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Hampshire's Countryside

Management of Whiteley Copses

These woods have had a long history of being worked by man, and as a result the wildlife requires that we continue the process in order for it to survive. In the past, Round, Gull & Berry Coppices would have been coppiced by the local farmer or even by roving woodsmen who would sometimes camp out in the woodland all winter. Sometimes they built temporary shacks to house their wives and families too! Coppicing is the traditional craft of harvesting woodlands to make a range of useful green wood products such as hazel hurdles, tool handles, thatching spars, charcoal etc.

This industry has dramatically declined since the world wars, but is starting to see a slight revival. It also helps provide a temporary valuable habitat for many animals and plants by allowing sunlight down to the woodland floor for a few years

The cut trees are not dead but will resprout numerous new stems which can be harvested again in the years to come. Hence the phrase " To make wood, you must cut wood". A worked woodland will have a number of coup's (cut areas) which are harvested on a rotation. The large oak timbers (poles) will be extracted later in the year when the ground is drier to limit the disturbance to the ground flora.

In the past these would have been pulled out of the woodland by heavy horses. Some of these timbers will be used to help restore old buildings, others will be used to make bridges and gates for other countryside sites. Whiteley's butterflies are benefiting particularly from the temporary sunny glades now being created by coppicing. We have seen the return of the Silver Washed Fritillary which had disappeared from Round Coppice. We have also seen an increase in woodland flowers such as violets, primroses and solomon's seal.

What will happen to the timber?

The timber is being bought by Darren Hammerton and Brendan Burton who run a company called "Out of the Woods". Recently they were featured on Meridian TV displaying a timber framed building at the Hampshire Wood Fair, run each year by Hampshire County Council and held at Sparsholt College.

They are hoping to use the timber for a timber framed three bay cart shed on the Beaulieu estate, next to the big lake, so we may all get to see this timber in the future! The timber coming from Round Coppice is not very straight and they will be using the misshapen curved trunks to give the building some character.

They usually have a reasonable supply of oak but they particularly like to use timber that has been cut from woodland for conservation reasons. Darren has been involved in lots of coppice restoration himself and often gets timber from these jobs.

Darren has worked at Swanmore Primary School and Whiteley Primary School, where he built the two Celtic style wattle huts using cleft hazel which was cut locally. The children were involved with building the huts and they are now used as play structures. Darren is now involved with managing the ancient woodland nature reserve within the school grounds.

"Out of the Woods" produce all sorts of sustainable woodland products, including seats and hurdles, thatching spars, furniture and blanket boxes. They also carry out hedgelaying, coppicing and other country crafts. They can be contacted on 023 92 632005 or www.southdownsgreenwoodcentre.co.uk.

Isn't it damaging to cut down the trees?

The wildlife of Round Coppice depends on a pattern of woodland management called coppicing, which involves cutting a small area of woodland each year.

Historically the wood was used for hurdle making in particular. In Hampshire's rolling landscape sheep would be allowed to roam on the downs during the day but would have been "folded" or fenced in with hazel hurdles at night. This was often done near a farmstead and therefore not only kept them safe from predators but also meant that most of their dung was deposited on land which was then cultivated - an easy method of fertilising the soil. The typical Hampshire habitats of chalk downland and hazel coppice were therefore once interdependent.

Another frequent use of coppice products was for charcoal making, when lengths of wood were piled up over a very slow burning fire, then covered with turf and allowed to smoulder for days, resulting in charred wood - or charcoal.

In the past, Round Coppice would probably have been cut by the local farmer or even by roving woodsmen who would sometimes camp out in the woodland all winter. Sometimes they built temporary shacks to house their wives and families too! Lots of local people also remember gypsies coming to cut hazel for clothes pegs and then hawking them around the houses in the neighbouring villages.

After the first world war, many agricultural workers either did not come home, or when they did, they did not want to return to the hard rural life they had known before. This fact, along with increasing mechanisation of agriculture, which meant fewer labourers were needed, and a gradual move from sheep farming to arable, meant that coppicing went into decline. The problem was fuelled by cheap imports of coal which replaced home-grown charcoal.

To protect the wildlife of Round Coppice, the Countryside Service has started coppicing again. Since the woodlands have not been cut for such a long time, there are a lot more mature trees that need to be removed to open the woodland out and recreate the bushy coppice woodland structure.

Whiteley's butterflies are benefiting particularly from the temporary sunny glades now being created by coppicing. We have seen the return of the Silver Washed Fritillary which had disappeared from Round Coppice. We have also seen an increase in woodland flowers such as violets, primroses and Solomon's seal. We hope that coppicing will benefit nightingales - a Whiteley speciality - which are in decline and depend on thick scrub for nesting and hiding. So if you want to conserve British wildlife: Buy British charcoal and woodland furniture from producers using sustainable materials.

 

Horse log pulling in Whiteley Coppice

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