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.

Coppicing

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. 

Pollarding

In the alternative technique of pollarding, the tree was cut higher up, so that regrowth would be beyond the reach of grazing animals. Pollarded trees could thus be in the open plain, unlike coppiced trees which need to be in protected areas.
 

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

Baskets

During the 2013/14 season, the group moved onto another area of Elgin Coppice, by the entrance road, just beyond the cattle grid, but this time reverting to their previous practice and surrounding each of the cut down stumps with a protective basket.
 
Baskets protecting the freshly cut stumps in Elgins Coppice
Protective baskets surrounding the freshly cut stumps in Elgins Coppice

Do you want to help?

If you are interested in helping with this valuable conservation work, please contact the Estate Office (phone: 01279 870678) or send an email.