Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which exploits the capacity of many species of trees to put out new shoots from their stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, which is called a copse, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level, known as a stool. New growth emerges and after a number of years, the coppiced tree is harvested and the cycle begins anew. Pollarding is a similar process carried out at a higher level on the tree.
Many silviculture practices involve cutting and regrowth; coppicing has been of significance in many parts of lowland temperate Europe. The widespread and long-term practice of coppicing as a landscape-scale industry is something that remains of special importance in southern England. Many of the English-language terms referenced in this article are particularly relevant to historic and contemporary practice in that area.
Typically a coppiced woodland is harvested in sections or coups on a rotation. In this way, a crop is available each year somewhere in the woodland. Coppicing has the effect of providing a rich variety of habitats, as the woodland always has a range of different-aged coppice growing in it, which is beneficial for biodiversity. The cycle length depends upon the species cut, the local custom, and the use to which the product is put. Birch can be coppiced for faggots on a three- or four-year cycle, whereas oak can be coppiced over a fifty-year cycle for poles or firewood.
Coppicing maintains trees at a juvenile stage, and a regularly coppiced tree will never die of old age; some coppice stools may therefore reach immense ages. The age of a stool may be estimated from its diameter, and some are so large—perhaps as much as 5.4 metres (18 ft) across—that they are thought to have been continually coppiced for centuries.
Evidence suggests that coppicing has been continuously practised since pre-history. Coppiced stems are characteristically curved at the base. This curve occurs as the competing stems grow out from the stool in the early stages of the cycle, then up towards the sky as the canopy closes. The curve may allow the identification of coppice timber in archaeological sites. Timber in the Sweet Track in Somerset (built in the winter of 3807 and 3806 BC) has been identified as coppiced lime.
Originally, the silvicultural system now called coppicing was practiced solely for small wood production. In German this is called Niederwald, which translates as low forest. Later on in Mediaeval times farmers encouraged pigs to feed from acorns and so some trees were allowed to grow bigger. This different silvicultural system is called in English coppice with standards. In German this is called Mittelwald (middle forest). As modern forestry (Hochwald in German, which translates as High forest) seeks to harvest timber mechanically, and pigs are generally no longer fed from acorns, both systems have declined. However, there are cultural and wildlife benefits from these 2 silvicultural systems so both can be found where timber production or some other main forestry purpose (such as a protection forest against an avalanche) is not the sole management objective of the woodland.
In the 16th and 17th centuries the technology of charcoal iron production became widely established in England, continuing in some areas until the late 19th century Along with the growing need for oak bark for tanning, this required large amounts of coppice wood. With this coppice management, wood could be provided for those growing industries in principle indefinitely. This was regulated by a statute of 1544  of Henry VIII, which required woods to be enclosed after cutting (to prevent browsing by animals) and 12 standels (standards or mature uncut trees) to be left in each acre, to be grown into timber. Coppice with standards (scattered individual stems allowed to grow on through several coppice cycles) has been commonly used throughout most of Europe as a means of giving greater flexibility in the resulting forest product from any one area. The woodland provides not only the small material from the coppice but also a range of larger timber for jobs like house building, bridge repair, cart-making and so on.
In the 18th century coppicing in Britain began a long decline. This was brought about by the erosion of its traditional markets. Firewood was no longer needed for domestic or industrial uses as coal and coke became easily obtained and transported, and wood as a construction material was gradually replaced by newer materials. Coppicing died out first in the north of Britain and steadily contracted towards the south-east until by the 1960s active commercial coppice was heavily concentrated in Kent and Sussex.
The shoots (or suckers) may be used either in their young state for interweaving in wattle fencing (as is the practice with coppiced willows and hazel) or the new shoots may be allowed to grow into large poles, as was often the custom with trees such as oaks or ashes. This creates long, straight poles which do not have the bends and forks of naturally grown trees. Coppicing may be practiced to encourage specific growth patterns, as with cinnamon trees which are grown for their bark.
