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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.

With many tasks completed, now it’s time for change

April 3, 2007 2007 Spring No Comments

From Jim Ayling, task leader

Having been associated with the BHCCG since it started in 1989 following the great storm of 1987 it is with some sadness that I find I must resign from being the Copse task leader.

I have enjoyed being part of an enthusiastic team of volunteers who have turned out regularly, rain or shine, to maintain the Copse for all to enjoy. My only regrets are that the missing part of the footpath at the eastern end of Brandy Hole Lane has not been completed and that the WSCC has not been persuaded to reduce the 60mph speed limit alongside the parking area at the western end of the lane.

Some members of the public have complained that we are destroying the wood by cutting down the trees. It should be remembered that the Copse is a coppiced woodland and has been for 200 years, requiring the felling of the chestnuts every 10 to 15 years. We now have a rolling plan to fell the trees in four areas over 20 years.

The site is only leased and any work has to be done with the landowners’ approval. Advice from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Chichester District Council is strictly followed and we work closely with the Chichester Natural History Society to a master plan.

A continual complaint is of the inconsiderate dog owners who do not remove the dog mess from the footpaths. The whole area is covered by the Dog Fouling Act with a maximum penalty of £1,000 which could be enforced by the Dog Warden.

To continue the work of maintaining the Local Nature Reserve for the enjoyment of visitors the group is looking for someone with some knowledge of woodland and ponds, preferable living locally, to organise and direct the team. So if you feel you could help us and at the same time enjoy the outdoors please contact the chairman or any committee member.

Secretary’s report to AGM 2005/2006

Activities in year 2005-2006

  • BHCCG involved in C.D.C “Chichester in Bloom” scheme
  • Our “Queens Award for Volunteers” application was rejected
  • Attended two BTCV environmental training days
  • 300 more Booklets purchased for sale to the public
  • We gave 5 Guided walks and 4 slide talks to local groups
  • Organised a Pond Dipping event and hosted Moth & Bat survey evenings
  • System of Volunteer Wardens set up to monitor the Copse
  • Woodland Trust grant enabled us to purchase more tools & equipment
  • Two BHCCG Notice Boards installed in the Copse for information
  • 3 leaflet box posts installed to distribute BHCCG and Dog Control leaflets
  • Pond-dipping platform built at Cops Pond
  • 2 Rustic seats put up on top bank and refurbished access stiles.
  • Two Glades were cleared to encourage more Butterflies.
  • Hawthorn hedge planted along the boundary of Bridge abutment
  • Access path to Centurion Way from B.H.Lane resurfaced by WSCC.
  • C.D.C completed safety work on all dangerous trees throughout Copse.
  • Public liability Insurance for BHCCG renewed for 2006/7.
  • Contractor completed coppicing in the Copse for this year.
  • All mature trees tagged for identification mapping & a possible tree trail.
  • Tree Preservation Order obtained on some of the mature trees along the boundary.
  • The Wrenford Centre are producing Bird Boxes to replace those vandalised.
  • WSCC refused our request for a speed limit at the Parking area, but have agreed to our request to complete the footpath in the lane from Lavant Road.
  • Ponds look in good shape but there are no ducks on B.H.Pond this year.
  • Sunday work party was abandoned but maintenance work continues with Wednesday afternoon group every week throughout the year.

Jim Ayling 1/6/06.

Which bluebell is ‘right’ for the Copse?

What is your favourite time of year to walk through Brandy Hole Copse? For me, it would be May – when the bluebells are flowering. A walk through a bluebell wood on a warm, sunny spring day can be an almost magical experience. It certainly raises spirits to see the blue carpet and breathe the sweet rich scent of a bluebell wood.

As might be expected of such evocative flowers, bluebells have a rich folklore with many associations with fairies. Don’t listen too hard, though, for folklore suggests that hearing a bluebell ring presages illness or worse!

