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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

Brandy Hole Copse in the Big Society

September 1, 2011 2011 Summer No Comments

The death of Helen Carlton, one of the pioneers of the Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group which preceded the Friends of Brandy Hole Copse coincides with a turning point in the relations between the State and the natural environment in Great Britain.

The key mantra in the new Age of Austerity – the last one was under the Post-War Labour Government – is that of the Big Society. But as Richard Williamson points out in his review of The Natural Choice, the Coalition Government’s White Paper on the future of the natural environment (see back page), the founders and the volunteers who help to maintain the Copse were in the Big Society years before the White Paper. Gone, it would seem, are the days when both national and local governments were prepared to encourage and subsidise environmental experts in their struggles to stem, perhaps even to roll back, the onward march of urban development.

But the Big Society also needs a new generation of volunteers. It is not just those Friends of the Copse with forestry or hedge-laying skills – although they are still wanted – but in addition we need Friends with the skills necessary to adapt to the challenges posed by the advent of the information society. They could be legal, public relations, or fund-raising skills, or the expertise to assist us in promoting and providing more educational opportunities for schoolchildren, and even adults, to learn about the contribution which the Copse makes to nature’s biodiversity. No skill need be too small or too modest. You could make a valuable contribution, just by taking notes, making telephone calls, or even sending e-mails.

The Copse needs you – and we all need the Copse!

Vincent Porter

Review by Richard Williamson of The Natural Choice

September 1, 2011 2011 Summer No Comments

The Coalition Government’s White Paper on the Natural Environment

Richard WilliamsonIn its new White Paper, The Natural Choice, the Government has tried its hand at grasping the nettle of how we handle our environment here and abroad and so ensure our ability to carry on living on the planet. Some of what they advise is already being achieved in places such as Brandy Hole Copse, where volunteers adopted and manage a green lung of land in pursuit of their own well-being and all other lives as well, not just human.

These super nature reserves cannot connect everything together: people, butterflies, birds, and all living creatures in the area. The connecting corridors to hedges and fields make a landscape that pleases us all too. Such biodiversity is life itself for us and for the wild species around us. It all starts with clean soil and water.

The White Paper cites some successful examples of human co-operation, such as the role an Upland farmer played, with advice from the RSPB and the Environment Agency, on filtering water run-off through peat on its way to the rivers instead of us having to pay for a chemical system. Another happy farmer, paid under the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme, grew barn owls and beech trees as a crop among many other plants and animal species, to his and all local people’s huge enjoyment. The White Paper also highlights the vital role that wild bees and bumblebees play in the pollination of our food crops, and the need for more urban green spaces.

The way forward starts in the primary school. The Government wants every child to be given the chance to experience the natural environment. Nothing new in that for the older generation – but it has to be re-invented in this century. “No-one will protect what they do not first care about”, Sir David Attenborough is here quoted as saying. Brandy Hole Copse is a good example of that. “We need to unleash the potential of every citizen, neighbourhood community and civil society” says the report, expanding its Big Society aims. And so say all of us.

But how long has it taken to get the Brandy Hole Copse team together? It took two decades to get a team of ten volunteers to run the West Dean Woods Nature Reserve. The localised Murray Downland trust which manages six areas of the South Downs has 60 members with ten who work. There are nine million in the UK who belong to wildlife charities with 700,000 active volunteers, while 28 million say that “They are interested in nature.”

The Government seeks to harness these people . Websites of national organisations, such as English Nature and the Forestry Commission, have information on where to go and how to find them. Upgraded public and cycle paths are planned; also more public transport which will help feed the tourist industry. Our 224 National nature reserves such as Kingley Vale are mentioned as vital, so perhaps the rumours of their abandonment, as was briefly proposed for our National Forests, will go away.

But there is no mention of the reinstatement of the famous Research Centres, such as Furzebrook in Dorset and Monkswood in Cambridgeshire, which were scrapped under the Labour Government. These led the world in biodiversity research and are greatly missed.

But for what’s proposed, is there money to prime the pumps? The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas thinks not. Defra, she says, has already showed itself to be weak and unambitious. So it seems that the likes of you and me, with our local fight for our own corner, will just have to carry on cutting the coppice, clearing the paths and lay-bys, counting the butterflies and the birds, and keeping ourselves happy in the process. We’ve been in the Big Society for years before this White Paper.

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