Location and access
OS map ref: SK 832051 (Sheet 141)
The reserve is situated south of Braunston village near Oakham, in the county of Rutland. From Braunston take the road towards Leighfield. After negotiating a sharp left hand bend at the top of the hill take the next right turn, sign-posted to Leighfield Lodge. Proceed another 800m and you will see the reserve car park on the right, just before a gate across the road. Waterproof footwear is always recommended.
We encourage visitors to use environmentally friendly forms of transport wherever possible. Most of our reserves are easily accessible by bicycle, with many close to the National Cycle Network. Please note that cycling is not permitted on the nature reserve itself.
Public transport - contact Traveline for further information www.traveline.org.uk or phone 0871 200 22 33.
Dogs are permitted on this nature reserve but only under strict control - able to bring to heel at all times.
The reserve covers 29 ha and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
History, habitats & management
Prior's Coppice is an ancient ash-maple and ash-wych elm woodland, probably a relic of the wildwood which covered all of Leicestershire and Rutland before prehistoric peoples started to clear it. The area which we now know as Prior's Coppice was probably not cleared of trees because the combination of steep north facing slope and the very heavy clay soil must have made it seem a very unpromising place for cultivation. Instead the local communities would have made use of the site as a source of timber and wood for fuel, building materials, etc.
Evidence of traditional management exists throughout the site in the form of giant coppice 'stools'. When most native British trees are cut down they do not die, but the stump, or 'stool', throws up numerous poles, which can be harvested every few years. This process, known as coppicing, seems to prolong the life of some trees, and there are specimens in Prior's Coppice with stools 5 m across. These must be several hundred years old.
Conservation management of the woodland involves re-introduction of coppicing in some areas to encourage those species which benefit from this process, and the retention of other areas as minimum intervention zones.
The wide rides present in the wood contain exceptionally fine examples of woodland marshy grassland, a distinctive but increasingly rare habitat in our counties. The rides are mown annually, and the cut vegetation removed. The shrubs alongside the rides are cut in sections on a rotation of 7-10 years. At some ride junctions glades have been created by coppicing of the surrounding woodland.
Features of interest
The ancient woods of east Leicestershire and west Rutland, with their predominantly heavy calcareous clay soils, are extremely rich in plant life, and Prior's Coppice is no exception. So far 230 species of flowering plants and ferns have been recorded, and there are large colonies of, for example, wood anemone, early-purple orchid, wood-sorrel and wood forget-me-not. Notable plants include broad-leaved helleborine. The rides contain many attractive species such us ragged-robin and common spotted-orchid.
Badger, fox, stoat, muntjac and grass-snake have all been recorded and of 71 species of birds noted to date, 42 have probably bred. There are good numbers of nuthatch, blackcap, garden warbler and many others. Rare visitors have included pied flycatcher and redstart.
Invertebrate life has not been as well documented, but species of interest which have been recorded are the very local speckled bush-cricket and the slug Limax cinereoniger. More than 200 species of moth are known to have occurred, and orange tip and brimstone butterflies are common in spring. Both purple and white-letter hairstreaks are present.
Live near here? Want to help out?
Why not join one of our teams of volunteers. We have regular work parties covering reserves in this area including Prior's Coppice. For more information contact us.