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From the chairman

October 2, 2006 2006 Autumn No Comments

I am writing these thoughts as the summer is coming to a close and autumn is slowly emerging. It has been such a hot summer, although August was less so, but the impact of the heat and lack of rainfall in June and July are very obvious all around us and no less so in the Copse. I suppose this is a mini-vision of what the future may well hold for us, and shows us some of the many challenges for a small group like ours, not to mention the world! I gather from the experts that nineteen of the twenty hottest summers have occurred since 1980!

The obvious signs of the summer heat in the Copse are the water levels in the ponds, which reflect the ground water levels in the area. Brandy Hole Pond has been as low as I have seen it and bordering on dry. Even the rainfall in August has made little or no impact on it. I hope when you read this, things will have improved, but such low water levels have many impacts on the environmental balance in and around the ponds. Willow pond seems to have survived surprisingly well, although the levels are very low. Cops pond has all but disappeared. It may be some time before we know the impact of all this on the nature reserve.

A hot summer has certainly brought us some happy events this year. For the fourth year in a row there have been sightings of White Admiral butterflies in the Copse, especially around Willow and Cops Ponds. The difference this year is that the butterflies were much easier to find and they stayed around for several weeks. I saw two of them regularly in that area on a daily basis and I think there is a good chance they may have bred in the area, possibly for the first time. It was also a good summer for other butterflies, including the beautiful Silver-Washed Fritillaries, and we had good sightings of Purple Hairstreak, a very elusive butterfly. It was also a good year for Commas, Painted Ladies and many of the regular inhabitants.

Another high point was the discovery and positive identification of Common Spotted Orchids in the triangular field south of the woodland area. I managed to see these a few days before the whole field was cut, which was fortunate timing. These types of discoveries are helpful to us all in establishing the importance of the Nature Reserve and promoting our ambition to expand it by acquisition of the triangular field. I hope Members of the Group will report all interesting sightings of any sort to any committee member so these can be recorded.

We have had some great successes this year in raising awareness of the Copse in the local community and developing our educational role. The great morning’s pond dipping back in April was a huge success and it was a delight to see so many smiling young faces totally absorbed in whatever was lurking in the mud. It was also great to be able to survey our pond life at the same time and know that we have a very healthy population of frogs, toads, newts and other creatures in what are, after all, man-made ponds.

Many of you will be aware of our activities this year as part of the Chichester Festivities in July. The talk on the Wednesday evening was a great success and we were delighted to welcome some 50 visitor, many of whom were not familiar with the Copse. Similar numbers came to the guided walks on the Saturday when we had wonderful weather and lots of good natural history sightings. My thanks to Mike Perry of the Chichester Natural History Society for his personal contribution to these events. I am sure we will do something similar next year.

The same thanks apply to the Bat Walk we held in August, when a surprising number of people turned up with torches to be not only educated but thoroughly entertained by Peter Etheridge. Again the weather was good and we saw or heard plenty of bats. It was particularly pleasing to see so many children present.

The Committee has been considering the best way to spend the money that was donated at the end of last year in response to our leaflet campaign. You may have seen the new pond-dipping platform on Cops Pond which is one such development. We have also purchased more educational equipment including a microscope. We plan to buy some hard-wearing, bird-friendly ‘woodcrete’ nesting boxes to put up in time for next spring. These are quite expensive but more resistant to attack from larger birds, squirrels and humans.

Unfortunately, another down side of the hot summer was the increase in vandalism and inappropriate behaviour in the Copse. We had the usual cycling problems, although these have not been too bad based on my own experience. Of more concern was a spate of vandalism at the Brandy Hole Pond and in the Lane. The pond-dipping platform was ripped out (again) and the leaflet box removed, broken and thrown into the pond. I know there were several other incidents in the Lane, including fires and criminal damage.

In the Copse itself the weather has resulted in some overnight camping, drinking groups and the lighting of fires. I personally confronted one group of youngsters who had lit a fire and had no idea of the potential fire risk they were creating at a time of such dry conditions. I persuaded them to put the fire out, which they did. I returned later to find that it had been relit.

