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Chichester’s Successes in the South and South East in Bloom Awards

December 13, 2011 2011 Winter No Comments
James Alison and Justin Jones of CDC on behalf of the Management Board receiving the Brandy Hole Copse award from Blue Peter Gardener Chris Collins

James Alison and Justin Jones of CDC on behalf of the Management Board receiving the Brandy Hole Copse award from Blue Peter Gardener Chris Collins

More than four hundred people attended the South and South East in Bloom Awards at Fontwell Park Racecourse, where both Chichester and Brandy Hole Copse won major awards. Chichester took the Trophy for the Best Large Town in the Region, while Brandy Hole Copse won its fourth Silver Gilt Award in succession in the Country Park Category.

The awards, which are sponsored by Southern Water, attracted a near-record 253 entries. This was the sixth year in succession that Chichester has won a major award, and it was the fifth year for Brandy Hole Copse. Chichester, which won a gold award this year, had regularly won a silver gilt award since 2006, and it won a silver award in the Champion of Champions category in 2009. Brandy Hole Copse won a Silver Award in 2007, followed by Silver Gilt Awards annually between 2008 and 2010.

Brandy Hole Copse, which helped Chichester to win the Best Large Town Award, scored an impressive 81 points out of 100, including a maximum 10 out of 10 for environmental sustainability. Other categories in which the Copse did well included the provision of facilities, countryside maintenance, conservation, and Agenda 21 community involvement. Areas, where the Management Board intends to improve facilities next year, include signage, and the quality of features such as benches and waste bins.

Book Review: From Bullingdon Prison to Brandy Hole Copse

December 13, 2011 2011 Winter No Comments

In January 2009, Patrick Barkham, the Guardian’s Cambridge-educated feature writer, set himself the task of seeing and photographing within the year, every one of the UK’s 59 species of butterflies. Ambitious? Yes. Heroic? Possibly. Nerdy? Maybe. However you judge it, Barkham’s decision resulted in The Butterfly Isles, a rare delight of a book, which has recently been published by Granta Publications.

Queen of Spain Fritillary

Queen of Spain Fritillary

Barkham’s butterfly year began in February, searching for the microscopic eggs of Brown Hairstreaks in the straggly blackthorn trees outside Bullingdon Prison, and it ended in Brandy Hole Copse – of which more, later. The search was led by a burly senior prison officer, who was also a big butterfly enthusiast, and was keen to manage the hedges surrounding the prison in order to help Brown Hairstreaks to live there. During the following nine months, Barkham travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles, and in so doing, he met a range of well-informed, but distinctly specialist, characters. They ranged from Jeremy Thomas, the modest, scholarly Professor of Ecology at Oxford University, who had single-handedly saved four or five British butterflies, including the Large Blue, from certain extinction; through to Maurice Hughes, a powerful-looking Ulsterman who drove Barkham in his souped-up version of a high performance Volvo, from Belfast City Airport to the Craigavon Lakes in Armagh, in order to help him track down Britain’s newest butterfly, a Real’s Wood White.

Barkham is extremely well-informed about the eating and mating habits of each species of butterfly, and about the experiences and recollections by the butterfly collectors of yesteryear. He wears his scholarship lightly, and writes with verve and a beautifully light touch. The book may well become a classic of British nature writing, Barkham was also lucky, as 2009 was a good year for butterflies. For in May of that year, as in 1996 and 2003, Britain was invaded from the Continent by swarms of Painted Ladies. Moreover in June, Butterfly Conservation also discovered a swarm of Heath Fritillaries in a clearing in Blean Woods, just outside Canterbury.

But the peak of Barkham’s year came in October, with the discovery in Brandy Hole Copse, of a Queen of Spain Fritillary. He was alerted to its presence by Neil Hulme, a fit-looking micro-palaeontologist, and the Chairman of the Sussex Branch of Butterfly Conservation, who arranged his work for oil companies around summers seeking butterflies. According to Hulme, the butterfly had probably come from Normandy and followed one of the fingers of Chichester Harbour inland. It was to be Barkham’s sixtieth species, which meant that, by the end of the year, he had seen and photographed one more than he had originally planned.