Another, more complicated system is called compound coppice. Here some of the standards would be left, some harvested. Some of the coppice would be allowed to grow into new standards and some regenerated coppice would be there. Thus there would be three age classes.
In France, chestnut trees are coppiced for use as canes and bâtons for the martial art Canne de combat (also known as Bâton français).
Sometimes former coppice is converted to high-forest woodland by the practice of singling. All but one of the regrowing stems are cut, leaving the remaining one to grow as if it were a maiden (uncut) tree.
The boundaries of coppice coups were sometimes marked by cutting certain trees as pollards or stubs.
In southern Britain, coppice was traditionally hazel, hornbeam, field maple, ash, sweet chestnut, occasionally sallow, elm, small-leafed lime and rarely oak or beech, grown amongst pedunculate or sessile oak, ash or beech standards. In wet areas alder and willows were used.
Coppices provided wood for many purposes, especially charcoal before coal was economically significant in metal smelting. A minority of these woods are still operated for coppice today, often by conservation organisations, producing material for hurdle-making, thatching spars, local charcoal-burning or other crafts. The only remaining large-scale commercial coppice crop in England is sweet chestnut which is grown in parts of Sussex and Kent. Much of this was established as plantations in the 19th century for hop-pole production (hop-poles are used to support the hop plant while growing hops) and is nowadays cut on a 12 to 18-year cycle for splitting and binding into cleft chestnut paling fence, or on a 20- to 35-year cycle for cleft post-and-rail fencing, or for sawing into small lengths to be finger-jointed for architectural use. Other material goes to make farm fencing and to be chipped for modern wood-fired heating systems.
In northwest England, coppice-with-standards has been the norm, the standards often of oak with relatively little simple coppice. After World War II, a great deal was planted up with conifers or became neglected. Coppice-working almost died out, though a few men continued in the woods. A small, and growing, number of people make a living wholly or partly by working coppices in the area today.
Coppice management favours a range of wildlife, often of species adapted to open woodland. After cutting, the increased light allows existing woodland-floor vegetation such as bluebell, anemone and primrose to grow vigorously. Often brambles grow around the stools, encouraging insects, or various small mammals that can use the brambles as protection from larger predators. Woodpiles (if left in the coppice) encourage insects such as beetles to come into an area. The open area is then colonised by many animals such as nightingale, European nightjar and fritillary butterflies. As the coup grows, the canopy closes and it becomes unsuitable for these animals again—but in an actively managed coppice there is always another recently cut coup nearby, and the populations therefore move around, following the coppice management.
However, most British coppices have not been managed in this way for many decades. The coppice stems have grown tall (the coppice is said to be overstood), forming a heavily shaded woodland of many closely spaced stems with little ground vegetation. The open-woodland animals survive in small numbers along woodland rides or not at all, and many of these once-common species have become rare. Overstood coppice is a habitat of relatively low biodiversity—it does not support the open-woodland species, but neither does it support many of the characteristic species of high forest, because it lacks many high-forest features such as substantial dead-wood, clearings and stems of varied ages. Suitable conservation management of these abandoned coppices may be to restart coppice management, or in some cases it may be more appropriate to use singling and selective clearance to establish a high-forest structure.
Coppice and pollard growth is a response of the tree to damage, and can occur naturally. Trees may be browsed or broken by large herbivorous animals, such as cattle or elephants, felled by beavers or blown over by the wind. Some trees, such as linden, may produce a line of coppice shoots from a fallen trunk, and sometimes these develop into a line of mature trees. For some trees, such as the common beech (Fagus sylvatica), coppicing is more or less easy depending on the altitude : it is much more efficient for trees in the montane zone.
