What is Coppicing? (And Why It’s Amazing)
What is coppicing? And what’s the difference between coppicing and pollarding? Coppicing and pollarding are both very useful methods to sustainably harvest wood for use on your property. These methods allow you to harvest your trees in a way that lets them regrow without you having to replant. Sound good? Keep reading to learn how to use these methods on your property.
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So what is coppicing? Coppicing is an ancient forestry technique that has been used in Europe for thousands of years. In theory, it allows for indefinite harvesting of wood from your land without the need to replant.
Being able to harvest wood from your land without destroying the forest makes coppicing a great method for anyone who wants to cultivate abundance and help heal our living world. In fact, coppicing can even result in increased diversity of wildlife and plant life on your property.
This post covers the basics of coppicing, the difference between coppicing and pollarding, and it why coppicing is such an excellent practice to use.
Once you understand more about coppicing and how it compares with pollarding, be sure to get your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet so you can keep all the pertinent details here at your fingertips and start planning your own coppice grove today.
What is Coppicing?
Coppicing is a sustainable forestry technique that uses nature’s capacity for regeneration to continually harvest wood from a living tree. Many hardwood trees will attempt to regrow after being cut down. Trees like maples and oaks will send up numerous shoots from their stumps, (called a stool if the tree is being coppiced,) which allows for repeated harvests on a set cycle.
When a tree like a maple is cut, the resulting shoots can be thinned, leaving a relatively small number of shoots. These shoots will grow, resulting in a multi-trunk tree. You can harvest these new trunks once they reach the size you need.
Coppicing is a great way to work with nature to sustainably harvest wood from your property.
The bill hook is a traditional tool for coppicing that I highly recommend. You can see it in use in the video at the start of this section. It is a heavy, one-handed, curved blade designed to quickly remove small branches and stems from wood that is harvested from coppiced trees.
So that’s the basic practice—cutting a tree at the stump and harvesting the shoots. But how do you harvest it sustainably over time?
To make coppicing work for sustainable timber harvest, you’d want to coppice a number of trees on your property. A thicket of trees being managed with coppicing is called a copse.
Traditionally, a copse was managed in sections, or coups, which were harvested on a cycle that allowed for yearly harvests. The number of coups was based on how long a coppiced tree needed to reach the desired size based on the intended use.
This could be as short as 2-3 years, or in the case of oaks, up to 50 years. If it was going to take 5 years for your trees to regrow after being coppiced, then you would want 5 coups, so you could harvest 1 coup each year.
Not all trees can be coppiced, and different trees were historically coppiced for different uses. For example, willows and black locust trees both coppice easily but have very different uses. Willows can be used for weaving, while black locust trees are great for fence posts.
Other trees that were traditionally coppiced include ash, maple, oak, chestnut, elm, hazelnut, and elderberry.
Make sure to research trees that grow in your area to determine which can be coppiced and how long they need to grow after being coppiced to reach the size you need.
Summary of Coppicing Terms:
What is the Difference Between Coppicing and Pollarding?
As you learn about coppicing, you might hear the term pollarding. Pollarding is actually very similar to coppicing.
The main difference is that pollarding involves cutting the tree at a specific height above the ground depending on the situation.
By cutting the tree above the ground, the resulting new growth can be above the reach of livestock or deer. But the resulting harvest can be used to provide feed for livestock. Between harvests the pollarded trees can provide shade and shelter for them as well.
Why Coppicing is Amazing for Your Property
Now that you understand the basics of coppicing, you might be wondering why you would want to use this method on your own property. Here in the United States, this is not a well-known method for woodland management.
But coppicing and pollarding can be very useful. Here are some great uses for coppicing and pollarding:
- Firewood: Coppiced trees can provide a regular supply of firewood for heat and cooking. Coppicing works especially well with highly efficient wood-burning systems like rocket mass heaters and rocket ovens.
- Woven Fence Material: Coppicing and pollarding can provide a large amount of long, narrow wooden rounds that are ideal for building the iconic woven/wattle fence.
- Small-Wood Projects: On a short coppicing cycle, you can generate abundant material to make trellises, weave baskets and other useful items.
- Livestock Food: Trees can be coppiced or pollarded on a short cycle of 2-3 years to provide regular food for livestock. Historically, this was called tree hay.
- Chop-and-Drop: Coppicing and pollarding is also a great way to create a large amount of biomass/mulch as largescale chop-and-drop. This can be a great way to build the soils in your food forest.
- Lumber/Fence Posts: Coppicing can also be a great way to sustainably harvest wood for lumber and fence posts. This will require a longer coppicing cycle, but if planned correctly, you could grow all the wood you need for fence posts, and on a large property, you could even provide for your lumber needs. Roundwood construction is a great fit for coppicing
- Hugelkultur Beds: Coppicing and pollarding can also be a great way to grow the wood you need for building your own hugelkultur beds.
So are you ready to start using coppicing or pollarding on your own property? This is a great way to sustainably harvest wood on your site. If you want to get started with coppicing, check out Ben Law’s great book The Woodland Way: A Permaculture Approach to Sustainable Woodland Management. You can find it on Amazon and likely from your local library.
And let me know in the comments below how you're going to start using coppicing (or how you already are)!
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