Woodland Management

How the Woodland was historically managed

For centuries, small woods were a valuable source of income for their owners. The trees provided two main crops, in the form of TREES and UNDERWOOD.

Timber was produced by allowing trees to reach maturity before being felled and sold for building etc. Oak and ash were harvested like this in our wood. To produce underwood trees would be cut down every 12- 20 years. A section of the wood would be cut at a time so that the wood would contain several different stages of growth. The harvested trees would not die - the stumps would throw out a thicket of new shoots for future coppicing. Hazel is the main species in our wood.

The wood had many uses and it was important as a source of fuel. In the 18th century, the Gaynor family at Conygre Farm bought wood from Wallshut Wood and other local woodlands for their hearth fires. Oxen were used to transport it from the wood to the farm.

In 1610, tenants of the Berkeley estate had the right to ploughboot, hedgeboot and fireboot, but needed special permission before taking wood for building.

In Gloucestershire, coppice wood was also used for rails, hurdle and hedging material.

At one time, oak bark was more valuable than coppice wood because it could be used for tanning leather.

Most of the records we possess for our area refer to Wallshut Wood. Perhaps Splatts Abbey Wood was too small to be recorded separately. But in January 1770, we find an account of 3 shillings being paid to Thomas Fisher for cutting wood in Splatts Abbey, whilst a record from April of that year refers to faggots from that wood.

Interestingly, timbers from Wallshut Wood were sometimes used in the coal pits. Norborne Berkeley, who owned the land at this time, also owned pits in the Kingswood coalfields.

Coppicing allows a lot of light into woods. The woodland flowers would take advantage of this and bloom very profusely during the years immediately after this harvest. They would tend towards dormancy as the canopy closed. The sunny, flowery glades would attract butterflies and other insects.

As the coppice stools re-grew, the undergrowth would become luxuriant, bushy and impenetrable. It would make excellent cover for creatures such as nesting nightingales.

As the stools approached the end of their cycle, they would provide nuts and nesting places for birds, dormice and other creatures. So with a patchwork of different stages of coppicing in a single wood, the needs of all sorts of plants and animals were met.

Towards the end of the 19th century, woodlands as a source of coppice wood and timber became less valuable. Many became neglected. They were often used as game coverts instead, and animals such as rabbits would nibble away at any new shoots. The woodlands became dark and could not support the plants and animals that were once part of this delicate dance between humankind and nature.

Splatts Abbey Wood seems to have been coppiced until around the 1970s. So it evidently retained its usefulness long after other woods had sunk into decline.