Coppicing of willow, alder and poplar for energy wood has proven commercially successful. The Willow Biomass Project in the United States is an example of this. In this case the coppicing is done in a way that an annual or more likely a tri-annual cut can happen. This seems to maximize the production volume from the stand. Such frequent growth means the soils can be easily depleted and so fertilizers are often required. The stock also becomes exhausted after some years and so will be replaced with new plants. The method of harvesting of energy wood can be mechanized by adaptation of specialized agricultural machinery.
Species and cultivars vary in when they should be cut, regeneration times and other factors. However, full life cycle analysis has shown that poplars have a lower effect in terms of greenhouse gas emissions for energy production than alternatives.
Media related to Coppices at Wikimedia Commons
Arlesey Old Moat and Glebe Meadows is a 4.3 hectare nature reserve west of Arlesey in Bedfordshire. It is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. The site is a long narrow strip between the River Hiz and the East Coast Main Line, with the entrance to Glebe Meadows immediately west of Arlesey railway station, and Arlesey Old Moat south of the Meadows. The Hicca Way footpath goes through the site.
Frogs, toads and newts spawn in the moat, and dragonflies lay their eggs in it. The meadows have a range of wild flowers, and woodland, which is managed by coppicing, provides a habitat for nesting warblers.The Glebe Meadows were purchased, by raising funds, by Arlesey Conservation for Nature (ACORN) for the public to enjoy in perpetuity for quiet recreation and for wildlife. The Wildlife Trust agreed to hold the title of the land on their behalf. The Town Council also agreed to financially support the upkeep of the meadows. This project was to commemorate the new Millennium. The day to day upkeep of the reserves is undertaken by ACORN volunteers.Asham Wood
Asham Wood (grid reference ST705460) is a 140.6-hectare (347-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest near Downhead in the Mendip Hills, Somerset, notified in 1963.
Asham Wood is the largest and most diverse of the ancient semi-natural woods in the Mendips. It has been the subject of controversy and attempts to protect the environment from increased quarrying activity in the area.
The wood occupies 2 deep valleys and the intervening plateau. Most of the underlying
rocks are calcareous Carboniferous Limestone and Shales, but Devonian Portishead Beds
outcrop along the northern valley. There are a range of unusual flora and fauna.At Asham Wood near Frome coppicing and 50 dormouse boxes have been introduced in order to encourage nesting. The boxes are monitored and dormice numbers are recorded.Bradfield Woods
Bradfield Woods is an 81.4 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest between Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket in Suffolk. The site is in three separate blocks, the adjoining Felsham Hall and Monkspark Woods, and the much smaller separate Hedge Wood and Chensil Grove. Felsham Hall and Monkspark Woods are designated a 63.3 National Nature Reserve, also called Bradfield Woods, and are managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.These woods have a history of coppicing dating to before 1252, producing a very high diversity of flora, with over 370 plant species recorded. Uncommon woodland flowers include oxlip, herb paris and ramson. There is also a rich variety of fungi, with two species not recorded elsewhere in Britain.There is access from Felsham Road west of Gedding.Chalkney Wood
Chalkney Wood is a 72.6 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest south-east of Earls Colne in Essex. 25 hectares is owned by Essex County Council and 48 hectares by the Forestry Commission.There is evidence of occupation going back to the Roman period, and at the beginning of the twelfth century the wood was donated by Aubrey de Vere I (or his son Aubrey de Vere II) to Colne Priory. The site has been managed by coppicing for over 400 years. The ancient woodland is on acid silts and sands. Trees include, ash, lime birch and pedunculated oak. The ground layer is dominated by bramble, and other plants include primrose and wood anemone. The wood is divided by grassy rides, and there are over twenty ponds. There are two Scheduled Monuments, Chalkney Mill and Chalkney Mill House, on the edge of the wood.There is access by footpaths which cross the wood, including one from Swansomb Road.Cherry Tree Wood
