These photos show the first snow of 2012 in Hales Wood. Snow makes work in the wood very difficult, it covers the downed hazel and soaks into your gloves and boots. The wood is still blanketed in snow so this seemed the perfect time to sit down and write another post.
Before the snow arrived I snapped this shot of one of the first orchids to emerge in the area we felled this winter. The early purple orchid (Orchis Mascula) grows throughout Hales wood, and in the late spring its purple-flowered spikes will be dotted all over the open areas of the wood. The starchy tubers of the orchids were once dug up and ground into a nutritious flour used in love potions and salep, a beverage popular in the Ottoman Empire. Now these flowers are protected in Britain by the Wildlife And Countryside Act, 1981 and they are one of the species that we work hard to promote in the wood.
For those of you reading this who aren’t familiar with the process of coppicing, I thought I would lay out more clearly how it works. In Hales wood, the main coppice species is hazel and it grows under larger ash and oak trees known as standards. The hazel grows from stumps (or stools). Each winter we cut down an area of hazel, removing the stems and leaving the freshly cut stools under the standards:
Once the felled hazel has been cleared away the newly cut area is bathed in light for the first time in years. The ground is soon littered with wild flowers and other woodland plants, and the hazel begins to regrow. Because the hazel already has established roots it is able to put on a huge amount of growth, sometimes as much as six or seven feet in the first year. After this first spurt of growth the hazel looks like this:
The hazel continues to put on further growth every year, after several years the hazel is taller and thicker but the wild flowers and other ground cover plants around it have given way to brambles and a generally denser undergrowth:
Eventually the hazel reaches a height and density at which the canopy closes up, shading out the undergrowth beneath. At about 8-12 years of growth, the hazel is the optimum size for felling. At this age the hazel contains the most potential products and the shady woodland floor beneath is once again a blank canvas for new plants:
Once the hazel is felled the process begins again. Because the wood is worked in sections there is always areas at various stages of growth meaning coppiced woodland has a diversity of habitats and can support a large variety of different species of plants and animals. This combination of biodiversity and long-term stability is part of what makes coppicing such a sustainable form of woodland management.