Engaging Children with Nature 3

After the wildlife area we moved on to the playground area for the reception children. We decided that it would be easier and wiser to paint the sheds and pergola while the children were on Easter break. Then the children could plant out the tender plants and vegetables when the risk of frosts past.

The pergola before painting

While painting and cleaning out the planters around the pergola we found the post were rotting away at the base on each one. This meant it was not safe the school having no funds to cover these sort of problems meant it would probably have to come down. After speaking with the schools Headmaster it was decided that one of the childrens Dad and the caretaker would install new post free of charge if we could come up with funds to pay for it. Due to this being a project connected with The Tree Council via The Tree Warden scheme, Friends of Priors Hill Copse came to the rescue and funded the materials. Apart from this disappointment the day went well with sheds painted, scented decorated pots, vegetable plot prepared, child friendly native hedge with wildflower seeds sown.

This is how you do it grandad
Flower border with wildflower seeds, fragrant pots
Vegetable plot, compost bin and fragrant pots

A small child friendly hedgerow made up of Goat Willow and Grey Willow to give some early colour a few wildflower seeds sown.

Some early nectar plants going in.

Last one going in
A splash of colour
Another splash of colour

It’s hoped to finish the planting with the children by the second week of May otherwise the vegetables will have taken over my potting shed. We have Peas, Runner Beans, lettuces, cabbage and marigolds all waiting to go in. The coloured planters behind the pergola are having different coloured Hydrangeas going in them.

Engaging children with nature 2

I was approached last year to help brighten up a reception classes playground and introduce contact with nature through sight, scent and growing. Whilst working on the design the school asked if something could be done with their wildlife area which was in its early stages.
With the generous help from The Tree Council, TCV, Grow Wild and Hillier Garden Centers I was able to put forward a twin project to the school.
Part one is to improve their wildlife area with native plants, bug houses, bird box and wildflowers.
Project two is to brighten up the play area with paint and plants.

The Wildlife Area

A group of parents and children from the school plus friends got together to work on the wildlife area.

Wildlife area before work commenced
Wildlife area before work commenced
Planting around mini water hole

They plant 200 native hedgerow trees consisting of Dog Wood Cornus mas, Mountain Ash Sorbus aucuparia, Bird Cherry Prunus padus and Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna. 135 green wildflower bulbs consisting of Wild Daffodil , Wild Garlic and Bluebell also a small area of wildflower seeds and Forget-me-not Myosotis ramosissima. Green bulb were chosen to try and give some instant colour having never used green bulbs before it might not have been my best idea. They are difficult to try and get a natural look and to keep reminding everyone plant down to the start of green on the plant. I am growing perennial wildflower plug plants for this autumn so I will get some more bulbs for the area to beef up the flowers for next spring.

Small wildflower seeded area

The last hole phew
A few of the gang
A clean sweep
Hedge planting
End product left of entrance
End view right of entrance

Next stage will be working on the playground part hopefully over the Easter break so we can paint the outside store buildings without painting the children.

Wild Flower growing project

January 2019

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.

yellow rattle
Yellow rattle flower

Field scabious Kanautia 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.

Field Scabious flower

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.

Foxglove flowers

Mallow Malva sylvestris

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.

Mallow flower

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.

seed cage
seed cage
Plug plant propagtor
Mallow seedlings

Engaging Children with Nature

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 edge before planting
Area before planting
Ready for planting

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 Tree Council gang

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.  

Jon keeping everyone busy but safe
Woodland Owls planting
Fruit bush’s going in

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.

Community area sign
One section of the finished project
Another completed area

Trees and Fruit Bushes

Apple Cox Malus 

Blackcurrant Ribes Baldwin

Gooseberry Ribes Captivator Red

Gooseberry Ribes Invicta

Pear Pyrus Conference Maiden Quince

Redcurrant Ribes Laxton No1 

Whitecurrant Ribes White Versallies

Blackberry Rubus Quachita Thornless

Raspberry Rubus Autumn Bliss

Blackthorn Prunus spinosa

Dog Rose Rosa canina

Malus Everesta


A Ray of Hope

Guelder rose
The white flowers of Guelder rose

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.

guelder rose
Bird predated guelder rose

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.

Guelder rose fruit
Guelder rose fruit

guelder rose
Copse picture of Guelder rose

This is a very encouraging event for everyone, after years of concern this is a sign that our work as not been in vain.

Yew the Eternal Tree

A majestic yew tree

Yew Taxus baccata 

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.

yew fruits
The red fruits on a female yew tree

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.

green man
The Green Man

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.

yew regrowth
Regrowth on a felled tree

Yew regrowth
Regrowth on second yew stump

Irish Yew
Upright growth of Irish Yew

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.




Friends of Priors Hill 10 years old

Holly clearing 2010
The holly clearing starts 2010

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!
Dick Walters
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.

