Our volunteer group had another busy and enjoyable day at Killynether today. We finished off coppicing the section of hazel trees that we started in December (see the first article in this blog on 1st December 2012).
As passionate conservationists, it seems intrinsically wrong to cut trees down as ruthlessly as this.
So it is extremely satisfying to see the vigorous regrowth from the stumps left behind after previous years’ cutting. It proves just how successful the practice of coppicing is in reinvigorating the trees and ensuring the woodland survives as a thriving habitat for many years longer than if we had just left them alone. In parts of England there are areas of woodland that have been continually managed in this way for over 1000 years. A hazel tree wouldn’t normally live for anything like this long, so it’s incredible to think that many of these trees are actually the very same individuals that were growing such a long time ago. Each time they are coppiced, they re-sprout multiple stems from their roots, with rejuvenated vigour and youth – never getting old.
For the first few years after cutting, a greater amount of sunlight reaches this part of the forest floor; providing the conditions needed for a greater diversity of woodland flowers and insects. Each year we will cut another section (coupe) and continue this coppice rotation so that there will always be areas which are freshly cut and areas at differing stages of regrowth, thus providing a mosaic of conditions and habitats. The hazel quickly grows back, creating a much denser growth than before. From the following photos, you can see the difference in the habitat from when we first cut the trees down, a few years ago. The regrowth in the background is fantastic.
Traditionally, coppicing was practiced because the regrowing stems were long and straight and of great value for all sorts of uses.
We can still make use of these straight poles today. This year, we have harvested about 80 such poles, which we will use as posts in a hedge laying project we plan to do over the next couple of months. And we bagged up and removed as many fire wood logs as we could physically carry down the hill.
We also made sure to leave several piles of logs to rot away slowly, creating important habitats for all sorts of fungi, beetles and other invertebrates.
These piles of logs also make great refuges for small mammals. Hazel seeds, with the characteristic gnaw marks from wood mice, can be found in little caches all over this site.
Although today was hard work, we all enjoyed ourselves and are very satisfied with the results of our labour. Killynether is a wonderful site. We would highly recommend a walk here, to enjoy the birds and other wildlife. In the Spring, the ground is carpeted in a fantastic display of bluebells and other woodland flowers. And although it is steep, it is definitely worth following the path up the hill for the superb views out over County Down.