More Teachings from Trees: Coppice & Pollard

I've always been intrigued by a certain tree, one that I first saw on the University of California, Berkeley campus, and that is still there with its family group, in a plaza next to the campanile, today. While I do not know their name, I remember watching as they were pruned for the winter. Pruned, the only word I knew for it. This photo is from last January 2020, before their haircut. You can see how the smaller branches grow straight up.

It turns out that we have two of these trees on our street. They are all bare-knuckled for the winter; the city has been attentive.

In Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees, (Amazon link) Roger Deakin has a chapter on this kind of pruning, "pollard" and another kind, "coppice." I read through Deakin's chapter, "Coppicing," and another one, "Ash," feeling like I did as a child, understanding a new word in context, but not really knowing it deeply. (Coppice & Pollard together sound like nature's law firm.) To pollard a tree is to prune it annually or every other year, down to a central branch and higher than an animal can browse. Coppice means cutting it at the base, leaving a "stool" where many new shoots grow up in a circle. Deakin writes that the practices are at least 6,000 years old.

In our semi-urban area, we've lost the use for pollarding and coppicing, if we ever needed it in the United States. Free range wild turkeys, crows, deer, raccoons, squirrels, possums, and skunks wouldn't be interested in our street trees for a food source. Medieval books mention the words, and also the creation of hedgerows, a method of growing a hedge to keep in or out livestock. A community of creatures make their homes in hedgerows, something I would like to see. Mostly I must be content with references to them in books that take place in Britain. Deakin writes in "A New-laid Hedge," that tending a hedgerow is time-consuming and an art that not many follow anymore, but he seemed to love it.

Knowing of my interest, a friend sent me a current, detailed article with photos, "How to Make Biomass Energy Sustainable Again" by Kris De Decker, that describes how coppicing and pollarding are still in use in some parts of the world, and how sustainable they are as sources of heat. They used to be the only method we had until we discovered fossil fuels, invented machinery, and developed transportation that allows goods to be moved long distances in fairly short periods of time. The trimmed tops are used as food for livestock in the winter, the bare wood fuels fires for bread ovens or cooking. Are there alternatives to our "high-energy lifestyle?" There is food for thought here.

Deakin mentions, in the chapter "Ash," that "the husbandry of increase, such as the sowing and planting, is best done during the waxing phases of the moon. Conversely, harvesting, the work of decrease, including coppicing and pollarding, belongs in the time when the moon herself is decreasing" (383). Today, the moon is waxing gibbous, getting brighter until the full moon. Time to plant new thoughts for the upcoming year.

Warm wishes as we approach it.


Maja said…
While not about coppicing and pollarding, I would like to recommend a book I have just read - A Wood of One's Own by Ruth Pavey. She is a British woman who had a desire to have a wooded property where she could have the kinds of trees she wanted and observe the wild life without any restraints or formal planning of any kind. She found such a property and the book is about her 25 years learning about her trees and the land they were on. She also talks about the history of the land going back hundreds of years. It's a beautiful little book.
Happy Holidays and best wishes'
Kate Burroughs said…
The trees that are pollarded are London plane (Platanus x acerifolia).
Alisa said…
Maja, Thanks for the recommendation! It sounds lovely. I'll go look it up. Happy Holidays to you, too!
Alisa said…
Kate, Excellent to know! Thank you for that. Now I can do more research. Very best wishes, Alisa