One of the traditional uses of the coppice would be to harvest winter fodder for livestock. This practice has fallen out of culture with the availability of grain and pellet feeds.
Tree-hay as it is known, is the leafy branches of the coppice or pollard cut in summer when leaf nutrients are highest. They will be tightly bundles and hung undercover until winter when livestock may need some extra supplements.
Now we’re post-equinox and the trees are prepping for winter, most of the minerals and nutrients of the leaves are being re-digested and withdrawn down to the roots, safely stored till spring.
Sometimes this process can be interrupted by fungi that has colonised the leaf, which we see as islands of nutrient rich greenness left behind. This process gives us the wonderful colour shows we see each year but has other implications for the greater ecosystem.
Large herbivores moving from summer fields into more sheltered winter woodlands will be actively rummaging around the woodland floor seeking leaves which have these patches of minerals retained in them.
Leafy branches cut early from the coppice can provide higher nutrient density food and is more reliable than storing hay. The revival of harvesting tree-hay to feed livestock through winter could reduce dependencies of imported grain from destructive agriculture and benefit small scale woodland management.
This year we’ve collected a few bundles of tree-hay from hazel, sycamore, ash and beech, with intention just to understand the process rather than to start an industry.