A few weeks ago 30 folk gathered for a weekend in the woods for the first Scottish Coppice Gathering, sharing experiences & skills around the fire in the far NW highlands.

The gathering was organised to kickstart the newly formed Scottish Coppice Network. RS founding member Em Magenta offered her wonderful home at West Edge, Leckmelm as the venue and resident artist-gardener Harriet kept us fed with incredible hearty food.

We gathered on Friday afternoon to a rather dreich day and not the best looking forecast either! But the fire was roaring, with kettles hot and Em had got us all settled into cosy spaces around the wood such as caravans and yurts. So we quickly warmed up and spent the evening chatting and eating delicious pizzas from the wood-fired cob oven. Meanwhile Sean was firing up the homemade retort kiln to get a charcoal burn underway, preparing alder charcoal for a local iron smelting project.

We awoke on Saturday to the sound of water cascading through the forest and gathered for breakfast around the fire. Afterwards we shared introductions and set the scene for the weekend as to where folk’s interest in coppice stemmed from. It was great to hear so many different interests and experiences, and plenty of existing knowledge already in the group. Em then showed us around the West Edge, with the food forest, woodland management, and simple forest living.

We had some great tool demos, shared sharpening techniques, as well as comparing different tools and devices that folk had brought along. Torquil Varty gave an excellent hedgelaying demo on a small section of hedge that had been planted many years before. Sean opened up the charcoal kiln which had burned overnight and produced an impressive amount from such a small kiln.

In the afternoon we wandered along the old drovers road to Ullapool to see a small overstood hazel coppice which is being cut in order to restructure the woodland into a food forest. It gave an excellent opportunity for Paul Cookson to demonstrate cutting techniques as well as discussing the various different products that can be produced from a good hazel coppice.

We wandered back to the West Edge in the fading light and spent the evening carving spoons, whittling hazel poles, eating, drinking and sharing ideas until the wee hours. As the evening went on, the wind dropped, rain showers stopped and the moon came out bringing a whole new feel to the West Edge.

On Sunday the wind had died down enough for us to head over to the community owned Isle Martin. It was great to see the new woodland on the island with our guides Em and Bernard showing us around the copses they had planted themselves in the 1980s. As the trees are now well established conversation turned to how some areas could be put into a coppice rotation, and the possibility of returning for a longer visit next year to start this process was met with a very energetic response and something we will explore further.

After lunch back at West Edge, for those who didn’t need to rush off, Bernard gave us the tour of the other areas of Leckmelm wood with the family’s polytunnels, workshops and cabins as well as businesses North Woods and Kinder Croft that are also within the forest. Although not related to coppice this was a fascinating insight into sustainable forest living and a fitting close to a weekend looking at the many uses for timber products and low impact woodland management.

The weekend was full of energy and enthusiasm with such a lovely bunch of folk; it really felt quite special. We are very grateful to Em for welcoming us to West Edge, and to Harriet for the superb food that she put on for us over the weekend.

Here’s to the next gathering!

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All photos © coppice group members and shared with permission.

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