Long before people used hazel for bean poles and to create charcoal for barbeques or to fuel the village forge and blacksmith, the coppicing of hazel stands was important.
(Hungry) Ancient herbivores
Before humans discovered this valuable resource growing in our hedgerows and woodlands, hazel was naturally coppiced by the large herbivores that roamed our prehistoric landscape. Whether mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, bison or the giant aurochs did exist in Keeds Wood, Long Ashton, may be up for debate. However, the benefit of their grazing and that of other large herbivores should not be underestimated.
With these giants gone from our landscape, I found myself wondering why - on a sunny Sunday morning in February - a group of volunteers were coppicing a section of Keeds Wood. Some people might have wanted a few bean poles or a prop for a washing line but the majority of what was cut will remain on the floor of the wood. So, what was the point?
What actually is coppicing?
Coppicing is a traditional woodland management technique that dates to the Stone Age. It involves felling trees at their base to create a ‘stool’ where new shoots will grow. You can recognise a coppiced tree by the many thin trunks or ‘poles’ at its base. Most tree species can be coppiced but the best suited of our native trees are hazel, sweet chestnut, ash and lime. National Trust
Why we coppice
Coppicing hazel encourages new growth which is a richer source of food for insects, aphids and caterpillars. These are, in turn, food for other larger insects and birds which are themselves food for larger predators. The piles of brush provide shelter for mammals and insects over the cold winter months.
The cut logs provide homes and nurseries for the larvae of some spectacular beetles and fungi which in turn break down the wood to provide nutrients for new plant growth. A healthy undergrowth in woodlands supports endangered or Red List species like the Dormouse, Bullfinch, Redstart, Willow Tit, Nightingale and Wood Warbler.
This food web provides a natural balance in a healthy wood and a healthy wood captures carbon from the atmosphere while purifying the air we breathe. Biodiversity is about balance. In a world threatened by climate change and ecological disaster, coppicing in Keeds wood helps redress the balance in a small way not to mention being a good way to meet new people and getting some healthy exercise outdoors which as we all know is good for us.
Keep an eye out for our monthly newsletter where we will include details of the next Keeds Wood coppicing session. If you're not already subscribed to our mailing list, you can do so here.