The nation’s coppice workers are coming together to share information, renew friendships and learn new skills before the beginning of a winter in the woods. The National Coppice Federation’s (NCFed) Annual Gathering will take place in Hampshire, over the weekend of 13 and 14 October. Anyone with an interest in woodland management and particularly coppicing is most welcome to join them.
Coppicing, as a method of woodland management has a history stretching as far back as the Stone Age. It is the practice of cutting broadleaved trees to ground level regularly and allowing the cut stumps to throw up beautiful, vigorous new shoots. These grow on before being cut again. It is a truly sustainable way to manage woodland in the UK and has shaped many woodlands and the plants and animals they support, leaving a legacy of fabulous woodland and woodland wildlife, intricately bound together with the people who looked after them through the centuries.
The things produced from the UK’s coppiced woodlands were once ubiquitous. Household items so common as to be almost unworthy of note, were churned out by an army of coppice workers spread across the country - charcoal to chair legs, fences to firewood, bean poles, pea sticks, thatching spars… all made from wood cut in a local coppice. Trees carefully managed, farmed almost, cut and fashioned, by skilled hand, into useful everyday articles.
By the mid-Twentieth Century the coppice industry had been diminishing for decades and it along with thousands of hectares of managed woodland, had fallen into almost complete decline. However, things are changing. The industry is enjoying a resurgence of interest, both from those who want to make a living from the woods and from discerning consumers. They recognise the many benefits associated with buying things made and grown locally – a small carbon footprint, support for small businesses in the area and a contribution to the sustainable management of British broadleaved woodlands.
Coppice workers are spread thinly around the country and see each other rarely - it can be a lonely occupation. The NCFed, the organisation charged with developing, supporting and promoting the modern industry, is offering a chance for like-minded people to get together at an October gathering, to compare experiences and learn from each other.
“Historically people involved in coppicing have suffered from shrinking markets and highly competitive sales opportunities” said NCFed’s, appropriately named Rebecca Oaks. “There’s a great deal we can do to support our members to work together to share skills and develop new markets. Electronic media is brilliant for helping individuals keep in touch but there’s no substitute for actually getting together and chewing the fat with like-minded people. We also actively encourage and support the formation of regional groups” she added.
Coppice workers have a passion for trees and woodland; they strive to make at least part of a living from the management of woodlands and the sale of produce harvested from them. They are a rare breed but a breed that is slowly growing in number. As more members of the public become more aware of the benefits that come with coppicing - both for the landscape and for wildlife - and make purchasing decisions based on this knowledge, more people will be able to find an income from the woods.
The NCFed Gathering will take place over the weekend of 13/14 October at Shedfield, Hampshire. Toni Brannon of the Hampshire Coppice Craftsmen’s Group said “This year’s gathering will be better than ever. We’ve arranged demonstrations of all sorts – making shingles, hazel wattle hurdles, charcoal, chestnut paling fencing. There’ll be fascinating site visits as well as talks and discussions on lots of important subjects. It all revolves around loads of chat, some rather good, locally sourced food and drink and of course, the NCFed AGM. if you work with wood you won't want to miss it!”
All the details you’ll need to secure a place can be found at http://ncfed.org.uk
Costs - members of affiliated groups – £40. Non-members – £55. Coppice apprentices – £30.
The Woodland Year by Ben Law