Introduction to ecosystems
Introduction to ecosystems

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Introduction to ecosystems

5.2 Managing an ecosystem – the art of coppicing

Professor David Streeter mentioned management of woodland by coppicing in an earlier video.

Careful management of woodland can make a significant contribution to a local economy. Woodland that has been coppiced is a good example of a harvested, but sustainable, ecosystem. Watch this video in which Dr Janet Sumner shows how coppicing is done in managed woodland.

Download this video clip.Video player: 5_3_managing_an_ecosystem_-_the_art_of_coppicing.mp4
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Managing an ecosystem - the art of coppicing

Well, we've come back to Foxcombe Hall for our spring visit. And there are masses of jobs to do at this time of year. But one of the things we want to get stuck into is coppicing. Now coppicing is the process of cutting down trees and allowing them to regrow over a period of about 7 to 25 years. And it actually uses the natural regeneration cycle of many trees like oak, ash, willow, and in this case, hazel. Now the idea is is that you cut the tree down to a stump or stool, and it then re-grows with lots of smaller stems, rather than a single trunk. And to coppice, all you need is a saw and a little bit of expert guidance. Well, we're taking out some of these smaller poles to start with, to get into the bigger trunks. And then we're going to saw through those. And what we might do, actually, is count the rings on the trunk and see if we can work out the last time that this tree was coppiced. Now one of the things about when you're cutting down quite large trunks like this, is you definitely do need a hard hat on, and a pair of steel-toe capped boots. And you also need to be aware of which way the branch is going to fall. Now this one is leaning out, so it's going to go that way. So I'm fine where I'm standing. But for heaven's sake, also check that there's nobody else in the vicinity that it could fall on. Now each one of these rings in the tree represents a year of growth. They're annual growth rings. So if I count them up, theoretically, that should tell me the last time this tree was coppiced. I'm just looking through here, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30. I got something like 30, 33, 35 rings through here. It's not that easy to see. So we're looking at a stump here, or a trunk that's about 35 years old. And of course, the rings, as well, can be an indication of climate change. And also show when the tree had a good year, and when the tree had a bad year. Now coppicing isn't all about just simply cutting the trunks down. There's quite an art to it. You need to cut them quite close to the thickest part of the trunk at about 30 to 45 degrees facing outwards, away from the stump, so that the rainwater will drain off and away from the stump core, which prevents the stump from rotting. Now we've just got here in time, actually. Because if you look at some of these smaller branches, they're absolutely soaking. And that's the sap rising up through the tree. So we just need to finish this one off with a few more cuts. Now when you coppice, what you get, apart from a lovely, neat stump, is a lot of these. Beautiful, long, straight stems, which are variously called stems or poles, depending on the thickness of them. Now coppicing is a practice that has gone on for generations, hundreds of years. And these poles have been used for all sorts of things, from making coracles to wattle and daub in Tudor houses. And you can see they're beautifully straight. They make great handles for tools, and, broomsticks, and things like that. But they're also used as firewood and charcoal. The uses are really endless. They're beautifully flexible, as well. So, yeah, hopefully we'll get lots of these poles growing out of this stump.
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