Coppicing is possibly our earliest type of woodland management. Some of the earliest timber structures found are built with coppiced oak, hazel, ash, alder and willow. But what’s that go to do with beanpoles, and what are they anyway?
National Beanpole Week celebrates coppiced woodlands, the animals and plants that live in them, the coppice workers who look after them, and the beanpoles and other coppice wood products they produce. So, it’s all about an ancient woodland management technique that grows sticks for a wide range of uses and creates varied habitats that are particularly good for a range of endangered wildlife. Spring flowering plants, butterflies and rare lichens also all benefit from coppice working. Traditional uses for coppice have included woven hurdles for penning sheep, fencing, hedging and thatching materials, charcoal, baskets and crates and bark for tanning leather. Gardeners also love coppice products: beanpoles, pea sticks and plant stakes.
What is coppicing?
Coppicing is the process of cutting certain tree species down to ground level every few years. The tree then regrows multiple straight stems, or rods. Coppicing played an important part in several industries here in Scotland. Early iron furnaces used charcoal made from coppices, notably the Bon Awe Furness, and research has been done on charcoal production near Callander for steelworks in Stirling. Coppice products were used to make packing crates to transport goods using vast amounts of rods. Hazel hurdles were also used in the trenches in the first world war.
WW1 marked the last major use of coppice material, not least because there weren’t enough men returning to keep the coppice cutting going. Charcoal use also dropped significantly when coal became more widely available, and package crates were replaced by cardboard. All this led to coppicing being virtually ignored for many years. By 1956, a Forestry Commission report lists no working coppice in Scotland, with a small acreage described as hazel scrub, or abandoned. Even in this report, which was evaluating the potential for hazel coppice, the limiting factor was lack of skilled workforce. This, together with competition from cheaper, less labour-intensive packing and fencing options, made coppicing pretty much unviable.
Some areas have retained a coppice tradition, notably sweet chestnut grown for paling is still used in building trades. And a coppice revival has been gaining ground since the early nineties, largely around charcoal production and slowly re building markets for coppice products. Bringing coppice back into production is very labour intensive and takes several years – a full rotation of 6 to 10 years.
Our Coppice work
We’ve been working in a coppice in South Lanarkshire for the past five years and next year will see us finally finishing cutting the old material and having hazel coppice back in production. We're also starting to work with the Woodland Trust to bring hazel back into coppice at Glen Finglas. We have a dedicated volunteer team and each year we settle more into the seasonal routine. As the site becomes more productive we have more usable materials and this year we have a range of products available. This includes BBQ charcoal, bean poles, pea sticks, plant stakes, hedge laying stakes and binders, and sticks of all shapes and sizes! We might get chance to make some hurdles as well. You can see what we have available here.
And we're celebrating National Beanpole Week with a stick-tastic event, full of information and hands-on activities that will introduce you to the world of coppicing. Sign up here to join us.