I know of very few land management practitioners who work with coppice, it is still regarded as a niche and specialist trade, associated with woodsmen. And despite a rise in coppice growing for self sufficiency purposes it is a market largely ignored by landscapers and even foresters in general. In my believe there is a strong future as a market for coppice planting for all those involved in horticulture and land management in general as the knowledge of knowing the right soils for the right species for a given locality is at present being ignored by many of the increasing numbers of families seeking self sufficiency in the UK countryside.
Coppice is still often heralded as one of the principle land management techniques for the future of our energy needs and has been for well over twenty years. The Forestry Commission investigated its potential and followed up with much work and study on industrialised coppice production - Technical notes from 1994 - 1998 on Short Rotation Coppice; explored all aspects of planting, felling through to processing. The labour costs are habitually high and large scale commercialisation will never take place until Oil supplies were soon to disappear.
However in many European countries, the skill of coppice work was considered an endangered activity, which due to the conservation attributes the work gives to a landscape, was therefore identified as requiring research and funding into its preservation. Often much more for heritage values than for sustainable values. Initiatives exist in most states which try to picture the continuation of woodland skills almost as a shrine to lifestyles as illustrated in Hardy's 'The Woodlanders' amongst other romantic literature and art, a romantic image continued in modern classics such as the superb 'Wildwood' by Roger Deakin.
Many quangos jumped on the band wagon and many academics were sent out into Europe's forests to identify with and discover ways of preserving this heritage.
With a history dating back to neolithic times, when the burning down of forests for agricultural gain changed into felling by axe and thus the discovery of strong regrowth. The management of woods for coppice was honed as much as it can be into a local and essential industry. By the middle of the 19th century local industry was interlinked to coppice products to such an extent that regional identity was formed by the local coppice crop; these local identities are still often used by regional agencies in promoting local distinctiveness and the remnants of woodlands still often exist, albeit unmanaged and disassociated with this image.
Despite the decline in the need for coppice products, there remained many small local enterprises specialising in coppice products. A continuing desire for rural dwellings, with thatch roofs and wood burning heating remained strong. Gentrification of many areas allowed this small industry to remain relatively strong. But mercifully not strong enough to allow larger companies to enter the market. Protection was further awarded the small producers by way of the Forestry Commission amongst others heavily funding regional networks and associations to link up the woodsmen contained within it.
The growing fashion of self sustainability, which can be traced back to the 1950's in its present form, has continued with increasingly larger tracts of land being in the ownership of ex professionals, escaping the City by way of inflated house pricing and ending up with significant land on their hands.
A new desire to produce fuel on their own land to meet their own demands was assisted by the growth of the internet. Many forums can be found where people explored methods of producing their own fuel supplies. It is fascinating to read through some of these forums and see how through trial and error, some people have found a precision system for their heating demands - a crop to match the local climate and soils and the exact quantity of fuel needed per annum for their own needs. But much more often the reading will produce a unsuppressed groan from any practitioner in land industry when disastrous planting has taken place with little regard for local conditions and more importantly the risk of native or non native invasive planting being introduced. And in terms of landscape heritage a complete disregard for traditional systems of management and conservation.
As an ideal for a self sufficient lifestyle is usually intertwined with the personality and desire to discover the land ands its potential without resorting to outside contractors; the risks of further large scale mistakes and land being altered to actually become the opposite of a sustainable landscape, is growing. Tree nurseries were often the only connection such people had with a knowledge base but with increasing internet sales and even garden centres selling bare root stock, it is easy to go ahead with irrational planting without talking to any professional at all.
The internet is perhaps the best method of publicising the need to at least talk to a landscaper, horticulturalist or forester. the payment of a days consultation, (or half day), could yield the desired rewards without any risks of a failed crop or worse a badly managed patch of scrubland or an invasive spread of unsuitable tree species. Sights which are unfortunately becoming increasingly visible in the UK landscape.
For anybody interested I have a translated copy of a history of Coppicing, 'Coppice Woods and their Utilisation' by Carl-Adam Haggstrom, (translated by Marja U Greenlees). Please email info@paysagedurable.com for a copy.
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