the same woodland each month and getting a sense of the changing seasons. At September’s gathering, we went looking for spider webs. spider 2Spiders are busy at this time of year, but the windy weather meant it was hard to find webs that had survived by mid-afternoon. Webs are hard to find anyway, and sometimes it’s only by focusing on the middle-distance, or un-focusing your eyes altogether, that you spot something tiny fluttering in the wind and when you look more closely you see that it’s a speck of leaf caught on a web. Our connections – with God, with humans, with nature – can be just as elusive but they are still there, and sometimes you have to change your focus in order to notice them.

We made a web of rope, with each person holding a point of it. We thought about the web of life that connects us all, and the impacts we have on other beings and their impacts on us. Forest Church may be a way we can change our focus and become more aware of our place in the community of nature, and so develop a more gentle, loving, creative impact.

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See more by being seen less

FoxEver wished you could walk silently like a fox, as you clomp along the forest path, scaring off all the wildlife ahead of you? And have you ever thought that if you could only see like an owl or hear like a deer you would be able to notice more of the wildlife, assuming it hadn’t been scared off by your clompy footsteps and your cheery chatter?

For our August meeting, we’ll have a go at learning some techniques from the animals that will help us to see more of the life of the woods and connect more deeply with nature – including our own nature. If you impact less you may be impacted more.

Be prepared for a slightly longer walk (about 15 minutes from the car park) as we’ll be going into the field to practice. As always – come prepared for the weather!

Sunday 13th August. Meet at 3pm in the Upper Lodges car park in Stanmer Park (off Ditchling Road)

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Come and learn the ancient craft of woven hazel hurdle fencing in the Brighthelm Centre garden on Thursday 27th July! It’s free – you get to learn a new skill, with the satisfaction of using your hands to make something beautiful and functional, and Brighthelm gets some new fencing. The workshop starts at 9.30, and you can come for the day or just part of it.

Brighthelm has been developing its pre-school garden, extending it to include an area with a woodland feel, so that the children can learn an appreciation of nature through forest-school-type activities. This area, under a great Elm tree, might be a good meeting place for Open Sky sometimes – a woodland clearing, right in the middle of Brighton. The hazel fencing will help divide up the different areas in the garden.


This is what hazel hurdling looks like. Brighthelm’s will be lower and shorter

Hazel is a very useful tree. It grows quickly, and is easily coppiced. Coppicing hazel is great for wildlife. Enough light gets through for wild-flowers, with resulting benefits to birds and insects. The stands give good shelter for ground-nesting birds, like nightjars, yellowhammers and nightingales. The nuts provide food for animals like dormice and wood mice, as well as birds and humans (think praline and ice-cream sundaes). The leaves are food for caterpillars, which in turn are food for birds and mammals. The young stems are very flexible, and hazel is generally a good craft timber: used in thatching, furniture, as stakes in the garden, as well as camp-craft. In herb-lore, hazel is used for water-divining sticks and to ward off evil, with the nuts being worn as charms against rheumatism. In Irish folk-lore, hazel has been known as the Tree of Knowledge. In the part of Stanmer woods where we’ve been meeting for Open Sky Forest Church, there’s not a lot of hazel, but we do pass some along the path from the car park.

If you’d like to take part in the hurdle-making workshop, it would be helpful for Brighthelm to know to expect you. This will also mean they can contact you in case of cancellation. You can use the contact form below and we’ll pass your name on, or phone Brighthelm reception on 01273 821512

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Note change of date and venue!! Because of the London to Brighton Cycle Ride, there will be no road access to our usual meeting place. Instead, we’ll meet outside Stanmer House, at the later time of 3.30pm in order to give you extra time to get there.

The forecast (as at Wednesday!) is for a warm, dry day on Sunday. Please bring some water to drink! Also, please bring a bag or something to sit on, if you’re not comfortable with sitting directly on a log or on the ground.

Our next gathering, on Sunday 18th June, is just three days before the solstice, when the sun seems to stand still at the highest point of its journey across the sky before starting to wane towards the shorter days to come. Nature is at its fullest: the flowers are giving way to fruit, to ripen in the summer sunshine; the young birds and animals are growing and becoming independent.

Time goes so fast. Some of us are already waning past our zenith. For us, it’s an opportunity to seek God becoming more alive in us as our own powers decrease. For all of us, young and old, it’s an opportunity simply to celebrate the fullness of life at the fullness of the year. And eat cake.

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Just to wet your appetite for our time together in the woods this Sunday, (9th April, 3.00pm),  (or your next time outdoors whatever), here’s a great website for you.


There are pictures of some common birds, with recordings of their songs. The woods are alive with birdsong at the moment, but bird-sight is more difficult. A blackbird looks quite different from a blue-tit, but if you can’t see them, could you tell them apart by their songs? This website will help you. It looks like the charity does great work, too.

See you in the woods!

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On 12th March, we met again in the woods at Stanmer. We thought about how identifying trees and plants, if only in seeing the differences between them, helps us connect with them and connect with God. I (Alex) mentioned the story of Adam naming the animals in Genesis, and what follows is a blog post from last summer on this subject. The comments by Julio Reis are particularly worth reading.

Alex Mabbs

I have been doing a bushcraft course, with the assessment weekend coming up fast. One aspect of the course is natural history. We have had to learn to identify trees and woodland plants, as well as animal tracks and signs.

Out and about in parks and in the countryside these past six weeks, armed with my pocket tree guide, I have bored Mrs Mabbsonsea and other companions with my constant stopping to figure out what ‘that one over there’ is. What’s frustrated me is that the pictures in the book don’t usually look much like that one over there, but I have found the process more fascinating than frustrating. I feel that the need to notice in order to learn has made me much more attentive and appreciative of the living being in front of me. I feel that the desire to assign a name to that one over there…

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Edge time

Time in the woods is always time well spent

Alex Mabbs

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a day in some woods staring at the trees. Always time well spent, I find. img_20170201_111748It being a beech wood, the floor was covered in thick leaf litter – just a uniform sea of brown. After a while, I noticed some green near my feet. And then I noticed more specks of green. The bluebells were just starting to poke living leaves through the dead beech leaves. My point is that I didn’t notice them until I had stopped for a while and slowed down my brain.

I went for another meditative walk in nearby woods yesterday. img_20170215_114135This time, I tried becoming attentive from the start, by identifying the trees at the edge of the wood. Then I deliberately walked slowly so that the point of the walk was to become aware rather than to reach a destination, even though I had one…

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