I have spoken to the District Council about the ever increasing fire risk and incidences of fires being lit, and they have helpfully consulted with the Police and the Fire and Rescue Service. Our response to fires in the Copse should now be to call 999. We will continue to work with the Police and the District Council to try to address these concerns, and I suspect we will have to increase the notices in the Copse to tell people what is and is not appropriate behaviour in a nature reserve.

I don’t want to finish on a negative note. There are so many good things about the Copse as a nature reserve and the value it has for our local community that we must continue to work to keep it safe and to educate everyone on its significance to Chichester. Your hard-working Committee will carry on with that work as well as continuing to maintain the reserve on a regular basis. Your support in that work is so important, and so I will close by hoping that you will all renew your membership (please use the standing order form as it is easier for all of us) and continue to enjoy Chichester City’s only designated nature reserve.

Graham Ault,

More talking and walking

October 2, 2006 2006 Autumn No Comments

From the secretary, Tom Snow

The Annual General Meeting was held on May 4 and it was a great encouragement to see more than 50 members attending. Thank you. We have continued to do our best to promote knowledge, enjoyment and participation of the Copse with a mixture of “talks and walks”.

An evening “Introduction to the Copse” walk was conducted for the Summersdale Residents’ Association and two further walks and a talk for the general public as part of the Chichester Festivities. All were well attended. We are grateful to the Chichester Natural History Society and the Sussex Wildlife Trust for their help with the themed walks that took in butterflies, bats and moths. A more detailed report on the latter walk is here. Visits to the Copse was also made by the judges as part of “Chichester in Bloom” award scheme and by the Havant Natural History Society. Further talks were given at St Wilfrid’s Hall and to a local Rotary Club.

If you feel a group you are involved in or know of would like a walk or a talk do let us know. We would also welcome other ideas on how to better involve people in the Copse, particularly youngsters, and how to make more of the historical and archaeological aspects. Answers on a postcard please…

Listen to the evening songs

October 2, 2006 2006 Autumn No Comments

One of the pleasant things to do at this time of the year is to walk in the copse on a warm sunny evening to listen to the sounds around you. The bird calls are delightful.

We have been intrigued by the disappearing ducks. A while back a dozen or so ducklings appeared overnight on Willow Pond, stayed for one or two nights, then walked to Brandy Hole Pond, only to disappear completely the next day. Where did they go to? Perhaps they knew that the pond would dry up. The water level in all our ponds is determined by the water table, which is now at the lowest we have ever seen it. We will shortly need to remove most of the fish from Brandy Hole Pond by netting.

Unfortunately we still suffer from occasional vandalism. The dog bin on the Centurion Way crossing was broken off and had to be replaced. The platform at Brandy Hole Pond was badly damaged and had to be repaired, and the nearby leaflet box post which was pulled up and thrown into the pond has been replaced with a metal post.

The three entrances at the parking area need some attention. The northerly one has collapsed and we have taken the opportunity to close it off and continue the hedge along the roadside, which is kept in such good condition by the “Crumblies”.

The Wednesday working group have been active throughout the year on pond and woodland maintenance. A dipping platform has been built at Cops Pond, following our very successful pond dipping event. Repair and maintenance of paths steps and entrances will continue, and management of the glades to encourage butterflies.

In response to demand we intend to add more discreetly placed seats for the benefit of visitors as we have done in the glade area.

The CDC has been asked to install “cycle path” signs each end of the path linking Centurion Way with the Lane.

We understand that at long last the WSCC has finally conceded to our request for a safe pedestrian access to the Copse from Summersdale and proposes to start work to complete the footpath along Brandy Hole Lane in October. Unfortunately we have not been able to persuade WSCC that a 30mph speed limit is necessary along the parking area. So care is still needed when visiting the Copse and alighting from cars.

