Museum News

Coppicing at the Museum

By 27 January 2023February 1st, 2023No Comments

As part of our rural life demonstrations, our interpretation team carry out coppicing to manage the working woodland at the Museum. They undertake a plan of sustainable woodland management to help provide firewood and other supplies for the Museum.

The Museum is continuously undertaking its woodland management programme, which runs throughout the year. Rural life interpreter, Jon Roberts, and his team are currently coppicing in the Museum’s woodlands. 

They divide the woodland area into sections called coupes or cants, so they can cut the areas on a rotation plan to make the process sustainable. They fell the trees to create a ‘stool’ where new shoots can then grow. In areas that are sparse, they also leave one young branch to stake into the ground and encourage rooting. This helps to regenerate the woodland area. By undertaking this process each year on a rotation around the woodland, this allows the trees to produce new growth in the spring. This is left to grow for 11 years before that area is ready to coppice again.

Coppicing has taken place on the land, which is part of the West Dean Estate for many years. West Dean continued to coppice until the late 1980s. When the land was leased to us in the 1970s we took over the coppicing of this site and continue to do so today.

The current woodland management project was started back in 2004. The programme they work from supports the processes that would have been used in the 15/1600s. 

The practice of coppicing is part of the day-to-day life at the Museum, as it is not just used for demonstration purposes, but to also supply the Museum with firewood and other products to support the historic buildings on site. 

Coppicing was once an important part of the rural community and the Museum showcases this process in a similar way to the 15/1600s. This is done to be in-keeping with the historic houses where the firewood is used.

Coppicing is carried out from October to March, when it is important to maintain and encourage the trees to make new growth in the spring. There is no waste from what is produced from the coppicing process. The branches are used for firewood and for stakes for hedges and repairing woven fences, and all the brushwood is bundled up to make faggots for our Newdigate Bakehouse and oven in Winkhurst Tudor Kitchen.

The wood is then stacked for use and is moved around the Museum when it is needed. Traditionally the wood stocks would have been moved to the locations they were needed around May time when the working animals were not needed to work the land, and trades were improving after winter.