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Coppicing: An Introduction ~ by bill

Coppicing: An Introduction

Coppicing is a woodland management method in which the wood from a tree is harvested by cutting a suitable tree near ground level.  It subsequently regrows over a period of years without needing to be replanted. This technique is different from pollarding, in which branches are cut at, or above, head height, leaving the possibility of grazing underneath the growing branches.

Coppicing is done on rotation: small areas of a woodland are cut each year in sequence leaving the areas not being cut to grow on for between 15 and 20 years for chestnut, and about 7 years for hazel. When an area of coppice is cut, it is all cut down, and creates a clearing. This periodic coppicing encourages the individual trees to live for up to hundreds of years. If the coppice cycle is managed correctly it can increase biodiversity in the woodland because of the beneficial effects of varying light levels reaching the woodland floor, and the range of different aged trees and stools in the woodland.

The best time to coppice chestnut is well after the autumn leaf fall when the sap has gone down, and certainly well before the sap rises in the spring.

The basic procedure for coppicing chestnut is as follows:

  • Clear out all leaves and other debris around the base of the stool.
  • Cut and clear away any dead or dying stems.
  • Progressively cut each stem starting with the most accessible sections and working in to the centre of the stool. Ideally one cut should be made about 1-2 inches above where the branch grows out of the stool. That cut should be angled some 15 to 20 degrees from horizontal with the lowest point facing outwards from the centre of the stool.
  • In some cases it maybe necessary to make a first cut higher and then trim back as above.

Remember to:

  • Fell away from the wind and fell all the poles in one direction.
  • Make sure you are working upwind of any campfire
  • Always leave a fire in a safe condition when leaving the woodland.

A coppiced stool showing some regrowthOnce cut, the poles produced are usually processed to some extent in the woodland: they are often cut to length, and perhaps de-barked. In many cases the coppicer will process further and create spiles (stakes or strong fencing posts), or will split the chestnut into various sizes for fencing. Some even make hurdles for keeping sheep in pens.

An approximate guide the diameter of felled coppice for further processing is:

  • Lathes: 1” to 1½”
  • Tree stakes: 1½” to 2”
  • Fencing Stakes: 2” to 3”
  • Straining posts: 4” to 5”
  • Post and Rails for cleaving: 6” to 8”

In the UK the main trees that are coppiced are sweet chestnut, hazel and hornbeam. Chestnut has traditionally been used for fencing whereas hazel is more likely to have been used for thatching, hedge-laying spars and hurdle making. Hornbeam was used for charcoal making.

Historically chestnut coppice growing has been strongest in the south East of England, especially Kent and East Sussex. Although it is said that the Romans introduced it, there is some evidence that coppicing was practised in England in Neolithic times. There are many areas of the UK where hazel and hornbeam have been grown, but the Midlands and Devon still have much hazel woodland useful for the remaining thatchers.

Posted in: Flora & Fauna, Practical Guides ~ On: 22 May, 2007

63 comments so far

Phil Hopkinson
12 April, 2012

Hi Matthew,
I coppiced a large area of Birch last year. There was about 1 metre of new growth this year. I have cut it as young as 4 years old. The stools I cut last year were about 30 years old. I would cut it once the leaves are off and before the end of March in England.
I am not sure about the weather and climate in Sweden.

Matthew Tunn
29 April, 2012

Thanks , Phil, for your comment. We have been without snowcover for 3 weeks now and I have just cut 10 stools of birch as a try out. Ordered the book Coppicing and Coppice Crafts: excellent!
Temperatures here can reach as low as minus 35 and the summers are short, but light so I will not be expecting 1 metre of growth. Its all very new to me, but I´m finding it very interesting. Thanks once again.
I hadn’t realised that the 42 acres I have were going to be so pleasurable. Since it is mostly conifer, I really thought that my options were very limited but I´m thinking again.

All in a lather « englishwoodlandstimber
10 May, 2012

[...] facts about coppicing…  not the gobbeldygook written by me.. http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/practical-guides/coppicing-an-introduction/ and more [...]

Jay Templin
28 August, 2012

I live in Virginia, United States, and am having trouble finding information on getting started in coppicing.
Do I just pick a broadleafed tree of the right species and age, cut it off and wait for the rods to grow?
Are there any books on the subject you would particularly recommend?
Thanks!

Tree of the month: Hazel | Science on the Land
16 September, 2012

[...] modern times the demand for hazel wood is less than it used to be but people still maintain coppices of hazel and other species. Some of the coppicing is done by volunteers and it was with The [...]

David
1 January, 2013

I am just about to move to the NW of England and will have a couple of acres available. Is coppicing this area a feasible method of producing a sustainable source of wood for burning in a modern woodburner. If so, what would be the best species, the land is mildly acidic and wet but not waterlogged?

RIchard Hancock
20 March, 2013

Hello.

I have a largish flowering cherry which was planted by my father. It has produced a large number of saplings around its base and within ten or fifteen feet of the trunk which have started from the seeds that it has dropped. Today I am going to grub them up and transplant them in a lower field just leaving the original tree in position. Can I coppice these saplings to produce wood for the multi-fuel stove? I assume that I probably can even if they are not a traditional species for such a purpose. But how far above the deck should I cut them and at what time of year? Also, what would be the best species to plant for this purpose? The oil isn’t going to last forever, after all!

Thanks,

Richard.

Managing woodland and other ramblings | EcoBlogging
2 June, 2013

[...] particularly in respect of the relative value of coppicing. You can read a bit about coppicing here http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/practical-guides/coppicing-an-introduction/ . In my view the jury is firmly out on the value of coppicing as a straightforward conservation [...]

mary
20 August, 2013

I am looking to purchase coppiced hazel, as long and straight as possible.. Does anyone have any good sources they can recommend?

Many thanks

mary
20 August, 2013

am based In the south west of Uk in bristol

Jonah
2 September, 2013

We have a wood that contains an area of hornbeam and are looking to revert it back to coppiced area. The only thing is that it is over 30 years since it was last coppiced and there is a concern that coppicing now (15 years too late) will result in many of the stools dying and us losing much of that area of hornbeam.. Our options are currently:

1 – Coppice everything and see what survives
2 – Coppice everything but cut higher up the stool (leaving more nutrients)
3 – Coppice but leave one trunk on each stool
4 – Don’t coppice the area at all

Any/All advice much appreciated.

westcountry charcoal
21 September, 2013

Mary if your still looking for some sticks we have some for sale and we are only down the road in taunton we have a facebook page if you like to have a look.Jonah when coppicin you have to cut all of the stool some will die yes but you can replace them by layering others in

Guy
12 November, 2013

Jonah, I just wanted to mention that you are only 5 years late with coppicing. Hornbeam was traditionally coppiced every 15 to 25 years. So most will definately live. Goodluck, hornbeam is pretty hard to cut and your tools will have a hard time.

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