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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.

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.

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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