Coppicing in Clonalkilty College
In Clonalikty Agricultural College, a new mostly whitethorn hedge was planted ten years ago typical of many hedges on farms through the country. It established well with few losses and no gaps. Somewhat thin and empty at the base, coppicing was decided on as Catherine Keena & Keith Kennedy explain
Rejuvenation was considered to thicken the base and it was decided to coppice the hedge.
Ten year old whitethorn hedge with a thin empty base
Coppicing - cut to ground level
The first step was to identify a few individual whitethorn shrubs to be retained uncut and let grow on into mature single stem trees above with a full canopy above the body of the hedge. These were marked and protected with tree guards. The remaining stems were cut back to ground level, a few inches above the soil. A chainsaw was used making a sloping cut so water runs off and keps the stump healthy.
New growth will come from the stump just beneath the cut. Huge growth is expected next spring. Unlike a newly planted whip, there is a well developed root system beneath the ground ready to push up rejuvenated growth. It is not expected that grass growth will interfere with the newly rejuvenated hedge growth, but this will need to be monitored in spring and summer and weeded if necessary. In this case the hedge was already protected on both sides with fences to exclude livestock, which is essential in order to protect a coppiced hedge.
Future management will involve cutting the hedge annually a few inches above the previous cut – ideally with a strimmer for a year or two, letting it grow up gradually. It is not a race to the top – dense growth is required at ground level. Whitethorn thrives on trimming, every time a stem is cut it multiplies - provided it is not cut to the same level each year. Very soon the hedge cutter can do the cutting. It is very important to shape the hedge from a wide base, sloping the sides to a triangular profile, but always cutting the growing point of the hedge except for the selected occasional whitethorn trees. This allows light to get down and encourage growth at the base. The hedge should be let grow up to at least 1.5 m or as high as the hedge cutter can reach to cut the growing point. This hedge will then have sufficient cover in the body of the hedge for birds to nest and will have thorn trees providing flowers for bees and food and perching posts for birds. It will also provide valuable shelter to stock.
Catherine Keena is Teagasc Countryside Management Specialist and Keith Kennedy is Principal at Clonakilty Agricultural College
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