Coppicing, either for conservation or to produce timber involves periodic cutting of trees using traditional felling techniques, stacking the timber afterwards and leaving some brushwood to rot down.
Correct tree identification is important. Point out any obvious areas of confusion, eg hornbeam and beech in winter.
Make certain that everyone knows the species or individual trees to be coppiced and those to be left alone. If you are not certain of the group’s ability to identify species, mark the trees to be coppiced.
Hands-on techniques for coppicing
Clearing the work area
Clear any shrubs, herbaceous growth and dead timber that might hinder safe working. Watch out for stones, glass and tin cans that can ruin a saw.
Leave the stumps and roots intact so that they will resprout.
Felling coppice regrowth
Look carefully at the tree to decide which way to fell the individual stems.
Bear in mind:
- Lean and likely direction of fall.
- Ease of cutting at the base.
- Intertwining tops.
- Space to drop the stems.
- Size of stem.
- Wind strength and direction.
- Escape routes.
- Time spent on this will save problems and avoid accidents.
Remove any young growth around the outside of the stool. Cut as close to the ground as possible.
Make certain that other people are at least twice the distance of the height of the stems you are about fell. Post a lookout and stop felling if people approach.
Stems up to 8cm diameter can be cut straight through. Support the weight of the stem with one hand whilst sawing with the other.
Stems up to 15cm diameter should be undercut on the front (side facing the direction of fall) before being cut through from behind.
On larger stems, cut a felling sink in the front. See more detail about how to fell trees.
Cut an angle of 30-45 degrees from the horizontal, or trim the stump to this afterwards. It is important that the bark is left intact and tight to the wood.
Leave a stump 10-20cm high. In cases where it has been coppiced before and there is a lot of regrowth it is easier to cut higher than this, where the stems are more separate and the weight is less, and to trim the stump afterwards.
During the early stages many trees will get hung up. To untangle these, lift the butt and pull it briskly away. If the tree is too heavy to lift, seek someone with more experience to bring the tree down safely.
Deal with hung up trees immediately – never leave them. Don’t let anyone walk underneath the tree until you have dealt with it.
Two people should sort the wood before it is stacked or burnt. Stacking and clearing should be done thoroughly to avoid problems later.
Make sure clearing and stacking keep pace with felling.
Timber which is to be seasoned should be stored as a cord – prior to removal from the wood.
It may still be necessary in coppice work to use fires to burn excess regrowth. Situate it so that the smoke does not blow across the work area but close enough to minimise the amount of dragging.
Leave wood to decay where practical or chop it up for mulch. If there is simply too much, small, controlled fires are OK, providing the client knows. Also let the local fire brigade know beforehand.
After work make sure fires are put out before leaving the site.
Sometimes a chainsaw operator may be needed in coppice work. Only those individuals holding a TCV chainsaw card may use one on any site where TCV staff, volunteers or local groups covered insurance are working. To get a card you must have a National Proficiency Test Council (or equivalent) certificate and be able to provide evidence of continuing competence. Operators must wear protective safety clothing and equipment.
Clear the site, but don’t tidy it. Dead wood, both fallen and standing, is an important habitat.
Brushwood and excess timber should either be piled into habitat stacks to rot down or be burnt if so advised by the client. Pile habitat stacks with the butts all facing one way.
Unless deer are a problem, avoid piling brush on top of cut stools or where it will interfere with access later.
September to March, i.e. outside the bird breeding season.
Preparation and working with groups
Visit the work site in advance to gain a clear idea of what you will be doing on the day.
Assess the suitability of the project for the group you will be leading and the time available.
Consider the following questions: How large an area can be coppiced in the time and with the volunteers available? Which individual tree species are to be felled or to be left? What tools will be needed? What is to be done with the products?
Mark the boundary of the area to be coppiced.
Check for overhead services before starting coppicing work.
Undertake a risk assessment for both project and site.
Tools and equipment
Depending on the size of the team adjust the quantity of equipment taken to the site. Ensure the tools are in good condition before using them.
- First aid kit
- Appropriate protective gloves
- Hard hats
- Large and small bowsaws
- Billhooks (according to regional style)
- Small felling axe
- Slashers and loppers
- Grubbing mattocks
- Mell or maul (for making cords)
- Sharpening stones
Ensure all team members are wearing appropriate footwear and clothing and issue the specified safety equipment.
Introduce the site, the work and the reasons for doing it.
Walk around the site explaining what work will be undertaken.
Identify potential hazards and explain how to work safely around them.
Demonstrate tool use
Demonstrate and explain the safe use, carrying and on-site care of the tools before starting work.
Demonstrate work techniques
Demonstrate all new work techniques as you come to them. This will save mistakes and avoid accidents. Give a thorough demonstration of coppicing before starting work.
Demonstrate the correct lifting technique (bending the knee and keeping the back straight so that the leg muscles are used and the back is not strained).
Organisation of team
If the area is large enough, divide the group into teams of six; two pairs felling and dragging, one pair logging up and disposing of the brush.
If the wood needs cutting to size and stacking, more people will be needed doing this and fewer felling. Avoid producing excessive, unlogged timber, this will make working in the area dangerous.
Plan stacking areas to minimise the amount and distance of timber to be moved.
Whenever possible pair experienced and inexperienced volunteers.
Make sure people work a safe distance apart, ie at least twice the distance of the height of the stems to be felled.
The leader should check, assist and encourage people and ensure work standards are maintained.