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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Northpark Copse, West Sussex. Ancient Chestnut stools & their many Bryophytes 08.09.23.

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Northpark Copse is an SSSI but it is not a nature reserve; however there are public footpaths which run through the copse. It is located to the north of Midhurst in West Sussex on the Greensand Ridge between Midhurst and Haselmere. To reach Northpark Copse by public transport from Brighton the quickest way is to take the train from Brighton to Chichester (55 minutes) then take the 60 bus from Chichester (45 minute journey, runs every 30 minutes) 60 - Chichester - Midhurst via Lavant, Singleton & Cocking – Stagecoach South – bustimes.org and then take the 70 bus (direction Guildford) to the stop on the A263 near Henley (the bus does not stop in the village of Henley) (about 10 minutes, runs every 60 minutes). 70 - Guildford Bus Stn - Midhurst Bus Stand – Stagecoach South – bustimes.org


All sections of text in italics are quotations, sources sited.


The photographs are presented in the chronological order of my walk.


I am only an amateur naturalist; thus all identifications are provisional; if you note a mistake in identification please feel free to tell me. If you want to contact me about any aspect of this blog, email me at simeon[underscore]elliott[at]gmail[dot]com.


Northpark Copse is on the greensand ridge (Hythe Beds) - a hanger woodland on the sandstone ridge. I found out about Northpark by reading its Nature England SSSI citation: 1000577 (naturalengland.org.uk). All the SSSIs in Sussex are listed here List of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in East Sussex - Wikipedia and here of Sites of Special Scientific Interest in West Sussex - Wikipedia, with links to the Natural England citations and to the Natural England maps for the sites. No one had ever mentioned Northpark Copse to me and I have never met anyone who has visited the Copse, and I saw no one else while I was there!


When I visit new sites I search the Sussex Rare Plants Register Microsoft Word - RDB_final_v2.doc (sxbrc.org.uk) by location. There were no listings for Northpark Copse as a location in the register, so it would seem a fairly unvisited copse. Ancient coppiced Sweet Chestnut Castanea sativa stools in an oceanic microclimate of the Hythe Beds of the Lower Greensand is a rare if not unique habitat in Sussex (and probably the UK), and the site is both stunningly beautiful and biologically fascinating.


The only reference to it in the current on-line literature is the Serpent Trail guide The woodlands around Bexleyhill make up the Northpark Copse to Snapelands Copse SSSI, designated for its moss, liverwort and lichen communities; the damp, shady conditions create the perfect microclimate for these primitive plants and lichens to thrive. While the northern section of the woods was once wood pasture, it has now overgrown and is dominated by oak, beech, yew and holly – now a rare and important type of woodland in the south east. The southern section has quite a different character, being maintained as a coppice. South Downs Walks: The Serpent Trail


In the 1191 'Habitats and Vegetation of Sussex', the introductory chapter, written by Francis Rose, of Rose, Stern, Matcham and Copins, Atlas of Sussex Mosses, Liverworts and Lichens, Rose says It is in the cryptogramic flora ... that this region [Hythe Beds woods] is rich. Apart from the good fern flora, there are numerous bryophytes, especially on the sheltered banks, including the handsome local mosses Dircranium majus and Plagiothecium undulatoum. Even chestnut coppice stools have remarkable flora. For exmaple in Northpark Copse such local mossis as Dicranium Monatnum, D. tauricum, Leucobryum juniperroideum and Herzagiella seligeri occur on acid, decomposing wood with commoner species like Tetraphis paluusida. However, much of the cyptogramic richness of the Hythe Beds is in more oceanic species which are concentrated on sheltered north-facing scarps, or in the gullies which cut down to impervious beds of clay beneath that throw put water as springs . p.18. It is always worth revisiting Rose's 'Habitats and Vegetation of Sussex' (reprinted in the Sussex Botanical Recording Society's (2018)The Flora of Sussex; as it contains descriptions of locations and their species that are found no-where else; it is a great aid in deciding where to visit in Sussex


The geology of the Southdowns, Wealden Greensand and the Low Weald; Northpark Copse in on the sandstone ridges

The network of woodland includes hanger and linear woodlands; hedgerows, retaining hedgerow trees and deep, narrow sunken lanes and other country lanes Overall Character of the Wealden Greensand (westsussex.gov.uk)


