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Coppicing at GFN

By Julia Chevan

Basket made with the coppiced willow from the GFN Community Farm

Have you ever heard of “coppicing”? It might sound like something straight out of Shakespeare, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong! (Think: “Hereby, upon the edge of yonder coppice, a stand where you may make the fairest shoot” – Love’s Labors Lost). But coppicing is much more than just a fancy word. It’s an ancient and sustainable technique for managing trees and hedges, and recently, after consultation with Grow Food Northampton (GFN) staff, I got to put it to good use on the GFN Community Farm!

Coppicing involves cutting a dormant tree or hedge down near its base. This might seem drastic, but it stimulates new growth, resulting in a “coppice” of multiple shoots springing up from the remaining roots. It’s like giving the plant a haircut, encouraging it to grow bushier and stronger.

There are several benefits to coppicing willows at Grow Food Northampton:

  1. Sustainability: Coppiced willows regrow quickly, providing a renewable source of material for years to come.
  2. Versatility: The harvested willow branches can be used for various purposes, like weaving baskets, creating living fences, or even making furniture.
  3. Habitat Creation: Coppicing promotes biodiversity by creating diverse habitats for insects and small animals.

I had the opportunity to learn about coppicing while WWOOFing on a willow farm in the UK. I was thrilled to see newly planted willows at GFN and on a sunny but cold January afternoon got to help by giving these plants their first “coppice haircut.”

By coppicing the willows, GFN not only continues a centuries-old tradition, but also ensures a sustainable future for the farm and the community. In the coming years, these coppiced willows will provide us with a magical wealth of renewable resources and opportunities to learn and create together.

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