Cherry Tree Wood is a 5.3-hectare park in East Finchley in the London Borough of Barnet. It is a Site of Local Importance for Nature Conservation. Located opposite East Finchley Underground station, it contains woodland and grassland, a playground, tennis courts, a cafe and toilets.Its history may date back to prehistoric times, and the park was part of the hunting grounds of the Bishop of London in the 12th century. It is a remnant of the large medieval wood called Finchley Wood, which was shown in Great Hornsey Park in Rocque's map of 1754. It was later known as Dirthouse Wood because the night soil and horse manure from London's streets was brought to the Dirthouse, now the White Lion pub next to East Finchley Station, as fertiliser for hay meadows. In 1914 it was purchased by Finchley Council from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to create a public park.Until it became a public park, hornbeam trees were cut back every few years to provide wood for charcoal, while oaks were allowed to grow to their full height for timber. Now that coppicing has ceased the hornbeams have grown tall and rangy, and the wood has grown shaded. Wood anemone and other ancient plants can be found in the spring, and nuthatch and great spotted woodpecker are often seen.Mutton Brook rises in Cherry Tree Wood, and the Capital Ring between Hendon and Highgate passes through it.Chitemene
Chitemene (also spelled citemene), from the ciBemba word meaning “place where branches have been cut for a garden”, is a system of slash and burn agriculture practiced throughout northern Zambia. It involves coppicing or pollarding of standing trees in a primary or secondary growth Miombo woodland, stacking of the cut biomass, and eventual burning of the cut biomass in order to create a thicker layer of ash than would be possible with in situ burning. Crops such as maize, finger millet, sorghum, or cassava are then planted in the burned area.East Blean Woods
East Blean Woods is a 151.4-hectare (374-acre) biological Site of Special Scientific Interest south of Herne Bay in Kent. It is also a National Nature Reserve a Special Area of Conservation and a Nature Conservation Review site. An area of 122 hectares (300 acres) is managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust.The reserve is ancient semi-natural woodland situated on poorly drained London clay, with a small area of gravelly soil in the south. The underlying clay results in much surface water and mud in winter and wet summers. The soil is mostly fairly acid, as shown by the carpets of bluebells and patches of heather (Calluna vulgaris), but more alkaline elsewhere, with characteristic species such as spurge-laurel (Daphne laureola), sanicle (Sanicula europaea) and common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii).
The wood has been heavily managed in the past as wood pasture and as a source for sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) coppice. When conditions are open, after the coppice is cut, much of the ground is colonised by common cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense), which is the food plant of the caterpillar of the rare heath fritillary (Melitaea athalia) butterfly. As the chestnut grows up again and the shade becomes denser, the habitat becomes unsuitable for the flowers and butterflies, therefore it is very important that regular coppicing is carried out to maintain open areas for our colony of one of Britain's rarest butterflies. The older coppice is, however, valuable for nesting birds such as warblers, and the maturing oak and wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis) stands attract many insects and birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and treecreepers.Hardwick Wood
Hardwick Wood is a 15.5 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest south of Caldecote in Cambridgeshire. It is managed by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire.This medieval wood is now managed by coppicing. It is mainly ash and field maple, while the oldest parts have pedunculate oak with an understorey of hazel and hawthorn, while ground flora include early-purple orchid and yellow archangel. There are birds such as willow warblers, marsh tits and blackcaps.There is access by a footpath from Main Street in Caldecote.Hedge
A hedge or hedgerow is a line of closely spaced shrubs and sometimes trees, planted and trained to form a barrier or to mark the boundary of an area, such as between neighbouring properties. Hedges used to separate a road from adjoining fields or one field from another, and of sufficient age to incorporate larger trees, are known as hedgerows. Often they serve as windbreaks to improve conditions for the adjacent crops, as in bocage country. When clipped and maintained, hedges are also a simple form of topiary.Hollowhill and Pullingshill Woods
