Primley Park, once the extended garden of Paignton Zoo's founder, Herbert Whitley, is a public open space which first opened its gates in 1995. Since then it has become a very popular place for those seeking more natural surroundings in the middle of Paignton.
The Park is edged all around by trees sheltering it away from the town and, once inside, the visitor can walk around the meadow and woodland and feel removed from the hustle and bustle of urban life. The meadow gives Primley Park its name as it comes from the term ‘prime lea’ or ‘best meadow’ and, not so long ago, horses were grazed on the lush grasses.
The combination of grassland, mature trees and dense scrub provides great habitat for a range of native species. We manage the grassland simply by taking a hay crop every year and cutting back the scrub which prevents a build-up of nutrients which would ultimately lead to the area becoming woodland. To see how fast that could happen, look for young saplings of oak and sweet chestnut amongst the grass in the summer. These were planted by jays and squirrels the previous autumn and then forgotten.
The woodland has some wonderful mature trees of significant age up to, and in a few examples, exceeding 200 years old. These mature trees will have developed features such as rot holes, splits and flaking bark that provide fantastic habitats for insects, fungi, bats and birds, to name a few. Whilst these features are good for wildlife they can be hazardous to people and so we manage our trees carefully, carrying out surgery to ensure they are safe. Surrounding these giant trees is a dense canopy of younger trees that are around 40 years old and have grown up naturally. These trees grew fast and were crowded so needed to be thinned out. Thinning ensures quality trees are retained, poor ones are removed and, over a long period of time, a better woodland structure is created.
One of the best times of year to visit the woods is in the spring when the bluebells and wild garlic carpet the ground, lit by the dappled sunlight.