Coppicing is a form of Woodland Management dating back thousands of years. Our Neolithic ancestors discovered that when trees were cut down the stump would sprout a multitude of stems that were smaller, fast growing and easily utilised. These people used the small poles primarily to make track-ways over wet ground.
Coppicing continued in its growth, and by the mid 13th century, most of our woodlands were managed as coppice. Coppicing remained an important rural industry in Britain until its decline started in the 1850s, when a decrease in the demand for traditional products came about. This decline increased dramatically after the First World War when major industry started to manufacture products that were once supplied from the woods by coppice workers.
Coppicing is a highly sustainable method of producing rapidly growing useful wood without the need to replant. Most of our native Hardwood Trees in Britain will coppice freely. The most frequently used species are hazel, ash, oak, willow, field maple, and a very popular coppice wood in the south of England, although not a native tree, is sweet chestnut.
Coppice Wood has many different uses ranging from firewood to woven fence panels, depending upon species and age. Varying ages of coppice growth affect the type of end product; seven year old hazel is ideal for hurdles while fifteen year old growth is more suitable for hedge stakes. The list of products that can be made form coppice material is almost endless.
Some of the more common uses are:
- Hazel – Hurdles, Thatching Spars, Bean and Pea Sticks, and Walking Sticks.
- Ash – Tool Handles, Gates and Tent Pegs
- Oak – Laths, Fencing Materials, Gates, Tiles and Small Timber
- Sweet Chestnut – Fence Posts, Cleft Rails, Stakes, and Walking Sticks
All of these can be used for charcoal and rustic furniture.
The economic value of coppice woodland is slowly increasing as more derelict coppice is brought back into rotation and worked once again. There are now grants available to help pay for the restoration work needed in order to return the coppice back to its former glory and levels of productivity. Good quality coppice is now much sought after and for the first time in many years a hazel coppice auction was held near Winchester in 1994 and has been held annually ever since.
Coppice Woodlands can support a wide range of different trees, allowing various degrees of light to reach the woodland floor; they also contain a vast range of flora and fauna, most notably bluebells in spring. Many plants and animals including the dormouse have adapted to coppice management and have become dependent on it for their survival. The dramatic decrease in coppicing in the 1920’s has meant a major loss of our flora and fauna. It is because of this that many wildlife trusts all over Britain are actively promoting the re-introduction of coppicing in their woodlands.