Coppicing

Most of Ashplats Wood is Ancient Woodland, which means there has been a wood on this site for more than 400 years.

P1040568-1
Coppicing in action

For centuries, up to around 1960 woods were an important resource; trees and shrubs were regularly cut down and allowed to re-grow, creating a mosaic of old and new growth with variations of light and shade. These continual changes encouraged a wide range of plants and animals to survive. Coppicing smaller trees and felling large trees, known as standards for timber was a common way to managed a woodland resource.

Some of Ashplats Wood has been coppiced in the last 10 years or so, and, in conjunction with Mid Sussex District Council, further work is due to take place (weather permitting) in the winter of 2011-12.

So…

Q: What is coppicing; I’ve never heard of it?

A: Cutting down the stems of trees or shrubs to near ground level and allowing the new shoots to re-grow i.e. a sustainable way of harvesting timber.

Q: How much cutting down will there be?

A: Coppicing is normally carried out in blocks, called coups, on a rotational basis.

Q: What trees can be coppiced?

A: Any native tree except conifers.

Q: Won’t cutting down trees kill them?

A: No – not if the plant is still vigorous; a coppiced tree can live for hundreds of years; sometime much longer than one that is not coppiced.

P1050493
A Sweet Chestnut springing back into life after coppicing

Q: So shouldn’t we now just leave the woods to grow “naturally”?

A: We could, but we would no longer see the fantastic range of woodland plants and animals that has survived because of Man’s activity and we would be discarding a renewable resource. Coppicing encourages biodiversity through woodland management.

Q: Apart from encouraging biodiversity, what’s the purpose of coppicing?

A: To provide wood for making things or for firewood or charcoal.

P1040746
Coppice regrowth

Q: What sort of things?

A: Fencing. Sweet Chestnut is still used regularly for fencing in Sussex; the logs can easily be split and used for rails; the wood is strong and durable and has little sap wood. Hazel can be used for wattle fencing, thatching spars, hedging, runner bean poles and pea sticks. Ash can be made into furniture and tool handles. Wood has many uses; just look around you – there should be plenty in your house.

P1040964 (Large)
Splitting a Sweets Chestnut log for fencing

Q: What trees or shrubs are mainly coppiced?

A: Hazel and Sweet Chestnut are now the most frequently coppiced; Ash was also coppiced regularly and less frequently Oak.

Q: How often does coppicing occur?

A: That depends on the wood and how well it has grown; for sweet chestnut about 15-20 years; for hazel around 7 years; for Ash around 20 years and for firewood 10 years or more.

Q: How long has coppicing been carried out?

A: For hundreds of years. The word “copse” means a coppiced wood.

Q: Why don’t I see much coppicing now?

A: Fewer people work in woodlands today because there is less demand for some products. However even today there is a demand for firewood and charcoal – renewable resources from local woodlands!

Q: How do you know Ashplats Wood was coppiced?

A: Look closely at the trees and shrubs in the Wood; many are multiple stems growing from the base. This is the result of coppicing.

Chestnut pallings on a roof
Chestnut pallings on a roof

Q: What’s pollarding?

A: Similar to coppicing but the branches are regularly cut higher up; typically between 5 and 10 feet (1.5 to 3 metres). This is done to prevent animals browsing the new growth.