Barkham’s book ends with some evocative descriptions of the Copse, and with him and Hulme leaning in and admiring the female Queen of Spain ‘as she lay flat out [with] tiny traces of spilt male sperm upon her body’. ‘It was not beyond the bounds of possibility’, Barkham claims, that this single butterfly ‘could be the first generation of a new resident species, the first in a vanguard of Continental butterflies tempted by the warmer currents and milder winters to try their luck across the Channel.’ Let’s hope he is right.

Vincent Porter

Patrick Barkham, The Butterfly Isles. A Summer in Search of Our Emperors and Admirals, Line drawings by Helen Macdonald, Granta Publications. Hardback 2010, paperback 2011.

Pond Dipping at Brandy Hole Pond

December 13, 2011 2011 Winter No Comments
Pond dipping at Brandy Hole Copse

Sarah Hughes (in water) leading the pond dipping from Brandy Hole Pond

On 3 August, Sarah Hughes, Chichester District Council’s Community Wildlife Officer led a pond dipping session at Brandy Hole Pond. Sarah brought with her a number of parents and children from the Graylingwell Estate, and they were joined by parents and children from East Broyle led by Friends of Brandy Hole Copse Membership Secretary Michelle Craddock. In all, some thirty people enjoyed themselves.

The children discovered Freshwater Shrimps, Flatworms, Snails, Leeches, and Water Hoglice. Brandy Hole Pond turned out to have an average biotic index of 3.5 which, for the less scientifically-minded among us, should be compared with a predicted biotic index of 10 for a clean upland stream  We can probably improve the pond’s index with some sympathetic dredging, followed by a top-up of clean water.

We hope to do more pond dipping next spring. If you wish to be involved, please contact Sarah Hughes (shughes@chichester.gov.uk ) or FBHC.

A Project for Our Enjoyment

December 13, 2011 2011 Winter No Comments

James Rank, who has contributed East Broyle Copse to the Brandy Hole Copse Local nature Reserve, is an active member of the Copse Management Board. Here he outlines his vision for the Copse and its future. James is also the webmaster for the Brandy Hole Copse Website: www.brandyholecopse.org.uk

It is ten years since the formation of the Copse, and a good time to remind ourselves that the Copse is a project first and foremost. The recent death of Helen Carlton (see the last issue) reminds us that not everyone who was involved in the formation of the Copse as a Local Nature Reserve is still around. Many of us, me included, form a ‘second generation’ of stakeholders in what is now an established place.

The challenge for us is to keep hold of that dynamic melting pot of interests which first brought the Copse into being. At the start, all involved knew the Copse’s success was going to be dependent on many individual contributions. Ten years on I would suggest the Copse is still only as good as the last contributions.

The Copse has become established because different individual interests have been allowed to contribute. One person is keen to see a perfect environment for their butterfly, while another wants to see the art and craft of a beautifully laid hedge, and yet a third is passionate about a beautiful place where they can meet their friends and walk with their dog.

I suggest we face a choice at this point. We can either choose to see the Copse as a place to walk our dogs, or we can see it as a project of which dog walking is a part. We can either see it as a place in which we expect to see butterflies, or we can actively encourage a great habitat for butterflies.

I believe we should see Copse as a project which encourages contribution and cooperation. Those who established the Copse knew it was a project. We need to make an active choice to see it as a project.

When the website www.brandyholecopse.org.uk was redesigned, it was built to allow a number of different people to post to it. The aim was to reflect the melting pot on the ground, and for individuals to write about what they were contributing to the project.

I was involved in that process, and our hope was that the many different groups involved would regularly post updates to the website of what they were doing. More importantly they could post to the website stories and photographs of the things in the Copse from which they were getting enjoyment. I hope that the reason we haven’t quite achieved this yet is down to technology, rather than because people haven’t been enjoying themselves.

The website could, and should, be current. We can use it to discuss what is being done in the Copse today. This is immensely important for a communal project. In an environment like the Copse, as in our gardens, our work will never be finished. There is always stuff going on. If we share what we are doing in the Copse others can understand and ultimately respect it.

I believe that the Copse is greater than the sum of its parts. It is there to be enjoyed and we all need to be committed to the project if it is to go on being a great place for so many different people to pursue their interests in the future.

Here is a question for each of us. What will you do to enjoy the Copse tomorrow?

