Managing a Coppiced Eucalypt Forest

In Australia we really need to get back to our European roots of coppiced forest systems.

As Darren Doherty states, we push out the stump after we cut the tree, when the eucalypts coppice beautifully.

Ben Law, author of The Woodland Way, also talks about the various products that come from a coppiced forest in England.

In my travels to Morocco, I have seen quite clearly the value of coppicing, where there are eucalyptus trees coppiced about every five years for firewood, simple structures and formwork props for construction, just to name a few uses.

Eucalyptus oil that we all know so well comes from a coppice system. In my childhood my father cut and distilled eucalyptus oil in a four year coppice rotation — the same as his father and his father did, so you can see how perpetual this system is.

So it is in my opinion we really need to examine this behaviour, and hopefully this article can help you get a better understanding of the value of coppicing and maintaining the structure and services of a forest while having a continuous harvest of varying products, instead of one harvest every 30+ years and clear-felling the lot, only to replant.

Of course there is the argument that coppiced trees are of a lesser quality, due to the un-proportioned root mass, making the tree grow too fast and having less density in the wood, but as any carpenter in Australia would admit, the pine from plantations we use for our home constructions is rubbish.

Note site history: My father cut mill logs off this site some 40+ years ago and my uncle cut mine props off this site some 25+ years ago. Nearly all the trees that you can see in this picture have been coppiced.

As you can see above, this coppice system still resembles a functioning
forest with a mix of species of varying ages, including habitat trees.

A tree which I felled and milled 6 months ago, the stump sprouting,
the cycle of coppice begins again.

Six year old regrowth from a coppiced tree, recently pruned to a single stem.

15 year old coppiced tree, the original tree has been removed for harvest.

Coppiced regrowth before pruning

After pruning to single stem.
Once the main tree is removed this stem will rocket away!

I like to describe pruning as being like steering traffic — you’re just directing energy flows, choosing what to keep and favour.

Editor’s Note: Ever-practical David Spicer will be running a 2-day Portable Saw-Milling course starting May 4, 2013 (with an optional 1-day Chainsaw Certification add-on), and will also be co-teaching (with Danial Lawton) a 2-day Rural Skills and Sharp Hand Tools course on October 14 and December 16.