What’s coppicing all about?

Rachel Bush, Education and Wellbeing Officer at Wiltshire Wildlife Trust explains why the young people at the Milestones project are cutting down trees.

 ‘We don’t care about the cold, we’ll keep on coppicing no matter what the weather is.’

Now that the colder, darker days of the winter months are a distant memory and spring has become summer, Milestones participants have been celebrating the fantastic conservation projects completed over the winter and enjoying the fruits of their labour.

At the beginning of the academic year the idea of cutting down trees with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust was a little perplexing for some of our groups. ‘Isn’t cutting down trees bad for the environment?’, asked a number of students when they were introduced to coppicing. But before long they were familiar with bill hooks, bow saws and loppers in preparation for the coppicing season.

Coppicing is the traditional woodland management method where certain species of trees, such as hazel, willow and ash, are cut at the base and then allowed to regrow. This is done on rotation, with small areas of woodland being cut each year and being recut at intervals (typically every 7-20 years, depending on the species).

Coppicing has been carried out in Britain for thousands of years, producing a crop of poles for which there was a wide range of markets. These days the demand for coppiced timber is much lower and only a small fraction of woodland remains actively coppiced. However, it remains a popular conservation practice for the benefits it offers to wildlife. The increased light and varied age structure of the vegetation increases biodiversity by creating the perfect conditions for many plants, insects and birds which prefer open woodland habitats.

Over the winter participants have been involved in a number of coppicing projects where they have learnt how to use tools safely and have coppiced 1,521 m2 of woodland, erected 360m of deer fencing and laid 240m of dead hedging. Furthermore, they have chosen to use the coppiced material to make mallets, spatulas, walking sticks, stools and hurdles.

‘Wow, it looks so magical down there.’

It’s only over the last few months that we have really begun to see the benefit of our hard work; walking through Biss Wood Nature Reserve and Green Lane Nature Park on a sun-drenched morning reveals an oasis of flourishing wildflowers, butterflies, bees and birdsong.

Having the opportunity to offer our participant’s access to Milestones throughout all four seasons allows them to witness the positive impact that they are making. They are not only improving the natural environments but also their own lives.

‘I don’t want to leave, I want to stay all day and do this.’

Last winter over 50 participants learn a plethora of new skills from practical skills in tool use, tree identification and fencing construction, to improved communication, confidence and physical and mental wellbeing. Alongside this we have been able to award these participants with accreditations in coppicing and tool use which will go on to enhance their employability.

 Find out more about the Milestones project in Wiltshire.

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