This year I am trying something different for 2 projects I am carrying out this year. Growing wildflower plug plants for the Community Fruit Area project and creating a wild area for a local school. Follow me through the ups and downs as I try to grow the following wildflowers.
Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor This variable, erect and stiff stemmed plant is semi-parasitic on the roots of various herbs and grass. It acts like a colonising plant leading the way for other wildflowers to follow by reducing the grasses thus opening up the land. It’s dark green leaves are coarsely toothed and stalkless. Borne in the leafy spikes are yellow flowers they can also be brownish with violet or white teeth on the upper lip. The fruit capsule turn brown when ripe and contain many seeds which become loose and rattle.
Field scabiousKanautia arvensis
This plant is rather robust and hairy with purple spotted stems and basal leaf rosettes. The lower leaves are pinnately lobed while the basal ones are spoon shaped and undivided, the upper are smaller and less divided.
Foxglove Digitalis purpurea
This plant produces a large leaf-rosette in it’s first year which are hairy and greyish green. In the second year a erect leafy flower stem is produced with soft hairy leaves which are smaller than the lower ones they are also unstalked. Drooping funnel shaped flowers are pink or purple with darker spots inside. Fruit capsules which contain many seeds are produced from the lower flowers first slowly working it’s way up the flowering stem. This plant is poisonous.
Another robust, hairy plant with erect and occasionally sprawling leaves. The leaves are alternate and rounded in outline but have 3 to 7 shallow, blunted lobes which are toothed. On the upper leaf axils flowers in 2 or more clusters are produced which have 5 deeply notched pink or purple petals. The seeds are produced in a ring of one seeded segments.
The seed are being grown in 2 ways the first is outside in a seed cage converted from a dog cage. I have had problems in the past with bird getting at the seeds hopefully this will persuade them leave my seeds alone and just eat the ones in their bird feeders. Secondly I have sown seeds in a small plug plant propagator in the potting shed which is frost free which I am trying for the first time. So far the first signs of movement are from the Mallow in the plug plant propagator.
Earlier this year I was fortunate to be awarded a Tesco Bags community grant for a project. This was to create a Community Fruit Area between Priors Hill Copse and the local recreation ground. The aims were to give something back to the community for their help and support with Priors Hill. Also to increase the biodiversity and improve the wildlife corridor along the edge of the copse. The project would be carried out by Eastleigh Tree Partnership, Friends of Priors Hill Copse under the watchful eyes of the Woodland Owls a local play group. The fruiting area consisted of a mixture of fruiting bushes and trees such as Black, Red and White currents, Apple, Pear trees and Blackberry bushes. Some native plant were also included like Blackthorn Prunus spinosa, Dog Rose Rosa canina and Elderflower Sambacus nigra. Wild flower bulbs, wildflower plants and seeds where also planted to try and increase pollinating insects, bees and butterflies.
The ground was prepared by removing the grass and rotovating to make it easier for the volunteers to plant the 300 shrubs and trees. Planting day was a warm sunny day in November it was also the start of National Tree Week. This is a annual event ran by The Tree Council whose network of Tree Wardens organise community tree planting events nation wide. http://www.treecouncil.org.uk Turn out was very good some 40 to 50 volunteers and children turned out with Jon Stokes from The Tree Council running the planting day. But to my surprise he also brought all the staff from The Tree Council including the new CEO of The Tree Council Sara Lom. http://www.treecouncil.org.uk
The children from the local playschool The Woodland Owls kept a watchful eye also assisting with the planting. Part of the Tesco Bag Grant was to buy the playschool various items of bug hunting equipment like butterfly nets, microscopes and I.D books. They plan to inform me of any bugs or butterflies they find so far we have had a stag beetle, Holly blue butterfly and a robin I don’t think they got that in the microscope. Another important role they will play is to monitor the fruiting area and report back when the wildflowers appear.
We could not have a better day for the planting event wonderful sunny shine and a great atmosphere the children enjoyed them selves and the grown ups where well behaved. The following days it rained everyday which was great for watering in the plants.
After an absence of 30 to 40 years Guelder Rose Viburnum opulus is making a come back to Priors Hill copse FOPHC butterfly spotter came across it while doing his butterfly walk. It is thought that birds brought the seeds back due to the predation of the berries it’s been to long for it to have come back from the copse seed bank.
Viburnum opulus is a small deciduous tree or shrub growing no more than 4m in height. Damp hedgerows, woods or rich disturbed soils is where it grows best. Dull green leaves in pairs, 2-4 pairs of leaflets with one at tip per stem. Oval, pointed and sharply toothed 3-12cm long stalkless. Large heads of white flowers appear in June, the outer showy ones are infertile attract insects to smaller fertile flowers in the center. Clusters of berries ripening red appear from September onwards staying on stems after leaves fall. Its ancient title was water or swamp elder because it produced elder type fruit and liked damp growing conditions.
Collect fruits before they are fully ripe from shrubs. Store fruit in plastic bags until rotten. Separate seeds from pulp in water ( maceration ). Sow seed immediately they are inclined to germinate in July/August.
This is a very encouraging event for everyone, after years of concern this is a sign that our work as not been in vain.
Taxus baccata is a tall evergreen conifer tree reaching up to 25m in height. It grows in woods and will tolerate shade, does well on chalky soils. It is widely used in large gardens as hedges and topiary. Dark green, flat, needle like leaves, 1-3cm long growing on two sides of the stems Yellow male and tiny green female flowers appear on separate trees in late February. These turn to red, fleshy, cup shaped berry like fruits in August.
