Our woodland management plan

What is a woodland management plan and what is it used for? Firstly it facilitates the owner to get the best out of their woodland. This has to be in accordance with Best Practice, and particular areas of concern standardised by the Forestry Commission. It’s got to be sensitive to the landscape and context within which it lies. It’s got to be biodiverse, being as awesome a home as it can be for botanical and animal residents. This is best achieved by having a mosaic of different species and ages (heights) of trees and layers of vegetation.

The Cox family woodland is officially a Small Woodland (under 10 hectares to the Forestry Commission), and has a lot going for it. It’s already got ‘terraces’ of different tree crops following the landform, bordered on some contours by ancient banks of hornbeam pollards. The biggest terrace is a load of hornbeam coppice last cut 20 years ago; another one is made up of partially failing and patchily spaced ash of about 30 years or so; another is a sprightly strip of vigorous hazel. There’s a bit of chestnut about as well. So far, a small cant has been nibbled into the hornbeam, and the hazel is a favourite each year. However, the hornbeam is very shade-casting and is taking up a lot of the light that could be reaching lower layers of vegetation and helping more critters out. There’s not much happening under the ash either. In amongst the hazel, there is a lot of light, a lot of nettles and some promising wildflowers gingerly asking for some fair competition at the cant edges.

We agreed that the best thing for the woodland was to (1) draw up a rotation of cants that would yield a decent amount of product for furniture every year – practically, there’s no way you’d want to cut all that hornbeam in one year for Sebastian Cox Ltd purposes; (2) to make it ecologically wonderful (aided by the activities of 1)); and (3) to make it a fun place to share all that is involved in making the place productive and improved.

If you make a cant too small, not enough light will reach in over the trees in neighbouring cants to make coppice stools sprout enthusiastically. The Cox woodland is already small. To deal with this, the cants have been arranged along east-west strips to take advantage of the trajectory of the sun. Ideally each year’s cant doesn’t rub shoulders with the previous year’s, so that cover is always nearby for wildlife needing to retreat from open ground.

Freeing up the canopy in the ash terrace, through coppicing, will ensure the photosynthetic enthusiasm of some newly planted trees. Species on the menu include small-leaved lime, field maple, holly, whitebeam, and crab apple. The hazel strip will also be stocked a little more densely to increase product and encourage more competitive upright growth.

We’ll also keep up a good range of habitats in the form of deadwood piles, and mow different parts of the central grassy track each year so that there is always a micro-habitat fit for different critters partial to different vegetation.

The aim is also to involve people in volunteering days and workshops - planting, coppicing, monitoring flora and fauna, woodcraft. In the same way foodies get into field-to-plate provenance, sustainable wood culture fans can connect with a forest-to-cabinet process, and see why supporting British-grown wood supports the environment.

The good news is that the Forestry Commission has officially approved the management plan, and our first job this winter is to coppice the first of four cants in the hornbeam compartment, so we shan’t be ‘couped’ up inside!

Luśka Mengham