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Coppicing at Wivey Grows

05 November 22 - by Will Varney

This month at Langley House, the Wivey Grows team are taking part in coppicing. As shown by Dylan in our September Blog, coppicing is an essential aspect of woodland management and requires lots of hard work to carry out effectively!

Working in a team with Dylan to coppice some of the trees in Langley House's woodland area was Wivey Grower Richard Adams, who will be back to lead the team with some more coppicing days this month. I interviewed Richard to find out a little bit more about what coppicing is and why it is needed in a long term project such as ours.

> Firstly, what is coppicing?

"Coppicing is a way of maintaining a woodland of actively growing trees to produce a variety of thickness of timbers for a variety of different purposes.
The young trees are cut back to near the ground and then sprout multiple stems from the ’stool’, repeating this process every 5-7 years means that the stool grows larger and that timbers of different ages are harvested so are different thicknesses.
Because the sprouts grow towards the light but crowd each other, competition between stems means you get long straight poles."

> Why is coppicing important to the Wivey Grows' woodland?

"Coppicing is important at Langley House because the trees were planted in ~2009 and have overgrown so have started to fall out from their stool and break. Coppicing is part of restorative maintenance for the whole woodland. The edge trees are in the worst condition and make the whole woodland look scruffy.
The trees are almost exclusively willow which is a monoculture so has reduced biodiversity. Coppicing will enable us to let light to the floor allowing other plants to grow before the canopy reestablishes itself in about 4-5 years when we will again cut it down. this gives other useful bushes like currants a chance to grow well so that the next time the coppice is cut they will be ready to produce a bumper crop. Introducing other nut trees where they can be persuaded to grow because of the soggy nature of the ground will also be possible. Another crop could also be weaving willow (osier) that we could use for baskets and other artisan products.
As we make our way through the wood, coppicing different sections each year, a fresh habitat is revealed each year allowing the biodiversity to progressively develop, particularly as we introduce different trees into the mix.

The freshly harvested wood is soft to work and will enable us to make many different items from spoons to hurdle-type fencing. The green woodworking skills are not common and we do have skilled people in the community who can teach these skills to our community revitalising a declining trade and help introduce the skills to a younger community."

> How often does coppicing need to take place?

"Coppicing takes place over each winter in different cycles depending on the species and the end result that is required, the existing goat willow has grown very quickly so will probably respond well with a shorter (5-7 year) cycle. Sweet chestnut used for paling fences needs a longer cycle unless you want them to produce nuts in which case some trees are left to mature."

> As a keen gardener, is coppicing an activity that you particularly enjoy, why/why not?

"Coppicing is the basis for a lot of green woodworking: working with timber that is freshly harvested and not yet dried. the wet wood is much softer to work for making many items from spoons and spindles for staircases to chairs, I had a brilliant weekend some years back making a chair from green wood. Passing on these traditional skills also is great fun as well as making items that are useful in the garden!"

We have two Coppicing days coming up, on the 19th of Novemeber and 3rd of December, beginning at 9am and finishing at Langley House by 4pm. Please come down and help out, this is an extremely satisfying aspect of woodland management which can be rewarded with a delicious soup lunch for those who do so. If you are thinking of coming down, remember to bring sturdy footwear because the work involves sharp tools and heavy wood!

We look forward to seeing those who come along, but if you can't make it, hopefully, you are now more aware of woodland management at Langley House and the importance of coppicing to Wivey Grows.

Many Thanks again to experienced coppicer Richard Adams for taking part in the Q&A, it is much appreciated!