Coppicing in Smallcombe Wood

The Bath Skyline team has begun coppicing in Smallcombe Wood, the only ancient woodland that we look after in Bath. As an ancient woodland, the site has been wooded for at least the last 400 years, and introducing coppicing as a management method will benefit the woodland and increase biodiversity.

Coppicing is a traditional woodland management method that involves dividing a woodland up into sections, or 'coupes', then cutting the trees in one coupe one year, and the next coupe the next year, and so on, until you come back round to the first coupe again - creating a cycle.

What happens to the trees?

When it's their turn the trees are cut down to almost ground level. This encourages them to re-shoot and produce new branches ('poles'). As the coppiced tree grows back it will have lots of main branches growing up from the ground, and not just a single trunk.

What happens to the wood when the tree is cut?

Traditionally the long straight poles produced through coppicing would have been used for fencing, building, fire wood, and in the garden as bean poles and pea sticks. Here on the Bath Skyline the ranger team save much of the wood for use as stakes for hedge-laying. They also leave a lot of the cut wood in the woodland to form dead wood habitats for invertebrates and other animals.

What type of wood is being coppiced?

In Smallcombe Wood we are coppicing the hazel trees, a really good species for this type of management. There are other types of tree and many of these are more mature. These are left and provide shade to the woodland floor, as well as a fantastic habitat on all areas of the tree. The mix of coppiced trees, with trees that are left to grow without being cut is known as coppice with standards.

How long will it take for the tree to grow back?

Hazel is usually coppiced on about an 8 year cycle - and this gives it time to grow and produce poles of a suitable size for the many uses mentioned earlier. Other species that can be managed through coppicing will have different rates of re-growth, and therefore the recommended cycle will vary in length. For example, another species that can be coppiced is chestnut, and this has a cycle of 15-20 years.

Why is coppicing a good way of managing the woodland?

Coppicing is beneficial to the trees, as the fresh regrowth every 8 years encourages a longer life, and they can live for hundreds of years (compared to around 80 years for un-coppied hazel).

The process is good for the woodland as it produces a mosaic of habitats - with patches of woodland at lots of different stages of regrowth, and with generally more light reaching the woodland floor - providing ideal habitats for lots of different woodland plants and animals.

Coppicing in Smallcombe Wood?

If you take a walk through Smallcombe Wood you might notice little stick teepees over the trees that have been cut this year. These are to protect the trees from browsing deer during the early stages of regrowth, when there are nice tender shoots that a deer would love to snack on.

The coppicing work takes place in the late autumn and winter, when the trees are most dormant, so look out for more coppicing work in the Smallcombe Wood at the end of 2019.