On Sunday I organised a group of volunteers, the NW scythe ‘gang’, to do some coppicing in Edward & Romola Acland’s woods. It’s a 2 acre hazel with standards woodland that Edward & Romola have been working for about 20 years. When they bought it, it was overstood and hadn’t been worked for around 30 years. Since then they’ve brought it back to a beautiful example of coppice almost entirely using hand tools. This was a chance for us to see a well-managed and productive woodland and learn about the many products that are cut from each hazel stool including hedging stakes, bean poles, pea sticks, garden stakes and of course firewood.
While we were working, I spotted some birch logs leaned up against a tree which Edward said had been cut last year for firewood. So when we stopped to eat I had a try at harvesting some of the bark. In spring when the sap is rising, the bark peels away easily whereas this needed a lot more coaxing and felt more brittle. Nonetheless I got two good sized pieces and brought them home.
The inner side of this bark is much darker than of the spring bark so I started to wonder if this is ‘winter bark’. In countries with a tradition of working with birch bark, bark is harvested in the dormant season for the darker coloured layer inside. This is scraped away to reveal the lighter bark underneath and make patterns and designs on the finished work, like these baskets by Jarrod Stone Dahl.
I contacted Jarrod for advice who said that they call this ‘purple’ bark. It’s considered a lower quality and folk over there don’t tend to bother with it. One problem could be that there won’t be much contrast between the colour of the two layers. Still, we agreed that you’ve got to work with what you’ve got and, since we don’t have such good sources of birch bark in the UK, I’m going to see what I can do with the pieces anyway.