Cely Woods Coppicing Project
Cely Woods is a 140-acre Forestry England site located near Ockendon. It is former arable farmland and in the early 2000s it was planted with a mixture of native broadleaf tree species to create a woodland part of the Thames Chase Community Forest. Cely Woods is surrounded by ancient woodland and farmland and contains a variety of different habitats. This gives it great potential for high biodiversity value. Some of the interesting wildlife that can be seen at Cely Woods includes kestrels, buzzards, yellowhammers, hobbies, and silver-washed fritillary butterflies.
In 2019 a project funded by the Land of the Fanns Landscape Partnership Scheme began at Cely Woods. The aims of the project were to (1) enhance the biodiversity value of Cely and (2) improve public access within the woodland blocks. Together, these aims allow a greater appreciation of Cely Woods and its wildlife. To achieve this, Forestry England and Land of the Fanns carried out work to create new woodland rides and bring hazel stands into rotational coppice management.
Coppicing is an ancient method of sustainably managing woodlands. When trees such as hazel are cut down, they regrow from the root base the next year. This is done around every 8 years and it provides useful timber in the form of hazel poles. These can be used for a range of things such as fencing and hurdle making. Coppicing also provides good habitat for wildlife. After a block of hazel has been coppiced, more light reaches the woodland floor. This encourages a diverse ground flora to develop, providing food for invertebrates, mammals and birds.
I am a Forest Craftsperson for Forestry England. My role involves helping with the management of woodlands across the Thames Chase Beat. In the winter of 2020, my fellow craftsperson and I began to coppice of the first block of hazel in the management plan, this was done using chainsaws. Thames Chase Conservation Volunteers were on hand to help drag out the cut hazel and process it into poles and brash. During this time, a contractor used a mini harvester to create rides through a couple woodland blocks.
This year me and my fellow craftsperson coppiced a hazel plot further along the ride. Due to lockdown restrictions we had to carry out the work without the help of volunteers. We systematically coppiced the hazel a row at a time, processed the poles and used the brash to create a dead hedge along the back of the block. Dead hedges add biodiversity value, by providing deadwood they and act as refuge for many creatures.
As this project continues, Cely Woods will develop a diverse mix of woodland habitat types. Hopefully, in the future, dormice, silver washed fritillary butterflies and white admiral butterflies will be found in the coppice plots across Cely Woods. Further, interpretation panels have been commissioned and will be installed soon. Make sure to visit Cely Woods this spring and have a wander through the new rides!
Ben James, Forestry England