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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.

Rain doesn’t deter pond dippers

May 30, 2007 education, Friends No Comments

Nearly 50 people braved the pouring rain and chill of this May half term to spend a morning pond dipping in Willow and Cops ponds in Brandy Hole Copse. Lots of pond creatures were spotted including plenty of the popular newts and tadpoles. Keen eyes also spotted baby newts looking like a mini cross between a tadpole and fish.

Less common creatures were also seen, including ferocious-looking dragonfly larva and also two Water Scorpions with their long straight tails that we learnt were actually breathing tubes. The number and variety of creatures indicated that the ponds continue to be ecologically healthy.

Led by Judi Darley and Graham Ault from the Friends of Brandy Hole Copse committee, the event was considered a great success and gave the opportunity to use pond dipping equipment purchased with grant funding from the Woodland Trust.

Judi said “We wondered if anyone would turn up in the wet and chilly weather and we were pleased and surprised to see so many people brave the weather to come along and have a great time”.

The next event will be a moth and bat walk in August.

Dragonflies in the Copse

Dragonfly

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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