This is the first of a series of occasional articles by individuals about their personal attitude towards the Copse.

The Biodiversity of Brandy Hole Copse

September 1, 2011 2011 Summer No Comments

BluebellsThe Chichester Natural History Society, working with a number of other expert societies and individuals, has identified well over a thousand species living in the Copse. They occupy a range of clearly-definable habitats within the Copse, and it was these habitats that formed the focus of Mike Perry’s talk to this year’s Annual General Meeting.

Stag BeetleMany species live out their lives on the surface bark of healthy mature trees. They range from lichens, through many of the birds, to grey squirrels which build their dreys in the upper branches. Trees become biologically much more interesting, however, when they age. Damage from wind and storms produces sites for fungal attack leading to rot, thus creating habitats for many saproxylic organisms such as the stag beetle which live for at least part of their life in rotting wood.

Foxglove and Bumble BeeHoles in trees become particularly important as nesting sites for birds, such as woodpeckers, tree creepers and nuthatches. They also provide roosts for bats. As they rot, standing dead wood and fallen branches provide habitats for many organisms. They should always be left where they are – within, of course, the limits imposed by health and safety. Coppicing of the sweet chestnut stands is essential for maintaining the biodiversity of the Copse. Uncoppiced stands become very dark, when the canopy leafs over in summer, and biodiversity soon becomes low. Coppicing, however, lets in sunlight and rain, both of which encourage the growth of flowers, such as violets, wood anemones and bluebells.

Crab SpiderLater in the year, foxgloves provide excellent sources of nectar for bumble bees, sites for hunting crab spiders and sites on which darter dragonflies can perch, as they hunt.

Even before they start to rot, artificial log piles can also provide shelter for many insects, including centipedes, slugs, woodlice and spiders. These, in turn, provide food for common lizards and slowworms.

Common Darter DragonflyBramble stems, which flower over the log piles and along the rides, are especially valuable. They provide nectar for many butterflies – especially Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns and the beautiful Silver-washed Fritillary – as well as fruit for birds and mammals (including humans!). Finally, a habitat that supports a good population of small mammals will also support kestrels and foxes. All these ecological food chains stem from the original coppicing of the sweet chestnut stands!

Red UnderwingWater always enhances biodiversity. The three small ponds within Brandy Hole Copse should support good populations of many aquatic organisms including dragonflies and damselflies. Yet this has not happened, especially in Willow Pond, because someone has deliberately introduced some fish. These are carnivorous, and eat most other aquatic organisms – until, that is, the herons eat the fish! There is a golden rule in conservation – you can have either a fish pond or a wildlife pond, but not both. This is a policy issue which the Copse’s Management Board will need to address.

Night brings a completely different biodiversity, when some of the most beautiful of all the Copse’s organisms emerge, including its range of over two hundred species of moths, such as the Red Underwing. Regrettably most visitors to the Copse never see these.

Mike’s talk concluded with a reminder that even a small nature reserve such as Brandy Hole close to a city has the potential to produce a surprise of major importance. This was the discovery two years ago that the very rare migrant Queen of Spain Fritillary was breeding on the outskirts of the Copse.

Helen Carlton

September 1, 2011 2011 Summer No Comments

Helen CarltonHelen Carlton, who died peacefully at the Augusta Court Care Home on 13 May, played a key role in establishing the Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group, which was the forerunner of the Friends of Brandy Hole Copse.

The great storm of October 1987, which swept across southern England, blew down many of the trees in what is now Brandy Hole Copse, causing extensive damage to the banks of the ancient Dyke system. But after the damaged trees had been cleared, it was Councillor Helen Carlton – as she then was – who chaired the well-attended public meeting in October the following year, at which the Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group was formed.

Although I became the Chairman of the Conservation Group, Helen continued to be an active member of the Committee, along with Len Eyles, Tony Johnson, Jim Morris, Peter Sykes and Henrietta & Hugh Wingfield-Hayes. Helen was a great supporter of our activities, and on a number of occasions she chaired our meetings.

Helen was outspoken in her views, and fought hard and persistently for causes she believed in. She loved being active, and went on walking holidays every year. She was also a footpath secretary for the local branch of the Ramblers Association, and often went for short walks in the Copse. She will be missed.

Jim Ayling

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