The new shoots on coppiced stumps are tender and will be eagerly
grazed by herbivores such as cattle, sheep and deer. Where this was a problem, trees would
sometimes be cut higher up (between 2 and 5m above ground level). Regenerating shoots
would then be out of reach of grazing animals. This type of cutting is known as
Pollarding was common in areas of wood pasture where animals grazed
beneath widely spaced trees. Trees were often also pollarded on woodland boundaries to
provide distinctive markers.
Coppicing has great side-effects on woodland
biodiversity by improving structural diversity. The cutting of
small areas of the wood creates new open glades on a regular rotational cycle. Thus, as
one glade gradually grows up and closes over, another is created somewhere else within the
wood. As a result, there are always areas of high light intensity where plants other than
the dominant trees can flourish. As areas are opened up to light again in a new cycle of
cutting, they will be recolonized by a herbaceous ground flora. This develops either from
the existing seed bank in the soil, or by dispersal from neighbouring areas within the
woodland. Similar results can be obtained in a properly managed commercial forestry
plantation. Where a 50 year rotation is being practised, if one 50th is clear felled each
year, then open glades are continually created just as in coppiced woodlands.
Animal biodiversity within a woodland is to a great degree dependent
on the variety of plants other than trees growing within the woodland. For example, most
woodland butterflies have caterpillars which feed on the herbaceous plants in a wood.
Thus, the number of individuals, as well as the number of species of butterflies is often
greatly enhanced by coppicing (more here). The demise of
coppicing in most modern woods has been a contributing factor to the decline of many
British woodland butterfly species.
||Many species other than
butterflies are also favourably affected by coppicing. Hazel coppice is particularly good
for Dormice. The coppiced regrowth provides aerial walkways
of interlinking branches, with the added benefit of the establishment of climbing and
scrambling plants such as Honeysuckle and Bramble. All of these plants offer food sources
for the dormice through their fruits or nuts, as well as providing the structural habitat
necessary for these arboreal creatures.
Coppicing is extremely labour intensive and hence in
modern times, expensive to carry out. The wood produced tends to have a relatively low
value and has been replaced in many instances by other structural materials. Traditional
skills have also declined along with the loss of traditional ways of life and the removal
of dependence on local natural products. All of these factors have, to a great degree,
resulted in the demise of coppicing as an economic and sustainable woodland management
practice. Less than 3% of woodlands are now coppiced, mostly for Sweet Chestnut and Hazel.
In times past, high biodiversity was merely a side effect of
coppicing, whose main purpose was to supply a sustainable source of wood, without which
people could not live. In an odd turn around, the main aim of coppicing in many woods
today is biodiversity and conservation. The coppice products in this case have become a
side issue, although their sale may help to offset the labour costs involved.
||People are often prepared to pay
high prices for traditionally hand crafted wooden items such as furniture and recreational
items produced from coppice products. Their relative rarity and individuality gives them a
value above that of mass produced modern replacements.
Detailed information on hazel coppicing, products and
potential financial returns here