The tree is cut back above the height of grazing animals, to encourage vigorous fresh growth. It helps prolong the life of a tree by reducing its weight, so it is less likely to split or fall. Fresh growth soon appears the following year.
The tree is cut down at its base to encourage vigorous growth of new stems to create a sustainable timber supply. New growth provides shelter for wildlife. Coppiced trees are less likely to be affected by disease. Traditionally, willow trees along the river bank were coppiced to allow men called ‘bow hauliers’ to pull wye trows upstream. The cut willow stems were used to make baskets. Ross on Wye had a thriving basket making industry in the past.
The tree is ‘hinged’ at its base and laid along the river bank so the tree continues to grow. Branches dangling in the water give shelter to small fish, slowing the flow and protecting the river bank. The mixture of light and shape helps regulate water temperature and oxygen levels.
In some places willow is woven to form a protective, living barrier to help prevent the river eroding the meadows.