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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.

Brandy Hole Copse launches new Tree Trail

Tom Broughton

The trees of Brandy Hole Copse, Chichester’s only local nature reserve, are the focus of a newly created trail around the copse. Friends of Brandy Hole Copse (FBHC) have designed a leaflet, freely available to download from the website, Brandy Hole Copse Tree Trail, to highlight 12 species of the many and varied trees that exist on this popular nature reserve.

Studying Tree Trail

Lauren Lelliot (7), Jenny Broughton (10) and Clare Fraser (11) studying leaflet on the Tree Trail.

Trail designer and FBHC volunteer, Judi Darley, said: “We have chosen 12 trees in the copse to highlight their natural features and mythical stories.”

For example, did you know: “Folklore tells of the importance of beech trees in helping to grant wishes. A wish made with a twig of beech was pushed into the earth under the tree. From there it was collected by the Wishing Fairies and carried deep into the under-wood for the Fairy Queen’s consideration.”

Volunteer website manager and leaflet editor, Tom Broughton, said: “The leaflet includes a map of where to find the trees. Each tree in the trail has a tree-shaped badge on it. If you know where the trees are, then you can easily walk around them in 20 minutes, but they are not all obvious! However, a more relaxed stroll around the 15 acre copse would allow you to enjoy the many other points of interest in the copse, including three ponds, pre-Roman dyke and World War 2 defences. This is an ideal activity for children over the summer holidays.”

The colourful and informative leaflet gives details of how to get to the copse, including bus stops and proximity to the Centurion Way cycle path. Brandy Hole Copse is only 1¼ miles from Chichester Cross.

Clare Fraser said of the Tree Trail “It was real cool, cos you got to learn a lot and it was really fun”.

To launch the leaflet a Family Event was held in the copse as part of the Festivities on Sunday 6th July. All participants received sweets sponsored by Waitrose.

Also, a free raffle was held with prizes sponsored by Hidden Nature. The lucky winners of a nest box were Mr and Mrs Lee of Emsworth and the winners of a tree ID guide were Mr and Mrs Farmer of Milton, Portsmouth.

Awards for the Copse

December 4, 2007 2007 Autumn No Comments

South East in Bloom Award 2007

Jo Brooks and Nigel Brown receiving award from Duncan Goodhew

From the Chairman, Graham Ault

We were delighted to hear this Summer that the Copse has been recognised and commended again in the South East in Bloom Competition this year. We were visited by two sets of judges back in July, one as part of the Chichester entry for towns and cities in the South East and one as part of a special ‘Country Parks’ category.

South East in Bloom Award

The Award

Chichester won a silver award based on a number of parks and open spaces around the City, and Brandy Hole Copse was a significant part of that award. In the Country Parks category we fought off a strong challenge from a nature reserve in the Ouse Valley, Newhaven, to win the silver award.

I can confirm that there is a plaque for each of these awards although the District Council will not trust us to keep the Country Parks plaque (probably very wise!). However we can borrow it for special occasions.

There are times when we wonder if it can be worth all the effort that goes into preparing for this competition, but we have had great support from the District Council, who put together an excellent briefing document for the judges and supervised the whole process. My thanks in particular to Jo Brooks, our Environmental Officer at the Council.

This is all good news as it has been such a disappointing year in the Copse with the poor summer weather, the invasion of the travellers and the ever present threat of housing development.

Although I sometimes get depressed about the activities of some youngsters who vandalise the Copse and show it no respect, I must mention one young lady, Rosie Collins, who has, for the second year running, chosen to do her Duke of Edinburgh Award project in the Reserve.

Having done a wonderful job last year in recording our mature trees, she has this year carried out an excellent survey of butterflies and their nectaring plants (with some excellent guidance from Mike Perry). Thanks Rosie. It makes it all worthwhile!

The year in the copse, following the 2006 AGM on May 4

April 3, 2007 2007 Spring No Comments

May: Donated hedging planted along bridge abutment (wire fence removed). Volunteer from Workability joined Wednesday work group. Both BHCCG site notice boards remade waterproof . Site walk for Havant Wildlife Trust. Leaflet box post which had been thrown into Brandy Hole Pond replaced with a more substantial metal post.

June: Tagging of all mature trees in the Copse in progress. Location map of all mature trees prepared for survey work . Site walk with Emma Livett, CDC Environment Officer. Request for leasing triangular field to BHCCG via CDC . “You are here” label added to information boards, which unfortunately were deteriorating. Beetle trapping event by Chichester Natural History Society.

July: Site visit by Chichester in Bloom judges. BHCCG talk at St. Wilfrid’s Hall for Chichester Festivities. Guided walk with Society for Chichester Festivities. Vandalised stile E12 repaired. Small seat installed in glade area. Pond dipping platform installed at Cops Pond. Ten ducklings disappeared from Brandy Hole Pond after two days.

August: Butterfly Conservation Society visit to LNR. Moth and bat evening event, Chichester Natural History Societ . CDC replaced damaged Centurion Way dog waste bin. Damaged Brandy Hole Pond platform repaired. Water level in ponds lowest ever. Damaged glade seat remade more substantially. Rotary Club talk.

September: Entrance E7closed off (to be replaced by a hedge). Entrance E8 repaired. Strimming along Brandy Hole Pond bank by CDC. Volunteers joined from Breakdown Support Employment Services and Workability Agency

November: Vandalised traffic sign at access E3 replaced. Pedestrian entrance E10 rebuilt as a stile. Damaged litter bin replaced by CDC at Brandy Hole Pond. Repairs to E1 access stile. Invasive weed and debris removed from ponds.

December: Installation of seven bird boxes produced by the Wrenford Centre. Damaged info panel at Willow Pond replaced by spare panel. Buckthorn alder whips planted with Chichester Natural History Society. Need for roadside hedging replacements assessed with Crumblies. CDC urged to replace stolen Brandy Hole Lane road sign.

January 2007: Work on providing additional footpath on eastern part on Brandy Hole Lane cancelled indefinitely by WSCC. E7 access permanently closed with banked soil and hedging planted.

February: Ducks’ nesting area at Brandy Hole Pond protected. Dangerous hides removed. Brandy Hole hedging replaced as required by Crumblies. Stakes cut for Chichester Tree Wardens project. Patches of invasive brambles strimmed. Woodcrete nesting boxes secured to numbered trees.

View to Willow Pond

This view southwards through the Copse to Willow Pond was created by the Crumblies when they opened up one of several glades – which are providing valuable new habitat for insects and plants.

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

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.

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