by Michael Smith (Veshengro)
Clear felling is bad if there is no replanting done immediately afterwards and clear felling is generally only carried out in the so-called high timber forest and not in a coppice wood or a coppice with standard woodland. Even in high timber forest, whether deciduous or coniferous, if the areas are planted again immediately much of the impact is mitigated although today's methods of timber felling and extraction take a hard toll on the forest floor and destroy much of the ground-based ecosystems.
None of this happens in coppicing operations. There is not clear felling of the entire site but only of blocks, often arranged in grids according to whether it is managed in an eight year cycle or one that is larger, such as fourteen years or thereabouts. Thus the first sector is cut the first year and by the time the eighth sector is being cut the first one is almost ready to be harvested again (in an eight year cycle). In the meantime, for a few years, the woodland floor has been opened up to light and other plants have had a chance to thrive, and trees regrow either as seedlings or directly from the coppice stools. It is the way the woods in the British Isles have been managed since almost time immemorial and they thrived due to that kind of management.
Unfortunately there are a fair number of people in the green sector who suffer from cognitive dissonance in that they will only listen to others who also have little to no knowledge as to how woodlands and trees work and vehemently object to any woodland management being carried out, to the extent even of sabotaging the operations. They run around with the attitude that woods do not need to be managed and that Nature does all the management that ever will be needed, and they should allowed to become “wild woods” again. I am sorry, but I have seen Nature's gardening and it leave much to be desired.
What they do not understand and do not want to understand is that first of all there are no wild woods or wilderness woods in the British Isles and even the so-called Ancient Woodlands have been worked and that the ancient only applies to the fact that they have been wooded continuously for at least four hundred years and secondly that leaving a wood to go wild will lead to its destruction in the end.
All around us in Britain we can see the result of the zero management approach that has been taken over the last sixty or so years ever since local coppiced wood no longer had a value, so to speak, because plastic and imported wood products were cheaper than those made from local wood at home.
A coppice stool, and the great majority of those woods once were coppice woods, if not being managed will eventually break apart and that is the end of the tree. Well managed stools will continue to live for a thousand years or more, producing wood from which the woodworkers can fashion all manner of objects.
Cutting a tree in coppice management does not kill the tree nor harm it. Instead the tree continues to live and, in fact, becomes more productive. Much like when you prune a tree or shrub only that in coppicing it is a very hard prune. The new growth also absorbs a lot more carbon dioxide than does older growth and thus it is, in all instances where coppicing is concerned, a win-win situation for the environment. Thus cutting down a tree may not be detrimental; the opposite rather as far as coppicing is concerned.
For more on coppicing and why, etc. see “Managing our Woods”, a small book that explains the whys and wherefores of managing our woods in this way and calls for us to return to that way.