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Coppicing for Conservation
The Kent High Weald Partnership (KHWP) is dedicated to ‘linking community and countryside’. Part of our work is to run days of practical action for volunteers at the Hilbert Woods Local Nature Reserve throughout the year. One way of managing the woods is to clear areas of trees and scrub, known as coppicing. This can look drastic and cause alarm, as woodland lovers see their favourite areas ‘devastated’. However, this traditional management technique enhances the woodland and ensures its longevity. To understand coppicing, we need to look at the life-cycle of woodland. Mature trees shade the area beneath them, until it is difficult for anything to grow. Through old age, disease or foul weather, the tree will eventually fall, creating a sunny glade which nature can again colonise.
Coppicing for conservation takes advantage of this natural process and moves it a step further. The most diverse woodland habitat is a mosaic of different aged vegetation and so coppicing takes place on rotation in defined areas. When a suitable tree is cut to ground level, it will re-grow several stems. If this process is repeated periodically, it can extend the life of the tree by hundreds of years.
Plants begin to grow over the coppiced area, providing nectar for butterflies and bees, and shelter for of small mammals and birds. You may even be lucky enough to spot a reptile basking in the sunlight. Dead wood is a fantastic wildlife habitat, so KHWP leaves wood in piles or stacked as dead hedges. As the wood rots, it provides food for invertebrates, which in turn become food for small mammals, reptiles and birds. It can be anything from 7 to 25 years before the same area is coppiced. When the trees begin to overtake the other plants and shade them out, it is time to cut back and start the cycle again.
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