What is coppicing?

Coppicing is an ancient form of woodland management, that involves repetitive felling on the same stump, near to ground level, and allowing the shoots to regrow from that main stump. (Also known as the coppice stool)

A coppiced woodland will have trees with multiple stems growing out of the stool, which arise from dormant buds on the stool. These buds might also grow from the cambium layer of the cut stem, or root buds close to the stumps. Most shoots come from above ground, but in hazel they can emerge just below the surface.

Coppicing is a highly effective method of producing a great deal of fast growing, sustainable timber without the need to replant. The ability of native broad leaves to coppice has greatly influenced British woodland.  Although trees will regrow from seed there are many hindrances like browsing and shading. As  coppiced trees already have a fully developed root system, regrowth is rapid. It is important to note that species react differently to being coppiced. For example, common alder coppices poorly, and beech coppices better in the wetter western half of the UK. Ash coppices vigorously, but if the coppicing was done in mid or late winter the stool (stump) may not throw coppice shoots for 15 months. The stump appears moribund all through the first year after coppicing and then springs into life the following year.

Rackham states in his book, 'Woodlands' that trees which are periodically cut tend to live longer. Trees do retrench naturally, shedding unnecessary branches  in order to extend their lives, and coppicing is a major retrenchment which resets the ageing process and extends the life of the tree.The removal of rotting wood allows the stool to be redressed and continue to grow.

The ‘wood’ that it cut is called underwood and is used for many purposes depending on the tree type.

Most frequently coppiced species are oak, hazel, ash, willow, field maple and sweet chestnut.

Julian Evans notes in his book, 'Badgers, Beeches and Blisters' there are a number of different types of coppice.

Pure coppice

This coppice type is made up of one species, which, in the South East of England, is often Sweet Chestnut.

Mixed coppice

This is a coppice with several different species, managed for a variety of products and may have increased biodiverstiy.  These woods may contain hazel, birch, willow, ash, hawthorn and alder among others.  


Coppice with standards

This is a coppice with large trees scattered throughout the wood. These need to be well spaced out so that they don't shade the underwood.

Does the wood industry and coppicing deplete woodlands?

Not at all,in fact, Prof. Julian Evans comments in his book, Silviculture of broad leaved woodland:

"One point concerning the gradual decline in woodland area over the centuries is the mistaken but widely held belief that disappearance of woodland in more recent times can largely be attributed to the demands for charcoal and fuel wood ... It is now increasingly evident that far from exhausting local supplies of wood for these uses, the presence of such industries helped sustain and not deplete woodland..' page 3/4

Oliver Rackham comments:

"The thesis that woods were destroyed by heavy industries cannot be sustained, on the contrary where ever there remained a big concentration of woodland, there is an industrial or urban use to account for its preservation. It was the 'unexploited' woods that disappeared from the map...Woodmanship is an ecological factor in its own right." (pg 132, 133)

Working woodlands as coppice provides local sustainable timber, local jobs, increased biodiversity as well as work in traditional crafts. Sadly though in recent times the use of plastics and mass production techniques  have  meant that many coppiced woodlands have become unviable, there has been no market for their products and hence the cycle has stopped, the wood becomes 'derelict' and overgrown, with a permanent high canopy.

Further reading

Rackham, O. (2006)  Woodlands, Collins Press. ISBN-978- 0 - 720244-7

Evans, J (1984) Silviculture of Broadleaved woodland, Forestry Commission Bulletin 62, ISBN: 0 11 710 154

Julian Evans:  Badgers, Beeches and Blisters

Download free from the Woodlands book page:

http://www.woodlands.co.uk/owning-a-wood/badgers-beeches-and-blisters.php

 
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Comments on this article

Paul in Boise, Idaho 21 June, 2012

I had a blue ash that was pretty much killed by emerald ash borer. But from the stump, I have a new tree growing. Does coppicing make an ash hardier, better able to withstand this sort of infestation?

Doug 10 July, 2012

Your website was very helpful . Well done!!

Doug:)

Martin Witherington 17 October, 2012

You state that if ash is coppiced in mid late winter it may not re-grow for a year or so. What is the best time to coppice that will ensure prompt regeneration?

Martin Witherington 21 October, 2012

you say winter coppicing may delay regrouth by 18 months.
when is the best time to coppice ash?
I have 5 acres with numbers of mature ash some of which has been coppiced a long time ago so wish to get started asap

Thomas Weber Carlsen 14 February, 2013

Here is something for you: I live in Cambodia and have recently discovered a palisander tree (Dalbergia cochinchinensis) growing wild in my garden. I looked it up in a compilation of endangered tree species I have, and here is part of the description: "The species is easily recognized by its light yellow bark and ramified canopies. Its wood is hard, durable, and redcoloured with prominent, beautiful veins. It exhibits a density of 1.0-1.8 and is resistant to termites. The plant is identified by its pinnate leaves, which generally have 7 – 9 leaflets, the upper-most of which is the largest (CTSP, 2001). The species regenerates naturally and coppices well, but the growth rate is rather slow"
The thought of having such a tree in my garden has excited me a great deal - it has been mercilessly felled wherever it has been found and is now virtually extinct in Cambodia. I am therefore thinking about cultivating the seeds and also perhaps use the technique of coppicing. Can you tell me anything about how to coppice something as exotic as palisander? Thank you in advance

Angus Wilde 25 February, 2013

has really helped me in my assignment work which was to do with coppicing. has really helped my understnading of coppicing. thanks!

flower bunch 5 March, 2013

I'm not sure what kind of birch you are saying does not coppice well, but here in the US white birch, silver birch and yellow birch coppice VERY well, best of all the trees, except maybe maple. I have plenty coppiced on my property.

Tim 12 March, 2013

Hi,

Can hawthorn be coppiced?

Peter Harris 22 May, 2013

Can one coppice in woodland where there is a TPO?

keith 26 May, 2013

hi, i live in central scotland. The woodland here seems to be mostly sycamore and beach with the of oak. what are the traditional coppice trees for this area? Thanks

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