In November Keith and Claire, along with some friends from The Leeds Coppice Workers went to Nottinghamshire for a short course on coppicing with hand tools with Simon Fowler from Peak Traditional Fencing. Simon as been cutting coppice in the traditional way with axes and bill hooks for about 20 years, not because he’s a Luddite or Romantic but because in his opinion working with hand tools is a more efficient method to cut, sort and extract the produce he wants compared to using chainsaws. He is almost entirely self taught as there was no continuous tradition in his area, or anyone to pass him the skills. He makes a lot of hazel hurdles and cuts hedge stakes and binders for his hedge laying work.
We spent three days camping in a beautiful hazel coppice that has been well managed for the last twenty years, which means there is an abundance of straight poles ideal for all kinds of traditional products.
It was a joy to watch Simon work, his great skill, fluid movements and ergonomic attention to detail was very inspiring. The idea is to sever poles as quickly and cleanly as possible and to waste no movements. His entire work pattern is thought out to reduce the number of steps he has to take. His methodical approach means he’s never looking for the right tool, not carrying anything further than he has to and not wasting a single stick, all of which increases productivity.
He works long and hard to make a living, but is supporting his family and seems very happy to be his own boss and to be able to do the work he does. We had plenty of time to quiz him about other aspects of coppice business and he was very generous with his knowledge and a good teacher to boot.
We all came away eager to practice cutting poles with axes – it requires great accuracy and a certain amount of theoretical understanding as well as some strength to cleanly sever the stakes without damaging the stools you want to regrow.
Claire and Keith have got a coppice in Todmorden to go at although it is not the nice clean hazel that we learned on, more like over stood birch and willow, but it will be useful practice ground all the same. We’ve also got some over stood hazel at Knott Wood to play with in the new year. One day there will be well managed, well stocked hazel coppice in the Calder valley and we hope to be working it with hand tools as efficiently and gracefully as Simon currently is.