Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many hardwood trees re-grow from the stump or roots if cut down during the winter when the trees are dormant. Sweet Chestnut, Hazel, Oak, Ash, Birch, Willow, Lime and Alder are all species which coppice well. Coppiced trees are maintained at a juvenile stage, and a regularly coppiced stool will never die of old age—some coppice stools may therefore reach immense ages, with evidence that they have been continually managed for centuries.
Managed coppiced woodland is harvested in sections or coups on a rotation; the length of the cycle depends upon the tree species and the use to which the product is put. Willow for weaving can be cut on as little as a four year cycle while Oak firewood may take fifty years.
In this way, a crop is available to the coppice worker each year somewhere in the woodland. The shifting mosaic pattern of a well managed coppice provides a rich variety of habitats; after cutting the increased light to the woodland floor allows flowers such as Bluebell, Anemone, Primrose and many others to grow vigorously, brambles provide cover for small mammals and piles of deadwood encourage insects into the area, all of which provide a food source for a range of butterflies and birds.
As the coup grows, the canopy closes and it becomes unsuitable for these animals again—but in an actively managed coppice there is always another recently cut coup nearby, and the populations therefore move around, following the coppice management. It’s a symbiotic relationship that has formed over the course of thousands of years.
Unfortunately many British coppices have not been managed for decades and as a result the coppice stems have grown tall (in this case the coppice is said to be over stood) and formed a heavy canopy which severely limits the light to woodland floor, the result is sparse vegetation and less bio-diversity. The open-woodland species which thrive in a coppice are forced to survive in small numbers along the woodland edges and rides or not at all and many once common species are now a rarity.
The variety of products our local woodland can provide is vast; from hazel fence panels through to timber framed homes, there is an enormous resource in the British countryside waiting to be utilised. In the last ten years or so there has been a revival in the number of people actively coppicing British woodlands. Increased demand for the products the woodland can provide, along with the acknowledged ecological benefits of coppicing, has played no small part in this resurgence. It is a trend we at Artizans of Wood are committed to promoting for the benefit of the woodlands and the coppice workers.