Dr John Jackson reports on a visit to a semi-natural ancient woodland brought back into a productive cycle by its current owners.

AS part of Grown in Britain Week in October, the Small Woods Association organised a walk-and-talk visit to Rawhaw Wood, owned and managed by Carolyn Church and Hugh Ross, on the doorstep of Pipewell village in Northamptonshire.

Among the gathering were a Forestry Commissioner, an ex-CEO of the Royal Forestry Society, the FC’s local woodland officer for the Midlands, the RFS Teaching Trees lead for East Anglia, plus local owners – all keen to see and learn what this couple had achieved since they moved in.


The earliest written records for the wood date from 1299, when it was owned by monks from the nearby Cistercian abbey. During the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, Henry VIII took the wood into royal ownership and it became part of the Rockingham Forest. 

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Nowadays, that is a region of about 200 square miles, made up of many individual woodlands and open farmland, situated in the north Northamptonshire countryside between Stamford in the north and Kettering and Thrapston in the south; the rivers Welland and Nene form the west and east boundaries, respectively.

Forestry Journal: Henry VIIIHenry VIII

A reminder of the abundant fallow in Rockingham today was provided by a gallop-by of some 20 deer in the field next door on the day. To give some idea of the scale of things, in early 2021 a video clip was on Twitter for a few days of a mob of around 900 (yes, 900) fallow running across a bare, arable field from one woodland there to another in broad daylight. It was then taken down for fear of attracting poachers.


The modern-day Rawhaw Wood is a 30-acre semi-natural ancient woodland and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), with a history of coppice management that can be traced back around four centuries.

The remarkable couple of Carolyn Church and Hugh Ross took over Rawhaw Woods some 26 years ago, after a three-year search for what they wanted – an under-managed hazel coppice woodland that could be brought back into a productive cycle by their skill and efforts (and wash its face).

Forestry Journal: Fencing to protect new growth.Fencing to protect new growth.

Back in 1995, the present owners sold their house and left the comfort and secure urban lifestyle of Milton Keynes to follow their dream of making a living from managing a small, run-down woodland holding by coppicing the overstood hazel to generate diverse, saleable products while maintaining a healthy woodland ecosystem.

In a nutshell, their new 30-acre acquisition had been largely untouched for around 60 years when they took over, apart from some opportune out-of-sight extraction by locals and some roadside wood for the nearby Corby furnaces. They set about marking out 20 cants or coupes of between one and two acres each, to work on a ten-year cycle.

Wide rides have been re-established between the blocks to allow access and sight lines for deer stalking and these are mown seasonally to boost biodiversity such as orchids. High seats abound for deer control. By their own admission, their early interventions turned out to be too conservative and bolder management measures are now the norm. 

Coppice workers haggle over how low it is best to cut hazel. In Rawhaw, to cut stools at ground level is the preferred technique and appears to give excellent results. After a few trials without protection for cut stools, keeping browsing deer out proved a must to get any quantity and quality of rapid, straight coppice regrowth. Some oak saplings are left in tall, 1.5 m shelters among the sprouting hazel – 1.2 m is too short to deter fallow browsing. 

Forestry Journal: Stools are cut at ground level.Stools are cut at ground level.

Records are kept by Natural England of this SSSI’s ground flora that flourishes after coppicing, before the canopy closes again by around year five.


In winter, the blocks are harvested by hand and processed by the owners themselves.

Practically every bit of coppiced material is put to use – from pea sticks and bean poles to stakes and binders, logs, charcoal and biochar, down to artist charcoal sticks and rustic furniture. Even charcoal dust from the kiln is spread for roading and tail feathers from the feral peacocks collected on moulting and sold. 

Hazel brash is put to good use for dead hedges – but in Rawhaw, these are strong vertical (standing up) barricades rather than laid flat as is so often seen in other conservation woodlands. Rolls of chestnut paling fences and some wire netting offer extra deterrents and fortifications. For those wanting to learn more, Carolyn and Hugh offer accessible low-cost courses in charcoal making, guided walks and school trips where they explain about coppice management and show off a variety of native woodland flowers in spring.

They found the same problem as many small woodland owners in getting reliable and experienced hand fellers to take down large oak and then to market them. 


Hugh and Carolyn live on site and do most of the hard graft themselves. For almost a decade, living quarters for them and their then young son comprised a caravan, before planning permission was eventually obtained for their timber-framed home. 

It’s one thing to produce coppice products – and quite a different ball game to market them. Their goods are labelled as Hazel Woodland Products (with a website) but word of mouth and a reputation for quality has been built up and nurtured over the years. Customers now come to them. 

Forestry Journal: Rawhaw house.Rawhaw house.

In the formative years, grants for coppicing were available and essential to stay afloat financially. Now that they’ve been withdrawn, the hope is the novel ELMS (Environmental Land Management System) in gestation for England will support coppicing afresh.

Rawhaw Wood had not been properly managed as productive, commercial hazel coppice for at least 60 years when the Church–Ross partnership sallied forth into the overgrown thickets on an adventure with a calculated risk. 

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On a steep, self-taught DIY learning curve, it is remarkable what this partnership has achieved in two rotations of the entire coppice cycle which is basically a fenced, good-quality, financially viable hazel monoculture. 

An impressive list of local and national awards endorses what they have accomplished, including from English Nature, the Royal Forestry Society and the Royal Agricultural Society of England, to mention just a few.