Back in October we had a great weekend hosted at Green Aspirations Scotland all about coppicing. It had been organised by Green Aspirations, collaborating with Reforesting Scotland and The Landworkers Alliance. Here’s a run down of what we got up to over the weekend…
Words: Al Whitworth | Photos: Clem Sandison
Last year we had a brilliant launch for the newly formed Scottish Coppice Network in the form of a gathering in Leckmelm, near Ullapool. This year I was very grateful to Paul and Jo at Green Aspirations Scotland for taking the lead and organising this year’s get together. We hope that as the coppice network grows and becomes more established there will be more coppice related events and training, but I think having an annual gathering and get together is so useful. The weekend was well attended with around 30 folk of all ages and backgrounds.
We all met up at The Woodland Trust’s Glen Finglas site on Friday afternoon for a tour around some of the ancient oakwoods and new plantings, hearing how the Woodland Trust are managing the site. A more recent project is a collaboration with Green Aspirations creating some very small areas of hazel coppice within newer areas of the woodland. Gwen, the ranger at the site, gave us a great overview of the project with Paul explaining the coppice management. The coups were scattered in different areas and had been fenced off with temporary and movable plastic deer netting – an interesting method to combat the high deer numbers that had been preventing good regrowth, and something that is probably one of the biggest hurdles for coppice establishment in Scotland.
Gwen and the team at Glen Finglas have done a lot to educate folk on the benefits of coppicing and increase understanding of what they are doing and why. This includes signage and volunteer days in the coppice. This is a great way of increasing awareness of coppicing and its benefits.
After the visit we headed back to Green Aspiration’s site near Port of Menteith to set up tents and after a quick tour of the site, we tucked into a superb barbeque meal, cooked of course on their very own charcoal. The catering was to become a highlight of the weekend – Paul, Jo and Clem from The Landworker’s Alliance had put a huge amount of effort into sourcing the best local, sustainable and ethical food for the weekend, all cooked on charcoal or the open fire. A real treat. With full bellies and plenty of wine and beer too, we settled around the fire for chats before turning in for the night.
On Saturday, Paul (Green Aspirations), Clem (Landworkers Alliance) and me – Al (Reforesting Scotland) gave a quick talk about aims for the weekend in terms of furthering development of the Scottish Coppice Network before we split off into different workshops around the site.
Jo gave us a demo of their custom built charcoal retort, named Betty! Jo fired up Betty and showed us the process of creating charcoal in the retort from timber choices to moisture levels, and all the nuances and fine tuning that goes into it. Charcoal making seems to be one of those addictive things, it’s a magical transformation and there is a lot of skill involved in getting it right. It also has the potential to be an excellent saleable product and at the moment there are very few active charcoal makers in Scotland. Over the weekend we kept heading back to see how Betty was progressing, and on Sunday got to open her up and see the charcoal.
Paul meanwhile took another group to learn the techniques of felling small trees with axes and handtools. This was I think, mainly an excuse for him to get his vast collections of axes out! Everyone got thoroughly into the job and we’d cleared quite a number of trees by lunchtime! This was an area of young birch and willow that needed to be cleared for access for forestry harvesting so it was perfect to get stuck into. It was great to learn these techniques and work together on larger trees, and all without the droning of a chainsaw!
In the afternoon Craig led a workshop on sharpening tools, going through various techniques and simple sharpening systems to maintain axes, billhooks and knives. Others joined Paul to learn how to split and weave with hazel. We learned techniques to split hazel running along the length of rods (harder than it looks!) as well as discussing different products hazel is used for and then weave a small hurdle panel together with rods we’d split. The workshops were all very informal and folk wandered between them, getting a taste of each and trying out different tools and methods. It was great to get stuck into jobs, chatting as we went, and I think everyone came away with plenty of new skills.
Back around the fire for an evening after a tasty game stew, we chatted about coppicing in Scotland, the role of the Coppice Network and bounced ideas around as to where to go from here. It was fascinating to hear so many different perspectives with some coming to learn possible management methods for their own woodlands, and others looking to a way of making a small living from the land, or even using coppicing within agroforestry for woodfuel. Themes for the discussion were wide ranging but I’ll attempt to summarise the main ones;
- Public awareness – how can we increase knowledge and understanding of coppicing and its benefits
- Training, skills and advice – how to build up a knowledge base and skills base in Scotland
- Access to land / forest policy – how to improve or create novel opportunites for folk to access woodand for coppicing, including community woodlands and the national forest estate.
- Markets, business viability and potential products – how can we educate about the traditional products and bring forward new products for coppice.
- Funding and support for coppicing – including grant schemes, demo sites and resources.
The main medium to take these forward is a Working Group on coppice. We set this up last year but it has been slow to get going, so we hope that this can be kickstarted again – get in touch if you’re interested in being a part of it.
After a fascinating discussion, we continued the chats around the fire, with new ideas, possibilities and enthusiasm really flowing, and even a little sing song!
On Sunday we headed out together on a coach to Redlees, a nearby hazel coppice being managed by Paul and a volunteer group of coppicers. The small site of a few acres has been brought back into coppice management and is now in full rotation. It was fascinating to see the all the different stages of regrowth, discussing techniques and some of the issues that they have faced such as deer browsing and access. Paul runs a coppicing volunteer day at the site every Wednesday, so get in touch with them if you’d like to be involved.
After lunch we all parted, buzzing with new ideas and enthusiasm. It was a fantastic weekend and many thanks in particular to Paul, Jo, Clem, Gwen, Susie and Craig for their efforts in making it such a great event and run so smoothly.
All photos by Clem Sandison – please ask before reproducing these.
You can sign up to the coppice network here, with a small annual fee, receiving our occasional newsletter. There is also an active Facebook group. We’re still at the start of this journey and would love more folk to come forward and join the coppicing working group to further the development of coppice and coppicing in Scotland. If you want to get involved or find out more, email Al;