4 August 1995

New coppice group is part of drive to produce rural jobs

By Peter Bullen

WESSEX Coppice Group was launched last week as part of a drive that could produce 2000 new rural jobs in southern England.

For farmers and landowners in Hampshire and surrounding counties the WCG says it can provide coppicers willing to pay more than £494/ha (£200/acre) for properly-managed hazel coppice.

The WCG is a marketing organisation for the many products turned out by the country craftsmen including hurdles, walking sticks, garden furniture and charcoal. It is backed by Hampshire County Council, the Countryside Commission and the Forestry Authority.

Representatives from the three bodies joined dozens of other guests from rural, training and retailing organisations for WCGs launch by wildlife expert Sir David Attenborough at Heath House estate, near Stockbridge, Hampshire.

Estate owner Donald Hutchison farms 154ha (380 acres), mainly arable and sheep, of the 405ha (1000-acre) estate. He is also a keen forester and has planted thousands of trees in his 146ha (360 acres) of woodland which includes a large area of oak and hazel coppice at different stages of its eight-year rotation.

Working deep in the woods around Heath House was charcoal maker Glenn Dudman who drew attention to the enormous potential for British charcoal. In 1992 Britain used 52,000t of charcoal he said and 98% of it was imported. It should all be home produced, he added.

Hampshire County Councils forestry consultant Jonathan Howe estimated that there was a huge, but rapidly dwindling, area of hazel coppice in the county. The council had funded 50% of the restoration costs of 506ha (1250 acres) over the past 13 years which was becoming available for commercial cutting.

Useful extra enterprise

The 506ha (16,000 acres) of potentially good hazel coppice that remained could provide 500 new jobs in Hampshire alone. Redundant farm and estate workers used to country life would be ideal for the work. Coppicing could also provide a useful extra enterprise on farms or estates where the workforce was not being fully utilised.