Managing a woodland

The health and wellbeing of woodlands relies on effective management in order for the woodlands themselves to thrive and to provide the wide range of social, economic and environmental functions it is evident we expect of them as a society.  We expect woodlands to be stable components of local landscapes, home for woodland flora and fauna, places for recreation, sources of timber, filtering the air we breathe, capturing atmospheric carbon and giving us places of beauty and inspiration.

With great public and political focus on the desirability of planting, it can be easy to forget that planting is just the beginning of the story of a woodland, with a whole series of tasks being required if woods are to achieve and maintain some sort of maturity.  For example, thinning is an essential element of ensuring the woodland can attain what we might recognise as a woodland.

Management is equally important in “secondary woodlands” (i.e., woodlands that have sprung up due to land abandonment and neglect, this is a widespread woodland type in the UK today).   Such woodlands are often even aged and without intervention they can struggle to achieve a healthy mixed age structure.  However, judicious and informed management; including selective thinning, control of grey squirrels and deer numbers, can accelerate the rate at which a stable structure is achieved.  Indeed, without such management many woodlands would simply fail.

Even in mature woodlands, the fact that trees have a limited life span means that management is often critical maintaining the vigour of such woodlands, so that they can provide an environment for the broadest range of native woodland flora and fauna and a safe and welcoming environment for people who visit, use and work in woodlands.

Woodland management cannot however simply depend on public funds to be achieved, and it is the role of the woodland manager to determine the purpose, or objective of management.  Woodlands that have a reason to be managed, perhaps for timber, firewood, access or green woodworking, are more likely to be receive the management they need to thrive long into the future, and indeed those woodlands that we have today have survived precisely because they have had a value to the local community- ‘the wood that is valued is the wood that stays’.

The Small Woods Association exists to support those who want to see woodlands sustained for the next generations.  We are providing support to owners through information, advice and guidance that focus on the benefits of management.  For more information contact office@smallwoods.org.uk

Coppicing

Trees grow slowly, and in the fast modern world don’t produce the quick results many people have come to expect. Coppicing, however, sees a remarkably quick return on investment, and is as traditional as could be. The principle of coppicing is that you harvest shoots from the stump, or stool, of a cut-down tree. By cutting all the shoots from a stool together you produce roundwood for different purposes: long thin  sticks for beanpoles and straight ones hurdles, thicker stakes for hedgelaying.  Logs for firewood and green woodworking may be sourced from standard trees or from restoring neglected coppice .

Hazel and chestnut are prized for coppicing because their timber is durable but isn’t highly valued in larger dimensions. Oak, ash and beech, which all produce high-value logs once grown to maturity, can be coppiced, but tend not to be managed in the same quantities as hazel and chestnut.

One of the added benefits of coppicing within a woodland is that it promotes biodiversity. There will always be areas (or coupes) of coppice at different stages to provide habitat for a range of wildlife. Dormice thrive amidst coppice, and the extra light reaching the forest floor encourages bluebells and other plants. As a consequence coppiced woodland attracts butterflies, and obviously the whole ecosystem blossoms as a result.

The market for coppice products is still small, but a growing number of people are recognising the value of this traditional form of woodland management. There is plenty of derelict coppice that needs rejuvenating.