Chestnut Coppice – The Alternatives

Chestnut Coppice - The Alternatives

Coppicing is one way of protecting the biodiversity of ancient woodland. Each winter, an acre or so of the woodland is felled, and in the spring a glorious carpet of flowers erupts from what seemed to be barren ground. The next year, too, the flowers may appear, and with them some butterflies and bumble bees enjoying the nectar and the sunshine. But the sunshine also brings out the brambles and bracken and, by the following year, these will have shaded out the flowers. Later in the cycle, the re-grown coppice also shades out the bracken and bramble and the ground returns to its apparently barren condition. So, in order to have flowers and encourage bees and butterflies you need to coppice successive acres each winter, progressively moving over the ground year by year.  But, it’s hard work coppicing.  Is there an alternative?

Yes, indeed. Patrick Roper, the well-known Kent ecologist, has said this, “There is no doubt that clearings in woodland, linked to each other by wide rides, are beneficial to many insects, not just butterflies, but this can more easily be achieved without reintroducing coppicing into woodland. It is much more cost-effective, for the purpose of conserving wildlife, to maintain a permanent one acre clearing in every ten acre block of woodland, connected by a number of rides, than it is to perpetually create ten temporary clearings by coppicing to try and achieve the same ends.”

Natural England’s  Report R627  The ecological impact of sweet chestnutcoppice silviculture on former ancient, broadleaved woodland sites in South-East England” offers a table of alternative approaches (p92) backed up with lots of interesting research :-


What’s your experience?  Have you tried other approaches?


I very much doubt it. Trees are protected, ancient woodland more so. Ask your local forestry commission office for their view.

You may be able to create rides – though the FC will want to see a management plan before it issues a felling licence.

The very best thing you can do for wildlife is work it as a coppice woodland under a management scheme designed to create a range of plant sizes, varieties and ages. That way there is always the right sort of habitat for everything someplace.


25 July, 2013

This sounds like a great idea good luck with your project sounds like hard work not sure about ancient woodland law tho


24 July, 2013

I own eight acres of chestnut coppice in north Kent , can I remove a half acre completely for create a meadow for leisure and wildlife. Am concerned as wood is ancient dating back to 1150 I will need to remove at least 50 trees and there stumps ( root ball) your advise on the law will be much appreciated .


24 July, 2013

I’m curious why sweet chestnut is considered such a poor tree for wildlife in the UK? Are there aren’t many species of animals there that feed on their nuts? Here in the United States, chestnut is considered one of the best trees for wildlife due to it’s annual nut production; the near-extinction of the native American Chestnut tree to blight in the early 20th century devastated populations of deer, bear, squirrel, and turkey. Forest regeneration with oak, maple, hickory, birch and ash still to this day don’t support the same population densities of wildlife. Several national organisations and numerous private nurseries here are working to re-introduce chestnuts, either through cross-breeding the surviving American chestnuts with Chinese or Japanese chestnuts, selectively breeding any American chestnuts that show resistance to produce a purebred blight-resistant tree, or even genetically engineering blight resistance into them in a lab.

Nick B.

24 January, 2012

We have acquired a small area of land, with old coppiced trees around the edge. We think it was coppiced as we all use woodburners here in France. As we would like to utilise our own wood for the woodburner, can we coppice again these old trees? We know there are sweet chestnut, birch and beech. There are also several acacia trees- can these be coppiced?
We would like to know if we can just cut down the old coppiced trees to start the coppice again, and if we have a large single tree, how do we start coppicing that?

Margaret C

25 November, 2011

What type of flowers grow in the coppice area in the Spring time ?


