Jonathan Howe

The following notes are meant as a beginners guide to gauging the potential commercial worth of coppice offered in standing sales. There is nothing more daunting than walking into an acre of densely stocked 8-year old hazel and trying to decide if it is good enough for you to make a living on. If you are feeling optimistic your spirits will be lifted by the sight of many straight stems on a stool to your left, while ignoring the poor twisted and stunted specimen growing under an oak on your right. What you are buying in an acre of coppice is quality rods, the highest value coppice will yield the highest number of rods and the minimum of waste.
Before looking closely at the hazel stools bear in mind the following points – all of which may affect the price you offer –
  1. Access to the wood, how close can you get your vehicle and are the tracks likely to be open in wet weather.
  2. Restrictions on access times. If you are short of wood it is no good buying a piece of coppice in September if you can not start cutting until after shooting in February.
  3. The presence and density of standard trees, although providing useful shelter or shade, will also seriously reduce the stool quality under them.
  4. The presence of unwanted species, for which you have little use. Bramble in great drifts can be a nuisance particularly if the contract demands you clear it.
  5. Tidiness – of course you would not leave the site in a mess if you ever want to come back again! But it is not necessary to burn up the tops in good coppice – leave them over the stools. Estates that insist on burning everything are costing you valuable time and this should be reflected in the price you pay.
Spend time closely examining a piece of wood you intend to buy. Surely half a day spent carefully measuring is time well spent, when you may be spending the next six months working up the piece you have chosen. A long time to live with a mistake!
Grading coppice was based on three main factors:
Stool Density, usually between 400-800 stools per acre.
Number of rods per stool which can be as many as 60+.
Quality of the rods – minimum of 7 ft straight lengths up to 10 – 15 ft.
Grade 1 12,000 plus rods per acre with a yield of over 75% usable over waste should produce 1800 ft of hurdle.
Grade 2 8,000 plus rods per acre with a yield of over 60% usable over waste should produce 1200 ft of hurdle.
Grade 3 4,000 plus rods per acre with a yield of over 50% usable over waste should produce 600 ft of hurdle.
Grade 4 Less than 4,000 plus rods per acre with a yield of less than 40% usable rods.

What you pay depends on you, but bear in mind that 1800 foot of hurdle sold at £5 per foot = £9,000 and with less than 25% waste you should be able to spend most of your time making the hurdles and other products, rather than cutting and preparing your wood.

Calculating the Grades
Stool Density 400 stools per acre = stools 3.5 yds apart
  500 stools per acre = stools 3 yds apart
  750 stools per acre = stools 2.5 yds apart

Check a selection of 10 stools choosing the closest and widest apart to get an average.

Number and quantity of rods per stool – Count a random selection of at least 12 stools. Counting is easier if you quarter the stools laying sticks across them to avoid double counting.
Count both usable rods and unusable (waste) rods to give you the percentage yield. If the wood is well stocked with stools you will not need more than 20 rods per stool to achieve a 12,000 rods per acre total.
No of Stools per acre Usable rods per stool to produce
  12,000 rods/ acre 8,000 rods/ acre 4,000 rods/ acre
400 30 20 10
550 22 15 8
750 16 11 5
The critical factor in a lot of in-cycle coppice is the amount of waste caused by shading, deer browsing or previous extraction damage. The ingenious craftsman may be able to convert some of the waste wood into faggots, bean sticks etc. but be warned, if you are trying to make a living at making hurdles or spars leave well alone coppice full of unusable wood.

Jonathan Howe            5.9.95

edited                           12.9.96