The Art of Coppicing

Although the practice of coppicing has been around for thousands of years, it’s likely that you may not have even heard about coppicing until recently. Coppicing is a way of managing a woodland that benefits wildlife whilst creating a sustainable source of timber with numerous applications.

When a broadleaved tree has its stem and crown removed certain hormone levels within the stump of the tree (the stool) undergo a rapid change. This causes new shoots to sprout from the side of the stool; which is known as the re-growth. Re-growth can be rapid, often as much as 2 meters a year, this is because the tree has a fully developed root system. The practice of coppicing can be carried out on the same tree for at least several hundred years and has been shown to actually prolong the life of a tree. In fact, often the oldest trees in our woods are grown from coppice stools (1).

A freshly coppiced hazel stool. No re-growth has begun to grow on this stool yet, but you can clearly see the multiple stems from previous years coppicing.

A freshly coppiced hazel stool. No re-growth has begun to grow on this stool yet, but you can clearly see the multiple stems from previous years coppicing.

Over time the stool of the tree continues to grow in diameter, however, the diameter of the timber being harvested can be controlled by the frequency of coppicing; the longer the period of time in between each time the stool is coppiced, the larger the timber. It is thought that coppicing was popular in the past because timber of a manageable size could be produced (2).

A freshly cut mixed coppice. You'll notice that these stools are still quite high, this is because they were cut by volunteers with hand tools. They will likely be cut lower to the ground with a chainsaw within the next few weeks. (Picture courtesy of Oxburgh wood, National Trust, Norfolk)

A freshly cut mixed coppice. You’ll notice that these stools are still quite high, this is because they were cut by volunteers with hand tools. They will likely be cut lower to the ground with a chainsaw within the next few weeks. (Picture courtesy of Oxburgh wood, National Trust, Norfolk)

Culturally, coppicing played a huge role in the development of our society and its technology. Coppicing has been traced back to as far as Neolithic times (c4000 BC) (4). Historians believe that during the medieval period over half of the woodlands in the UK were managed through coppicing (3)

This illustration is actually showing someone pollarding, which is similar to coppicing except the stool is left about 5 - 6 foot high.

This illustration is actually showing someone pollarding, which is similar to coppicing except the stool is left about 5 – 6 foot high.

Written records referring to the practice of coppicing date back to 1251; these records describe the type of material collected from coppiced woodlands and its value in East Anglia! (2)

The word ‘coppice’ comes from the French word ‘couper’ which means ‘to cut’. This may also explain why in some parts of the country a coppice is split up into compartments called ‘coupes’. Each of these coupes is cut on a rotation, creating areas that have been freshly coppiced, areas of the wood with young, scrubby re-growth and areas with relatively developed trees. This diversity creates a mosaic of habitats within a single woodland; providing opportunities for a wide range of species to thrive.

This diagram helps to illustrate the various stages of growth that hazel goes through during the coppice cycle. This illustrates a 'coppice with standards', this type of coppice includes both coppice stools and large standard timber trees. Other types of coppice include 'pure coppice' and 'mixed coppice'.

This diagram helps to illustrate the various stages of growth that hazel goes through during the coppice cycle. This illustrates a ‘coppice with standards’, this type of coppice includes both coppice stools and large standard timber trees. Other types of coppice include ‘pure coppice’ and ‘mixed coppice’.

More recently, many wildlife centred organisations have begun to use coppicing as a type of woodland management to benefit wildlife. The benefit of coppicing to our native wildlife is, however, a by-product. Originally woodlands would have been coppiced solely for the timber that was produced, and the associated coppice crafts that required this material.

Items being produced from a coppice would have included gate hurdles, tool handles, besom brooms, bark for weaving, barrels and timber for traditional shelters and structures. Since the early 1900’s coppicing within the UK has been on the decline, it is estimated that about 1% of the remaining woodlands are coppiced today (3). However, interest in the benefits of coppicing for wildlife is increasing, as is the interest in crafts associated with coppicing. The long history of coppicing in the UK has profoundly influenced the flora and fauna found in our semi-natural woods, the decline in coppicing has caused many open-woodland species to decline in numbers. Therefore the resurgence of coppicing in the UK can only be a good thing.

On a related note, we’ve recently set up a new landscape conservation volunteer team to assist with the management of the woodland. We’re now able to steam through the work and are hoping to improve the value of our woodland for biodiversity, whilst also creating a great learning environment for visiting school groups.

If you’d like to come and volunteer for us we’d love to hear from you! We meet every Monday at 10am.

Our dedicated volunteers hard at work

Our dedicated volunteers hard at work

Lee Bassett, Heritage Landscape Management Trainee.

