Coppice Woodland Creation
As part of the council's commitment to carbon reduction, increasing wildlife habitat and ongoing improvements to the quality of visitor experience, we have planted two small areas of woodland, planned to be managed over time using coppice principles. Each woodland area is approximately 600 square metres or 0.06 hectare (0.15 acre).
Why we chose a “coppice” woodland rather than a “standard” woodland
Our team conducted an initial consultation with neighbours and park users which helped us to formulate the idea of a coppiced woodland rather than allowing a mature woodland to grow. Whilst support for the idea was positive, there were some concerns over the potential height of fully mature trees, and the potential loss of light and views.
With this in mind, the plans were modified slightly and species that respond well to what is known as 'coppicing' were selected for the sites. Coppicing is a centuries-old way of managing woodlands that entails some or all of a group of trees or shrubs to be cut back to ground level at a certain growth stage. This is historically related to the products that could be produced at a certain age or size.
The copses will be managed rotationally by only a proportion of the trees being cut in any one winter. By splitting the woodland into smaller sub-compartments, we will have trees and shrubs at differing stages of growth at different times, so providing various niches for differing species of wildlife. Over time, areas just cut will provide favourable conditions for woodland wildflowers and other plants to flourish, thus creating a thriving woodland ecosystem. We may add some native wildflower species to encourage this transformation to a woodland ecosystem.
Woodland creation benefits
- There is a considerable amount of carbon dioxide intake and storage within trees and shrubs, and the ground below. This is also known as 'carbon sequestration' or a 'carbon sink' and helps to lower Stroud's carbon footprint. This helps the planet and is now becoming increasingly recognised as a strong economic value.
- Trees and shrubs increase oxygen levels, fundamental to good health. Urban areas often have less oxygen than rural settings, so any increases are beneficial.
- Flash-flooding is likely to become more frequent in the future. The foliage of trees and shrubs slows down the rate of travel, particularly in the summer, thereby reducing the severity of individual events. Root systems also help hold the soil structure together, protecting land from collapsing.
- Urban areas can get very hot due to the amount of concrete and tarmac. With potentially more summer heatwaves a strong likelihood we can thank trees for helping to reduce the temperature. They do this through transpiring water vapour from their foliage, as well as providing welcome shade.
- Trees and shrubs filter out toxic pollution from our air, creating a healthier atmosphere for us all
- Spending time in and near trees is well known to lift spirits and improve our mental wellbeing. This proximity to the natural world can help reduce cortisol in our brains, which reduces levels of stress and anxiety. It is no coincidence that we can distinguish hundreds of different shades of green but much fewer than fifty shades of grey!
- Whether using the area for dog-walking, a cut-through or as a destination for some quiet time or play, the addition of trees and shrubs adds to both the structural diversity and overall enjoyment of the area.
- Coppice sites create niche habitats for many species of wildflowers, pollinating insects, birds and mammals.
- Rotational cutting ensures a continuum of habitat at a suitable stage for the various species dependent on it
- A high 'woodland edge' or ecotone area increases wildlife value.
- The variety of different species provides habitat for species-specific insects. For example, hawthorn is used as a larval food plant by a number of moths – the small eggar, the orchard ermine and the vapourer. The vapourer is equally at home on hazel, along with the large emerald and the wonderfully named 'nut-tree tussock' moth.
- Creating a complete ecosystem provides food sources, nesting sites, hibernation niches and corridors for differing species to be able to fulfil many or all of their lifecycle processes.
- Connecting other habitats by providing stepping stones for the more-mobile species to utilise.
Details of the planting process and future management
What have we planted?
The right tree in the right place for the right reasons.
Climate change will affect how well trees grow and develop, so we have chosen species we believe likely to be more resilient to such change. By resilience, we mean how a particular species will be able to absorb new stresses and to function healthily in a changing environment.
Another key challenge facing tree species is imported pathogens, recently seen with 'ash dieback disease'. By using a diverse range of tree and shrub species we can reduce the risk of future challenges.
We have chosen tree and shrub species that are all UK native, and where possible we have used slightly more southerly provenances. By native we mean that these species have all been in England continually for a very long time, generally since the last Ice Age. The provenance of a tree is where the seed was collected, trees respond slowly to local surroundings and so this provenance is linked to how well a seedling will respond to particular conditions. Due to current nursery availability, most species were from seed gathered in provenance regions UK 405 (south east) and 403 (midlands).
