Ancient Technique Lets Forests Produce Timber Without Killing Trees


| 2/17/2014 2:46:00 PM


Tags: Ireland, ancient, old, vintage, self sustaining, natural, self sufficiency, sustainable, coppice, pollard, willow,

Living chair on our land, made from a coppiced willow.

A prehistoric squirrel, it is said, could have scampered from Norway to Singapore without touching the ground, so dense was the carpet of trees that stretched across the world. Similar forests stretched across North America and many other parts of the world – all of them providing a home to thousands of living things, all of them vacuuming the carbon dioxide from the air and keeping the climate stable.

Most of that landscape was felled for timber and paper long ago, the land given over to crops and suburbia – or to wasteland. Of course, humans need food and houses, but we also need timber and wildlife, and our ancestors would have been wiser to preserve some of those forests for future generations. And sometimes, they did – for at least six thousand years, some humans have used an old technique to continually harvest timber from a forest while keeping it alive indefinitely.

When an evergreen tree is cut at the base, its roots die. But many broad-leaved, deciduous trees continue to soak up water and nutrients through their roots. The roots put their energy into creating shoots, which grow into new saplings – and soon you will have several smaller trees where you had one before. In a matter of years or decades – how long depends on the type of tree – you can harvest those smaller trees, called “underwood,” and the process begins again. You can keep doing this as long as the original base continues to live, which can be more than a hundred years.

Commonly coppiced species included ash, chestnut, oak, hazel, sycamore and alder, and most of these created shoot from the cut stump, called a stool. The new trunks usually curved outward from the original stool, and so their naturally bowed wood was often prized for ship-building. Other species, like cherry, would send suckers upward from the roots surrounding the stump. Either way, the new shoots grow quickly, fed by a root system made to support an entire tree.

Woodsmen coppiced areas where they could keep out cattle and horses, as animals might eat the shoots. In places where animals might roam the woodland they would pollard – or cut branches higher up on the tree out of their reach.




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