Lee.bassett@norfolk.gov.uk

Refereces / Further reading:

1. http://www.coppice.co.uk/

2. http://smallwoods.org.uk/our-work/woodland-products/a-brief-history-of-coppicing/

3. Badgers, Beeches and Blisters by Julian Evans. Available online: http://www.woodlands.co.uk/owning-a-wood/badgers-beeches-and-blisters/badgers-beeches-and-blisters.pdf

4. http://www.norseywood.org.uk/wood/coppicing.htm

Advertisements

Winter with the National Trust

With the weather finally beginning to get colder it’s starting to really feel like winter! And even though we’re half way through it winter has already been a very busy season, especially during my work with the National Trust in North Norfolk. The work has been varied and very exciting and I continue to learn so much new information every time work with the Ranger team at Felbrigg and Sheringham.

The storms! As most of you will know, the North Norfolk coast was hit particularly hard by the high winds and storm surge that struck England over Christmas. The National trust properties at Felbrigg and Blakeney weren’t spared from the damage. When the storm surge flooded the coastline it left a rather large trail of destruction that will take many months if not years in some places to recover. Debris was washed up and dumped far inland and has changed the face of natural areas dramatically. The Ranger team that I work with on my placement at Felbrigg Hall was called upon by the team at Blakeney Point to lend a hand to help clear up the worst of the damage. The photos below show the extent and the power of the surge. You can see how much material was actually brought up and dumped onto the mainland and how strong the water must have been to pick up the boat and dump it on the coastal path!

This level of debris being washed up is a common picture along the North Norfolk coast

This level of debris being washed up is a common picture along the North Norfolk coast

The coastline was littered with stricken boats such as this

The coastline was littered with stricken boats such as this

It was not only the storm surges that caused the damage but high winds also had an affect with several large trees being brought down in the gusts! With several of them posing a hazard to visitors to the park it was the Rangers’ responsibility to deal with them and make them safe. Two members of the ranger team and myself had to deal with a tree that had fallen over and got itself stuck in another tree and so using ropes, chains and a big tractor we managed to pull it out and make it safe. As you can see from the pictures the tree was fairly large and fairly well hung up which made our job just that little bit more difficult but when it came out it did so with a big satisfying crash!

me with tree

tree

It has not all been doom and gloom at the National Trust over the winter period, I have been kept busy with lots of other work and projects. These have ranged from fencing around the old farm pond, planting new oak trees and installing cattle proof guards around them, scrub management at West Runton heath and setting fire to large bonfires on the Felbrigg heathland site!

Josh and Claire using the tractor mounted post-rammer at Felbrigg

Josh and Claire using the tractor mounted post-rammer at Felbrigg

With all of the jobs that I have done over this period with the National Trust there was one which was my favourite. This was the installation of a memorial bench on the top of Incleborough Hill. I enjoyed putting this together because we were building something that was to celebrate and commemorate someone’s life and so we had to take great care of the bench components when bringing them to the site. Carrying them to the top of the hill along a rough track without dropping or scuffing them was rather interesting. We then carried out the installation with the same care and made sure everything was perfect before we finished. We were all very proud of our work that day!

The bench is actually level it’s the camera angle that was wonky!

The bench is actually level it’s the camera angle that was wonky!

I will continue to work alongside the Rangers at the National Trust right up until the end of my traineeship and I look forward to whatever it is that lays ahead in the next few months.

Tom Watson

Heritage Landscape Management Trainee

Training a Young Horse

As I’m sure you are all aware, on the farm we have 5 Suffolk Punch horses. They vary in age from 14 to 6 and this age difference aids us in bringing on our younger horses to match the abilities of the old horses, and eventually allows them take over, when the elder ones become too old to work. To start this process off we introduce the youngest horse to the eldest horse and put them in a field together. The hope is that the older horse teaches the younger horse manners, and puts them in line.

Currently, our youngest horse, Jimbo (who is 6) is going through a rigorous winter training program to bring him up to a set standard for when we re-open for the new season. It is important that this training is done over winter for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is much safer to train a young horse when there are a limited number of people around- it minimises the risk to others and to the horse. Secondly, due to the nature of the work we wish for him to be able to complete on the farm, it is logical to train him when the work needs doing. Jobs such as ploughing, harrowing and sowing fields are the vast majority of his life as a working horse, and these jobs need to be completed during the winter months. Also, we are able to increase his fitness much quicker due to the fact we have more time to spend working with him when the site is closed.

Jimbo arrived at the farm and was then ‘broken in’; to include pulling a sledge with a load behind him. Therefore, our training with him this winter hasn’t required us to start from the beginning. Due to the fact we knew Jimbo was capable of working alone and pulling objects, the next logical step was to introduce him to another horse and get him working as a pair. Our choice was Bowler to begin with as Bowler’s enthusiasm for work would mean he would pull the load forward without aid from Jim. This would allow Jim to get used to the situation and encourage him to get on with the job.