Holly clearing 2010
The holly clearing starts 2010

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.

Dead hedges and oak stools
Holly used to create 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.

3rd Quarter 2012 (3)
Area cleared seen in 2012

3rd Quarter 2013 (3)
Same area 2013

3rd Quarter 2014 (2)
Again a year later 2014

3rd Quarter 2015
Small sign of regeneration

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 ruber – English oak

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.

Oak tree
Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com Typical oak tree

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.

Ancient stool
Old oak stool possible 150 to 200 years old

One of the uses for oak trees was coppicing for building and fuel in the form of charcoal.

Typical coppiced stool
Regrowth on a coppice oak stool

This is one of Priors Hill copse oak tree coppiced last year the first one in over 70 years.

brown acorn

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.

Quercus Rober leaves and flowers
Robur Stalkless leaves

Qercus petaera leaves
Petraea stalked leaves

The reasons for FOPHC

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.

Holly clearing
The clearing starts

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.

A typical workday
The early members

3rd Quarter 2012 (3)
Area cleared in 2012

3rd Quarter 2014 (2)
First year after holly cut back



3rd Quarter 2016
Same area 2016

.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.

March 2018
Present Day





Returning to the Past


Old coppiced stool
A old oak stool found when thinning

This is an extract from our management plan outlining how far back the copse goes.


Priors Hill Copse was part of Hound Manor (Hound is from the Old English (OE):’Hune’ and refers to the plant ‘hoarhound’). At the time of Domesday (1086) Hound was owned by Hugh de Port, who was a major landholder in Hampshire. In 1242 the Manor was owned by Robert de St John, then by Netley Abbey until 1536, when all small religious houses were forced by the Crown to sell their land. From then to the 1760s Hound was owned variously by Sir William Paulet, Edward Seymour (Earl of Hertford), the Marquis of Winchester, Sir Berkeley Lucy, Richard Rooth and then Lee Dummer of Cranbury, who sold all his lands including Cranbury to the Chamberlaynes in 1766, who remained landowners here into the 20th century (Victoria County History-VCH).

Oak coppice trial trees
Tree selected for coppicing trials

Using the timber from the copse finally ended in the mid-20th century with the local woodsman retiring.

 Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which exploits the capacity of many species of trees to put out new shoots from their stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, which is called a copse, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level, known as a stool. New growth emerges and after a number of years, the coppiced tree is harvested, and the cycle begins anew. Pollarding is a similar process carried out at a higher level on the tree. A oak tree  can take 300 years growing, 300 years living and 300 years to die, coppicing extends the trees life for as long as the coppicing continues.

Typical coppiced stool
Regrowth on a coppice oak stool

All broadleaves coppice but some are stronger than others. The strongest are ash, hazel, oak, sweet chestnut and lime whilst the weakest include beech, wild cherry and poplar. Most conifers do not coppice.
Before we tried to restart coppicing the oaks we started to thin out the oak trees and we noticed the regrowth appearing on the stumps the following year. While thinning we also came across oak stools that could have been 100 to 200 years old.
The woodsman would know what wood he could get from the woodland he was working that year, he may have paid the landowner a fee to extract the wood, coppicing is done in the winter when the wood is dormant. Fast growing wood like willow, hazel would be coppiced on a 2 to 7 year cycle, as one area is coppiced the wildlife moves to the adjacent coup. A copse would be divided into coups and these would be managed in a way that there was always somewhere for the wildlife to move to. The material would be used for hurdle fencing, thatched roof pegs, pea sticks, the brush wood would be used to make brooms or faggets for repairing river banks except for willow which still be able to grow. Hard woods like oak , chestnut would be coppiced on a 15 to 25 year cycle. This material could be used to make cleft fencing, oak poles, also logs for fuel.

Ancient stool
Old oak stool possible 150 to 200 years old

One of the many jewels we found once the holly was removed that indicated this could be a oak copse. The oak trees in this area from eye level resembled a pine forest with telegraph pole trees not spreading oaks, these trees were managed not naturally grown.
most of the trees we are using in the coppicing trails are about 70 to 100 years old.

Dead hedges and oak stools
Holly used to create dead hedges

How the cleared holly was used to keep our carbon footprint low.

oak stool
Showing a multi stemmed stool but no regrowth

A multi stemmed oak stool showing no signs of regrowth possibly because it could not be cut at the correct height. Normally the size of the stem denotes the height to cut on these tree it is about 1 meter from the ground. This is where the best regrowth generates from on some trees they produce growth on lower parts of the trunk which is called ectopic growth and could indicate the tree is under stress.

Good oak stool
Oak stool showing good growth

A healthy sign of regrowth the woodsman would monitor the growth and thin out depending on what he was marketing. When wooden sailing boats where being made shipwrights would visit woodlands and select or train the growth of branches and trees to make parts of boats like hull ribs a natural joint is far stronger than a man made joint.