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Museum News

Traditional woodland management at the Weald and Downland Living Museum

By 28 March 2022March 29th, 2022No Comments

Management of the Museum’s woodland has seasonal rhythms, and over the winter months visitors to the Museum have had the opportunity to see coppicing underway.

Coppicing is a traditional woodland management technique of cutting hazel or other similar species at a low level, and allowing it to regrow. The activity is just one example of how the Museum aims to preserve heritage trades, crafts and skills and bring these to life for visitors.

Within the woodland there is 9 acres of hazel coppice, this is cut in an 11-year rotation using traditional hand tools to provide a self-renewing source of wood.

The management technique of coppicing would have been crucial to the rural economy in the past. Not only did it keep trees healthy by encouraging new growth, it provided a sustainable supply of materials for tasks such as fencing. It was also used for fuelling historic homes and buildings.

Nothing would have been wasted in the coppicing process so still today everything is sorted and graded by size for different purposes. For example, brushwood for bakehouse fuel, longer rods for weaving into fencing and heavy material for stakes.

Not all of the woodland on the site is coppice, and in other areas larger materials will occasionally be available if there is the need to fell a large tree. However, the inhabitants of the 16th and 17th century homes on display at the Museum would have required far more small woodland material for their daily needs.

As we try to show daily life in these historic buildings, we work with the traditional hand tools and techniques our ancestors would have used, including billhooks, axes, mallets and wooden wedges.

Our aim is to show the setting of the buildings within the landscape, by managing the countryside around them in the same way as the inhabitants of these buildings would have done. Since last autumn, Alex Conway, Rural Life Trainee has been learning about the system of woodland management and the practical skills required.

On a regular basis the Museum has demonstrations that relate to woodland management and the end use of the materials, for example in the bakehouse. There is a special opportunity to discover more about soil health, the conditions needed for the growth of different crops and learn about crop rotation in a Historic Life Weekend on the 7-8 May. To find out more go to www.wealddown.co.uk.