The woods where we walked are largely a monoculture of Sweet chestnut coppice, a landscape which would have been familiar to woodsmen a thousand years ago, but which is much - MUCH - less common now. The Sweet Track was built from coppiced wood five thousand years before that! Woodland was a valued asset, and mostly highly managed as coppice or wood pasture. Some of the oldest trees we have are veteran coppiced plants or pollards - they're not difficult to spot.
Wood was treated like any other sort of crop. The strong straight timber coppicing produces has all sorts of uses, particularly for construction. Hazel for wattles or oak for structural beams, for example. It's also a quick way to produce easily harvestable firewood; the stools produces new poles very quickly. Sweet chestnuts are reckoned to be harvested every 20 to 30 years. These coppices would often be dotted with an occasional oak or other timber tree, which would be harvested much less frequently.
Unlike English oak, Sweet chestnut is an archaeophyte; the Romans had all sorts of uses for it and introduced it here. Chestnut coppicing enjoyed a boom more recently too - in the 18th and 19th century, when the rods were used as hop poles. Today, these rods make fantastic water resistant stakes either as whole rounds or split (we sell them for use with preplanted coir rolls for riverbank work) - as well as fencing.
Coppiced woodland is managed in sections, or "cants", to ensure sustainable rotation. As each section is opened up to the sun there's a dramatic change in the understorey as dormant wildflower seed springs into life there. This in turn brings new and varied insect, mammal and bird populations. After five years or so the canopy closes and the flora and fauna change again.