Hollowhill and Pullingshill Woods is a 23-hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest near Marlow in Buckinghamshire. It is in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the Chilterns Beechwoods Special Area of Conservation. The local planning authorities are Wycombe District Council and Buckinghamshire County Council. Pullingshill Wood is owned by the Woodland Trust, and Hollowhill Wood was formerly owned by Buckinghamshire County Council, but was transferred to the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. Since November 2015 the 7.8-hectare site has been managed by the Trust as "Hog and Hollowhill Woods".A large part of the site is mature beech woodland, the result of neglected coppicing. Much of the ground below the trees is bare, but there are some unusual plants, including the nationally rare ghost orchid. Trees on the lower slopes include ash, wild cherry and
crab apple, and there is heather in more open areas.There is access from a road between Bockmer End and Hook Corner, which bisects the woods.Kiln Wood
Kiln Wood is a 6-hectare (15-acre) nature reserve south of Lenham in Kent. It is managed by Kent Wildlife Trust.This wood is mainly oak, hornbeam and hazel, and it is managed by coppicing. A stream at the northern end has lady fern, herb paris and broad buckler-fern.There is access from Headcorn Road.Lesnes Abbey Woods
Lesnes Abbey Woods, sometimes known as Abbey Wood, is an area of ancient woodland in southeast London, England. It is located near to, and named after, the ruined Lesnes Abbey in the London Borough of Bexley and gives its name to the Abbey Wood district. The woods are adjacent to Bostall Woods.
The woods have several features dating back to the Bronze Age and a fine display of wild bluebells and daffodils in the Spring. The abbey kept fishponds which were fed by a small stream running down through the woods, and these are still visible today though the water level is often low.
Local community group Lesnes Abbey Conservation Volunteers run practical conservation events to help manage the woodland. They are a registered environmental conservation charity run by local people. The charity was started in 1994, and works closely with Bexley Council who also provide the group with support, to protect and enhance the native wildlife and the important wildlife habitats of Lesnes Abbey Wood. Lesnes Abbey Conservation Volunteers objectives include:
To conserve and maintain for the public benefit Lesnes Abbey Wood and its local environment.
To advance public education in the principles and practices of nature conservation, and the archaeological and geological interest of Lesnes Abbey Wood and its environments.LACV is a community group which is open to all ages and abilities and works on a varied range of practical conservation tasks throughout the year. The group's conservation tasks include hedge laying, coppicing, fence repair, pond restoration, glade creation, tree planting and heath land restoration. The group also does various wildlife surveys in order to monitor the local native wildlife.
Lesnes Abbey Woods is a Local Nature Reserve and includes the Abbey Wood geological Site of Special Scientific Interest, an important site for early Tertiary fossils. Members of the public can dig for fossils in a small area called the Fossil Bank with the permission of the Lesnes Abbey ranger.South Blean
South Blean is a 329-hectare (810-acre) nature reserve near Chartham Hatch, west of Canterbury in Kent. It is owned and managed by the Kent Wildlife Trust.This site has native woodland, conifer plantations, heath, and bog. KWT is gradually removing the conifers to allow natural regeneration, and it also manages the site by grazing and coppicing. Birds include nightjars and nightingales.There is access from the track called Primrose Hill.Spring Wood, Belstead
Spring Wood is a 5.5 hectare Local Nature Reserve east of Belstead, on the southern outskirts of Ipswich in Suffolk. It is owned and managed by Ipswich Borough Council.This ancient oak and hornbeam wood has an understorey of hazel. There are small-leaved limes in groups several metres in diameter, which are genetically one tree, as a result of coppicing decades ago.There is access from the neighbouring Millennium Wood and by a footpath from Bobbits Lane.Sulham and Tidmarsh Woods and Meadows
Sulham Woods is a 74 hectares (180 acres) Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in the civil parish of Tidmarsh with Sulham in the English county of Berkshire.Previously known as Pang Valley SSSI, the site is mostly sandwiched between the River Pang and the Sulham Road and includes Broom Copse, Herridge's Copse, Hogmoor Copse, Park Wood, Moor Copse and Barton's Copse. Much of the southern part of the site is the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust's Moor Copse Nature Reserve. The whole site lies within the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.The SSSI consists of five areas.
