Coppicing uses the fundamental biological process whereby some trees send new shoots up from the stump or roots when the trunk has been felled…
This is one of the oldest methods of woodland management. An archaeological dig in Somerset has revealed coppiced Lime dating to the winter of 3807 and 3806 BC! Extraordinarily, in 5,000 years, the basic techniques have never changed.
In early spring, and before the buds break, young stems are repeatedly cut down to just above the ground. This encourages an abundance of new shoots. After several years, the coppiced tree, or stool, is harvested and the cycle restarts. Because Coppicing sustains trees in their juvenile state, the resulting stool cannot die of old age. Living examples have been shown to be over 1,000 years old.
This woodland management produces wood for both fuel and building, though the time scales for each greatly differ. Birch, for example, is coppiced on a three – four year cycle to produce firewood. Oak, however, was coppiced on a 50 year cycle to produce poles for house or ship building. Production was sustained over generations by carefully rotating the stools in each wood.
From prehistory, through the medieval period and onto today, Coppiced wood has long been used for the mass production of charcoal. The coppicing and charcoal production often taking place in the same woodland, typically on a 16 year cycle.
Suitable Plants for Coppicing
Only a few varieties are suitable for regular coppicing or pollarding. First, they must respond to harsh cutting by breaking their lower, dormant buds. Second, they must also be exceptionally resistant to disease. It therefore follows that any hedging plant suitable for coppicing will also make a particularly reliable standard Hedge.
Suitable varieties include: Ash, Beech, Birch, Dogwood, Hazel, Hornbeam, Willow and Yew.