History

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

In April you will be treated to the sight of lovely wood anemones growing by the paths


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.

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.

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

Hound Parish Council
Parish Office
22 Station Road
Netley Abbey
SO31 5AF

Telephone 023 80453732

Website: –

www.houndparishcouncil.org