Protecting Coppice Re-growth

Lots has been going on in the landscape surrounding Gressenhall this summer; the fields are awash with the colour of wildflowers and the air is buzzing with bees and butterflies to mention but a few. However, as is the case with many land based activities it’s always good to be thinking about the seasons to come and the tasks associated with these seasons. Some of you may have seen in my previous posts that we coppiced a coupe of hazel in the woodland here at Gressenhall over the winter of 2013 / 2014, well now that summer is in full swing it’s a good time to check up on the coppiced hazel stools to see how the hazel re-growth is doing.

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A very healthy coppice stool with lots of re-growth. It’s located in an area often frequented by people, perhaps keeping the deer away.

In the UK we have a number of deer species roaming through our countryside; some of which are native and others which have been introduced. Deer’s pose quite a threat to a coppice system as they have a tendency to munch off the tasty new seasons re-growth, if this is left unchecked the hazel stools will eventually die out, which would completely destroy a coppice woodland. In a stable, fully functioning eco-system the population densities of grazing species are maintained at a sustainable level by a top predator(s); in the past this would have been the case in the UK with species such as wolves, bears and lynx also roaming our countryside.

Now that we’ve lost these species it’s important that we take measures to protect any coppice re-growth to ensure the survival of coppiced woodlands, which in some cases are also classified as ancient woodland.

There are several methods which can be used to protect coppice growth, the method that we trialled at Gressenhall this year was to cover up the coppice stools with brash wood from the trees that we had coppiced (brash wood is the twiggy branches from the crown of a tree).The theory is that the brash wood would allow the re-growth the opportunity to grow woody enough so that it is unpalatable to deer.

Another method which was used at Oxburgh Hall this year is to weave brash wood into a basket like structure around the coppiced stool. The principle is similar to the last method; the baskets should provide the new growth protection until they grow over the baskets. By which time they should be woody enough to be left alone.

A hazel stool protected from deer by a woven basket at Oxburgh Hall.

A hazel stool protected from deer by a woven basket at Oxburgh Hall.

An additional technique which is often used on large scale coppicing projects is the use of temporary electric fences. This is perhaps the quickest and most efficient method if a large coupe has been coppiced. The idea is that deer are completely excluded from the freshly coppiced coupe, hopefully providing complete protection to the new re-growth. Obviously this method will only be suited to certain circumstances where the presence of an electric fence is not a problem.

Perhaps the oldest and most traditional method of deterring deer from browsing a freshly cut coppice coupe is simply the presence of humans. Ben law suggests in his book ‘the woodland way’ that this is one of the main reasons why woodsmen would traditionally live in the wood for extended periods of time (sometimes full time). This is an interesting theory, as the hazel stool pictured at the very beginning of this blog post is in an area that is often used by people, even though it has no protection the re-growth from this stool is extremely strong.

Unfortunately the method that we’ve been using at Gressenhall has been rather unsuccessful, with much of the new growth being browsed off once it had grown above the brash shields. This makes me think that the brash was either not piled high enough on top of the stools, or that the brash had not provided enough of a physical barrier to protect the new growth below. In contrast the method used at the National Trust site of Oxburgh hall has been quite successful, with the majority of the stools showing strong re-growth within the woven baskets.

Obviously there are a number of variables that may have influenced the rate of browsing within the two woodlands, for example muntjac deer are much shorter than roe, or even fallow deer, and will therefore be deterred from eating re-growth with a relatively low shelter. I think that we will be constructing a similar structure to those at Oxburgh Hall around our coppice stools this winter, and will wait to see the results next spring.

If you’re interested in coppicing and traditional coppice crafts please feel free to have a look at my personal blog: coppicecrafts.blogspot.com
You’ll find lots of information about hurdle making, coppicing, green woodworking etc.

Also, we’re going to be busy working in the woodland over winter, if you’d like to join in with our volunteer team on Mondays please do get in touch: lee.bassett@norfolk.gov.uk

In related news, the hazel nuts are ripening up nicely. We will have to be quick to get to them before the squirrels though!

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Lee Bassett
Heritage Landscape Mangement Trainee
Coppicecrafts.blogspot.com

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