The Hazel Revolution: Managing Hazel Coppice for Profit
Conference organised by the Wessex Coppice Group, 25 March 1997
Economic Aspects of Hazel Coppice
By Roy Lorrain-Smith
A Wessex owner of fully productive in-cycle hazel coppice might seem to have a steady little earner. With little or no outlay on maintenance, hazel coppice can be sold standing for as much as £1,000/ha every 6-7 years. But the prudent owner of such coppice may nevertheless pose searching questions. How good is the income when compared with alternative uses of the land? How likely in fact are sales to reach £1,000 in each cycle? And although the coppice cycle may be capable of going on forever, how secure is the market? Moreover, much Wessex coppice is not fully productive and, far from being in cycle, may have been neglected for decades. What are the economic prospects of neglected coppice. This paper tackles those questions.
1 PRODUCTIVE COPPICE
1.1 Sizing up the income
The first things to consider are the levels that sales are likely to achieve in practice, and whether this represents good or bad value.
1.1.1 Average sales income
It must be owned at once that £1,000/ha (£400/ac) from the sale of standing hazel coppice is on the high side. Recent sales have sometimes reached that level, but a better average might be, say, £600-700/ha (about £250/ac), although, as we shall see, there may other be other elements of value over and above crude sale income.
1.1.2 Comparison with arable crops
To put the matter in perspective, a sale income of £600-700 every 6-7 years is equivalent to £100 each year, which can be compared to gross margins many times that level from cereal crops in adjacent fields – fields which presumably once carried hazel coppice. However, that comparison implies that existing hazel coppice could be cleared for arable crops, which is by no means certain. Technically there would be no problem, beyond a bulldozing cost or, £750-l,250/ha (£300-£500/ac), and it might sometimes be done within the strict letter of the law, but it is not in the spirit of the law and would be strongly discouraged by the Forestry’ Authority, and prevented wherever possible.
1.1.3 Comparison with high forests
More realistic comparison may be with conventional forestry; hazel coppice could be cleared and converted to a high forest of oak, ash or sycamore. Productivity would vary with the fertility of the site, but yield classes of up to 8 are considered quite possible. Table 1 gives a broad indication of the level of return, in cash terms, which might be expected. The figures are for pure broadleaved crops, because conifer nurses which could greatly boost returns are unlikely to be permitted on such areas. Restocking grants have been included. Table 1 shows that, in cash terms, hazel coppice compares well with sycamore and ash, and with oak of low productivity.
Table 1. Cash Returns for Broadleaf High Forest
O A K SYCAMORE/ASH
* Based on rotation of 120 years for Oak and 80 for Sycamore/Ash