The native bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta was voted Britain’s favourite flower in a survey carried out by Plantlife in 2002. They are found in many damp habitats, but grow best in shady broad-leaved woodland. In 2003, as part of Plantlife’s national bluebell survey, the Chichester Natural History Society counted the bluebells in Brandy Hole Copse. There were about 250,000 flowering stems found through the Copse, largely under the sweet chestnut coppice.

Half the world’s population of non-scripta grows in the UK, placing an obligation on Britain to protect it. Yet even in an LNR such as Brandy Hole Copse it is under threat. It is illegal to collect bluebells from the wild for commercial purposes.

There is, however, a more insidious and real threat to Brandy Hole’s bluebells – competition from and hybridisation with the non-native Spanish bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica. This was introduced to Britain by the horticultural trade and now grows in many gardens. It is more vigorous than the native species and will out compete it. It also breeds freely with the native species producing a vigorous hybrid that is now common in gardens and in the wild.

How can you tell a native bluebell from a Spanish bluebell? This is easy using the criteria after the following photographs:

Native bluebell Spanish bluebell
Leaf width 7 – 15mm 20 – 35mm
Flower colour Deep violet-blue Pale blue (sometimes white or pink)
Flower shape Narrow straight-sided bells Open, cone-shaped bell
Petal tips Curve back onto the petal tube Flare outwards slightly
Pollen colour Pale cream Deep blue
Shape of flower stem Droops to one side Stiff and upright
Arrangement of flowers On one side of stem only All round the stem
Are the flowers scented? Yes strong sweet scent No scent

The CNHS survey in 2003 established that almost all the bluebells in the Copse were native ones. However, there were Spanish bluebells at the entrances to the Copse and close to Brandy Hole Lane. Since these pose a threat to the native bluebells in the Copse they will be removed.

Mike Perry

Dragonflies in the Copse


A good year for dragonflies

This year has been a good one for butterflies and dragonflies in the Copse. In particular many of you may have noticed the numbers of dragonflies flying there, and I thought it might be interesting to say a little about these fascinating insects. Before that, however, there are two common misconceptions about dragonflies that need to be corrected.

Firstly, dragonflies do not sting! They may look ferocious and have long narrow abdomens, but they do not sting and are quite safe to humans. Secondly, dragonflies spend most of their adult lives away from water. It is true the larval stages live in water – perhaps in Willow Pond – but the final adult stage spends much of its aerial life away from water.

The full-grown larva climbs the stem of a plant at the edge of the pond. At the top of the stem, it dries and the adult insect emerges. This adult spends weeks flying along rides and woodland edges where it feeds on smaller insects.

When sexually mature it returns to the pond to mate. The mated female will lay her eggs in the water so starting the cycle again.

Two main types of dragonfly will be seen as you walk through the Copse. The larger are the hawkers. These “hawk” (that’s how they got their name) along woodland edges and rides searching for prey, and are fast, acrobatic fliers in the sunshine.

The two most common species in the Copse now are the southern hawker and the migrant hawker.

A medium-sized brown or red dragonfly will be a darter. These sit on suitable perches – being especially fond of the top of dead foxglove stems. From these perches they watch for insect prey, “darting” out (again the source of their name) to catch it before returning to their perch to eat it.

Most darter dragonflies in the Copse are common darters – the male is red and the female brown – although the ruddy darter may sometimes be seen over Willow Pond. Damselflies are much smaller insects which fly with shimmering wings over the water in Willow Pond. It has even been suggested that the shimmering of a damselfly’s wings in flight was the origin of the idea of fairies! Several species of damselfly frequent the Copse including the azure, common blue, blue-tailed and large red. The last-named will be the first damsel seen in the year – look for it over Willow Pond from mid-April onwards.

Of the 39 species of dragons and damsels resident in Britain, 11 have been seen in the Copse. In addition to the hawkers mentioned above, other large dragons include the emperor, broadbodied chaser and the hairy dragonfly. The hairy is the first large dragonfly to appear in the year – look for it from early May onwards. It has been noticeable this summer how much use the dragonflies are making in the Copse of the new areas of coppiced sweet chestnut and the rides cut by the Crumblies. Their conservation work is beginning to pay off!

Mike Perry

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