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Coppice and Loppers
Walk through any forest anywhere in the English countryside and you will see coppice signs, visit any country show and you will see coppice workers producing fences and brooms and the dictionary gives the definition of coppice as an area of small trees. So it’s time to define what exactly a coppice worker does and highlight the work they do in maintaining our historic countryside.
Brian Raines lives and works in the small hamlet of Michelmersh, near Romsey in Hampshire and is a full time coppice worker and after spending a few hours in his business wandering around the 50 odd acres which he partly owns and which he partly manages, I decided he was totally mad and, like many who practice this ancient art, a genius in his field.
Brian, a former Royal Marine, remortgaged his home to buy 28 acres of uncultivated countryside and then turn it into a former woodland haven teeming with wildlife and ancient and endangered crafts. Like many others, I often enjoy the delights of Hampshire’s New Forest, but I hadn’t realized that this area was also part of an historic old forest. I’ll let Brian explain.
“Hampshire is one of Britain’s most forested counties, but while much attention is paid to the New Forest, Hampshire’s much older forest is overlooked.” He explained.
“Stretching from the Wiltshire border in the west to Sussex in the east, the Old Forest was the hunting ground of ancient Saxon kings who once ruled England from Winchester. The Old Forest of Hampshire, though mostly overlooked, comprises a dense patchwork of ancient hazelnut and bluebell forest that stretches across the center of our county, providing habitat for herds of fallow deer and roe deer and other denizens of the forest, including a small number of wild boars.Significantly, this forest remains to this day the heart of the British coppice industry.
Brian explained that boars are known to copses as “ringers” because they are rarely seen but often heard. As we wandered through his land of meadows, woods and lakes, Brian told me about the connection between the fruits of nature and many pagan festivals and practices that are still reflected in Christian traditions today. . The use of fruits and berries, as well as these ancient traditions, are too basic to be printed in a family article, but all of them were fascinating and his knowledge of these rituals was an amazing insight into life and beliefs of old. . As an example, he talked about the use and symbolism of holly, with its redness and the white mistletoe berries, but neither is repeatable here.
“The coppicing industry is arguably Britain’s oldest profession and dates back thousands of years, before the construction of Stonehenge.” Brian continued. “Coppicing involves cutting down trees, such as hazel, to provide a crop of stems and poles used to make hedges as well as spars for the thatch trade. acacia banks and fencing material Hazel is also a useful source of firewood and can be used to make charcoal.
Brian went on to explain that the area around Kings Somborne, just a few miles from his small holding, has more acres of hazel woodland coppice than anywhere else in the country and is home to a number of working loggers and hedgerows. alone. way of life deep in the undergrowth.
“Coppice is an environmentally friendly and sustainable method of forest management in that once the coppice stool is cut to the ground, it quickly sends up shoots that grow into straight stems, which are harvested every about seven years.”
“The hazel coppice industry grew with the demand for the hurdles demanded by shepherds in the Hampshire hills and on the barren expanse of Salisbury Plain. Whereas today the sheep industry is in steep decline, it is important to remember that British wool was highly prized by the Romans and that in the Middle Ages it was the profit from the wool that financed the construction of our great cathedrals. Even the Royal Navy has a link woolly, in that she came to protect the export of wool to Europe, so the Chancellor of the Exchequer to this day sits in the House of Commons on the Woolsack, which symbolizes the wealth of the nation. , it was sheep that sparked the Industrial Revolution when steam power was first used to mechanize the spinning wheel.
“The eventual decline of the wool industry also led to the collapse of the hazel coppice industry and since the First World War many forests have been abandoned and left in the wild.”
“Today coppice forest management is particularly beneficial for wildlife which provides natural habitat for rare woodland butterflies, birds such as the nightingale and animals such as the dormouse.” Once he started, it was hard to follow Brian and the information he imparted about something he had loved since he was a kid. “Letting light onto the undergrowth also prevents woodland flowers from shading. In this regard, in cycled copses, the undergrowth is flooded in spring with a dense and rich sea of snowdrops, daffodils, primroses, wood anemone, red campion Coppice is above all a winter activity, insofar as it is preferable to prune the hazel tree when the sap no longer rises and the trees have lost their leaves. physically demanding and a safe way to keep in shape.Work in the undergrowth is a lonely pursuit and isolated existence that is not to everyone’s liking.In this regard, the coppice woodcutter spends his day with the robin and the wren, returning home at dusk, when the woodcock takes flight.
We reached an area which Brian took back to grassland and at the bottom of the slope a large lake had several wild birds. He explained that the hazel tree has a similar life cycle to humans in that it will live for about 70 years before it begins to rot and pieces begin to fall off. “However, if it is coppiced, it will be invigorated with a new lease of life and will grow another 70 years. hazel coppice being ancient and the remnant of trees that have literally grown for thousands of years.”
“Sadly much of Hampshire’s ancient woodland is now in a critical state of neglect and decline. If left unmanaged, the bluebells’ time magic has been lost and the song of the nightingale, a memory of the past.”
“As an alternative way of life, working in the woods can be hugely satisfying and a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but most loggers have double duty, seeing them during the summer months. Traditionally, loggers were also shepherds, in that during the winter months they cut their wood, then with the arrival of spring came the lambing and the shearing of sheep.
My education in coppicing and seasonal rituals didn’t stop there and Brian continued to explain everything he learned. Facts such as the legacy of this industry was that Aquarius Age children were born. They would be conceived during Beltane (May 1) at the height of the bluebell period, then born nine months later in the sign of Aquarius when a plentiful supply of sheep’s milk was available to hedge against high rates. high infant mortality.
To say it was a fascinating insight into our countryside heritage would be an understatement. I spent a wonderful few hours with a man who protects and revives part of our rural heritage and who admits to being a bit nutty, a saying derived from nutty itself.
If you want to find out more go to www.hampshirecoppice.org.uk
© David Massom 09 April
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