The site is in a broad valley of unusually varied alluvial loams, gravel terraces and peat
deposits, resulting from flooding in late glacial times by an enlarged River Kennet. The variety in soils and topography results in a mosaic of damp copses and seasonally flooded meadow communities, maintained here by a long history of coppicing and sympathetic grassland husbandry. The woodland on the site supports a rich invertebrate fauna including over 300 species of moth.Thorpe Morieux Woods
Thorpe Morieux Woods is a 45.2 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest north of Thorpe Morieux in Suffolk. Part of it is Bull's Wood, a nature reserve managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.These ancient semi-natural woods are managed by coppicing. The soil is poorly drained boulder clay, and common trees include pedunculate oak. Bramble and dog's mercury are dominant in the ground flora, with extensive oxlip in some areas.There is access to Bull's Wood, and a footpath goes through Thorpe Wood, but there is no public access to Felsham Wood or Great Hastings Wood.Tudeley
Tudeley is a village in western Kent, England.
The village is home to All Saints' Church, the only church in the world that has all its windows in stained glass designed by Marc Chagall. The East window was commissioned by Sir Henry and Lady D'Avigdor-Goldsmid in memory of their daughter Sarah, who died aged 21 in a boating accident in 1963. The other windows were added later, the final ones being installed in 1985, the year of Chagall's death. Today the church also hosts the Tudeley Festival, an Early Music event which has been running since 1985.Somerhill House, which houses The Schools at Somerhill, lies within the bounds of Tudeley.
Tudeley Woods is an RSPB owned and restored ancient wood and heathland, which have been connected through extensive coppicing to open up the woodland floor and allow the woodland flowers and butterflies to flourish. The result is that there more than 1,000 species of fungi in the woods, with orchids intermingled with carpets of bluebells and primroses in spring. The coppicing allows for charcoal burning, with the products sold locally. Free to access, car parking is restricted, whilst dogs on leads are allowed on the public footpaths and bridleways.Welsh Wood
Welsh Wood is a 3.2 hectare Local Nature Reserve in Colchester in Essex. It is owned and managed by Colchester Borough Council.Trees in this site, which is managed by rotational coppicing, include ash, hazel, sweet chestnut and the rare small leaved lime. It is carpeted by bluebells in the spring, and there are other flowers such as yellow archangel and wood anemone. Dead wood provides a habitat for stag beetle larvae.There is access from Deben Road and Barbel Road.Weybridge Heath
Weybridge Heath is a part of Weybridge common, in South East England.
The Heath comprises 47 acres (190,200 square metres) of lowland heathland that runs from the deep cutting of the South Western Main Line railway eastwards to Cobbetts Hill. To the west of the railway line, much of the original heathland is now occupied by Heathside School and Brooklands College.
During the 1970s and 1980s the heathland fell into a poor state of repair because the surrounding brush was ill-maintained and coppicing, which is essential for the maintenance of small heaths, had ceased. Gradually, the area became more and more overgrown with newly grown brush composed of the saplings of deciduous trees, and became to resemble more of a young wood.
Because the area used to contain many species of ants, rare birds and insectivorous plants, Surrey County Council embarked in 1989 upon a project to renew the heathland and encourage the return of the area to its original habitat type. The project consisted of the removal of a large number of taller trees from a central portion of the site, and the clearing of brush from this area. The council hoped that the area would be returned to something approaching its former glory within a decade.
Evidence of the re-growth of heathland is not great as of 2003, and some local residents are sceptical about the apparent defacement of the area, dubbing the cleared area "the bomb site".
It was on the original heath in this location that British myrmecologist Horace Donisthorpe collected many of the ants from which he produced so many observations and deductions.