The reserve at West Dean Woods is a great example of how woodlands were managed in the past. The Hazel, sitting amongst the Oak standards, has been coppiced here for hundreds of years and is referred to as coppice or copse in 17th century maps. Coppicing means that small areas of the Hazel are cut to ground level and allowed to re-grow; here we coppice Hazel on a seven year cycle to ensure the perfect size for us to cut and use for fencing products.
The cutting and processing of the Hazel is undertaken by a dedicated team of volunteers who work in traditional ways to ensure that we utilise all the cut material for fencing stakes, binders, hurdles, planters and firewood. This certainly helps to maintain disappearing woodland crafts and skills but even more importantly, this cycle of cutting creates areas of open woodland that respond with incredible displays of violets, Primroses, Wood Anemone, Bluebell and orchids including Common Spotted, Fly and Greater Butterfly Orchids: these flower-rich areas are also full of interesting and diverse invertebrates. As the Hazel quickly grows back, the numbers of flowers begin to diminish and after five or six years, the areas are well shaded again. However, the thickening Hazel becomes more and more attractive to some birds and mammals which benefit from the coppicing cycle too.
The rides and glades are very important parts of the reserve, linking open woodland areas to freshly cut coppice and in summer attracting woodland butterflies including White Admiral and Silver-washed Fritillary.
Part of the reserve is managed far less intensively and it is here that we see unusual and rare lichens, good populations of Hazel Dormice and the Wild Daffodils that bloom every spring – we have about two million Wild Daffodils on the reserve.