Coppicing at Bateman's
Coppicing is one of the ways we look after our woodland here at Bateman’s, using the ancient technique to create or restore habitats that will support a wide diversity of species, both plants and animals.
What is Coppicing?
As you’re walking through the countryside at Bateman’s on one of our waymarked estate walks, you may come across small areas where we are coppicing.
The practice of coppicing can be traced back to Neolithic times and refers to deliberate felling of trees, with sprouts then growing from the cut stump (known as a stool). This process can be carried out over and over again and is sustainable over several hundred years. With each cut, the stool gets larger in diameter with more new sprouts occurring each time. This also provides a sustainable supply of wood for a variety of products and uses.
A coppice wood or ‘copse’ is usually divided into large sections known as ‘cants’ or ‘coupes’, with one section cut at a time. The time between cuttings can vary depending on the intended use of the wood, but needs to be regularly carried out so that there are always some open areas.
This continuous cycle of thinning and clearance followed by regrowth creates a varied understory in the woodland, allowing a mosaic of different habitats to form. The warmth and light that can now reach the woodland floor through this process helps to encourage new plant growth and insect activity.
When a copse falls out of regular cutting, this is known as ‘overstood’ or ‘lapsed’ coppice. These old trees can then fail due to the increased weight and growth that take place without this necessary management taking place.
A greater number of species can be found living in the woodland edge than inhabit the rest of the woodland. Selective thinning of unmanaged woodland can therefore improve light and warmth levels, proving extremely beneficial and in some cases, essential for woodland biodiversity.
These methods create varied habitats for nature to thrive in, with different types of animal preferring different elements of the woodland edge. Some species prefer the tops of trees, whereas others find safety in foliage lower to the ground, or indeed on the woodland floor.
Here at Bateman’s, using material gained from coppicing, we create extra habitats such as piles of cut ‘brash’ (the thinner ends of branches) and piles of larger timber. The brash piles make great sites for nesting birds such as wrens, thrushes and blackbirds, while the log piles are excellent hiding places for over-wintering newts and frogs. They also provide places for fungi to grow and for insects to lay their eggs, which hatch in spring and become a food source for birds and other species.
Some of the timber the material left over after coppicing is used in the garden for pea-sticks and other plant supports, while some is used to protect the new growth from nibbling by deer, who love the fresh, young shoots.
Different birds also prefer different habitats in the woods. Some species such as wrens and robins spend a lot of their time close to the floor, even nesting in low lying hedges and on the ground. Song thrushes and blackbirds, however, prefer to be a bit higher up when calling to attract mates or establish breeding territories.
Plants too will also grow up amongst these habitat piles, with honeysuckle, bramble and travellers joy soon found amongst them – and are all fantastic sources of nectar. After these, then comes an increase in invertebrates, with butterflies, moths, bees, wasps & hoverflies – all in turn valuable pollinators themselves as well as providing a food source for other creatures such as bats.
By managing woodland and successfully creating interesting woodland edges via coppicing, we can therefore help all these different types of wildlife thrive here at Bateman’s. Work traditionally takes place during the winter – November to the end of March – so that we can reduce the impact on the nature already living in our woodland such as nesting birds and ground plants.
It may look drastic but coppicing is essential conservation work in order for some of our best loved woodland wildlife to survive.