FOPHC

Friends of Priors Hill Copse

The Management Plan for 2011 to 2031 (PDF)

Botanical Survey of Priors Hill Copse 2014 (PDF)

The aim of the group is to reverse the decline of the copse and ensure its survival for future generations. To create a window in time to show how the copse was managed in the past.


The Friends of Priors Hill Copse – Ancient Woodland in Butlocks Heath

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.

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.

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.

There was an undesirable uniformity to the standard trees which is being addressed through selective felling and planting.  A  25 % reduction in the canopy was carried out by tree felling during 2013. Storms in early 2014 reduced the tree canopy still further. The money necessary to carry out this work has come from a number of sponsors but the main sum was in the form of a grant from the Heritage Lottery fund.

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.

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.

If you would like to know more about the group, volunteer or become a member please contact: –

Hound Parish Council
Parish Office
29c Station Road
Netley Abbey
SO31 5AE

Telephone 023 80453732

Website: –

www.houndparishcouncil.org

 

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.

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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

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Later in the year there are all sorts of wonderful fungi to catch your eye.

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When snow is on the ground the copse is quite magical!

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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.

If you would like to know more about the group, volunteer or become a member please contact: –

Hound Parish Council
Parish Office
29c Station Road
Netley Abbey
SO31 5AE

Telephone 023 80453732
Websites: –
www.houndparishcouncil.org

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