Coppicing

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Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management which takes advantage of the fact that many trees reshoot from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again. (Note that the noun coppice means a growth of small trees or a forest coming from shoots or suckers.)

Typically a coppiced woodland is harvested in sections or coups[1] on a rotation. In this way, a crop is available each year somewhere in the woodland. Coppicing has the effect of providing a rich variety of habitats, as the woodland always has a range of different-aged coppice growing in it, which is beneficial for biodiversity. The cycle length depends upon the species cut, the local custom, and the use to which the product is put. Birch can be coppiced for faggots (bundles of brushwood) on a three or four year cycle, whereas oak can be coppiced over a fifty-year cycle for poles or firewood.

Coppicing maintains trees at a juvenile stage, and a regularly coppiced tree will never die of old age—some coppice stools may therefore reach immense ages. The age of a stool may be estimated from its diameter, and some are so large—perhaps as much as 9 metres (30 ft) across—that they are thought to have been continuously coppiced for centuries.[2]

Coppiced stems are characteristically curved at the base. This curve occurs as the competing stems grow out from the stool in the early stages of the cycle, then up towards the sky as the canopy closes. The curve may allow the identification of coppice timber in archaeological sites—timber in the Sweet Track in Somerset (built in the winter of 3807 and 3806 BC) has been identified as coppiced lime.[3]

Contents

History

In the days of charcoal iron production in England, most woods in ironmaking regions were managed as coppices, usually being cut on a cycle of about 16 years. In this way, fuel could be provided for that industry, in principle, forever. This was regulated by a statute of Henry VIII, which required woods to be enclosed after cutting (to prevent browsing by animals) and 12 standels (standards or mature uncut trees) to be left in each acre, to be grown into timber. The variation of coppicing known as coppice with standards (scattered individual stems allowed to grow on through several coppice cycles) has been commonly used throughout the British Isles as a means of giving greater flexibility in the resulting forest product from any one area. Not only does the woodland provide the small material from the coppice but also a range of larger timber for jobs like house building, bridge repair, cart making and so on.

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