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A Bank for Nature

January 1, 2011 2010 Winter No Comments

Richard Williamson celebrates the biodiversity of the Copse and highlights the need to preserve the biosphere in our bank.

At first glance, Brandy Hole Copse is just a pleasant little wood with bluebells, butterflies and birds for lucky local residents to wrap around their homes. It is also a lung where city folk can walk in safe surroundings, making 15,000 day visits per annum. That is the general view of one of the species that knows this nature reserve: Homo sapiens.

What of the other 1,297 species so far recorded? Most of them we humans hardly notice. We may see and recognise a Fox or a Grey Squirrel if it crosses our path, but there are seven species of bats alone among the seventeen different mammals. There are 10 different snails with wonderful names such as Pea Mussel and Trumpet Ramshorn. Birds flit about in the treetops with rooks, robins and blackbirds most obvious, but altogether 44 species have been recorded, with rarities such as the Willow Tit and the Green Sandpiper.

114 different fungi play out their brief lives above ground after networking unseen in what to them is an underground haven of good soil and clean air. At night 200 different moths arise from their crèches in 174 different flowering plants. They have wonderful names such as Satin Lutestring and Maiden’s Blush. The casual visitor might see a Devil’s Coach-horse but another 282 beetles are marching over the ground and through the trees on their mission to recycle the detritus from dying tissue. Four different bumblebees do their bit to pollinate our food crops: we would be lost without them. Each has its own particular requirements for a home base.

We all appreciate the big bright butterflies flitting past but there are altogether 26 species of butterflies that have safe homes in the reserve. That these survive is due to the work of volunteers who manage the coppice and the rides. Each species has its own requirements: apart from needing nectar from flowers, they will only lay their eggs on a particular species of plant. Speckled Woods need that special dappling of light and shade their work provides. So you can wonder at the Holly Blues as they search the ivy of the gardens and woodlands for the best place to lay their eggs so the caterpillars will get a good meal when they hatch. Dense ivy clumps are also vital to the butterflies that hibernate, such as Brimstone, whose burst of bright sulphurous yellow tells us spring has arrived, and all is well with the world. Masses of honeysuckle are essential for the survival of the White Admiral butterfly found in the copse. Recently the rarest of all British butterflies, The Queen of Spain, bred in the reserve.

Variety is everything: bio-diversity is not just a buzz-word. It has a very real meaning. Brandy Hole Copse is a wildlife city in its own right. The surrounding private gardens are all part of the superstructure. So are the hedges and lanes leading out to join up with other reserves and gene pools. Chiffchaffs, Nightingales, and all other migrant birds use these green highways on their ways inland to spread out in spring and on their way back to the coast and on out to Africain the autumn. So do the butterflies, the beetles, the bats and the animals that bring in plant seed or carry it on to colonise other places.

It is vital to keep it all safe and properly managed to help make our own ecosystem safe. If the natural world breaks down, then the downward slope for humans will rapidly follow. The last government introduced the Lawton Report, which recognised the value of a benign urban landscape that can complement the countryside to everyone’s advantage. Wildlife must be allowed to co-exist with us, and Brandy Hole Copse shows how this survival and networking can be achieved in the easiest and most pleasant way for all. Our understanding of farming wildlife to our advantage grows by the day as does our moral understanding of concern for species other than ourselves.

Brandy Hole Copse is where we keep our biosphere in the bank, our species on deposit. If we really are prudent, we can enjoy the interest, while never spending the capital.

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,

Clicks, pops and raspberries!

Judi Darley reports on a nocturnal sortie

Nearly 40 people turned out on a lovely evening on August 9 to listen for bats and look for moths in Brandy Hole Copse. Our leaders were Peter Etheridge and Mike Perry from the local Natural History Society.

Being such a lovely clear evening it took a while to get dark enough for bats to begin flying and so Peter entertained us with interesting and amusing stories about our local wildlife. We began our walk by listening out on the bat detectors for the “click” noises emitted by crickets. These detectors are little portable black boxes with listening devices that are designed to pick up the very high pitched noises emitted by bats using echo location to search and find their food. The boxes change the sound down into a frequency heard by us, usually in the form of clicks, pops and even raspberries!

We learnt that the raspberry noise is made as the bat closes in on its prey to eat it. We heard the “wet slap” popping sound of the country’s smallest bat the pipistrelle and the drier sound of perhaps a serotine. We learnt that the bat is our best friend as it can eat up to 3,000 insects such as mosquitoes every night.

During the walk we heard reports that bats were busy near the moth trap set up in the woods for the evening and made our way to see what was going on there.

The trap had been set up by Mike Perry and friends by the big oak tree at the top of the main ride. It was easy to find by its very bright light, which we learnt was at least four times brighter than our 100w bulbs at home. The moths were attracted to the bulb and then settled on a cloth placed around it or in special collecting chambers nearby. Each moth was collected in a bug pot, identified and recorded and then put in a special chamber to be released at the end of the recording session. We learnt that this was to avoid recording the same moth more than once. Usual woodland species were found including the maiden’s blush, oak hook-tip and the rosy footman.

We did make note that during this time the occasional bat was detected flying overhead and the raspberry noises emitted indicated that some moths never did make it to the trap for their moment of glory.

We had an enjoyable and informative evening and thanks to Peter and Mike and their Natural History colleagues for giving their time to lead us on this event.

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