Monday, 23 January 2017

Coppicing

Coppicing was once a widespread country activity and, indeed, was practised in and around Kingsley.

Apart from sound woodland management coppicing provided employment for hurdle makers. Mostly made of hazel, which was split and woven, the hurdles so made, were a pretty sound barrier for sheep and quite useful for garden dividers. Now, alas, something of a dying art. When I worked in Dorchester my journey to work took me past a couple of traditionally worked copses. Very often I passed the hurdle maker cycling to his copse of choice for the day. I don’t know if he is still around, as having moved, I seldom go that way these days. However, the evidence of his work was plain to see and would be apparent for several years after each season. Looking at a coppiced woods one sees a series of levels. Starting at ground level are the stumps of the most recent activities and thereafter each coppiced section is a few feet taller until the range of tall mature hazels are to be found and they mark the area which will start the process off all over again. Each year of coppicing provides a different habitat for the woodland wildlife and is, therefore, very eco friendly. 

Apart from the hurdles, which provided an income, there were also bean poles and pea sticks which could be sold for a few extra shillings. There was also the chance of finding an odd twisty. These are the result of the honeysuckle vines twisting around branches and as the branch grows and the vine tightens around it a distinct spiral groove is created. Twisty’s are much sought after by the enthusiastic stick making community. A really good twisty can change hands for quite a lot of money.  As a woods was coppiced it opened up an area which allowed the sunlight in and provided the conditions for some plant species to re-emerge and sunny spots within the wood for butterflies and other insects to bask. 

The Copse as it was known in Kingsley, in the days of my childhood, was the wood to the right of the hill leading from the Straits going towards Binsted. We new it them as Wheatly Copse. Coppicing took place within it and also in sections of Alice Holt forest and on a number of the hangers from Oakhanger through Selborne and in the woods below Worldham. Walking through a woods which was once coppiced, it is reasonably easy to identify the areas involved. Hazel trees were planted, they didn’t just occur, and they were planted in lines, spaced for maximum benefit in blocks. Where these old areas still exist the hazel is still the predominant tree although they will be much larger specimens than they would have been in the days of coppicing. So, if you come across an area of hazels,regularly spaced out, and sandwiched between other trees in a large block, you can be reasonably sure you have found an old coppicing site. Don’t forget to look for the perfect twisty as these old site provide the ideal conditions for twisty hunting. But, of course, the landowner's permission must be obtained before cutting a stick. I spend hours happily engaged searching for twisty’s and each time I find a nice one it only serves to spur me on in the hope of finding the perfect specimen, if such a thing exists. Be warned it is an addictive pursuit. 

Although the traditional coppicing activities are quite rare these days coppicing is still up and running around the country. In these parts we have two woods which are owned by The Woodland Trust, Duncliffe and Fifehead. During the winter months groups of volunteers meet at weekends and coppice an area which forms an ongoing management programme. It keeps the woodland rides open and ticks quite a lot of conservation boxes. The Trust has woodland all over the country and offers plenty of opportunity for people to get involved and experience coppicing and many other aspects of woodland management and preservation. I have no hesitation in whole heartedly recommending the Trust. I got involved with them when I retired and have enjoyed every minute, I now act as volunteer warden for both of the above woods and spend a great amount of time within the two of them. One of the great benefits of The Woodland Trust is the fact that all of its woodlands are open to the public free of charge. There is no obligation to become a member in order to enjoy the range of woodlands they own. All activities are supervised by a competent person and tools are provided. Work parties are made up of a wide variety of people and are great fun and provide an ideal opportunity for a woodland picnic. As with all modern organisations, The Trust has a website where both local and national activities can be found together with maps of each wood and parking availability etc. So, if you have an interest in woodlands, butterflies, birds and all manner of things to do with rural life, seek them out. You are in for a treat. 

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