The reason that Priors Hill copse is also know as Bluebell wood, before the holly took over the carpet of blue would run almost up to the reservoir. Bluebell ‘ Hyacinthoides non-scripta‘
Bluebells can be found in damp, shady fields, hedgerows and woodlands throughout Britain. The blue is of such a brilliant quality that the woods seem full of blue smoke, flowering in masses where clearings are created, the flowers are sweetly scented. They are slow to spread due to the fact the seeds can only fall a short distance from the parent plant.
The bluebells can lay dormant for years but once the conditions are right they will burst forth. There is a problem with Spanish bluebells which are larger than the English variety and if left unchecked can take over from the native ones, we have had a few Spanish ones turn up in the copse which we remove from the site.
The differences are English have their flowers all on one side of the stem while Spanish the flowers are all around it’s stem. English bluebells are smaller and a lighter shade of blue. All parts of both plants are poisonous
The reservoir borders the North end of the copse it is now owned by a private fishing club. It was created in the 1800s to operate a water lift in the military hospital on the shore side of Netley Abbey it was called the Royal Victoria Hospital. Troop casualty’s would be brought by ships sailed up the Solent and disembarked onto long pontoons.
One of the many stories relating to the hospital is the building plans where mixed up and they built Queen Victoria’s India summer palace here and the hospital in India.
Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria is a widespread and abundant flower of early spring, enjoying wetter conditions than its near relative the Wood Anemone. Its leaves are heart shaped, glossy on long stalks. Forming a floppy rosette springing from a clump of fat dumpy roots. The solitary flowers are also shiny, with eight to twelve pointed glossy petals forming a bright yellow star. Which open wide in sunshine but close in dull weather revealing three green sepals underneath. It’s strange because this is growing along side Wood Anemone and its not a damp spot and its a long away from water. One possibility is that during the long period of shady some 70 years due to the holly it may have been damp enough to take hold.
Wild cherryPrunus avium. Prunus is the classical name the plum to which the cherry is a close relative. Avium refers to birds which are attracted to the fruit as soon as it ripens. This is the trees stratagem to help disperse it’s seeds, they pass through the bird once it’s eaten the fruit. The white flowers appear in clumps just before or as the leaves appear.
It can grow up to 25m making it Europe’s largest cherry. It has been cultivated for many centuries for food, timber and fuel wood. Cherry wood burns well, wet or dry, with perfumed smoke , smelling faintly of the blossom. If left alone a tree will sucker over a wide area and could make it a nuisance. If allowed to sucker they have the ability to turn in to cherry forests but in reality they are really all one plant and are usually self sterile.
It is one of the parents of numerous edible forms of domestic cherry. It is also widely used as a root stock for grafted orchard trees and flowering ornamentals.
Blackthorn / Sloe Prunis spinosa. Is a densely branched spiny shrub or small tree. Producing numerous 1 cm single white flowers before the leaves in early spring. Which turn in to blue-black globose fruits which are astringent to the taste. But cooked they make delicious jam or jelly, and can also be used to make sloe-gin. It’s a common hedgerow shrub that layers well and creates animal proof hedging. Wild plum flowers at the same time and can be mistaken for blackthorn, it is said that once the flowers turn brown winter is out.
This just one of the many areas were the brambles and wild raspberry’s were cut back for the spring flower bonanza. The first will be Wood Anemones ‘Anemone nemorosa’ it’s a pretty spring flower, which grows from what looks just like a lumpy root (known as a ‘rhizome’). It is a indicator plant for ancient woodlands and makes the most of the sun light before the canopy grows over. It is a member of the buttercup family but it’s flowers are a little unusual, in that they have no petals, only sepals, which are white in colour. These are known as primitive flowers. They are a slow spreading plant due to the fact a lot of their seeds are infertile.
In 2008 a group of local residents came together and formed Friends of Priors Hill Copse, working closely with Hound Parish Council their aim was to look after an area of ancient woodland. During their first year they not only organise activity days, for themselves and volunteers, where they clear the woods of any rubbish, cut back the holly or coppice one of the several coupes. But also with the help from TCV they formed a committee, with a Health and Safety policy, carried out risk assessments and commissioned a !0 year management plan. FOPHC have a core group of 16 members which can grow to 30 or more on work days, we also have a large amount of followers interested in the copse. Our first chairman started the ball rolling to raise funds for the work need to be done. He was instrumental in securing a £50.000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage, this allowed the group to make sure we were able to complete the aims of the management plan.
