Coppicing and the management of Beatons Wood


Coppicing and the management of Beatons Wood

Beatons Wood is 23 acre and classified as ancient semi-natural in the East Sussex inventory of Ancient Woodland. This means that the wood has been present since at least 1600 and probably a lot longer. It was formally part of Michelham Priory estate, prior to my father purchasing it in 1922. It comprises of oak trees that form the upper canopy with an understory of hornbeam used for charcoal production needed for iron smelting in the Heathfield area, sweet chestnut used for fencing and building purposes as this wood is so durable, plus hazel used for weaving.


Since the early 1960’s we have had management plans, as Beatons Wood is a constantly growing area just like a garden, so one has to have procedures to maintain a certain level of control, which for us is to retain its unique character and remain unspoilt, so visitors each year can come to witness and enjoy with us what nature has produced year on year. We realize how fortunate we are to be custodians of what is now a sadly diminishing area of ancient woodland in the countryside.


Coppicing of the understory is an integral factor to ensure the wild woodland plants specifically bluebells and wood anemones flourish, by allowing more light onto the woodland floor. It is an ancient form of woodland management that involves repetitive felling on the same stump near to ground level approximately every 16 to 25 years dependent on the tree species, so allowing the shoots to regrow from that main stump, as the native broad leaved trees fortunately have this ability to be coppiced.  My father prior to the Second World War used to coppice approximately an acre a year, but unfortunately this lapsed, but after the War when restrictions on timber felling were lifted he sold over 200 of the largest oak trees. Removing these large tree canopies allowed too much light into the wood, so brambles and grasses quickly gained a foothold.


We have removed most of the brambles that obscured views of the bluebells, but retained areas in the southern part of the wood, which is not covered by the Bluebell Walk, as they add diversity to the wood and encourage various butterflies also dormice, which we have not seen for many years in spite of erecting dormice boxes. We had to treat the grass weeds mainly false oat grass, which was smothering the bluebells and feel confident that threat has been removed. In places we have thinned the standing oak trees to allow more room for the dominate ones, and planted young hornbeam and hazel in any open areas


Every three years we aim to coppice areas of the wood and this year we cut about three quarters of an acre, leaving the oak trees and any dead standing timber for woodpeckers and many other insects and creatures that make good use of it. That is why Beatons Wood never looks a ‘tidy wood’ as we never remove any fallen branches or trees, but allow them to decay and rot away. We also cut the hornbeam on the north boundary bank of the wood as being so mature some were beginning to blow over. On the advice of our woodland consultant rather than cutting these boundary trees at ground level we cut them leaving a three to four feet stump, a form of pollarding to discourage the increasing number of wild deer to graze the new shoots. In places we have left good looking standing hornbeam as there were few oak trees, just to add a little more diversity.


It was unfortunate we chose such a wet winter to do this coppicing, which has to be done in the winter months before the sap rises. The foresters needed to use a winch to pull some of the trees that were being cut, to prevent damage to other standing timber and fences, but as it was front mounted on a landrover meant their vehicle’s wheels left ruts, which we have tried best to cover. It also meant that we were not able to remove the cut timber, which will be used for firewood and the toppings either chipped or burnt, so you will see we had to leave piles around where the timber was cut, but these will be removed by a tractor grab and trailer in the summer, to minimize the damage to the bluebells and wood anemones.


The extra light that can now come on to the woodland floor will re-invigorate the bluebells this year, meaning you will have to wait until 2017 to see the spectacular results!


Next Friday will be the day before we open, so will describe some of the planning and work that goes into each year’s Bluebell Walk, but at the end of the day it is our English weather that decides as to whether it will be a successful season!

John McCutchan

This message was added on Friday 25th March 2016

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