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

 
This site is sponsored by www.storage.co.uk

Comments on this article

Gordon Stables. 10 July, 2013

I have a small coppice of 500 Ash in Central Scotland. This March we felled 11 Trees all with a diameter of around 12". Far from being dormant, as suggested in the article above, in May they started growth like a bat out of hell, with multiple shoots, and have reached 6' high so far.

Darren Abell 29 August, 2013

I have 5 acres of mixed natives planted in blocks of the same species, my question is 'how big an area is an ideal minimum to coppice in one go, bearing in mind that other trees will surround the felled area?
Many thanks for your input.
Darren

AEC 9 October, 2013

Contrary to comment of 12/04/2012, birch does coppice readily, though results may depend on the age of the tree/stool being coppiced, as with oak.
There are a number of factors to be taken into account when deciding whether to coppice, particularly the local deer population. In the south east of England where I live deer numbers have grown enormously, including muntjac, a non-native invasive species. Severe deer browsing can quickly kill a coppice stool, and I know of local woodlands where the balance of tree species in the coppiced area has been radically changed by the preferential browsing by deer. The Forestry Commission has produced several excellent publications on coppicing and deer fencing which are very informative and can be accessed for free online.

Rackesh 19 December, 2013

This website was very useful in defining what a coppice was. Because I went on a trip to Canterbury to visit a great place called wildwood, I recommend this place as they have various different coppiced areas in the nature reserve. This was part of my investigation which I had to do for my biology write-up and we stayed at the youth hostel there as well. so overall it was not bad and I really enjoyed the area
once again the name is wildwood in Canterbury
we were only there for a day but the wide range of British animal species

Nkwokwu henry 7 July, 2014

Thank you for the fascinating explanation,but i will like to know whether it is only applicable to hardwood species.

Jordan Warner 24 July, 2014

I'd just like to say that this website was very useful for a biology research task, so thank you very much, coppicing.co.uk!

Tom 21 January, 2015

Hello! Sorry to be a nerd but down here in cornwall and every where else I've noticed alder and birch coppice and well as hazel or chestnut etc... there are plenty of alder coppice woods around here that were cut for gunpowder works. Never had the experience of Ash waiting a year or more to spring either but maybe Cornwall is just a bit more lush that elsewhere. Cheers Tom

Philip Griffiths 20 February, 2015

I know this is a bit of a how long is a piece of string question. Im looking at setting up a coppice area as part of business plan for a conservation area. Im not looking for a large return but for it to fit I need to show it will cover costs. But the important issue is what area do I need for a worthwhile area for it to be useful or workable. It will be somewhat linear because part of the requirement is to have it as a buffer zone between two villages.

Mark Ashford 8 June, 2015

4 years ago I planted 3 acres of meadow with mixed Ash, Oak, Field Maple, Wild Cherry, Hornbeam and Hazel. The Cherry in particular are growing furiously, some now 15 ft high and bursting their 100mm protective sleeves,
What size do these varieties need to be before I make the first cut to begin the coppicing process?

Gnana suria bahavan Devaraj 1 August, 2015

Excellent information on coppicing. Thank you so much

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