26 May, 2010

Hi Dave

If you want to make some more contact with woodland owners, to find work, try the Small Woodland Owners group. (all free)


24 September, 2009

Hi there. Very interesting article, so thanks for that. My view is as follows. If you coppice an acre (or lets say 1/20th of your forest for those of us lucky enough to have hundreds of acres) every year, particularly if you are growing sweet chestnut which is my own passion, then you are doing the best you can for the environment. a) You benefit wildlife by providing fresh clearings every year as described in the article but also b) your trees rapidly regrow so you are locking in massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. After about 20 years or so the chestnut is ready to be recoppiced and the cycle starts again. Chestnut is great as most of it goes into fencing etc not burned so the carbon is locked up for ages as its such a long-lasting wood full of tannin, so over your lifetime by coppicing continuously you can easily actually lock in 3x the amount of carbon that your acres would otherwise hold if you never coppiced and just let the trees grow, as mature trees do not typically sequester more CO2 from the atmosphere, whilst young, vigorous trees do so readily. If the government would wake up to this and help us coppicers more then I reckon a lot of the UK’s carbon footprint would actually disappear.

If you own a sweet chestnut wood and want to coppice some (and get paid for the priviledge – this is very cost effective guys, better than trying to maintain clearings and rides which YOU have to pay for or do yourself) I can perhaps help you. So many people like me want to own woodlands but don’t want to wield chainsaws etc but I have a mate who is really good and careful, using ‘low impact extraction’ that doesn’t chew up the ground as much as huge tractors etc that some people use, and he’s a lovely guy too who could use the wood as he makes post and rail fencing with the chestnut. He leaves the site very clean as well. Feel free to call me on 07878457902. Cheers and keep up the good work on the site. :) [email protected]

Dave Lambert

5 June, 2009

Hi Elizabeth

It is very difficult to say when something is expensive per acre as there are so many variables. That sounds about normal for this area.
It is pretty easy to find someone to manage the wood for you – and you can sell the timber standing, which means it is there problem when it comes to selling it.
If you would love to own a wood, then there are many ways to get round all the other questions.
Feel free to be in touch
[email protected]

Tracy Pepler

22 May, 2009


I wonder if I could ask for some advice please. My husband and I, almost retirement age are thinking of buying 4 acres of coppice with some mature trees in Kent. It’s around £30,000, is that expensive? The small patch of woodland is within a larger wood. It obviously hasn’t been coppiced for a some time, with some very large branches. We would not be physically able to cut them, not strong enough. How do you find someone to do the work? How much does it cost an acre? Is there a market for the wood, probably chestnut and some hazel? Having read around on this site I find there is a lot of advice. I’m interested in making it more bird and wildlife friendly, and have thought of introducing native berry trees and shrubs, and open some of it up for wild flowers. Any advice would be most welcome. Thankyou

Elizabeth Day

23 March, 2009

Patrick Roper will be leading free walks around the Woodland Trust’s Brede High
Woods between Sedlescombe and Brede, East Sussex on Saturday, 14 February
and Wednesday, 4th March 2009. Each walk will last about 3 hours starting,
respectively at 10.30 am and 13.30 pm. The first will be aimed particularly
at families.

Both walks are free and will start from the main car park at TQ804206 off
the B2089 (Cripps Corner to Rye road) almost opposite Watt’s Palace Lane.

As places are limited, if you would like to come, will you please book in
with Hannah Yates on 0845 2935 531.

If you have any queries, please contact James Luxton on 0845 2935734

Tracy Pepler

4 February, 2009

Hi Steve

Ken Broad wrote a good book called ‘Caring for Small woods’
You might like to also look on the SWOG (Small woodland owners group) site for other recommendations

Tracy Pepler

28 January, 2009

So many interesting comments on this blog!
I think Mike makes an interesting point – there are pros and cons to all kinds of management, and where we do want to manage our wood as coppice, to promote local timber (as Toby points out is so important) we are also singling trees and choosing some to grow on. This will add to the biodiversity of the woodland. As we have coppiced up our ride this year, we have found all kinds of wonderful trees hidden under the chestnut – and we are working hard to give them a good amount of light to grow on.
I think that managing woodland for biodiversity and products do not have to be seen as separate goals, as long as we are not too rigid in our planning.

