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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

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