This chapter describes basic practical techniques for felling small trees, clearing undergrowth and other woodland operations suitable for groups of volunteers using hand tools. Coppicing is described in detail in Chapter 9 – Coppicing.
Risk assessments must be carried out for all projects involving volunteers or work involving paid employees.
Before commencing work, you may need to apply for a felling licence from the Forestry Commission. This is required for felling more than 5 cubic metres (about 2 large trees) per calendar quarter. For further information contact your local office of the Forestry Commission.
Felling and clearing may be carried out in woodland for a variety of reasons:
- To thin young woodlands or overstocked plantations.
- To initiate or maintain coppice cycles.
- To diversify woodlands by creating glades and rides.
- To create paths for access, or to clear growth to make woodlands more open and inviting for public enjoyment.
- To suppress exotic species such as rhododendron and sycamore, where they are smothering native woodland plants.
- To supply fuel, material for fencing, building, greenwood crafts and other uses.
All deciduous native species, if felled, have the ability to regrow from the stump. This is the basis of coppicing and pollarding, and was the main method of producing and harvesting wood from Neolithic times until the age of modern commercial forestry. If it is the intention that the trees should not regrow, then the stumps must be removed. This will be necessary for:
- Clearance of tracks, paths and other access routes.
- Clearance of permanent glades.
- Removal of unwanted or invasive species.
When thinning, stumps can normally be left, as the shade cast by the remaining trees will mean that stumps will only produce weak regrowth.
Coniferous trees do not regrow from the stump, although stumps may need to be removed when clearing tracks or paths.
Assessing the commercial timber potential of a woodland and making decisions about thinning requires specialist knowledge, including measurement of standing timber, crop densities, growth rates, market knowledge and other matters. Advice should normally be taken from a specialist, and the practical work is likely to beyond the scope of most volunteer groups. For further information see Broad (1998), NSWA (undated) and Rollinson, TJD (1999).
The selection of trees and the timing for thinning in woodlands managed primarily for conservation and amenity is less critical, and is largely a matter of local knowledge, observation and common sense. Guidelines are given here. The practical work may be suitable for skilled and experienced volunteers and other individuals.
In this chapter, felling generally refers to cutting the stem but leaving the stump to regrow, whereas clearing involves also removing the stump, or treating it so it will not regrow.