Wood Fuel for Local Sustainability – Is Regulation Required?

The phenomenal rise in domestic and small business wood burning boilers in the UK is surely not being matched by local supply in many areas. What is clearly seen by a rapidly increasing amount of homeowners and small businesses as a localised renewable energy ‘sustainable’ solution does not take into account regional differences in the availability of material supply, rapidly devaluing woodlands, including many semi natural woodland in private ownership.

I am in North Devonat the moment, enjoying that regional speciality squelch when walking and those showers that hit you like a flicked towel.  The one great difference since I was last here, only 18 months ago, is that the local renewable heat energy sector has separated even further from the forestry sector that should be supplying it. Renewable energy experts, sustainability consultants and similar ‘new’ professionals are a rapidly growing sector of ‘experts’ chasing the substantial grants available and I do wonder whether this massive surge is not linked to the silencing and downgrading of the public forestry sector?

I was asked yesterday to comment on some ‘green’ grant applications including 2 proposed woodchip biomass heating boilers. One applicant stated they had 40acres of woodland to provide the timber for the woodchips for heating several properties, how did they come to this conclusion? How were they going to process the wood so it was suitable for their boiler, which would surely mean transport to and from site? There was absolutely no supporting evidence, simply a presumption that 40 acres of ‘woodland’ is adequately large enough to supply their needs and we all know that few woods are in a condition which could do so.

I don’t want discredit or discourage wood burning technology, but where exactly are the woods to satisfy this huge demand?

I despair that there is a flood of ‘new landowners’ who are oblivious to the forestry industry as a whole and it is quite clear that many renewable energy local experts are advising against proper sustainable forest management and are being listened to.

Is this the new British road to sustainability system, taking long term solutions, overly feeding with grant money without bothering to really think about the long term effects let alone investigate ‘forestry’ and ignoring virtually all other issues in the quest to be seen as green.

Is there any mandatory system in place when purchasing wood burning equipment as to what types of timber are suitable, where it can be sourced from a sustainable supplier? If there is it is clearly being ignored and all wood is considered ‘up for grabs’ rather than any attempt to plant for purpose.

Woodland design for wood fuel is great, its fun as it allows for some really exciting, innovative woodland design and the use of land that is of extremely low value for anything else including close cropping within a peri urban environment or field margin short rotation coppice. Designs which help to protect and nurture other crops or allotments or help barrier against nitrate rich run off, (another sight that I have witnessed and which scares me are the far too frequent ineffective narrow barriers between over grazed fields and rivers).

This problem looks set to get worse and the only answer is mandatory woodland management plans, including more regulation and involvement by the Forestry Commission. As well as shouting the need to use consulting silviculturalists or even just the local woodsman.

This is one sector where private and domestic investment could have and can help the wider forest industry and I do realise that there are some fantastic case studies across theUK, but there are many more bad examples and evidence of ignorance that can not and should not be tolerated.


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