Coppicing and Fallen Trees

We’ve been a bit quiet at the Wood recently, thanks to Sarah being ill, and the business being quite busy. But as we wind down a bit for Christmas and the incessant rain has given way to frost, we have been able to get some work done.

Last weekend, with the help of two volunteers, Daz and John, we managed to make a good start on the coppicing. We have an area that has been earmarked for coppicing. This means we will cut the trees to ground level, allowing them to produce new shoots from the base. One or two trees will be selected to become mature “standard” trees and form the new canopy. But why do we need to do this?

Well, this particular area has evidently been clear-felled before. New trees have grown, all at the same time, and now are all the same age and much too close together. There are two consequences to this. First of all, the trees that might become canopy trees tend to grow too tall and spindly, as they are all competing to reach the light. Some have already died, and many of the others are not in good condition. Second, the ground is completely shaded, so the natural scrub and ground layers are not present. Aside from a few birds’ nests, this is now not a good area for wildlife, as there is simply nothing there but a lot of trunks and a few leaves right up at the top. So, we clear fell all the trees, except for a few selected ones. We let in the light, and we let new shoots grow up, providing a scrub layer. In the few years it takes for these shoots to regenerate, there will also be a ground layer developing. And we can then repeat the process for a sustainable harvest of wood. We will also plant a few additional species, such as hazel, in the gaps, so that we get a wider variety of wildlife and habitats.

It was quite a hard couple of days, but at the end of it we had cleared about half of the area we planned to coppice this winter. We had stacked the logs properly, and stored the brash as a partial fence around the area to limit ingress by deer, and also to provide some cover for little creatures such as woodmice. We are also gradually dismantling the fallen dead tree in the background of this picture. It is suppressing the growth of oak saplings, so if we can clear it, we can retain it in a different area as dead-wood habitat, but allow the other trees to grow and be coppiced in their turn in a few years’ time.

We have also had some pretty hard frosts over the past few days. We had a standing dead tree, a favourite perch for our resident buzzards, a little way up the path from this coppice area. Unfortunately the frost got into the little cracks in the wood, and it finally fell this weekend. We had to cut it up and move it, as it had fallen into the path. So Sarah donned her ski gear against the cold, and with Stephen, went to do the job.

The tree was pretty well rotten. We reckon it was about 150 years old when it died, but it has been dead for maybe 20 years. However, it was left standing because it had multiple holes used by nesting birds, and provided a good refuge for insects on which those birds were feeding. Standing dead wood is excellent habitat, so we were keen to preserve it. It was quite a tricky task to know which branches holding it up off the ground were sound, and which were rotten, and therefore how to cut it up. Stephen did a grand job with the new chainsaw and we got the road clear. The remaining logs will be used as seats for visitors (and for us to drink our soup when we are busy completing the coppicing work!), and as dead wood habitat on the ground, as well as for firewood and crafts, depending on the quality.

All the time we were there, we had a little companion “helping” us. The robin didn’t seem to mind the chainsaw, or the fact that Sarah was moving and stacking logs around him. The only thing he minded was the other robin who showed up to see what was going on!

It is a very Christmassy picture, and on that note, we’d like to wish everybody who follows this blog a very Happy Christmas and New Year.

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