Bowlers Copse

Location and History of Bowlers Copse

Thursday 23 August 2012:  this is a background article to the Hazel Copse we have been working in since Autumn 2003. JB

There is  a map of 1760 showing Bowlers Copse and in those days the copse was probably similar to many other areas of coppiced woodland which served the needs of the local community for building material, fencing, thatching etc. More than seventy years ago the “new” road which is now the A41 was built splitting the copse in two and when the road was further improved by converting it to dual carriageway even more of the copse was lost. Over the years the remnant to the west of the road has disappeared and is now arable land. All that is left is a narrow strip to the East, visible on the left hand side of the old road out of the village to Bicester. The strip has been under the control of the highways department and no work had been carried out for many years apart from pruning large branches from the Oaks, probably around 1950.

The majority of the original Hazel was lost and other trees had taken over, predominantly Hawthorne, Ash and Aspen . Many of the trees were in poor condition and the undergrowth of Bramble and Ivy inhibited the development of any new seedlings. Spread through the copse at about 120 foot intervals are Oak trees planted between 150 and 200 years ago.

Coppice Management

Most broadleaved woodland trees can be coppiced which involves cutting the tree down to just a few inches above the ground. New growth appears around the edge of the stump which is then allowed to grow for between 5 and 15 years to produce long straight poles. These poles are harvested by cutting them back level with the original stump and the whole process is repeated. In the case of Hazel the stump or Stool has been known to grow to as much as six foot in diameter.

To facilitate the process woodlands were subdivided into compartments, known as coupes, and each coppiced in a different year of the cycle. This produces a Copse which is able to support a broad variety of insect, bird and mammal species as well as other flora. In order to protect the young coppice from grazing, both the external boundary of the woodland and the compartment boundaries were provided with stock-proof fences, hedges or walls, often placed on top of low banks. These features, which prohibited animals from entering and preventing regeneration, are sometimes still evident in the form of low, winding banks and ditches.

Although animals were excluded from woodlands whilst the poles were growing, it was common practice to allow livestock in once the coppice was nearly full grown. This was usually done on payment of a fee. This grazing would have taken place in clearly defined compartments where coppice re-growth was fully established and where grazing could no longer damage the trees.

The Coppice was managed by local villagers but was usually owned by a rich landowner. The coppice also supported widely spaced large trees such as Oak and Chestnut which remained the property of the landowner but were looked after by the villagers in exchange for the coppiced wood. Coppicing declined following the middle of the 19th century but went on in some of the woodlands until at least the end of the century, after which it became uneconomic. There is now little physical evidence left to show that many of the woodlands were once coppiced.