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The Benefits of Hazel Coppicing

We have now (Feb 2016) completed the first phase of the coppice restoration at the bottom of Pound Lane. The first area only has a few stools in it but they have been cut back to about 10cms above ground level with some stems partially cut and layered. This is process whereby part of the living stem is buried under about 10cms of soil and left to grow roots. These small plants can then be detached from the original stem and planted up as new hazel stools. We will need to come back later in the year to check how much rooting has taken place and detach them when appropriate. In addition we have left a single stem on most of the stools to continue growing and help the newly cut stool to regrow. The leaves on the remaining stems will draw energy from the sun and help the plant recover from its drastic haircut.

Having cut all the stools in the coupe (one of many names for an area of coppice) we have have piled up the brash around the coupe to form a dead hedge which we hope will keep out the deer, if not the rabbits, so that the new shoots can grow on undisturbed. This will need monitoring so if anyone sees any deer in this coupe, please let us know, on volunteer@hawridgeandcholesburycommons.org .

Since much more light has been let into the area we hope to see a flush of woodland flowers in Spring for a few years before the new hazel stems shade out the light. Since the density of stools is way below the optimum we also expect the nettles and bracken to grow later in the year but they die down each winter so spring flowers should thrive even under these conditions. As more rooted shoots become available we want to increase the density. It is in the more dense areas of hazel that we are more likely to see dormice but that may take some years to achieve. Ideally we will have a mixture of more open areas favoured by butterflies and more dense areas favoured by the dormice.

The next stage is in 10 months time when a new coupe will be chosen nearby and the process repeated. Please get in touch if you have any experience of coppicing and would like to get involved.

The benefits of coppicing are discussed in Restoration of Neglected Hazel Coppice; Coppiced Woodlands: their management for Wildlife; and are available here to read in full.

In the introduction to ‘Coppiced Woodlands: their management for Wildlife’ they state…. ‘From the early Middle Ages until the late nineteen century most woods in lowland England were coppiced. In this traditional method of managing woodland the trees were cut at intervals, typically every 5-20 years, to produce a crop of poles for which there was a wide range of markets. By the late 1800s coppicing was on the wane and today only a small fraction of woodland remains actively coppiced. The long history of coppicing has profoundly influenced the plants and animals now found in many semi-natural woods. Coppicing creates conditions suitable for many plants, insects and birds but it is particularly important to those requiring very open woodland habitats. The decline in coppicing has resulted in serious losses of habitat for certain open-woodland species. The future survival of some butterflies, for example, may depend on the return to more traditional methods of managing woodland. Coppicing is being revived on many woodland nature reserves but it may also prove suitable for some woods which are not reserves. This booklet explains how traditional coppice systems worked, why they are important to woodland wildlife and how coppice can be managed to enhance its wildlife interest. It also discusses the pros and cons of reviving coppicing in neglected woodland.’

Coppicing is also useful in providing habitat for many invertebrates and small mammals. Although we have records of many of the plants, birds and butterflies on our Commons (see the Local Heritage Study),  we have never had a survey of small animals. It would be good to have such a survey carried out. Eg. Do we have  native dormice, not just the edible kind?

In the article ‘Restoration of Neglected Hazel Coppice’, Harmer states… ‘Hazel grows quickly and individual stools can produce a large number of small diameter stems that can be cut using simple hand tools. The shoots are supple, readily split, and can be easily twisted and woven by hand to make a range of products. During the past few centuries hazel was primarily used for wattles (‘wattle and daub’ plaster), sheep hurdles, sheep cages (to hold fodder), barrel hoops (for dry or solid goods), crate rods (for packaging of pottery), garden fencing, pea sticks, bean rods, thatching spars, hedge stakes and ethers, faggots (fuel for kilns and ovens), and fascines (bundles of rods for river control or revetments)’. More recently, some of ours were used for sticks for Morris Men and they are still very much sought after by gardeners.