If You Go Down To The Woods Today - Volume 1 Issue 2

Coppicing. An odd word that reaches back to Medieval Latin, from colpus meaning blow as in to,“Strike a blow.” This ancient art form has its own language and seasons, but for now, let me describe to you how I helped an old soldier…

The Coppicing Paradox 

To look at the photo above it seems destructive.  A saw has been placed upon a stump which shows no sign of life, the area around the stump looks to be barren and devoid of any living thing.  That’s the coppicing paradox; To cut back is to create life.

Let Me explain. Unmanaged trees will eventually choke their woodland habitat.  The competition for light becomes too great and nobody wins. Take a look at the picture below. Believe it or not this is an ancient hazel. In coppice language this is a “Soldier Stool”. At least 150 years old it is lying here crushed, twisted and desperately in need of attention. A habitat almost lost.

The only way of helping, is to cut it down. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Surely cutting it down will kill the hazel?  Well, the roots want to live and so does the stool. The precision cutting with a good sharp saw and the knowledge and understanding that these cuts are doing good, this old soldier will soon be throwing out straight, healthy stems again.    

This gentle miracle happens quickly too. By the end of the Summer the stool will have sprouted many shoots from the dormant buds that are held within its bark.  There will be light hitting the many leaves to allow photosynthesis which in turn will make the roots stronger.  The light will also be hitting the woodland floor, warming up the long dormant seed bank. Sleeping seeds will awaken and burst through so they can flower in the newly created glade. Early pollinators will come to feed from the flowers, the song birds will feed on these and in turn the raptors will feed on these.  This healthy ecosystem is created all because the hazel stool was cut down as close to the floor as I could go. 

So, The Next Time You Are Out And About…

…Take your time to look at the trees, how old do you think they are? Have they been worked before or are they brand new growth? How much light is in the area and what life is there?  Take notice and you will be rewarded.

Until next time.