The wood is orange brown with an attractive grain which polishes well, flexibility of the wood made it ideal for long bows. The foliage and seeds are poisonous so a lot of old yews are found in church yards which where wall and kept livestock out. So we are led to believe but research has show some of the trees are in fact older then the church. This is the case in my local church this can allow us to believe the church was built on a Druid site to help attract the local Celts into the church. There is evidence of them not totally following the church and when they helped in the construction of the church they carved the Green man in the roof beams.
Celts believe in rebirth and the Yew was very important due to the trees ability to regrowth from the main trunk unlike other conifers. After the Romans had systematically eradicated the Druids belief in reincarnation disappeared. The yew forests were cut down and quick growing spruce took their places.
Now days cannot form forests without man’s yew trees are not self-fertile and need a yew of the opposite sex to set seed unlike other conifers. All parts of the tree are poisonous except the soft fruit of which birds can eat and the poisonous seed passes through its system.
Some tips if you want to grow yew.
Collect fruit when brightly coloured from a group of trees. Also look for seeds at base of trees in birds droppings. Remove flesh and stratify for two seasons, sow in early spring very slow growing. Adding to the eternal tree belief yew trees respond well to cuttings, if a branch touches the ground it is able to strike roots. If you want to guarantee getting a female yew for the fruits you are best taking cuttings from a female tree it can take up to 25 years for seed grown trees to determine male and female trees.
On the 15th July 2018 it will be ten years exactly from the date of our formation.
We set off with high ideals to preserve the wonderful Priors Hill Copse and improve its biodiversity.
We have spent ten hard years removing and controlling holly growth. Following consultation with the Tree Council and other experts, over two hundred full sized trees were removed to improve light levels by reduction of the tree canopy. This successfully reversed the decline caused by nearly seventy years of neglect. During this process we’ve managed to engage the attention and support of the local community.
All this has been achieved, due to your commitment, dedication and hard work. We’ve reached all the target goals contained in the twenty-year woodland management plan and are held up as an example of excellence to other community groups.
I won’t list all the items we’ve covered in these achievements: some of you have been there since day one, every step of the way.
What I want to say is a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you. It’s been a great first ten years………here’s to the next ten!
Chairman Friends of Priors Hill Copse
I would like to show you through some of those years when we had our first meeting we all had high hopes but not the finances to attain them. Things started slowly we had volunteer workdays but the wall of holly seemed impenetrable we needed to find funds to make any impact.
The problem became harder when we tried to dispose of the felled holly no one wanted shredded holly we tried filling muddy holes in the copse paths. Then the dog walkers complained their dogs where getting spine needles in their paws, also by removing from the site and using motorised shredders increased our carbon foot print. A solution was found which reduced our carbon foot print and increased the copse bio-diversity in the form of dead hedges.
Funds were still sparse and slow in materialising then a fantastic turn of events. Due to the hard work of our Chairman who was successful in securing a Heritage Lottery grant of £50000 which allowed us with careful management allowed us to reach all the targets in the copse management plan.
The work in Priors Hill will never end as with all woodlands mans created (interfered) with man must keep it up. If not you could find what we found in 2008 and not be so lucky.
Quercus robur – English Oak is a large crowned deciduous tree reaching up to 35m in height. Growing in woodlands and lowland on heavy fertile soils. Dull green leaves with 4-7 unequal lobes, 5-12cm long growing alternately along its stems without stalks. Appearing at the same time as the leaves in late April, are clusters of pale yellow male catkins and tiny female flowers at the tips of shoots. Nuts in small scaled cups on stalks called acorns appear in late September, they are green ripening brown. Oak wood is a strong and durable timber and was the main ingredient in boat and house construction. The English oak has been the king of British trees hence its name robur meaning sturdy.
Crops vary from year to year Collect nuts from tree or ground when brown after the first frosts. Sow straight away to a depth of 10cm, in spring remove top 5cm and they should shoot in late April, protect from predators.
This oak is sacred to the Druids and mistletoe from from it was used in secret rites.
A line of oak trees which could hold a secret from the past this could have been a parish boundary hedge. They where used to mark boundary’s between parish’s and they would have been hedge trees which are hedge trees that where allowed to grow to their normal height and the trees in between cut to hedge height.
One of the uses for oak trees was coppicing for building and fuel in the form of charcoal.
This is one of Priors Hill copse oak tree coppiced last year the first one in over 70 years.
Quercus robur acorns
We have two oak trees Quercus robur English oak and Quercus petraea Sessile. From a distance they look very similar but their leaves and acorns are different, Robur the leaves have no stalks but the acorns do, Petraea the leaves have stalks and the acorns don’t. Robur leaves are a dull green colour where as the Petraea the leaves are a glossy green.
In 2007 the local Parish Council let community services clear an area of Priors Hill without minding the existing management plan resulting them clearing a non-intervention area. This lead to the council asking for volunteers to form a Friends of group to help the Parish Council with the management of the copse, 2008 saw the birth of Friends of Priors Hill Copse.
With the help of TCV, One Community work began to create a management plan, health and safety policy with risk assessments. The hard task of raising funds to carry out the work involved in the new management plan also began. With an astute Chairman we were successful in securing a Lottery Heritage grant of £50000 which enabled the group to carry out the work in line with the plan.
.The ground cover came back but the lack of regeneration from the seed bank still caused concern. This was reflected in the amended management plan allowing the copse to become a wild wood but with minimal management to allow continued public access.