The group have a variety of work days ranging from tree planting, coppicing after training from TCV and holly removal. There were also guided walk with expert speakers on Butterflies, Bats, Tree / flower identification and Wild food foraging. Over the years the group has form links with various organisations Then Tree Council, Butterfly groups, Bat conservation and Grow wild uk.
To help commemorate the centenary of World War One FOPHC planted 100 trees with biodegradable tree guards complete with poppies.
Friends of Priors Hill work closely with variety of groups such as local Girl Guides, young adults with learning difficulties. The latest addition is Woodland Owls a local play group who have collected seeds from the copse grown a tree and planted it out. The are helping in a project this autumn which is planting a community fruit area funded by Tesco bag grant, FOPHC and Hound Parish Council.
From day one Friends of Priors Hill had strong support from The Tree Council and their Tree Wardens. In 2013 to help keep Eastleigh Tree Wardens alive FOPHC took them under it’s wing and Eastleigh Tree partnership was formed. One veteran Tree Warden is John Chandler who has been a stalwart supporter of both the Tree Wardens and FOPHC always attending workdays what ever the weather.
I have been a Tree Warden since 1989 over the years I have run their tree nursery at it’s height we where supplying 1000 free trees a year. Over the years I carried out numerous conservation projects and became Tree Warden coordinator. I assisted with the formation of FOPHC also the Eastleigh Tree Partnership culminating with becoming Chairman of FOPHC. To mark my 25 years of being a Tree Warden I was honoured with a invitation to a Queen’s Garden Party. To find out more please go to the following sites. http://www.thetreecouncil.org.uk http://www.growingnative.org.uk
Last year two large projects were carried out, the first was the coppicing of thirty oak trees. This is part of a oak coppicing trial to gauge the regeneration of large oaks, the trees will be monitored for the next five years, if there is a good response a second area would be considered. The trees where removed by traditional horse extraction this helps prevent damaging the ground. All large tree extraction has been carried out this way, it’s thought this actually assists regeneration of seeds in the seed bank. The coppicing also increased the light to a rare area of coppiced Alder Buckthorn.
The second was to have The Wednesday Conservation group to cut back the brambles and bracken throughout the copse. The also moved the brash wood left over from the oak this was used to continue the dead hedging being built within the copse. The bracken and bramble cut back gives the wildflowers a chance to put on a good show. This also allows any tree saplings to be highlighted and halo, it’s hoped they will develop and eventually shade out the brambles.
Although we have been removing Holly we only removed 90% the remaining 10% we tried to make sure that it had some female holly among the remaining trees. This is to ensure that there was still a food source for Holly Blue butterflies that visit the copse.
Common Blue Celastrina argiolus
A widespread butterfly often found in parks, gardens also a frequent visitor to Priors Hill
Wings are bright blue. Females have black wing edges. Undersides pale blue with small black spots which distinguish them from Common Blue.
The Holly Blue is easily identified in early spring, as it emerges well before other blue butterflies. It tends to fly high around bushes and trees, whereas other grassland blues usually stay near ground level. It is much the commonest blue found in parks and gardens where it congregates around Holly (in spring) and Ivy (in late summer).
The larvae can grow up to 15mm in length and are generally green in colour with a pale yellow line along each side and a small jet black head which is goes generally unseen due to it spending much of the time deep within a flower bud or berry feeding. When the larvae matures it turns red in colour and often show signs of the distinctive pale blue colouration of the butterfly near the head. The pupae is mottled with dark brown on a pale tan brown background is covered in short fine hairs. They are 8mm long and 4mm wide at the widest
The main priority for FOPHC in the beginning was to open the copse up by reducing the holly down to 10%. In the process of removing the holly it became apparent we had a problem as to what to do with the felled trees and bushes. We became increasingly aware that we had carry it out with out increasing the carbon footprint or reducing the copse carbon store. We tried shredding in the early days but this became prohibiting for various reasons, no one wanted shredded holly, carbon footprint increased due to machinery use and we where lowering carbon store. We finally settled on creating dead hedges in the copse this proved to be more valuable than thought. It not only answered the carbon footprint and carbon store questions but produced valuable habitat benefits for wildlife. While we waited for any natural regeneration we carried out various replanting schemes with trees and the dead hedges help prevent the young trees from deer predation.