Jpeg

This is a photo I took of the first time that Jim worked in a pair. Bowler is on the left of the image and Jim on the right. They are pulling the horse drawn cultivator. This was a sensible piece of machinery to begin with as it is ground based (therefore gives some resistance and allows the driver to have a way of stopping the horses) however since the land had recently been cultivated, the soil was already soft and therefore not too hard work for the unfit, green, horse. Jimbo did extremely well on this task and was praised through oral encouragement and given a small extra feed to finish off his day.

The next stage was to see how well he dealt with being driven. This task was more complicated than the cultivator as the hitch cart has no breaks. There is a certain amount of calculated risk involved in this step. You shouldn’t complete it too early as the horse may become frightened and bolt, but it isn’t wise to keep playing it safe with land based machinery otherwise the horse would never learn other tasks. Once again Jimbo was very well behaved, and Bowler made sure the hitch cart kept moving, even when Jimbo did not want to go. There were a few occasions in which he became spooked at unusual objects along the side of the track but due to the skill of the driver, with words of encouragement, and the enthusiasm of the paired horse, Jimbo became used to the task very quickly and settled down.

At this point in his training we placed Jimbo with other horses and repeated the hitch cart process. He went beautifully with Trojan (our eldest horse) and very well with Reggie (who is 8), however, being the cheeky horse that he is, he used the fact he was strapped together next to Reggie as an opportunity to give his mate the occasional nibble. Other than the nibbles, Reggie and Jimbo worked brilliantly as a pair and we have driven them around the track continuously for weeks since their first encounter.
It is important that work on the farm is completed over the winter months in order for it to be seen at its best when the site re-opens. Due to this, the fields need to be prepared and sown. We attempted to use the seed drill with just Reggie and Bowler pulling it, however, it was very hard work for both horses and staff, therefore, the following day we decided to insert Jimbo into the mix to make the going easier for the horses and allowing the work to be completed faster. This was the hardest task yet for him, as working in a triplet involves much more teamwork and turning corners is rather exciting!

Corners are difficult, even for the more experienced horses because, the horse on the inside of the turn must slow their pace down to a minimum and the horse to the far side of the turn must increase their pace to a rapid walk, or even a jog.

The ground was very sticky underfoot and we placed Jimbo on the outside (if something were to go wrong it would be easier to remove him from the other two, and it would be less claustrophobic for him). Due to the fact we were using the Smithe drill there were 3 people required to operate and control the situation. The driver, who would have ultimate control of the situation (who was experienced in training and working horses), a leader (a person who led and guided Jim around the corners and encouraged him forwards), and a person in charge of the machine (keeping the seeds topped up and making sure it didn’t clog up).

Jpeg

Jimbo was slow to start and inexperienced around the corners but despite the occasional spook he was an absolute star!

Jpeg

We were all very proud of him, and he received a large amount of praise (and the odd secret cuddle!) at the end of the day.

The next steps with Jimbo for the rest of the winter consist of repeating all tasks. This will ensure he knows his job and is happy in all situations. We are all very proud of his progress and we are hoping that by the time the open season begins we will have him thoroughly initiated into the strong workforce of horses down on the farm!

Jpeg

Danielle Chatten
Heritage Farming Apprentice

New Year Collections Update

Firstly, let me begin with a Happy New Year to you all, and I hope you had a brilliant Christmas!

Before I left for the Christmas break I had been keeping busy with designing for our up coming temporary exhibition.  When creating an exhibition, so much goes into the planning stages: object inventories, research, design work, text writing and much more.  This all needs to be planned and implemented before the big day; where we install the exhibition ready for the public!

So it really has been a busy time trying to make sure everything is going smoothly, but my fellow collections trainees and I have been working hard and can’t wait for our ideas to be shown to the public for them to enjoy!

To help us along with our collections work and give us ideas about our own exhibition, I have been going on many SHARE courses which have been a brilliant help!  One in particular was a mounting and pinning workshop at NorwichCastle with the display team.  The course gave me a brilliant understanding of the work the display team do.  We were also given practical lessons on how to create a display board with fabric and how to pin on objects.  From this course I have been able to take on board how to do this and will hopefully be able to do my own mounting and pinning for our exhibition!

Putting the pins into the board is not an easy job!

Putting the pins into the board is not an easy job!

The finished object pinned on, minus the tape!

The finished object pinned on, minus the tape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not been all work however, and a group of staff from various departments prepared a surprise Christmas pantomime for the volunteers as a huge thank you for the hard work they put in at Gressenhall!

It was brilliant fun to be able to take part in the pantomime but also great to see the huge amount of volunteers who help and be able to give something back to them.  I played the part of Farmer 2 and put on my best Norfolk accent which ended up having hints of the Welsh accent mixed into it!

My fellow collections trainees and I ready to take part in Jack and the Beanstalk.

My fellow collections trainees and I ready to take part in Jack and the Beanstalk.

Thank you for reading and in my next blog I will give an update on the progress of the exhibition!

Poppy Hill, Collections Management Trainee