Our new coppicing plan

The new 10-year Woodland Management plan for Birchanger Wood includes coppicing some key areas to let the light in and increase biodiversity. We have already made a start near our compound, which you may have seen on your walks in the wood. Read on to find out how coppicing works magic in woodlands.

What is coppicing?

Coppicing is where a tree is cut down to its base to create a ‘stool’ from which new shoots will grow. It looks very drastic, but within a year or two the tree will be showing lots of new, strong growth.

Coppicing work under way near our compound, January 2023

In fact, coppicing can actually increase the life span of a tree! Some of the oldest trees in Britain are grown from coppice stools. They can live to an incredible age, like the amazing lime at Westonbirt Arboretum that is thought to be two thousand years old.

Coppicing has been used as a woodland management technique since the Stone Age. Coppicing made sure there was a good steady supply of firewood and timber that could be more easily harvested than felling the whole tree, and this technique would have been used at Birchanger Wood for hundreds of years. Most tree species can be coppiced but it’s especially suitable for hornbeam, which we have lots of at Birchanger, and hazel.

But times have changed – why are we still doing it today?

Coppicing has major benefits for biodiversity. After cutting the trees, light floods the woodland floor allowing smaller plants, such as wildflowers, to thrive. It also means shrubby plants like brambles can grow, which make ideal habitat and provide sources of food for small birds and other animals and insects.

Will you coppice every tree?

No. We have a plan to coppice only certain areas of the woodland (you can read that in full here) and within each area a number of mature trees – also known as ‘standards’ – will be left. Quite a few of these will be oaks. These mature trees provide another vital habitat and it is very important that we look after them, too.

What happens when the coppiced trees grow back?

As the trees regrow, the canopy slowly closes over again, reducing the light that reaches the woodland floor. This takes between five and eight years. Each area will be coppiced roughly every 20-30 years, meaning that the canopy is closed for the majority of the time. We will coppice other areas in ‘rotation’, meaning the wood will have trees at all different ages and stages of growth. This will provide the widest possible range of habitats to support the widest possible range of plants and animals.

What are the piles of dead wood for?

We also leave some piles of cut wood or fallen trees to decay. You may have seen these in the wood. This is not just us being too lazy to tidy up! Lots of species rely on dead wood for food and habitat – including many invertebrates and fungi. It is a vital element of a biodiverse woodland.

how do I get involved?

Birchanger Wood is looked after by a team of volunteers. If you would like to play a part in securing the healthy future of the woodland, please click here and fill in our contact form, or read a bit more about what we do on our Volunteer page here.

Read more about the conservation benefits of coppicing in The Conservation Volunteers’ Conservation Handbook.