Coppicing in the Forest
Coppicing is an ancient technique used to manage woodland, to ensure a continuous supply of fire wood. This is being continued in Hatfield Forest, in part by a group of dedicated volunteers.
This involves cutting trees to their base, to create a so-called stool, from which new growth will emerge. In the first year or two, the new shoots are young and tender. They are vulnerable to being nibbled by deer and rabbits, so need protecting if they are to survive and flourish.
The cut down wood, known as cord wood, is then cut into 2m lengths and left in piles to dry for at least two years, before being removed for use as firewood. Particularly straight pieces are used for hurdles or bean poles. The cord wood is not big enough to be used in construction or for furniture - this comes from the felling of so-called standard trees.
Mature coppiced trees are easily recognisable - a multitude of thin trunks growing from the base of the tree. Coppicing also opens up space, including the forest canopy, letting in much more light.
Coppicing was traditionally carried out on an 18 year cycle. An area of woodland was divided up into a number of smaller compartments which were then worked in rotation - the coppices. Each of the coppices was protected for the first nine years of regrowth.
The Coppice Volunteers
We have a dedicated group of volunteers who have now been working for over 40 years, since 1975, on alternate Saturdays during autumn and winter.
The impact of their recent hard work can be readily appreciated in two areas of Elgin Coppice, where two different practices for protecting the new stools, a dead hedge and baskets, have be seen.
A dead hedge
In the 2011/12 and 2012/13 seasons, the group worked in Elgin Coppice, to the north of the exit road, before the cattle grid. As the trees were being chopped down, the whole area was surrounded along the perimeter with a protective dead hedge. A parallel row of poles were driven into the ground and the intervening space filled with cut down branches to a height of about 2m.
Four years later, the dead hedge is now decaying, its job done. Vigorous regrowth can be seen through the gaps