Managing Britain's Wild Woods

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

The truth is that there are no wild woods anywhere in Britain but only once managed woods that have gone wild. Those latter woods cannot become “wild woods” again; Nature does not work that way despite what some people believe, some are made to believe and many misguided environmentalists would like everyone else to believe.

woodland2__sml_webFor thousands of years the woods and forests of the British Isles have, all basically, been managed, and for most of the time we have managed them very well indeed. Those woods provided our needs, until such a time that we were importing more from abroad, and fueled our industry. In the latter case it was the charcoal produced in our coppiced woods.

Only since about the end of WWII have our woodlands become really neglected and this very neglect is not helping them one bit. The opposite rather. It is also not beneficial to the ecosystem. Brambles and bracken crowd out everything else, allowing no light through.

The same goes for a canopy that is too dense, which is one of the many reasons that our Forestry Commission lands planted, as is often the case, with conifer plantations, are often so devoid of life, especially on the forest floor.

Old coppice stools of once managed woods slowly decay and then break apart, destroying the entire tree, often then not regrowing, as would be the case would the stool have been coppiced. And in this way, over a short period of time, an entire wood becomes an environmental and ecological disaster zone.

Less than ten percent of stools, if even that many, will thrive whether they continue to be coppiced or not. The great majority will decay and fall apart.

Only by working, once again, our woods in the time-honored fashion of coppicing will we ensure the survival of those woods and not by misguided beliefs that Nature will take care of it itself.

We need healthy woods and not just for woodland products, though they are important for the rural economy and for sustainability. Our very life depends on healthy woodlands and thus it is all of our interest that the gauntlet, if I may put it thus, that the Forestry Commission and other have thrown down is being taken up and we put all of our woodlands back into management, including the woods that are part of the public open spaces, such as parks.

This will not only improve the health of our woods but also will reduce our dependency on imported woods and woodland products, such as charcoal, for instance.

Ninety percent of all charcoal consumed in Britain comes from tropical hardwood sources and this is not sustainable. Neither is that charcoal comparable in quality to the one that can be produced at home by means of coppicing.

Aside from charcoal coppice management of woodlands also produces other timber products which give an income to local wood workers and a boost to the local economy.

Localism in woodland products is supporting those that try to make our woodlands healthy again by managing them in the time-honored ways.

Many products of great value and use can be produced from coppice woodlands and often all that people, sometimes even the underwoodsmen managing the woods, can think of, is charcoal, hurdles, beanpoles, and firewood. But there is a lot more that this wood can be used for; products that add much more value to the wood than would any other ones.

Our woods and the health of them is important to us and we must revitalize them and the only way this can be done is by means of proper management.

© 2013