As for a good book on woodland management? Steve, depends what you are looking for, but Ken Broad ‘ Caring for small woods’ is very good.
Use the small woodland owners group too- others will be able to suggest other books

Tracy Pepler

27 January, 2009

There are many good books on looking after trees, Steve. A particularly good one that focuses on small woodlands is “Badgers, Beeches and Blisters” by Julian Evans, available through this website. If, however, you are looking for one which will consider the type of woodland you have (chestnut, young oak, conifer, or whatever) and discusses the specific biodiversity you are likely to find in it, and a variety of ways in which you can actively support that,and perhaps over the years increase it …let me know if you can find one!


19 January, 2009

Although chestnut coppice on it’s own supports little wildlife, the act of clearing an area (coppicing) does warm the soil, stimulating flowers, insects and birds. Also in the wider view, growing chestnut fencing is ultimatly more preferable than growing softwood to be clearfelled, processed then treated befor being suitable for use as fencing.
One alternative to coppicing is ‘singling’, leaving 1 or 2 stems from each stool to grow for timber production, a good stand of chestnut will support much wildlife and be a valuable commodoty in a few years (producing good nuts in to the bargain). Though it can be prone to ring shake and windblow, so it maybe better to have one area for singles and the rest coppice.
Incidently, with the right market chestnut coppice can provide a good living for the creative woodlander.

Toby Allen

17 January, 2009

Can anyone recommend a good Woodland Management book / guide? Thanks, Steve


17 January, 2009

I own just a couple of acres of overgrown hornbeam coppice in Kent. There is much fallen timber, and many self-sown trees, mainly ash and wild cherry. I’d estimate the last coppicing was done some 20 to 30 years ago. One of the reasons I bought the wood was for fuel purposes, and I am trying to decide whether to coppice – in very small areas – or to thin progressively, in order to meet this aim once the the fallen timber has been used. I do think the use of woodland for fuel purposes is a valuable and increasing necessary thing – it wouldn’t surprise me to see a sustained growth in coppice-supplied logs. But I like to think about more than just fuel needs, and to act in ways that are supportive of rich habitat, and ware planning to experiment with purposeful growing of material for woodland crafts. So it seems to me that a hard distinction between coppicing and not coppicing might be unduly rigid; and it should be possible to adopt a mixture of management techniques even within a very small wood.

Mike Bispham

15 January, 2009

I apologise for this careless error. Patrick is indeed a Sussex ecologist. Earlier this month he was awarded the Woodland Trust’s “Volunteer of the Year “ award for his major contribution to the Woodland Trust’s campaign to acquire Brede High Woods in East Sussex. Great work, Patrick! To read more about this go to:–


15 January, 2009

Thanks for your kind remarks and the references to my views. One small point: I am actually a Sussex ecologist from Sedlescombe near Hastings. My friends would be most upset if they thought I had moved to Kent!

Patrick Roper

12 January, 2009

Thank you Margaret

A very good article. My wood is sweet chestnut coppice and as I am sure that you know, sweet chestnut is non native and has very little value to wildlife.

Over the years the wood has also become home to many native species of tree with a much greater wildlife value. Restoring the coppice system would involve removing these mature native trees and coppicing on rotation would ensure that they never returned to maturity.

Silver birch, for instance, develops wonderful craggy bark with age. It is one of the most valuable native species in terms of insect and bird diversity and is also very important to our bats and other small mammals.

The loss of this habitat would be an environmental disaster.

It is nice to know that there are alternatives.

Best Regards

PS of course a hazel coppice would be a different story.

Colin Culver

11 January, 2009

Hi Margaret

Thanks for the summary – very helpful. As you know, we manage our woodland as a coppice – for the timber – and the temporary clearings are ok for the plants, and bugs and birds. As you say though, these quickly become darker. This year we have been coppicing along a ride – which we intend to do regularly to keep it nice and light, and to also keep a clearing somewhere in the wood. Hopefully the wildlife will enjoy the light!

Tracy Pepler

9 January, 2009

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