Those who have wandered through woodlands and spotted regimented trees, each with branches that extend from thin, often numerous, trunks, are likely to have seen a copse or coppice. The word ‘coppice’ is rooted in the French verb ‘couper’, which means ‘cut’, describing the process of coppicing rather well as it involves the purposeful cutting of trees to encourage their growth.
Tree shoots are cut back, trimmed to their stool, which is generally quite low to the ground. Then, over the period of a few years, they are allowed to grow back as woodland managers move on to other trees, rotating their practice within the woodland.
Coppicing dates back to the Paleolithic era and is a woodland management skill that is still practiced today. For many throughout history, it has offered a sustainable source of firewood and timber, enabling those who tend to trees an ongoing supply of wood. In addition to this steady supply of raw material, the timber that is cut is also celebrated for being manageable, with cuttings and logs being far easier to transport and store than those of more established, felled trees.
While this source of wood is still the reason many pick up their tools and tend to their woodland, a large number of modern practitioners create a coppice for the benefit of local wildlife too. Coppicing imitates the natural process of trees shedding branches, often due to age or weather-related interference, and clears space within the woodland. This space is greatly valued by plants on the ground as it allows more sunlight to reach them, supporting their prosperity and even helping them to spread further throughout the environment. These plants, in turn, become habitats and food sources for animals, growing the area’s biodiversity.
While there are a number of trees that can be coppiced, the British landscape is particularly suited to the practice as common trees, such as sweet chestnut, oak, hazel, and ash can each be easily coppiced. Coppicing also supports a number of other skills, and the Heritage Craft Association (HCA) list of coppicing sub-crafts include a number of wonderful endeavours such as gate hurdle making, scythe snaith making, and barrel hoop making.
There now appears to be a greater interest in such a traditional skills, with many seeking out practitioners for education and training. This can prove to be somewhat problematic as a number of heritage crafts are now considered to be endangered, with only a small number of practitioners able to share their skills across the UK. And, while coppicing remains on the HCA’s ‘currently viable’ list, there are estimated to be only a few hundred professionals left, with around twenty actively teaching others their skill.
As part of our ongoing effort to preserve these traditional crafts and support a better connection between communities and their local environment, we host a number of courses around the Rame Peninsula. Coppicing remains a part of our ongoing schedule, with heritage craft classes held Cornwall by coppicing practitioner, Robbie Ryder. Each class takes sees attendees get hands on with the necessary tools and equipment needed to begin coppicing, supported by expert guidance and with access to our very own Cornish coppice.
These classes take place throughout the year and can be booked via the Family Foraging Kitchen website. Visit our Course Schedule page to find the next available date and begin learning about this historically and environmentally valuable traditional skill.
Our next date is January 14th, with tickets available here.