Over the last 7 years we have removed 90% of the holly from the copse thinned out some of the oaks twice. Over that period, I have become increasingly concerned at the lack of or poor regeneration of species returning especially in the cleared coppice coups. The clearing of the copse has had some positive results namely in the increase of wild flowers and exposing some of the history of the site. Mainly uncovering old oak coppice stools and trees which I now think were the main activities in the past as opposed to general coppicing which we are trying to recreate now.
The original aim of the 2010 management plan was to restart the 7 to 9-year cycle of small species (hazel,rowen etc) coppicing and become a working history of coppicing. Due to the lack of regeneration I feel we won’t be able to start the cycle because there wouldn’t be anywhere for the wild life to move to and limited material to remove. We have carried out numerous planting schemes which are showing signs of taking however the growth will all be of a similar age and size which would still impede the coppicing plan. Opening the copse up has changed the copse beyond belief it now bears no resemblance to the original plan which is in the management plan. This is not bad news for the copse and wildlife however it means we have to look at it from a different perspective. I also feel that we have to leave a management plan for the future that we can hand back to HPC that is not costly and requires only minimal labour. I have set myself a 5 year target to try and get the works done subject to the committee and Hugh Millner our woodland advisor agreeing with my ideas.
PRIORS HILL COPSE
A beauty spot on your doorstep.
Priors Hill Copse is located at the north of Butlocks Heath and the south of Old Netley, within Hound Parish (grid reference 468092) and can be accessed via The Grove in Butlocks Heath.
Hound Parish Council own and care for this lovely piece of ancient woodland. Although small it has real importance and is of special interest for nature conservation. It provides a haven for wildlife on our doorstep and deserves to be preserved for the generations to follow. Hound Parish Council owns 3.88 hectares of the Copse, the remainder being shared by private owners and the Castle Angling Club, which owns the section including the reservoir.
Two world wars drastically reduced the manpower needed to maintain woodland in Great Britain. Changes in building methods and manufacture reduced demand for wood produce in the 20th Century. The system of coppicing fell into disuse and the consequence was a drastic loss of biodiversity. Nevertheless Priors Hill Copse was still productive woodland and worked by a local family until just a few decades ago. Timber and wood was harvested for use by local bakers, brick makers and builders. As you walk around the copse you will see hollows and mounds to the sides of the paths, where clay or gravel was extracted for these trades. Charcoal was another by-product of the harvested wood. At the centre of the copse are several compartments that were coppiced in rotation. Those compartments are being managed again to improve biodiversity.
One of the best times to see the copse is early May when the bluebell is in full flower and the scent of Rowan blossom hangs on the air; but it is beautiful the whole year round.
In April you will be treated to the sight of lovely wood anemones growing by the paths Later in the year there are all sorts of wonderful fungi to catch your eye. When snow is on the ground the copse is quite magical!
The main entrance to the copse is in The Grove, Butlocks Heath, Southampton. An easy amble around the copse will take from 15 to 20 minutes. The paths are natural so you should be careful of uneven ground and tree roots that could cause you to trip.
Indications are that this woodland has been under some form of woodland management for hundreds of years.
Priors Hill Copse has very old oak stools that show it was used for oak coppicing. There aren’t many examples of oak coppicing in the South of England so this is a rare site. Another rarity is a complete coppice area of alder buckthorn which we believe was originally planted to aid the manufacture of gunpowder. Alder Buckthorn produces a very fine charcoal which was much prized in the manufacture of gunpowder, being regarded as the best wood for the purpose.
To preserve the health of the woods and boost biodiversity there has been a sharp reduction in holly.. The holly has been rampant, choking the wood and preventing the regeneration of other indigenous species. The dense nature of the plant restricts sunlight and warmth essential for regeneration of trees and shrubs, vital to the life cycles of invertebrates and wildlife.
Rumour has it that the holly infestation was started about a hundred years ago when gamekeepers introduced holly in the vicinity of the reservoir to provide cover – either from sight or the elements.
Creating more variety of tree height is reducing the umbrella effect of the canopy and helping to achieve the cycle of light and shade which promotes biodiversity. To bring this about a vigorous programme of felling and pollarding is in place.
Come to the copse in summer and you will see butterflies, Commas, Brimstones, Speckled Woods, White Admirals, Holly Blue, Longhorn Moths and Peacocks, as well as the Large White. All sorts of birdlife fill the Copse with their song and Woodpeckers busily rap the trees.
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.