Woodland Traditions

Why are we trying to support ‘traditional’ woodland management?

Just some of the traditional items produced as part of the woodland industry
Just some of the traditional items produced as part of the woodland industry

Traditional woodland management; whether using horses for hauling logs, coppicing trees or producing charcoal is labour intensive, but the techniques remain some of the most effective ways of managing woodland in upland areas like those found in the South Pennines. Management benefits in terms of increasing natural regeneration, changing the age structure of woodlands and increasing ground flora are vast.
Moreover, traditional woodland management techniques often represent low impact, low carbon methods of extraction, causing little damage to any potential archaeological remains preserved within the woodland.  As part of the archaeological investigations undertaken during the Celebrating Our Woodland Heritage project we have been actively making note of the condition of woodland heritage features including ancient/veteran trees.  This information has been used to compile management recommendations for landowners and suggests the use of tradition low impact methods as part of their woodland management strategies. 

Types of Woodland Management

Coppicing and Standards

Since the medieval period we can be certain from documentary evidence (such as the Domeday Survey commissioned by King William I in 1086) that woodlands, in particular trees were being managed as ‘silva minuta’, meaning ‘coppice’ or ‘coppice with standard’.

Coppiced trees are cut down periodically to the ground to what is called a ‘coppice stool’ from which new branches grow known as ‘spring’ or ‘poles’.  The poles could be used for anything from providing straight broom handles, small-scale construction material, shafts for weapons and tools to providing the fuel for charcoal production.  Coppiced trees were managed in rotation in order to allow time for regrowth.  Depending on the size of the required wood, a coppice woodland may be managed on anything between a 5 and 25 years cycle.

Standards on the other hand represent trees within an area of coppiced woodland left to grow to a mature age (80-100 years).  When felled the timber could be used in larger construction projects such as for housing or perhaps ship building.


Pollarding is very similar to coppicing with the exception that it involved the cutting of limbs from higher up in the tree to encourage new growth.  Being left for a longer period of time, the straight poles when cut, could be used for multiple purposes.  One particular benefit of managing trees in this way was that it allowed for animals and livestock to graze within the woodland without risk of them eating new growth (which within a coppiced wood they would have).  Historically woodlands managed as pollard are likely those recorded as wood pasture ‘silva pastilis’ in the 1086 Domesday Survey.

Woodland Industry

As part of the project Hywel Lewis, Postdoctoral Research Student from the University of Bradford’s School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences has undertaken a number of traditional ‘earth-burns‘ as part of his research into the charcoal industry of the South Pennines.  The video above illustrates one of his burns undertaken in North Dean Woods near Halifax.

Charcoal was and still is an important resource for households nad industry, providing materials for cooking, craft but also the fuel for the iron and steel industries.  As such the production of charcoal boomed during the 18th and 19th centuries, until the canal and rail networks opened up the market for coke.  Many of the woodlands across the South Pennines continue to preserve evidence for the charcoal industry in the form of charcoal burning platforms.

Woodlands were not only places for the production of charcoal.  Timber and wood has and continues to play an important role in all manner of craft, construction, agricultural and industrial purposes.  Throughout history people would have worked woodlands for all or any of the following:

woodland jobs

This is not an exhaustive list however, activities might also include, white coal production, clog making, bodging (for example making legs for chairs), oak bark peeling for tanning merchants, potash production and basketry.  Woodlands have and continue to play an important role in human history and society.