Trees and shrubs have been planted in a roughly 2:1 ratio overall. We have planted different tree species in small groups of around 10 – 30 plants. By planting in groups rather than all intermingled (known as intimate planting) we help to avoid slower growing species being suppressed by those of a faster growth rate.
The main species include field maple (Acer campestre), hazel (Corylus avellana) aspen (Populus tremula), wild cherry (Prunus avium), small- leaved lime (Tilia cordata), pedunculate oak (Quercus robur)
Minor tree and shrub species include dogwood (Cornus sangineau), hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), spindle (Euonymous europaeus), holly (Ilex aquifolium), common privet (Ligustrum vulgare), crab apple (Malus sylvestris), wild service tree (Sorbus torminalis), yew (Taxus baccata), wayfaring tree (Viburnam lantana) and guelder rose (Viburnam opulus).
Various shrub species frequent some of the edges, including dogwood, hawthorn, spindle, wayfaring tree and guelder rose.
Even in a very small space it is possible to use woodland design principles to enhance the benefits for people and wildlife.
Edge habitat is of very high value for wildlife and so a path has been incorporated through each copse, with shrubby edges creating a softening exterior and providing further niches for various species of insects and birds.
To create a more natural looking and feeling environment, planting has been as random as possible. The more shade-tolerant species have been placed where sunlight is in shorter supply.
Overall planting density is around 2.0 – 2.5 metre spacings so achieving around 1,600-2,500 trees and shrubs per hectare. This relatively tight spacing will encourage swift growth and allows for some plants to be lost but not require replacement.
The main species have been planted in small single-species blocks. Each block is from between 10 and 30 trees. This method has been favoured over a more 'intimate' species mix to protect the slower growing species from being shaded out by those quicker growing, and to allow rotational coppicing by species group.
Bare rooted seedlings of between 1 and 2 years old have mainly been used, and depending on species, ranging from 30- 100cm tall. Small planting stock like this, with a balanced root-shoot ratio is likely to give the best long-term results. Planting ahead of Christmas gives the plants a chance to settle into the new home through the winter dormancy. The seedlings were dipped in a solution of 'mycorrhizal fungi' - creating a symbiotic beneficial relationship between the trees and fungi, whereby the fungi reach for and provide nutrients for the tree roots in return for sugars.
The initial three years are crucial for young trees and shrubs to be protected against damage from mammals, weed competition and drought. In the recent past this has usually entailed the use of plastic tree shelters or guards, and regular use of herbicide to control weeds around each plant. We have opted to protect most species (except evergreen holly and yew) from rabbit or vole damage using 60cm tall spiral guards, held with stout bamboo canes. We have added 50 x 50cm jute mulch mats and a layer of our own composted woodchip mulch. The mats and mulch will protect against competition from grasses and other weeds and maximise water availability through the summer months. This avoids the need to use herbicide.
All materials used for tree protection are plastic-free. The spiral guards are plant-based and bamboo is used to secure these and to peg down the jute mats. All materials will gradually break down over time with no harmful legacy.
If we find that deer browsing is an issue on one of the sites, we may look to increasing the height of the individual tree protection to 1.2 metres (4 feet).
We plan to manage the two areas on a coppice-based system, whereby trees are cut back to ground level at an appropriate stage, which invigorates new growth and can lengthen the overall lifespan of many species.
Although on a truly small scale, we are looking to manage each copse on a rotational basis - by cutting say one quarter of the area each year, or every two years, we will end up with a quarter of the area freshly cut, and the other quarters at varying levels of growth up to around 4 or 5 metres tall. Local conditions and growth will determine how many sub-compartments we divide the copse into and how often cutting occurs. It is unlikely that any cutting would be needed in the initial 5 years after planting. After that, coppicing is likely to be carried out on a 5-10 year frequency, depending on species and growth.
Such a rotational system gives a range of habitat stages on the same site which produces various niches or micro-habitats needed by many of our native invertebrate, bird and mammal species. Whilst the maximum wildlife potential is more modest at these sites, it gives great opportunities for teaching about different species, cycles of life and the importance of eco-systems and connectivity. It is hoped that local communities will volunteer to help to sustain these areas which will add diversity and give pleasure to those taking an active part in shaping their new wildlife havens.