During the middle of the last lockdown, I decided to have a go at pollarding. I had never pollarded a tree before and I have never had any training of any kind that involves cutting wood. However, I did some research online about pollarding to try and find out more.
People have been pollarding trees for thousands of years for basic materials like firewood and in some cases for animal fodder. More recently, pollarding has fallen out of favour, with the disappearance of common land and the development of more intensive forms of forestry and agriculture.
In short, pollarding is cutting trees off the ground to promote dense foliage and then waiting of the mass of regrowth from the limbs to grow to a substantial size and then cutting it off again at the bolly*. It’s similar to another ancient forestry practice called coppicing, in which you would do the same process but at ground level.
*The bolly is the point at which the tree was cut.
The image above is the willow tree soon after attempted pollarding it. To pollard this tree I used a billhook, which is an ancient-looking metal hand axe, and it’s surprisingly effective at cutting through the limbs of the tree. Billhooks are also used by coppicers, thatchers, farmers and hedgelayers.
It took a few hours to finish pollarding the willow. It wasn’t just cutting the tree that was challenging but also removing the branches. I had to move the branches further up the river and lay them over each other to the point where they started to look like a laid hedge. As spring came these cuttings came to life as the golden catkins began to emerge.
Since I pollarded this willow, just over a month has passed. Spring is now in full swing and the catkins are in their prime. I recently revisited my pollard and already there are signs of regrowth around where I had cut and I am sure by the end of this coming summer the tree will have dense green foliage once again.