Our plans for Piles Coppice will protect woodland for future generations

Ed Green

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust recently acquired Piles Coppice and Brandon Reach as part of its strategy to help nature recover, close to existing nature reserves.

The new extension to Brandon Marsh doubles the size of the area dedicated to nature conservation within the area, helping to protect rare wildlife.

The name Piles Coppice provides a clue as to how the site has been managed for hundreds of years. The term ‘coppice’ means an area of woodland in which some of the trees or shrubs are cut back to ground level and regrow in rotation. Thousands of years ago this was done by now extinct, large, grazing herbivores, such as aurochs. In more recent history, over the last few hundred years, woodlands were actively managed for their timber by people. The coppiced timber was used for tool making, firewood and a range of other products.  However, like the aurochs, this widespread practice has now stopped in a lot of our woodlands. Piles Coppice, for example, has not been managed in this way since the 1950’s, therefore not in most people’s living memory.

The way in which woodlands used to be managed, firstly by grazing herbivores and then by people, had a positive impact on other wildlife.  Both herbivores and people used to selectively fell trees, cutting some back at the base, which allowed them to regrow, but leaving others to grow on. This created a varied age and structure to the woodland, because the trees which were coppiced grew back with multiple tree trunks from the base.  This variety in age and structure helped support a greater variety of wildlife because every species has certain conditions it needs to survive. 

As Piles Coppice, like many woodlands has not been actively managed for 70 years, the result is an even age and structure of the trees. The woodland lacks the variety in habitat that it would have had for hundreds of years, and that poses a risk to the rarest wildlife. If nothing is done, then when the trees reach the end of their natural lives there will be no other trees to replace them. Trees take a long time to grow, so when the current trees die out, it could be hundreds of years before Piles Coppice returns to its present glory.  By restarting the woodland management in a sensitive way, we are able to improve the age and structure of the woodland, encourage the growth of new trees and secure a sustainable future for generations of wildlife and people to enjoy.