There will soon be a stirring in the woods around Britain. As nights draw in, temperatures fall and trees consider shedding leaves, coppice workers begin to sharpen tools, service saws and dust-off jumpers and boots. Soon they will be back in the copses, hursts and dells to begin another winter of woodland work.
Coppicing, a method of woodland management with a history stretching as far back as the Stone Age, is the practice of cutting certain hardwood tree species to ground level every few years and allowing the cut stumps to throw up beautiful, vigorous new shoots. These shoots grow on for a number of years before being cut again. The resulting stems are used for a huge range of products – beanpoles, thatching spars, pea sticks, chair legs, walking sticks, firewood, charcoal, hurdles and many more.
Coppice workers are spread thinly around the country and see each other rarely - it can be a lonely occupation. The National Coppice Federation (NCFed), the organisation charged with developing, supporting and promoting the modern industry, is offering a chance for like-minded people to get together at an October gathering, to compare experiences and learn from each other before returning to their woods for a winter of toil amongst the trees.
“Historically people involved in coppicing have suffered from poor communication and a lack of investment” said Gloucestershire hurdle maker and Chairman of NCFed, Brian Williamson. “There’s a great deal we can do to support our members and electronic media is brilliant at helping individuals to keep in touch. We also encourage and help support the formation of regional groups. But there’s no substitute for actually getting together and chewing the fat with like minded people” he added.
The NCFed Gathering will take place over the weekend of 21/22 October at Ruskin Mill, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. Visits to woods, workshops, demonstrations and talks as well the NCFed AGM will all revolve around a great deal of friendly chat and some rather good, locally sourced food and drink. All the details you’ll need to secure a place can be found at http://ncfed.org.uk Costs - members of affiliated groups – £35. Non-members – £50. Coppice apprentices – £28.
Coppicing has been practiced in Britain’s woodlands for thousands of years. It has left a legacy of fabulous woodland and woodland wildlife, intricately bound together with the people who looked after it through the centuries.
Coppice workers have a passion for trees and woodland; they strive to make at least part of a living from the management of woodlands and the sale of produce harvested from them. They are a rare breed but a breed that is growing in number slowly. As more members of the public become more aware of the benefits that come with coppicing - both for the landscape and for wildlife - and make purchasing decisions based on this knowledge, more people will be able to find an income from the woods.