Northpark Copse SSSI


Reasons for Notification: This site contains an important bryophyte (mosses and liverworts) community with many species more typical of the damp, acidic uplands of northern and western (Atlantic) Britain. These species have survived as relicts of a time, 5000 years ago, when mild, wet Atlantic conditions covered the whole country. The site lies on a north east facing escarpment formed by the Hythe Beds of the Lower Greensand above Fernhurst. Many springs rise at the junction between the sandstone and the underlying Atherfield and Weald Clays and these, together with the protected shady aspect account for the outstanding bryophyte and fern floras. The most significant areas bryologically are the sweet chestnut Castanea sativa coppice and the stream valleys. The old stools in the chestnut coppice of Northpark Copse support six species of the moss genus Dicranum, of which Dicranum majus, D. fuscescens and D. flaggellare are rare in the south east. The moss Leucobryum glaucum forms carpets between the stools. On Bexleyhill the Atlantic liverworts Bazzania trilobata, Marsupella emarginata and Kurzia sylvatica are present together with the uncommon moss Plagiothecium latebricolor. The stream valleys contain the moss Hookeria lucens and the liverworts Trichocolea tomentosa, Barbilophozia attenuata and Pellia neesiana. Lady fern Athyrium filix-femina and lemon-scented fern Oreopteris limbosperma are present together with hay-scented buckler fern Dryopteris aemula 1000577 (naturalengland.org.uk)


From the Henley bus stop on the road find the sign to the Serpent's Trail; then follow that path through Northpark Copse. It takes about 45-60 minutes to walk to Northpark Copse.


After visiting Northpark Copse I walked through Woolbeding Common and then took the New Lipchis path back to Midhurst - but this is a two to three hour walk; of course you could just retrace your steps to the bus stop you got off at/


The walk through the woods between Henley and Northpark Copse


This part of the Serpent Trail to Northpark Copse is dominated by ancient Beech, Fagus sylvatica with deep drovers paths, and many ferns.


Dead Birch, Betula sp with Artist's Bracket, Ganoderma applanatum


Ganoderma applanatum is a very common perennial bracket fungus. The underside is creamy white and can be scratched with a sharp point to leave brown marks and so produce artistic images - hence the common name. Ganoderma applanatum, Artist's Fungus (first-nature.com). It is a common cause of decay and death of beech and poplar, and less often of several other tree genera Ganoderma applanatum (Pers.) Pat. (gbif.org)


Scaly Male Fern, Dryopteris affinis


Scaly male fern is an ancient-woodland-indicator plant. If you spot it while you're out exploring, it could be a sign you're standing in a rare and special habitat. Scaly Male Fern (Dryopteris affinis) - Woodland Trust


A dead trees stump covered in a Cladonia sp. lichen; a common sight in the High Weald and the woods of the Greensand Ridge north of Modhirst


Sunken lane (Drover's way)


Hoary Willowherb, Epilobium parviflorum


Waterpepper, Persicaria hydropiper, in a wet flush


Northpark Copse


Bank Haircap Moss, Polytrichum formosum, with capsules


A Pellias sp liverwort


Silky Forklet-Moss Dicranella heteromalla




White Earwort Diplophyllum albicans

A common calcifuge occurring in a wide range of habitats such as soil, stumps, logs, boulders and rock faces in woodlands and wooded ravines, banks by footpaths and forestry roads, streamsides, rocky gullies, sphagnum bogs, heaths, and on mountains in virtually all habitats from cliff ledges, block screes, streamsides and moraines to exposed rocky summits and fell fields. ... It is also a common component of montane and oceanic montane bryophyte and hepatic [liverwort] mats. Diplophyllum albicans - British Bryological Society


Horn Calcareous Moss, Mnium hornum


Hard Fern, Struthiopteris spicant


The banks aside the coppiced hazel stools had many Hard Ferns. An evergreen calcifugous fern of damp peaty or loamy soils, often on ditchbanks Blechnum spicant (L.) Roth in BSBI Online Plant Atlas 2020


the fronds are single pinnate, which means that the individual leaflets the frond is divided into, known as the pinnae, aren’t further divided. They grow directly opposite each other on the stem which gives them a herringbone appearance. They taper in at both the tip and the bottom of the stem.


