Soon after moving into Coombe Farm, we quickly realised that the wood needed some serious help if it was to survive for the next generation.
We enlisted the services of Peter Munford of Oliver Lang and Brown, who analysed the status of the wood, and provided us with a management plan. It was obvious from Peter's report that the wood had not been managed for a long time. Trees were overcrowded, and had become "leggy" as they strove for light far away in the tree tops (canopy). As a consequence, light coming through the canopy was limited which resulted on minimal biodiversity. There was no understory or field layers - typical elements of a British woodland, and apart from badgers and (invasive) grey squirrels, very little fauna. (Read about woodland structure here.)
Years ago hazel had been planted in parallel lines along the west boundary of the wood. The lower footpath runs between this hazel "corridor". However coppicing was not maintained, and the hazel that received the most light became completely overgrown, robbing light from reaching into the wood, and stifling growth of its parallel brother. This line of hazel has very nearly disappeared - just a few remnants remain. The overgrown hazel had started to fall "off their stools", signalling that they were at their terminal height.
When the timing is right (wood management can only take place between September and March, to minimise the impact to nesting birds, and growth of plants within the wood), we continue with the management strategy for Coombe Wood. Steve Hall started in the 2015-2016 season with coppicing the hazel. As instructed by the management plan, coppicing has been undertaken in three stages, in order to reduce the impact to the flora and fauna. By the close of the 2016-2017 season, two stages of coppicing had been achieved. The third section will be undertaken during 2019-2020 season.
Regrowing our woodland
We have been really encouraged by the re-growth that has already occurred with the coppicing - these trees are healthy and were more than ready for their "haircut"! Replanting of the hazel borders will start during the 2020-2021 season.
During the 2016-2017 season, we were able to move into the wood itself, starting with one section - the least populated section of the wood. The leggiest, thinnest trees have been felled, leaving the strongest specimens. Re-growth from the felled trees will create a much needed understory. More light into the wood floor has stimulated a host of new plant life - blue bells, wood anemones, delightful primroses now litter the floor. We are keeping fingers crossed for an orchid!
Looking forward, the final coppicing will take place during the 2020-2021 season and another section of wood will be thinned. The hazel will no longer need further attention until 2020, when coppicing will re-start following the same pattern. Further sections of the wood will be thinned with each passing season until the process reaches its conclusion, and starts all over again!
We are storing the wood that has resulted from felling, seasoning it, and selling from our farm shop.The sale of wood goes some way to mitigate the expense of managing the wood. Managing a wood sustainably is a considerable undertaking requiring a great deal of effort and cost, but the results are deeply satisfying and we are loving the results.
Our wood management plan is a seven year rolling programme that will enhance Coombe Wood, securing its future for generations to come, and for the enjoyment of all who walk through our much loved wood.
Past years of coppicing overgrown hazel and thinning of the crowded interior has allowed light into the woodland, which has helped more plants to establish and survive.
Now there is light in the wood, we have begun re-stocking. Thanks to the support from Reimagining The Levels, we secured a grant of over 100 trees to start the restocking process.
A variety of 12 species ranging from large specimen trees, such as English Oak and Beech, to smaller more bushy trees, such as Hazel and Spindle, will help increase biodiversity and mitigate the devastating impact of Ash DieBack which arrived in our woodland in the last three years.