My journey with Trees

A journey from seed to the internet

In 1989 my journey into the world of trees and conservation began with me becoming a Tree Warden. Little did I know what a life changing learning journey it was going to be.
I started by doing the Tree Warden courses in tree identification, planting and aftercare. My first project was to join the Tree Warden’s Native Tree Nursery which was in my parish. It became a fast learning curve going from helping to running the nursery. Moving it from bare rooted stock to root trainer trees at its peak we were supplying other Tree Wardens with a 1000 trees a year. In the early years Hound Volunteer group was formed and carried out various projects in my parish one being turning a council tip into an ecology park.
A serious accident in 1996 spelled the end to my practical conservation work. But the tree bug was now in my blood and I still felt I had to do something to help trees. I started thinking about recording all the tree growing knowledge I had learnt. Talking with my friend and mentor James Watson he suggested creating a website and sharing what I had learnt with the world. Not knowing how to even turn a computer or where to start. I applied for a National Pioneers award which funded the project supplying the computer and training.
In 2000 at the Itchen Valley Country Park Growingnative was launched by TV presenter Chris Packham. Over the years the site’s grown and supported other groups and Tree Council projects, it had also became a record of all my volunteer work over the last 25 years. But due to the growth of the internet and modern technology the site was becoming stale so I had to decide whether to keep it or close it down. Thanks to the generosity of Hamble Yacht Services and Friends of Priors Hill Copse funds where raised to bring the site into the 21st century. With the help of Strawberry Marketing who host the site the new look Growingnative was relaunched.

garden party
About to go in to the Queen’s Garden Party
The end of our first workday

How we came about

We are a volunteer group and our purpose when we formed in 2008 was to look after an area of ancient woodland , owned by Hound Parish Council, called Priors Hill Copse.
Until about forty years ago the copse was still working woodland and productive. Wood was harvested for local bakers, brick makers and builders. Charcoal was produced from the harvested wood. As demand for timber and wood declined so did the woodland management, so essential to keep its biodiversity in good health. Over the last twenty years there has been a reduction in the number of ancient woodland plant indicators.
The need for timber and wood declined so did the woodland management which is so essential to keeping the biodiversity in good health. Over the last twenty years there has been a reduction in the number of ancient woodland plant indicators.

Alder Buckthorns black fruits

An almost unique coupe of Alder Buckthorn is a feature of the copse. We believe that alder buckthorn alder was used to produce extra fine charcoal prized as an additive to gunpowder manufacture.
Research to support these theories is ongoing but the indications are that this woodland has been under woodland management for hundreds of years. Priors Hill Copse has really old oak stools showing that it was once used as oak coppice. There are very few examples of oak coppicing in the south of England so this is a rare site.

Although formal woodland management plans have been in place since 1986 lack of funds and resources created a stop go approach which has impaired the biodiversity. The ten year plan dating from year 2000 required, amongst other objectives, a return to coppicing. Surveyors recommended a 90% reduction in holly which was choking existing flora and preventing the regeneration of indigenous species.
The prevalence of holly restricts the fall of sunlight and warmth to the woodland floor, essential to the cycle of insect and plant life.

Holly clearing 2010
The holly clearing starts 2010

It is rumoured that the holly infestation was started over a hundred years ago when gamekeepers introduced holly in the vicinity of the reservoir to provide cover, either from sight or the elements.

The present Woodland Management plan is to severely reduce holly growth, 100% within the coupes and 90% in other areas, through cutting and coppicing, reinforced by the application of herbicide and volunteer work.
Creating varied tree height will achieve a cycle of light and shade which will promote biodiversity. To assist this process 900 locally grown indigenous trees were planted at the end of 2013 and a further 900 the following year.

Horse extraction
Horse Tree Extraction

Felling the trees was not undertaken lightly. We took specialist advice and carefully considered every step.
To avoid unnecessary damage to the woodland floor we had felled timber extracted by traditional heavy horse instead of machinery .
Some of the old oak coppice stools have been neglected for so many years that coppicing or pollarding might not bring about the desired re-generation. After careful observation of changes bought about by holly clearance, and canopy reduction, limited experimental work will be done in an attempt to revive some of the older oak stools.
Apart from the forgoing we have two key medium to long term tactical objectives.

  • Engage with, and raise the interest of, the local community
  • Create a self sustaining (finance and resources) woodland management culture.

The Friends of Priors Hill Copse are a group of local residents who, working closely with Hound Parish Council, are very active in managing and caring for the copse. During the year they organise activity days, for themselves and volunteers, when they clear the woods of any rubbish, cut back the holly or coppice one of the several coupes. They welcome new members and volunteers. Participation is free to volunteers but there is a small annual fee for full members.