Our Materials - Hazel
Hazel is one of Britain’s first native species of trees, growing up with birch, aspen, sallow, pine, oak, alder, lime, elm, ash, beech, hornbeam and maple as the last Ice Age retracted over twelve thousand years ago.
It was harvested and made into hurdles by Neolithic man in about 4000BC. Iron Age man used woven hazel to construct their huts and Saxon coopers bound their casks with it. It even has a place in medieval battlefields as a defense mechanism.
By cutting the hazel wood or poles, the life of the tree as a whole is prolonged. When the wood is cut, the stool remains and from it new shoots grow at remarkable rates. Stools can live for hundreds of years, or even a few thousand. Poles are only cut every ? years, when they are large enough to make a good sized hurdle and when the stools eventually die they are replaced. If a wood or coppice is derelict and not cut, the other trees and saplings will not receive enough light and will eventually die. Hurdle rods have to be not only thick enough for strength, but straight enough to work with.
Hazel was once the most dominant tree of Britain following the Ice Age, but now with the loss of the wildwood and the scarcity of good coppiced woodland, it is no wonder that hazel is a valuable and relatively scarce woodland material. Although it is a tough material to work with, its fibres can be twisted or knotted by the master craftsman.