Coppice Restoration at Westonbirt Arboretum

Hugh Ross
Friday, 19th June 2015

Hugh Ross attends the Coppice Restoration Seminar (held by the National Coppice Federation) at Westonbirt Arboretum and learns about deer populations, ideal & poor coppice sites, propagation and layering.

Having been involved with the National Coppice Federation, (NCFed) for sometime now, and having attended the launch and the gatherings, the seminar was going to be something of a departure from the normal proceedings. It's always interesting to get a number of coppice workers together and out of their normal solitary woodland habitat and into a building en mass, and the seminar proved to be no exception.

The first day started with registration in the Great Oak Hall, with teas, coffee and chats with old friends from around the country. Then on with the business of the day, with a welcome from Mark Ballard the arboretum curator, followed by Brian Williamson's introduction, giving an overview of the coppice industry, from the 5,000 year old wattle hurdles found on the Somerset Levels, to it's decline through the industrial revolution and the resurgence of interest in the 1980s, along with a history of his personal journey and involvement within the industry.

We then split up into four discussion groups to assess the difference between what makes an ideal, and a poor coppice site. The discussion topics ranged from, security of tenure for the site, rural accommodation, deer pressure, access to woodland and quality of existing stock. Flip charts were then returned to Rebecca Oaks for a open discussion on the top topics.

After a short break Jonathan Rau gave an overview of the Hampshire experience, the succssess and the failures. Grant aiding through the 1990s was much more available then. The Wessex Coppice Group was set up in 1995, with a focus on training, business management, networking and marketing. Over more recent years grant aiding has diminished, but overall the message was that there has been a lasting benefit from the project.

After lunch Graham Rimmington of the Deer Initiative was our speaker. He gave us information on the ever increasing numbers of the six species of deer in the country, and the expanding areas of territory they cover. We have two native species, being Red and Roe deer, it was interesting to find out that Roe were almost wiped out during the English civil war, followed by an early re-introduction program in the southern area. Fallow deer were brought in by the Normans and introduced into their hunting forests. Whilst Muntjac, Sika and Chinese Water deer were escapes from deer parks of our country houses in more recent times.

The Deer Initiative itself along with its numerous partners are interested in preserving deer and offer a best practise guide on their website.

It was interesting to see the effects of exclosures to assess the impact of deer in our small woodland areas. Protection and different types of fencing were illustrated, and the behavioural differences of species were talked about.

It is worth mentioning that coppice workers should be aware of Tick borne diseases such as Lymes disease. Tick bites can be identified by a red mark with an outer ring, like an R.A.F. Roundall, advice is to go and see a doctor.

There was a change of plan for our last session of the day, due to a poor weather forecast. We all went off into the coppiced areas of the woodland, to have an overview of Brian's work. Of the 600 acres that the Arboretum covers, it is planned to bring 60 acres back into coppice production, so far 10-12 acres have had three cuts.

We discussed the various merits of restocking to increase density’s, such as planting fresh stocks and ensuring things like local provenance and good quality split-able hazel was being replanted. Layering techniques were discussed such as hoop verses flat layering, and earthing up were explained. The importance of removing the overstory to between 25-30% to allow enough light to reach the coppice, cutting back bramble (autumn is the best time) and clearing the woodland floor to stimulate wildflower growth were also talked about.

Graham Arsty and Fiona deWent were on hand to talk about the work with volunteer groups and their work in the open air classroom with various groups from schools and adults with learning, health and social problems. It was interesting to hear about how the volunteer programme and the professional input can be integrated, and the benefits that people can gain from doing practical work in the woodland environment. The last part of the tour was taken up with a short discussion on selling firewood and saw logs. We then had a slow walk back to the Oak barn, chatting to various people as we went and enjoying the warm sunshine.
Thursday. The weather was so different as we walked from the car park to the hall clutching umbrellas, it was with some relief that we knew the day would be spent inside.

Rebecca and Brian kicked off the day by explaining the structure of the NCFed, its nine voluntary directors and ongoing work being done to raise the profile of the coppice industry. At the launch of the NCFed in October 2013 there were six existing coppice groups in the country, this has now grown to 12 affiliated groups, it's hoped more will follow to take advantage of insurance deals, and discounts on NCFed events.

The next gathering is to be held in Cumbria, and organised by Coppice Association North West on the 16th,17th,18th October 2015.

Unfortunately the Forestry Commission were not able to put forward a speaker to take us through the new grant aid scheme. Fortunately Rebecca stepped into the breach and explained the differences between the old EWGS system and the new entry level and higher level schemes, (ELS/HLS). The use and availability of other forms of funding sources were discussed along with some of the pros and cons and suitability of these for various projects.

Penny Jones from the arboretum gave a talk on propagation, taking a more scientific approach to some of the techniques that Brian had demonstrated in the woods. Layering of both styles is best undertaken in the spring when the ground has warmed up, best results are achieved by constricting or wounding the rod to be layered near buds or nodes, roots will then develop in the damp and dark underground. Propagation from cuttings would need a more specialist environment with soft wood cuttings having the greatest growing potential. Collecting hazel nuts in the autumn can be problematic due to early squirrel predation and nuts should be stored in a cool damp compost over winter so that they can be potted on in the spring when they have chitted, once again be careful of predation by mice and voles.

Ralph Harmer had been dragged out of retirement to speak to us, after a long career in siviculture and plant propagation at Alice Holt Research Centre. His talk was about the biology of stools and practical coppicing systems. Ralph went into some detail about budding types and forms, supprest buds being part of the main shoot system and adventitious shoots do not have good contact with the plant. Practical aspects of coppicing were talked about, low cutting seemed to produce better regrowth than high, promoting new root growth, whilst high cutting had a tendency to encourage stump rot. Cutting was best done in the dormant period to produce more durable rods, but little difference was noticeable as to the effects on the stool to the time of cutting. Hazel with standards, 25-30% high canopy seem to be an acceptable level for conservation coppicing, whilst 50-60% cover was too much, the optimum for good hazel regrowth being 15-20%, hazel grown 4m away from an oak tree produced better form. The closing statement, “Don't let it get eaten by deer,” did seem to sum up much of the talk over the last two days.

At this point we had to brave the outside cold and rain and whilst most of us managed to don wet weather gear, Brian being of the hardy type stood in shirt and shorts and talked us through a display of various coppice products. There was a brief discussion on pricing, and supply and demand in different parts of the country.

Once back inside there was time to revisit and sum up some of the topics covered over the two days. Remember the symbiotic relationship between environmental and commercial aspects of coppicing. It's not just the cutting of coppice but the growing that is important.

Richard Thomason put forward a proposal to establish 10 sites of good practise around the country, so that new entrants to the industry can gain advice on positive management.

This was followed by a lively discussion chaired by Ed Mills, points covered included, economics in the rural economy, deer stalking, volunteers and training, Forestry Commission, land owners etc.

Hugh Ross is a director of the National Coppice Federation, (NCFed).  Hugh has been a coppice worker and charcoal burner for the last 25 years.

In 1995, Hugh and his wife Carolyn purchased Rawhaw Wood, part of the Rockingham Forest area of Northamptonshire, at that time the wood was typical neglected hazel coppice in need of restoration. During their time as custodians the wood has received awards from English Nature, and the Royal Forestry Society, most recently coming second in the small woods category of the RFS excellence in forestry, best in England.

Further resources

National Coppice federation

Coppice co-operatives - sharing skills in a woodland business

Coppice products, wild garlic and new views

Getting Started in Your Own Wood

The Woodland Year


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