Jim Ayling, Task Leader

The call of the Copse

October 2, 2006 2006 Autumn No Comments

It hasn’t got to be every Wednesday afternoon, though that’s the current “tradition “for a handful of conservationists. It hasn’t got to be “greybeard” men, for anyone with energy and commonsense, given a little guidance and a pair of loppers, can help keep paths clear of undergrowth and litter. It has got to be done in a reasonably regular, measured way – the woodland nurture that maintains nature just the right side of “civilised” without losing all its innate wild beauty.

As Lord Kitchener would say: “Your community’s copse needs you!”

Terry Timblick

A place of history and much modern interest

October 2, 2006 2006 Autumn No Comments

Many new members have joined Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group this year. The two following articles help to set the scene for those who are not familiar with the history of the Copse and some of its most obvious inhabitants, the birds.

Brandy Hole Copse includes the woodland known as East Broyle Copse and part of the Chichester Entrenchment System. This dyke, now registered as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, is believed to have been constructed during the Iron Age.

The Copse occupies some 15 acres of oak and coppiced chestnut woodland along the south side of Brandy Hole Lane and is partly owned by the District Council, with the remainder leased from two local landowners. There are five ponds and some examples of the remaining World War II antitank defences still in position.

The names Brandy Hole Lane and Brandy Hole Pond, at the eastern end of the site, come from the brandy casks discovered in a cave when the Chichester to Midhurst branch of the London Brighton & South Coast railway line was built in 1881. This line, which passes through the Copse, was last used in 1991 for transporting gravel. It was then purchased by West Sussex County Council and opened in 1995 as a pedestrian and cycle path known as Centurion Way.

There are references on early maps to “Roman” and “Smugglers” caves radiating from the dyke. The “Roman” caves were probably natural holes in the ground caused by a subsidence when rain leaches out the sand from the gravel, leaving a vertical hole, a common feature in the area. In 1841 a cave was discovered that extended for 158 feet northwards under the gravel. In it were bottles dating from 150 years earlier. This may have been the “Smugglers” cave indicated on the 1912 map. In 1795 the Chichester diarist John Marsh records how the Company of Volunteers, to which he belonged, marched from the Council House to the Broyle where they practised with their muskets in a disused gravel pit. This may well be the gravel pit that can still be seen in the Copse.

The great storm of October 1987 swept across southern England in a swathe from the Isle of Wight to the Wash and destroyed millions of mature trees. Many of the trees in what is now Brandy Hole Copse were blown down, causing extensive damage to the banks of the dyke system. Chichester District Council removed most of the fallen trees and appealed for a group of volunteers to manage this area of woodland and maintain it for public use and recreation.

The following October at a well-attended public meeting, chaired by Helen Carlton, the Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group was formed. I was the chairman and committee members were Helen Carlton, Jim Morris, Peter Sykes, Henrietta and Hugh Wingfield-Hayes, Tony Johnson and Len Eyles. Advice was sought from the Sussex Wildlife Trust, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and the West Sussex County Council.

With the help of a financial grant from Chichester District Council, and the agreement of the landowners, a small working party was set up to clear the undergrowth and begin a programme of conservation recommended by the SWT Management Plan.

The first major task was to erect a post and rail fence for 300 yards along the roadside boundary of the Copse. This was done in one day by a platoon of soldiers from the Royal Military Police Roussillon Barracks as a local community project. They also cleared the ground and laid a footpath along the base of the dyke, and excavated the wetland areas at the western end to create Willow Pond and Cops Pond, which was named in recognition of their hard work.

Donations from Summersdale Residents Association and BHCCG enabled the WSCC in 1997 to purchase the privately-owned strip of land on the south side of Brandy Hole Pond for a public right of way, thereby finally allowing free access to the Copse from Bristol Gardens.

