Almost all woods in Britain, though of natural origin, have been managed, often intensively, for centuries. (The exceptions are a few very inaccessible groves on cliffs, and some woods of recent origin.) The following is the normal practice of woodmanship over most of England.
Woodmen traditionally make use of the self-renewing power of trees. As all gardeners know, some trees such as pines can be got rid of by cutting them down, but nearly all native species grow again either from the stump or from the root system. Ash and wych- elm, for instance, coppice: the stump sends up shoots and becomes a stool from which an indefinite succession of crops of poles can be cut at intervals of years. Aspen, cherry, and most elms sucker: the stump normally dies but the root system remains alive indefinitely and sends up successive crops of poles, forming a patch of genetically identical trees called a clone.
Coppicing and suckering are efficient and reliable ways of getting a new crop. Sallow can grow at 2 inches a day, reaching 11 feet high in the first season after felling; even oak can stand 7 feet high and an inch thick after one summer's growth. Such shoots, though largely immune from rabbits and hares which destroy slower-growing seedlings, are a favourite food of cattle, sheep, and deer; and in places where these animals could not be fenced out it was the practice instead to pollard trees in order to get a crop. Pollards are cut at between 6 and 15 feet above ground, leaving a permanent trunk called a boiling (to rhyme with 'rolling'), which sprouts in the same way as a coppice stool but out of reach of livestock. Pollarding is much more laborious than coppicing, and is typical of wood-pasture and some non-woodland trees e.g. in hedgerows, but not of the interiors of woods.
The trees of a wood are divided into timber trees (a minority) and underwood. Every so often an area of underwood, called a panel, cant, or hag, is felled and allowed to grow again by coppicing or suckering. Scattered among the underwood are the timber trees, which are allowed to stand for several cycles of regrowth and are felled when full-grown. Timber trees are usually replaced by seedlings. The whole wood is demarcated from its surroundings by an earthwork called a woodbank with a ditch on its outer side, traditionally set with a hedge to keep out livestock and with pollard trees at intervals to define the legal boundary.
The wood therefore yields two products, timber from the trunks of the timber trees, and wood from coppice stools or suckers (plus the branches of felled timber trees). Timber and wood had different uses and are not to be confused; we still talk of 'timber' buildings and 'wood' fires. Wood is rods, poles, and logs, used for fencing, wattlework, and many specialized purposes but in large quantities for fuel. Timber is the stuff of beams and planks and is too valuable (and too big) to burn. Underwood was normally the more important product; woods were traditionally regarded as sources of energy.
Woods do not cease to exist through being felled.Popular writers suppose that a wood gets 'exhausted' as if it were a coal-mine or a pine plantation. Not so: a wood is self- renewing, and is no more destroyed by being cut down than a meadow is destroyed by cutting a crop of hay. The Bradfield Woods have been cut down at least seventy times and show no sign of disappearing. Woods cease to exist through being deliberately destroyed (in order to use the land for something else), through misuse (especially long- continued grazing), or occasionally through natural encroachment of sand-dunes or blanket-peat. When a wood disappears one should not ask 'Why was it cut down?' - for all old woods have been cut down from time to time - but 'Why did it not grow again?'.