The aim of the group is to reverse the
decline of the copse and ensure its survival for future generations.
The Friends of Priors Hill Copse - Ancient Woodland in Butlocks Heath
The Friends of Priors Hill Copse - Ancient Woodland in Butlocks Heath
Priors Hill Copse is an area of ancient woodland, a beauty spot and a site of importance for Nature Conservation.
Our group was formed on the 15th July 2008 with the aim of reintroducing coppicing which had been neglected for at least twenty years possibly as much as fifty years. Coppicing is the long established system of woodland management, which seems to produce the best habitat for many species of flora and fauna.
There are three appointed officers: -
Fund raising enabled start up and the purchase of basic hand tools and equipment...
Our first workday took place on the 8th December 2008 when a general clear up took place along with some light thinning of holly.
Working closely with Hound Parish Council and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) we were working again on Sunday 1st February, clearing holly thicket from one of the designated coppice areas.
Some Coupes have had holly removed in the past so we should be able to complete this essential part of the project by the end of 2013 when we should see some signs of regeneration.
In March we had a lovely display of Wood Anemones, (Anemone nemorosa) quite prolific.
Netley Guides in a clear up day on the 19th April 2009 helped the group cut back holly that was obscuring one of the main paths through the copse. Later that month we had the first of what was to be a superb display of bluebells. They were at their best in early May.
Although we have not seen much regeneration in the coupe, that was cut earlier in 2009, Speckled Wood butterflies - Pararge aegeria were quite numerous where we had been working (A White Admiral - Limenitis Camilla was seen in the summer of 2010).
Our concerns are that the intense shade caused by the holly plants over several years has damaged the natural regeneration capabilities of required species within the copse. It may be necessary to give nature a helping hand by introducing saplings that have the right provenance. To help in this respect Dick Walters organised a seed gathering Sunday on the 27th September 2009. With the help and support of the local guides he is raising saplings from those seeds that can be used for any necessary infill.
On the same day (27th September 2009) a second FOPHC team removed broken glass and rubbish from the area adjoining the allotments where a hedge was to be reinstated.
On December 5th 2009 Dick Walters and Charlie Moore planted 45 saplings in the BBC ‘Tree O Clock’ national tree planting event. Whilst they had an hour to complete the task it was actually done in less that 15 minutes – a great achievement. Although there were storms and high winds during the night the clouds cleared during the morning of the following day when there was a larger scale planting of a hedgerow with circa 400 saplings being planted, staked and covered with plant protectors. Although the event was scaled down somewhat due to the stormy weather conditions twenty-three volunteers, including members, participated. Members of the local guide group took an active part and with their help we had a very successful event.
On Monday 7th December 2009 we had a visit from Jon Stokes, Tree Council Director of Rural Development
After two hours viewing the copse Jon informed us that it is of particular interest, as an example of rare Oak Coppice. So our Copse is both Ancient and rare.
The main focus of our management plan must change, although we will still want to reduce the amount of holly thicket. The ground immediately circling any ancient Oak tree boles that have been either coppiced or pollarded will be haloed (cleared). It may be that an initiative may be taken to re-introduce oak coppicing but on a long cycle (20 years minimum). This work will not be entrusted to a conventional tree surgeon. Specialist skills must be engaged
Historical data is needed, as is a mapping of the copse showing exactly where ancient examples are located and the intensity of their distribution.
The intention is that we do no oak pollarding/coppicing for at least a year whilst we are fact gathering. When it goes ahead it will be on an experimental basis.
Reducing the canopy by pollarding/coppicing will improve the chances of regeneration and diversity within the copse.
Our responsibilities have increased and I feel it incumbent upon us to preserve the historic nature of the copse. Jon Stokes urged us to map the copse more thoroughly with particular care taken over the location and intensity of oak coppice. It would be helpful if some historic data could be uncovered including maps. We may have access to historical records made available to us by the Woodland Trust. I will see if anything is immediately available to us from Ordnance Survey.
It was suggested that we get an archaeologist to take a look at the boundaries to the copse and see if he can give us an estimate of age. It was decided that the most productive and cost effective research into the age of the earth bank would be achieved via a ‘desk’ survey. Unfortunately the archaeologist we approached was over committed elsewhere. Historic investigations will be carried out using our own resources.
Our range of intended surveys will be extended to include butterflies, insect life, bats, mammals, flora and fungi.
If, as anticipated, we go ahead with an oak coppicing regime we will have to carefully manage and cater for the concerns of local residents. Of course the best way is for them to take an interest now and voice any concerns at our meetings.
On Wednesday the 6th January 2010 a ‘Wednesday Conservationists’ work force led by Bernie Stirzaker was due to tackle the reduction of holly in two more of the coupes. The intention was to follow this up with FOPHC volunteer labour on Sunday the 10th January 2010 and deal with any residual holly and tidy where necessary. However our plans were scuppered by the most severe snow and ice conditions for twenty years or more. Instead we had a workday made up entirely of members on Sunday the 24th January 2010 when copious amounts of holly were removed from coupes and good progress was made toward achieving our target for 2010.
We arranged to get contractors in to further what we have started and then on the 7th February 2010 members again tackled the removal of any excess holly. Hound Parish Council grounds men will organise chipping of the spoil. The chippings will go as a natural improvement to path surface within the copse. Spreading the chippings is something we can do in the quiet season
We were successful in obtaining major funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to support our ‘The Three Cs’ project Conservation, Community Challenge. The main objective is to create a self sustaining project. Engaging with the community is a major part of the initiative.
Already we have used Heritage funds for: -
o First Aider training, 12 members.
o a new interpretation board which was designed by the group and made up for us by a local printer.
o a new gate and improved access at the main entrance. The gate was installed using Heritage funding but the gate itself was donated by Hampshire County Council.
o a summer event – engaging with the community at Hound Parish Hall. Presentations from FOPHC (Dick Walters and Mike Presswell) and guest speaker - Jon Stokes. Demonstrations of Coppicing, Tree plantation methods and Lathe pole making were given in the copse after a buffet lunch.
o presentation equipment, notebook, projector, screen and camera were all purchased with Heritage funds.
Use of the allotment and container storage will facilitate our plans for engaging with the community. It will be an ideal meeting point on our work days. We intend to give guided tours of the copse and show it in all its beauty to our visitors.
Our ten year Woodland Management plan expires this year. Work is well advanced in the production of a new ten year Woodland Management plan.
We need more people to take an interest in what we do – if you are interested and would like just hear about our plans (be on our e-mailing list) or take part contact: -
Dick Walters 0781188211( firstname.lastname@example.org ) or
Mike Presswell 07807595779 ( email@example.com )