It’s really important for Forest School practitioners to know how to effectively manage a natural environment in a sustainable way, especially if planning on regularly harvesting natural resources. I find this to be an area in which my students feel least confident so dedicate a considerable amount of time to this topic during my Forest School training courses.

Today, I’m going to explain coppicing, an ancient woodland management process that was first started in Neolithic times and remained a popular method of managing a woodland for centuries until, during the 20th century, it fell out of fashion. Now however, it is becoming popular again with organisations and small growers such as Cambridgeshire Wildlife Trust coppicing their hazel to generate income.

For any of you not familiar with how it works it is a 4 step process: 

  • Tree grows as normal with shoots coming from the ground.
  • In Winter, trunk or shoots are trimmed to within 15cms – 20cms from the ground.
  • In Spring, new growth shoots from remaining root stock.
  • Shoots can be harvested from 1 year depending on the size of wood required.

So what are the best species for coppicing?

The best trees for coppicing are fast growing species such as hazel, ash and willow. However, pretty much all broadleaved trees can be coppiced with sweet chestnut being popular for fencing. With the exception of yew (traditionally used for making bows), conifers are not suitable as they will not push forward shoots.

At Forest School, I regularly coppice elder which is useful for many craft activities and regrows prolifically. In addition, I work with hazel and willow, largely for craft but with the additional bonus of being able to use willow staves to build tunnels and domes and hazel poles for teepees.

What if I don’t have any trees?

Obviously not everyone is lucky enough to have established trees on their Forest School site old enough to coppice. If you are working with a site that’s a bit of a blank canvas, take the opportunity to support a cottage industry and purchase some coppiced wood from a local provider for use in sessions and in the meantime order yourself some free trees from the Woodland Trust to plant up. In a few years you can demonstrate coppicing for yourself and enjoy the feeling of harvesting your own wood.

Feel free to comment with any topic ideas you would like to learn more about and I will be happy to share my knowledge and experience with you.

Thanks for reading!