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.
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).
Using the timber from the copse finally ended in the mid-20th century with the local woodsman retiring.
Coppicing. 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.
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.
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.
How the cleared holly was used to keep our carbon footprint low.
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.
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.
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