Coppicing – the story so far…

My great plan to make a living from the land hits the skidders in the winter when, essentially, nothing is growing.  So I have been looking into the possibilities of coppicing which takes advantage of the fact that the trees are not growing to harvest woodland products without causing great harm to the tree.  I am in the ‘fact-finding stage’ right now, as I have been for about a year.  I am trying to get as much and as varied experience as possible.  I seem to be very good at finding opportunities to do this, and everyone I have asked has said yes and given their time and their expertise to help me, and I am very grateful for that.  Here’s the story of my woodland career so far…

I went coppicing with a guy called John (whose surname I have forgotten) in his hazel coppice in West Sussex last winter.  He had spent a few years getting it back into cycle again and it was looking pretty good – largely due to being well fenced I think.  Deer love hazel and will munch on the new shoots.  This stops them from growing straight, which is what you want in a hazel rod.  No one wants bendy bean poles…

 

Then he told me about his friend Tim who made charcoal, so I contacted him and had a go at that.  Here’s the kiln that we filled up – ready to be lit.  We discussed the relative merits of kilns versus retorts (most of which went over my head – something to do with reburning the wood gas).  I chopped some wood with a splitting axe and managed not to hurt myself.

 

I sneaked off to my secret life in the Lake District and helped out with the North West Coppice Association’s ‘Earthburn’ – charcoal made the old fashioned way on the ground and covered with earth (or in this case turf).  It meant sleeping over for three days in the slightly damp charcoal burner’s hut.  The pile shifted and huffed and puffed and needed to be kept consistently covered lest it set on fire.

 

Then I applied for an apprenticeship with Ben Law.  Ben chose 6 people out of 40 applications to come for a try out – four days working in Prickly Nut Wood.  Alas on day 2 I managed to put a billhook through my finger and thus create the impression that I was a calamity waiting to happen (a view which now seems to be shared by almost everyone…).  Now, after two months, I can bend my finger to almost 90 degrees (progress!) but it does look a bit wonky.  Still, I have learnt some important lessons about tool use.

 

 

 

After giving my finger a few months to recover, I tried out some horse-logging with my friend Simon (the horse is called John).  I came to the conclusion that it was something I’d like to do a bit of at some point in the future, but it wasn’t something I could really pursue right now.  John only ran away once, but unfortunately he waited until I had taken my gloves off, so he took half the skin of my left hand with him…

 

And now I am off to Lancashire/Yorkshire for a couple of weeks to do some work with my friend Hywel’s woodland cooperative, Blackbark.  They’re bringing some overstood woodland back into rotation, so it’ll be interesting to help out with that.  My focus on this trip will be to get an idea of that rhythms of coppicing – which tools are used and when.  I also want to know about how to get help to get set up with equipment (a chainsaw and chainsaw training is a couple of grand) and something about how much money you can expect to make from a newly started woodland enterprise.  One thing I particularly like about Blackbark is their firebox scheme which is essentially community supported arboriculture.

 

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One thought on “Coppicing – the story so far…

  1. […] started this design with gusto a few years ago, and since then it has gone quiet.  Coppicing was in the running to […]

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