Elland Park Wood looks south over the River Calder, the Calder and Hebble Navigation and the Elland Bypass. There are large areas of almost pure oak, with patches of old mixed broadleaves and younger birch regeneration. It is an excellent bluebell wood and sits atop centuries of mine workings.
Blackbark are working with Calderdale Council Countryside Services in the western area of the wood. This winter we are coppicing an area of young trees above Park Wood Crematorium. Planted around 17 years ago, the trees are mostly oak, birch and rowan.
The aim here is to establish oak-dominated coppice. This form of woodland was once common in the area and cut on an 18 to 25 year rotation.
The most valuable product was bark from the oak, which was peeled in early summer, dried and sold to tanneries for the production of leather. Oak bark is rich in tannins, which combine with protein in animal skin to harden and toughen it. The peeled wood would have been put to a whole range of uses: gnarly twisted bits would have been firewood or turned into charcoal. Other pieces would be pit props (probably for the mine workings under the woodland!), turned into furniture, riven (split) down to weave into hard-wearing baskets or panels, riven into lath for plasterwork, and so on.
This area of young planted trees is directly below some beautiful older oak-dominated woods, so encouraging oak coppice here makes a lot of sense.
Even though most trees are cut, some oaks are left standing as reserves. We choose the best formed trees to grow on so that they will have some timber value in the future. They are crown-lifted (pruned) to encourage a straight trunk. On this half-acre fall we left about twenty reserves. We will take more out over the years as they grow and cast more shade on the regrowing shoots, but also let new ones grow to ensure a continuous supply.
We left the oak stumps a good two inches high. This is because oaks seem to have fewer dormant buds in their bark than other species, and they do not send up shoots from their roots, so we want to encourage as much sprouting as possible. Young oaks quickly spring up – even on exposed hillside sites we have seen them put on four feet in the first year.
At this age the oaks don’t have any heartwood – the outer layer is bark and the rest is sapwood. The thirty and forty year old oaks up the hill have a really good proportion of heartwood. The heartwood is harder and more durable because of a build up of tannins and other chemicals.
Some of the brash is heaped into habitat piles, but most of it gets woven, threaded and rammed into the hedgerow along one side of the fall. Whoever designed the planting on this site made a good move and created very wide thorny hedges which are a haven for nesting birds. We’ve used this as the basis for a ‘dead hedge’ about six feet tall which will form (hopefully) an impenetrable barrier to deer and their hungry mouths. It also creates even more denseness for the birds to snuggle into. And it also meant getting intimate with hawthorn and blackthorn. Still scarred.
There’s not just oak in this area – there’s also a lot of birch and rowan. Both coppice, but not as reliably as most other species. A lot of stools seem to die. So we wandered up into the old oakwoods with a spade, liberated a few of the hundreds of thousands of oak seedlings and planted them in the birch/rowan patches so that we get as much oak as possible. Keith is a master tree planter. Here he shows how it’s done properly. Notice the lovely dead hedge in the background and the crown-lifted oak reserve.
In a couple of months we’ll come back and put temporary deer meshing around the two unprotected sides of the fall – light weight black plastic stuff which is much easier to use, cheaper and less intimidating than the wire version. We’ll post more photos then!