Last post I mentioned that we’d been in North Wales in February coppicing Coed Yr Afon, a small fifteen year old plantation of mixed hardwood species. I returned at the end of May to check on progress. The wood is about 800ft above sea level and looks out over the Irish Sea, so wind exposure is a major issue. Luckily its isolation has meant there are no problems with deer or rabbits nibbling the new shoots.
Here are photos which show some delicious regrowth from the cut stools!
Hazel never seems to fail us. It just loves being cut. The spring is bushy, lush and vigorous and often has wonderful deep red tones along the hairy young stem and new leaves. Notice that some stems in the background have been bent over and pinned into the ground. This ‘layering’ allows the stem to put down new roots, eventually forming a whole new hazel tree where there was once a gap!
This coppicing is the first cut of a 12 year cycle, primarily for firewood to supply the farmhouse stove.
Right next to the stools cut this winter is a fall (area) cut three years ago. The hazel is so happy, with many straight rods surging up to the sky. Go hazel! In the foreground of this photo is a random branch growing from a layered stem (which is pegged just where the photographer is standing). This layer will be severed from the mother tree this coming winter. The umbilical cord will be cut.
The alder in Coed Yr Afon is interesting – it tends to grow very fast for the first ten years, then succumb to some fungal infection and limp on with a very thin canopy and covered in mosses and lichens. Coppicing reinvigorates some of the trees, which return with quick strong growth, but others (~25%) die back all together. The timber of the infected trees has some great spalting – lines of black and white winding through the soft orange wood. Where coppicing has opened up the ground to light, a lot of alder seedlings have emerged, especially in seasonally wet areas. Hopefully these self-seeds will be more healthy than their parents…
There was no ash planted in the initial mix, but it is such a good wood for burning that a few rescued seedlings have been planted over the years. This one was only three years old when we cut it. It may seem drastic to some, but the tree gets on and regrows. It won’t send up as many shoots as a more mature specimen, but it means that the tree enters the coppice cycle as early as possible so that there is a usable crop as soon as possible, even if it is small.
The rowan trees have really astounded me which their consistently strong regrowth. They send up so many straight, fast growing stems even on the first ever cut. Perhaps they are perfectly at home in this mountainous and windy environment. They make a good firewood, and they also make excellent bean poles, but we have yet to find another good use for coppiced rowan. If anybody has any ideas, get in touch and let us know!
The oaks struggle a bit up here. A lot of them suffer from exposure and the harsh winter winds kill off the tender lead shoots. None of them grow straight. They are sessile-type, but probably not pure. Who knows where the seed came from: Forestry Commission supplied trees in the early 90s were sourced from all over Europe. These could have come from German acorns, or Polish.
Some have responded fairly well to coppicing, sending up ten or fifteen sleek red shoots. We’ll monitor the growth of these guys – if they are a decent size in twelve years then they’ll be coppiced again with the rest. If not, they can be left another 12 years for the cycle to come round again, so they’ll be 24 and a good chunky size for the fire.
This practice of ‘doubling up’ two rotations in one fall only works if there are not too many trees on the longer rotation – the short rotation trees need as much light as possible.
Some oaks simply didn’t have the vigour to come back strongly and only put up a few shoots. Time will tell whether these survive. Hopefully any coppice regrowth will be sheltered by the ever-growing line of trees left as a windbreak around the whole wood, will suffer less tip die-off in the future and will therefore produce straighter timber.
Goat willow is incredible stuff. It wants life. It loves growing. Keep it coming, goaty, even if you are a terrible firewood. We’ll turn you into mushrooms instead. Nyom.
This project clearly shows how feasible upland coppicing is. In a bare landscape, a field of poor pasture was planted with trees and is now a haven for wildlife. Careful coppicing will maintain the habitat and provide a large chunk of the firewood needs of the house. The main lesson learnt is of the power of wind: coppice regrowth which wasn’t protected by the shelterbelt was slow growing, wiggly and stressed out. Keep it sheltered!