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History of the Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group

Brandy Hole Copse includes the woodland known as East Broyle Copse and part of the ancient Chichester Entrenchment System. The Dyke which is now registered as a Scheduled Ancient Monument WS 88-89, is believed to have been constructed during the Iron Age. The Copse occupies some fifteen 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 anti-tank 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 a hundred and fifty eight feet northwards under the gravel. In it were bottles dating from a hundred and fifty 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 same gravel pit that can still be seen in Brandy Hole Copse.

The great storm of October 1987 swept across southern England in a swath 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 ancient Dyke system. The Chichester District Council removed most of the fallen trees and made an appeal 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 with Jim Ayling as Chairman. Members of the committee were Helen Carlton, Jim Morris, Peter Sykes, Henrietta & 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 commence a program of conservation recommended by the S.W.T. Management Plan.

Donations from Summersdale Residents Assn. and B.H.C.C.Group enabled the W.S.C.C. 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 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 cleared the ground and laid a footpath along the base of the Dyke, and also excavated the wetland areas at the Western end to create Willow Pond and Cops Pond, which was named in recognition of their hard work..

In August 2001 Chichester District Council designated the Copse as its first Local Nature Reserve and established a Management Board comprised of various groups who had an interest in the Copse and a Management Plan was drawn up to establish a future programme of work. At a ceremony in the Copse 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. In 2003 the CDC with the aid of a grant from English Heritage installed three large oak lectern frames with information panels at strategic points.

The Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group has installed stiles at the access points and laid paths and built flights of steps for visitor’s safety. They have 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.

The Group is extremely grateful for help from the Royal Military Police, Bishop Luffa School Sixth form volunteers and from the Crumblies, a volunteer group that specialises in hedge laying and glade clearance tasks. Members of the Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group meet on a regular weekly basis and carry out most of the work of maintaining the ponds and the woodland 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 a useful BHCCG publication.

Though the Copse has many access points for pedestrians, it 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 sign-posted lay-by at the western end of the Copse. Pedestrians should take care, as the Highways Authorities have been reluctant to reduce the speed limit in the parking area or to provide a safe continuous footpath along Brandy Hole Lane from Lavant Road to the Copse entrance.

James Ayling

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