Coppicing in the Cwmbran Uplands
Blaen Bran Community Woodland is set amidst the Cwmbran uplands in the Torfaen borough of Wales. Covering around 100 acres, this beautiful community-led woodland has been run for the last 10 years with the help of local groups such as the scouts and schools plus an army of 30 volunteers.
Recently the woodland suffered a set back with a statutory order to fell its larch trees which had become affected with the Phytophtora ramorum disease sometimes known as “larch tree disease”. ITF are supporting a project to re-plant an acre of land with 600 new trees to create more diverse woodland with a mixture of hazel, beech and birch which will be coppice managed.
So why coppice a woodland? Coppicing is an ancient form of woodland management and archaeologists have found evidence of coppicing from as far back as Neolithic times. This technique involves cutting stems back to ground level to create stools consisting of roots and stumps. New shoots then grow out of the dormant buds, producing a regular supply of wood for use in fencing, handmade crafts and charcoal. Coppicing also benefits wildlife; the opening up of the woodland floor to sunlight allows for much greater biodiversity of wildflower and in turn, more diverse woodland creatures from insects, to birds to mammals.
For Blaen Bran the coppice will provide a sustainable supply of wood for sale which will provide an income to sustain the community woodland and attract new wildlife such as the dormouse to the area and new human visitors as well.
It should also assist with the community engagement that is vital to the success of these woodlands, offering the chance for people to learn new skills on harvesting wood and traditional woodland crafts.
Hazel (Corylus Avellana) is native to the UK and easy to identify in early spring by the male catkins which are pale yellow and clustered. Hazel is monoecious so the male and female parts form on the same tree. The female flowers resemble buds and are wind-pollinated, developing first into fruits and later into nuts. The leaves are rounded with a toothed edge and hairy underneath while the bark is brownish in appearance.
It is a popular choice for coppice woodland as its wood is sought after for its pliability and use in garden fences, stakes, furniture, and crafts. Its speedy and substantial stem growth is also essential when relying on an income from coppice woodland.
Hazel is great for native wildlife but needs regular, active management to maintain open patches and to ensure different ages of trees are growing. Associated primarily with dormouse, hazel provides tasty hazelnuts which the dormice take advantage of and the dense scrub hazel can provide protection against predators for this very small mammal. Hazelnuts are also popular with other woodland species including woodpeckers, nuthatches and jays. Of course they are also one of our most popular nuts eaten raw or roasted and appearing in many recipes.