Hard fern is dimorphic, which means it has two types of frond – sterile and fertile. The sterile foliage has long, flat, leathery, dark green fronds with slightly wavy edges. They arch outwards, almost parallel to the ground, and can grow up to 30cm. The fertile fronds are longer, narrower and upright. They grow in the centre of the plant with their leaflets spaced further apart from each other, and the outer edges rolled inwards on the undersides. Hard Fern (Blechnum spicant) - British Plants - Woodland Trust


Common Pouchwort Calypogeia fissa

Pellias genus species


Sweet chestnut Castanea sativa stool


Waved Silk-Moss Plagiothecium undulatum



A Forkmoss, Genus Dicranum


Common Smoothcap, Atrichum undulatum


Banks of the Sweet Chestnut coppice


More White Earwort, Diplophyllum albicans


Pincushion Moss, Leucobryum glaucum


A species with a broad ecological range, but largely confined to acid humus and peat. The main habitats include acid woodland, damp and wet heathland, moorland, and various types of mire from lowland valley bogs and fens to upland blanket bog, where its hummocks are colonised by other bryophytes Leucobryum glaucum - British Bryological Society



Bank Haircap Moss, Polytrichum formosum; showing antheridia; a type of specialized gametangium of the haploid (n) gametophyte, one that contains the sperm-producing cells. Antheridium - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics


Pincushion Moss, Leucobryum glaucum


Probably Broom Forkmoss, Dicranum scoparium


Probably Heath Plait-Moss, Hypnum jutlandicum


Probably Pincushion Moss, Leucobryum glaucum


Probably Pincushion Moss, Leucobryum glaucum, on the sweet coppice stools and banks


The bank along the Serpent Way through Northpark Copse


Probably Broom Forkmoss, Dicranum scoparium



Marsh Cudweed, Gnaphalium uliginosum

dense grey-white woolly hairs on upperside of leaves; flowers in loose, leafy inflorescences; phyllaries pale brown with darker brown tips. On clay or sandy soils, often in short turf or bare areas such as paths. Marsh Cudweed | NatureSpot


Redshank, Persicaria maculosa


Probably Cladonia polydactyla growing on a dead chestnut stool


Chestnut stool with Leucobryum glaucum


Waved Silk-Moss, Plagiothecium undulatum; a large and conspicuous moss, Plagiothecium-undulatum.pdf (britishbryologicalsociety.org.uk)




Probably Ferruginous Bee-Grabbers, Sicus ferrugineus , on Nipplewort, Lapsana communis. This is one of those parasitic insects you don't want to be reading too much about over your dinner. It does what it says on the tin, grabbing it's victims, often mid-air and injecting its eggs in their abdomen. The larvae that develop over the next 12 to 14 days, killing its host in the process. Ferruginous Bee-grabber (Sicus ferrugineus) - by Philip Booker - JungleDragon


Probably Common Powderhorn, Cladonia coniocraea; very common on deadwood on trees of the weald and greensand ridges, A ubiquitous Heathtail type Cladonia on acid bark, also found on lignum and less often acid soils. Characterised by fairly small grey-green, green when wet, podetia mostly pointed at the apices, which are predominantly farinose-sorediate but usually with a persistent corticate zone at least at the base. Robust podetia sometimes bear small, abruptly expanded terminal cups, that may hardly exceed the breadth of the podetium. Cladonia coniocraea | The British Lichen Society


Scaly Male Fern, Dryopteris affinis


A Metellina sp. spider, possibly Lesser Garden Spider, Metellina segmentata


Of all the garden orb-web spinners, this, together with the very similar M. mengei are the commonest and most abundant species. Metellina segmentata | British Arachnological Society (britishspiders.org.uk)


A bank on the copse with a range of mosses, including Waved Silk-Moss, Plagiothecium undulatum

Waved Silk-Moss


Sweet Chestnut, Castanea sativa


Probably Cladonia polydactyla. A small to medium sized Cladonia characterised by the blue-grey podetia colour, supporting narrow cups when mature, with coarsely granular-sorediate mixed with squamules and red apothecia and pycnidia. ... Widespread and often common on rotting wood, also on soil and amongst mosses, especially in damp of shaded habitats. Cladonia polydactyla | The British Lichen Society

Its loation ion a rotting stump


A dead chestnut stool with moss over lichen probably Leucobryum glaucum and Cladonia coniocraea


Common Centaury, Centaurium erythraea


Probably Smooth Hawksbeard, Crepis capillaris


A combination of Cypress-leaved Plait-Moss, Hypnum cupressiforme and Pincushion Moss, Leucobryum glaucum





Woolbeding Comon


From Northpark Copse I walked onto Woolbeding Common; Woolbeding Common is a lowland heath supporting rare birds such as woodlark and nightjar. Reptiles thrive here among heather and gorse together with specialist insects such as long-horned beetle Woolbeding Countryside | Sussex | National Trust. Here are some bonus photos of the some fungi and lichens from the common


Possibly Usnea cornuta, fallen from an Quercus robur

Oakmoss, Evernia prunastri, on a Quercus robur

Probably a Tawny Grisette, Amanita fulva

Common Greenshield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata

Probably a Blusher, Amanita rubescens






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