Coppicing and pollarding
Many woodlands managed traditionally through coppicing have fallen into neglect, as the market for their products disappeared. Restoring this traditional management is an excellent way to improve woodlands for wildlife.
In a coppiced wood, trees are repeatedly cut at their base. This encourages strong new growth with lots of shoots, which can be harvested once they are old enough to use. Usually the coppiced trees are mixed with ‘standards’ – scattered full-grown trees which allow enough light to reach the coppice. These standards would have been left to grow for 100-200 years before being used for timber for buildings.
In Hertfordshire, the normal tree used in coppices is hornbeam, with oak standards. Its original use was for charcoal, which was in great demand in 19th century London, but it’s now starting to regain its value as firewood. It’s slow-growing, which means it can only be cut once every 20 years.
Coppicing is so good for wildlife because it results in woodlands with trees of many ages. This variety creates habitat for threatened species like the dormouse. Flowers benefit from the sunlight reaching the ground after cutting, and birds can nest in the thick regrowth a few years later. Older coppice and mature standard trees complete the picture.
CMS has begun the process of restoring coppicing to Bencroft Wood. A small area of old hornbeam coppice was cut and, several years later, is growing back strongly, bringing fantastic new variety to the woods.
Pollarding is slightly different – trees are cut higher up the trunk but then grow back in the same way, with lots of small shoots. This stops grazing animals eating the regrowth. Because it extends the life of a tree and promotes new growth, it means the same tree can be many things for wildlife – old dead wood and thick young growth at the same time. In an urban setting, it’s a good way of keeping trees at a controlled height.