Matters

Hazel Coppicing at Blunts Wood Local Nature Reserve

woodanemonesIf you're walking in Blunts Wood nature reserve this month you may come across local volunteers who are busy coppicing hazel trees in the area.

Coppicing is a sustainable and traditional woodland management technique. It can look quite drastic as trees are cut right down to the ground in the winter leaving a ‘stool’ but in the spring the stool regrows a thicket of stems, which will be ready to harvest after a few years. 

In a typical hazel coppice cycle, cutting is done every 7 to 15 years to prolong the lifespan of the trees. If a Hazel is left to grow naturally as a single-stemmed tree it can live for 80 years but with careful coppicing a multi-stemmed stool can live for centuries.

In times gone by, cut hazel stems would have been used for making hurdles to keep in sheep, thatching spars, net stakes and water divining rods. Nowadays, the South of England Hedge Laying Society use the stems as uprights to weave branches between when they’re out laying hedges.

A well-managed coppice opens the woodland floor up to more light, allowing spring flowers such as bluebells, wood anemones, dog violets and celandine to bloom. This is supports many butterfly species, particularly fritillaries and the coppice also provides shelter for ground-nesting birds, such as nightingales and willow warblers.

Hazel trees are great for wildlife in other ways too. Their leaves provide food for many caterpillars and moths including the large emerald and the small white wave and their nuts of course, provide food for dormice, squirrels, woodpeckers, nuthatches, jays, tits and wood pigeons.  Dormice also eat the caterpillars which feed on the spring leaves.

At this time of year Hazel trees are easy to recognise with their male yellow flowers hanging down in distinctive catkins.  Don’t forget to look out for the easily overlooked female flowers too – these are tiny and budlike with red tips known as styles.  Once pollinated, by pollen carried on the wind from another hazel tree, the female flowers develop into the oval fruits or hazel nuts.

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