The BHCCG volunteers managed the copse for 12 years until August 2001 when Chichester District Council designated the Copse as its first Local Nature Reserve and established a Management Board. The first meeting of the board in November 2001 was chaired by Barry Fletcher. Members represented various groups who had an interest in the Copse and an initial Management Plan was drawn up to establish a future programme of tasks. At a ceremony in the Copse on in May 2002 English Nature presented a plaque to the Chairman of the District Council to mark the establishment of the Copse as a Local Nature Reserve. With the aid of a grant from English Heritage, CDC provided three large oak lectern frames with information panels, placed at strategic points. BHCCG has installed stiles at various access points and laid paths and built flights of steps for visitors’ safety. The group has put up many bird, owl and bat boxes and arranged surveys of the bird and insect populations throughout the year, with the help and guidance of the Chichester Natural History Society.

Help over the years has come from the Royal Military Police, Bishop Luffa School sixth form volunteers and the Crumblies, a volunteer group which specialises in hedge-laying and glade clearance tasks. Members of BHCCG carry out most of the work of maintaining the ponds and the woodland with weekly sessions throughout the year.

The Copse is used by local schools for environmental studies and is a safe area for children, walkers and dog owners. Guided walks and illustrated talks are available on request and “The Story of Brandy Hole Copse” is an informative BHCCG publication.

Though there are many access points for pedestrians, sadly the area is unsuitable for wheelchair users. Cycle anchor points are situated at the main entrances but cycling in the Copse is prohibited. There is limited car parking in the lay-by at the western end (pedestrians should take care crossing the derestricted road).

Jim Ayling

Goldcrest to heron – the Copse is home to 35 species of birds

The birds are perhaps the most obvious natural inhabitants of Brandy Hole – apart from the trees, of course. So far 35 different bird species have been identified in the Copse, and any walk there will bring you into contact with some of them. The most easily recognised are familiar garden birds – blackbird, dunnock, robin and wren.

Song thrushes and mistle thrushes are seen regularly. Blue tits, great tits and long-tailed tits can be heard calling amongst the trees. The rarer willow tit can sometimes be seen in the Copse along Brandy Hole Lane and has nested there. The tiny goldcrest may mix with the tits, and can be seen occasionally where there are pine trees.

The noisiest birds in the Copse must be the rooks, in early spring, and the woodpeckers. Great spotted woodpeckers and green woodpeckers, easily recognised by their “yaffle” call, are common. The sparrow-sized lesser spotted woodpecker is much rarer and has not been recorded from the Copse. However, it may be worth looking for it in the tree-tops early in the year before the trees are in leaf. Of the corvids, rooks, crows, jays and magpies are regulars.

Greenfinches and chaffinches are common, but the goldfinch favours the edges of the Copse were its main food, small seeds, can be found. The soft, sibilant whistle of the bullfinch can be heard very occasionally in the trees around Willow Pond. See the striking male bullfinch with his black head, white rump, grey back and rose-red breast, and the much drabber female is sure to be nearby.

Sit quietly on the seat behind the oak at Willow Pond for a while, and you may be lucky enough to see a tree creeper. A quiet little bird, it has a brown back, white underside, and a distinctive downward-curved beak. It runs up the trunk of a tree, probing in the bark for the tiny insects and spiders on which it feeds. The much brighter, brasher nuthatch is also present.

Raptors seen in or around the Copse include sparrowhawks which can often hunt smaller birds over Willow and Cops Ponds. Kestrels, easily identified by their ability to hover on the wind, hunt for small mammals in the fields around, and buzzards, which scavenge for food, occur increasingly in the Triangle. Although Chichester’s most famous avian inhabitants, the Cathedral peregrines, may occasionally be seen from the Copse, they do not hunt there.

Finally, the ponds are used by many birds for drinking, but true water-birds are limited to mallards and the occasional moorhen on Cops Pond. However, if you visit Willow Pond very early in the morning you may be lucky enough to see a heron. Just as they take fish from garden ponds so they will take fish and frogs from Willow Pond – especially when the water level is low.

Occasionally also, a grey wagtail will be seen on the mud surrounding the ponds. It has the distinctive tail-flicking habit of the wagtails and is identified by its grey back and yellow underside.

Mike Perry

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