The first day of December was a beautifully crisp and bright day – perfect for getting outdoors and enjoying the scenery at Killynether Woods, overlooking the northern end of Strangford Lough. There were over 20 of us today, and our task was to coppice an area of hazel trees.
Coppicing involves cutting the stems off as low to the ground as you can.
At first glance, this may look destructive but it actually benefits the tree by encouraging new, vigorous growth from the base (stool).
The regrowing stems grow tall and straight and it was these long straight poles that would have been harvested in the past for use in fencing, hurdle making and as building materials.
The stems that were not suitably straight would have been cut up for fire wood or used to produce charcoal. Historically, large areas of woodland would have been managed in this way and they must have been busy places, with a considerable number of people making a living from our woods.
By opening up a temporary clearing within the woods, we are also letting a greater amount of light to reach the forest floor which encourages a range of different flowers and insects to thrive until the hazel trees grow tall enough again to block out the light. By that time, there will be additional coppiced areas nearby, thereby creating a mosaic of habitats within the woods to provide home for a greater abundance of wildlife.
The National Trust volunteers have been managing an area of Killynether in this way for a number of years now and it has proved to be a great success. Today, we were cutting hazel stools that we had first cut 9 years previously and we were able to harvest many of the straight poles to use as posts in a hedge laying project we will be doing shortly.
We were also joined by Bruce and Heather Crawford who collected materials to create the frames for traditional Currachs (the Irish Coracle). This is a photo of one they made last year from Killynether hazel. It is great to see traditional crafts like this being kept alive.
The group managed to make steady progress and we successfully completed more than half of this year’s target. One more visit in January should allow us to neatly finish off this section. It was an enjoyable day out and great to see so many people working away contentedly in the woods, like a scene from bygone days.