Coppicing and pollarding – ‘cut and come again’ for trees!
Our woodlands are quieter today than they have been for thousands of years. Up until early in the last century most of our woodlands were active places of work, providing employment for thousands of people and a range of products for local communities. But now there is renewed interest in coppicing, green wood crafts and coppice products and a new generation of woodland workers is returning to the woods.
What is coppicing?
Most of our native trees will sprout again from the stump or ‘stool’ when cut down. This regrowth is very vigorous and rapidly produces a crop of straight poles which were historically harvested for a variety of purposes. The most commonly coppiced species across most of the UK is hazel (Corylus avellana). The majority of our woodlands were managed as ‘coppice with standards’ where most of the wood was occupied by growing hazel with a scatter (typically 12 or so trees per hectare) of timber species such as oak or ash. These ‘standards’ would be of a range of ages, so that each time the area of coppice (coupe) was cut one or more standards could be felled to give a continuous supply of timber. Each coppice woodland would be divided into a number of coupes of around 0.5 ha which would be felled in rotation annually to ensure a steady annual supply of coppiced hazel poles. Hazel coppice is normally cut at a rotation of seven to ten years depending on the proposed markets. Products include hedging stakes, thatching spars, pea and bean sticks, hurdles, garden items such as obelisks.
Research has shown that restoring coppicing in a neglected and dark woodland can have significant benefits for biodiversity – the maintenance of the diverse habitat varying from open ground to closed canopy is good for many woodland birds, butterflies and mammals such as dormice. And if coppice restoration also provided economic and social benefits to the woodland owner or manager and local coppice workers, everyone benefits.
Pollarding can be thought of as coppicing out of the reach of grazing animals. Centuries ago in hunting forests and parklands landowners would cut (most commonly) oak, beech and ash trees at a height of ten feet or so, allowing the tree to send out shoots from just below the cut. The resulting poles could then be cut after a couple of years to provide fodder for cattle, or allowed to grow on for 20 years or more to provide firewood and other produce. As with coppicing, this repeated cutting could be continued in rotation for centuries. The UK is particularly fortunate in holding a large number of veteran pollards, many up to 1000 years old or more, which have great biodiversity importance.
The Small Woods Association is Britain’s leading organisation for all those with an interest in the sustainable management and wellbeing of our small woodlands. We provide our members with training, networking opportunities and a quarterly magazine, support the coppice industry, run social forestry programmes and a UK wide coppice restoration project, and our policy work with regional and national
bodies ensures that the interests of small woodland managers, workers and owners are represented.