Coppicing is enjoying a revival as a means of promoting biodiversity, encouraging resilience, and producing useful wood and charcoal. This blog by Clive Cobie of Sussex and Surrey Coppice Group describes the ecological and social benefits of reviving this ancient practice to connect people with each other and with nature.

Cutting wood has been part of our culture for thousands of years. We have evidence of rural crafts going back to 3800BC. An example is woven hazel that was used to traverse boggy land.

In the mid 13th century, most woodland was managed and cut on regular rotations. This enabled manageable sized timber to be transported by river and cart. In mediaeval Britain, small wood was needed for many rural crafts and timber for houses.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, new markets appeared for charcoal to fuel the early iron industry. It was with charcoal that the industrial revolution was born. In the 19th century, coal became cheaper and by the end of the First World War the timber reserves were sparse. Many woodlands had been cleared to plant pine trees and create fields for agriculture, the demand for coppice products declined and the coppice cycle all but stopped. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, there was a coppice revival as it was noted that the unmanaged copse was not so beneficial for biodiversity.

There is a great need for more understanding of the perils that we, as part of nature, are facing, and also  for citizens to become connected with that nature. There are no easy answers, but one thing is sure: if we don’t integrate our communities and work together, then we are heading for the great compost heap in the sky.

Every person has a piece of the puzzle. When we start a puzzle, it is the outside framework that initiates the realisation of the bigger picture. People like ourselves are part of that outer frame. As we connect more, so it will attract interest from other people who will add their part to the big picture. We need solutions, and cutting the copse could be a part of the solutions. Most towns or villages have unmanaged coppice.

What can be done?

Here’s a theoretical story of the possible potential of a solution through promoting more awareness of the importance of cutting the copse:

There are a group of ten enthusiastic people. Some are teenagers. Some are middle-aged and older. They visit village halls and talk of their interests, which are connected with the local unmanaged woodland and the potential for positive change to bring more enjoyment and understanding to the community. The enthusiastic group and some of the community visit the copse and clear it in a few days.

The materials gleaned from the woodland are used to learn about rural crafts, some materials are bundled up for sale, bean sticks, pea sticks, clothes poles, faggots for reinforcing riverbanks etc. When it is cleared and the area fenced, the enthusiastic group encourage citizens of the village to become interested in the rotation of biodiversity. Some three or four citizens agree to record the biodiversity in the local copse.

It is not long before they connect with similar groups from surrounding villages. These groups encourage forest schools to become involved, helping to record biodiversity in the copse. Many of the villages have varying soils from clay/greensand/chalk so accordingly the flora and fauna change. Over a few years the records evolve into a database as so many citizens have become involved and specialised in areas of interest. universities are encouraged to get involved, studying areas like carbon sequestration of coppice, and offering advice to the many citizen scientists, the many groups recording and sharing information creating a buzz of interest that encourages focus.

Meanwhile, and flowing alongside, there’s been increasing focus from other groups of interest connecting through the copse. A group has formed in each village.

  • Blacksmithing, learning about charcoal made from leftover wood, they made simple forges from upcycling materials.
  • Gardeners, learning about charcoal and the process of making biochar for the benefits and support of their soil’s biodiversity, its ability to store nutrients and water and home the micro-organisms.
  • Knitting, learning about and experimenting with bark dying and plant dyes,
  • Many people got interested in doing woodwork with the abundant materials.
  • Artists making charcoal for artwork, inter-village competitions, sketches of coppice using wood from the copse.
  • Theatre, creating a woodland theatre in part of the copse for children to put on plays to dramatise their concerns about the future, working towards alleviating the apathy and complacency that is rife.

There are many more groups of interest, all managed by enthusiastic people, the buzz of group talks in village halls and churches creating more interest, over the years the communities evolving into an atmosphere of optimistic hope and confidence that they are supporting the future foundations of the coming generations.

As the rotations of biodiversity evolve into more complexity, so do the communities evolve to work together. To take the reins of our part in the destiny of the future is the most precious gift we can give ourselves. If we can help unify people with common goals, we will have a great opportunity for creating change. The story above is based on the proven principle that a tipping point is reached when 25% of a community choose to follow a particular idea, project or goal.


I am a member of the Sussex and Surrey Coppice Group and we are trying to promote more interest in coppicing to preserve the heritage crafts associated with the system. Reintroducing the rotation of biodiversity through cutting the copse not only benefits the pollinators but enlivens the ecosystem by the interaction of the light, growth, air and nutrients that feed into the soil. As the cut stools (stumps) regenerate they put up quick-growing stems, and as the root system rebalances, some of which dies back and feeds the microorganisms that in turn feed the new vigorous roots, in amongst the stools a multitude of dormant seeds germinating bring colour and variety to a woodland floor that encourages many invertebrates from microscopic to macroscopic to play their particular part in the great dance of life.

I realise that my theoretical story seems quite alien to what we are used to and that walking among the detached people can sometimes feel like wading through treacle, but believing in one vision for a better future fuels a fire within and having confidence in our unified identity feeds the fire which makes walking through treacle so much easier.

We live in an ancient woodland. When I stand anywhere, I am aware that under each foot there are more living organisms than people alive today. Last summer the ground was dry as a bone, yet the trees were in harmony, not one died. The reason is theirs is a community that is balanced sharing and caring, nursed by the “woodwide web”, which is a network of microscopic fungal threads. Whatever we choose to do this community will survive, it is imperative that we do all we can to connect and use nature as our mentor.

The Sussex and Surrey Coppice Group, although not a big organisation, has a lot of people who have unique experiences of working with the rotation of biodiversity, if you are interested in finding out more, we are happy to share what knowledge we have.

Clive with an arch made from an ash tree with ash dieback

Clive Cobie can be contacted at

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