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The Fields and the Copse

April 3, 2007 2007 Spring No Comments

Graham Ault

Have you ever thought how small and vulnerable the Nature Reserve is? Indeed it is so small that you could question whether it is viable for nature conservation purposes.

The Copse is a small area of managed woodland. In places you can walk from one side to the other in about ten seconds! At its broadest it takes a few minutes. It contains archaeological remains which limit the activities that can take place to promote biodiversity.

Birds, insects, plants and animals do not recognise artificial human boundaries. If it suits a butterfly to fly into the fields to survive, that is what it will do. If there is water in the pond in the fields, that may be preferred by some creatures to the more enclosed ponds in the Copse. We cannot artificially say that the edge of the Copse is where nature conservation starts and finishes.

We have some plants, insects, animals that rely totally on the woodland areas but there are many also that rely mainly on the fields. Butterflies are a good example. We have some 24 recorded in the Natural History Society survey data. Only a very small number of those are essentially woodland butterflies (such as White Admiral and Speckled Wood), but the majority rely also on open glades and open fields. Those who walk in the meadows in the summer will see the huge numbers of butterflies everywhere (until the field is cut!).

One of my favourite features of the Reserve is the number of Green Woodpeckers. They sit in the trees at the edge of the Copse, they nest in trees in the Copse but they feed mainly in the fields. Take away the fields and these wonderful birds will leave. Their habitat is the combination of the fields and the woodland.

Informal management of the fields in recent years has demonstrated their potential for new plants to appear or return. Who would have thought we would have records of Common Spotted Orchids at a woodland reserve, but we now have them in both of the fields.

A Reserve that combined both the fields and the Copse would confirm what has in effect developed naturally and would provide for Chichester a Reserve that maximises biodiversity in an area that would then become viable and linked up with the characteristics of the environment to the North and West of Chichester. Surely this is something worth fighting for!

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,

Common Spotted Orchids spotted

June 28, 2006 Friends No Comments

Following recent rumours it can now be confirmed that Common Spotted Orchids have been found flowering in the triangular field next to the Brandy Hole Copse. It is believed that these are the first sightings in this field.

Graham Ault, chairman of the Brandy Hole Copse Conservation Group, said “They are not a rare orchid, but are nonetheless a great plant to have and they are protected. I suspect this is a consequence of some years of almost non-management of the field, which has been based on set aside with annual cuts (which is accidentally a very good meadow management regime).”

Graham went on to say “I believe that all these discoveries add to the overall value of the reserve and its immediate environment, and add to the logic to have the fields included in the reserve.”

For any enquiries please contact Graham Ault.

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