Coppicing: a woodland management system of the past for the future

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Coppicing is an ancient woodland management practice that needs to be revitalized and reestablished if we want to have a sustainable supply of timber for a variety of purposes. Bean poles are but a small section of this, as is making of lump wood charcoal.

Coppicing Coppicing has been carried out in British woodlands as, more or less, the mode of woodland management until just about the 1960s from night time immemorial.

It was in the 1960s when rather misinformed and misguided “environmentalists”, those who have read a lot but know little to nothing, put a stop to it claiming that those were ancient woodlands that needed to be left to return to their normal state.

Little did they know that they about signed the death warrant for those woods for, without proper continued coppice maintenance those woods will, in fact, die.

Coppice stools that are not maintained will, in the end, break apart and the trees will die. It is as simple as that.

Instead of being bad for woodlands and forests coppicing actually benefits the trees and the environment as a whole.

Much like pruning a rose or a fruit tree to encourage growth, coppicing, basically, has the same effect. Unlike pruning a tree or a rose it is a little harsher and not done as often but, in return, bring usable timber.

Not all trees can be coppiced (or pollarded) and some reproduce better than others.

The great majority of conifers, if not indeed all, do not respond to this treatment and some deciduous trees also do not.

We are lucky, in a way, as far as coppicing goes. It is not rocket science and book knowledge and learning can get it revitalised.

This makes it somewhat different from the use of crosscut saw and other old forestry ways.

Some skills can only be learned from a “master” in the filed, and not (just) from books. The sharpening of saws and axes is one; the setting of saw teeth another and the latter is much more difficult to learn than sharpening.

But, I digressed.

Some people, environmentalists included, still do not get coppicing (or forest management per se) and some, alas, also immediately seem to turn off listening when professional foresters try to make the case for forest management, even the most sustainable types of it.

I have been told, nay accused, more than ones, “but you are a commercial forester!” and aye, that is true but what does that have to do with it and why can a forester not be caring for the environment. In fact all proper ones do.

It is the same with advocating the old “clean forest” police – which even the Forestry Commission is staring to “get”, finally – where all debris, more or less, as in dead branched, tops of felled trees, etc., was taken away from the site (or burned on site) to avoid and prevent the transfer of diseases and also fire ladders.

Today the call goes out that habitat piles is what we need “for the wildlife”, as in fungi and invertebrates, etc.

The fact is that the forests under the “clean forest” policy that I worked in as a young man had more wildlife and were more alive with mushrooms of all kinds and much healthier than are place with hundreds of habitat piles.

Let's take a closer look at the old ways again. They may be able to teach us something about sustainable practices and about making use of everything.

© 2011