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Forest Diary

A word on winter woodfuel

By Partnership & Expertise Manager, Matthew Woodcock, Forestry Commission (enquiries.southern@forestry.gsi.gov.uk)

Few things sLighting the log burner at Rosliston Forestry Centreymbolise the Christmas season as well as friends and family gathered around a roaring fire, but did you know that up until the industrial revolution wood was the main source of fuel in Britain?

Over the last two hundred years, it’s been replaced by oil, gas and coal, but as interest grows in renewable, low carbon heat sources, woodfuel is making a major come-back. It offers a cost-effective, sustainable way of not just heating businesses but keeping our homes warm and cosy too.

So what do you need to know?

 The financial case

It’s worth taking a look at the Government’s domestic Renewable Heat Incentive. Launched in Spring this year, the scheme is designed to encourage a switch to renewable heating by offering financial incentives. So if you install a renewable central heating system in your home, you could be eligible to receive quarterly payments for the next seven years, making a significant dent in your annual fuel bill.

The scheme is open to everyone, from home owners, to social and private landlords, and even people who build their own homes. It covers a range of different renewable technologies including biomass heating systems – in other words, systems that burn fuel such as wood pellets, chips or logs to provide central heating and hot water in a home.

As winter well and truly sets in, updating your heating system in this way is a great opportunity to cut fuel bills and reduce your carbon emissions to boot. You can find out more about the scheme and the eligibility criteria at https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/environmental-programmes/domestic-renewable-heat-incentive . There’s also a helpful video from a member of the public who chose to install a log batch boiler central heating system at www.highweald.org

Sustainable supply

Of course, if you’re going to make a commitment to woodfuel – whether it’s for an entire central heating system, or simply a log burning stove for the lounge, you need to feel confident that there is a consistent and sustainable supply of wood available locally.

Many people worry about trees being cut down for fuel. In fact, the reality is that growing trees for woodfuel contributes to the sustainable management of our region’s woodlands.

As part of a responsible forest management approach, trees are felled selectively to ensure we retain diverse woodland habitats, and local wildlife can thrive. It makes a difference economically too. The timber and timber processing industries contribute around £90 million to the south east economy, and provide in the region of 41,000 jobs. This really is a heat source that is sustainable in every sense of the word – but it’s critical you use trusted and accredited suppliers.

For anyone with a wood-fuelled central heating system, that is claiming under the domestic RHI, fuel must be sourced from an organisation registered with the Biomass Suppliers List http://biomass-suppliers-list.service.gov.uk/ . You can be confident that all firms on this list have met stringent standards in terms of both greenhouse gas emissions and land management.

Meanwhile, if you’re simply looking for fuel for a woodburning stove, you’re in the right place! The New Forest is one of the areas leading the woodfuel charge, with a growing number of suppliers in the area able to provide chips, briquettes, pellets or logs. You can find these at www.woodfueldirectory.org.

Choosing the right fuel for you

Once you’ve made a commitment to woodfuel, there’s a couple of key things to keep in mind– and that’s moisture content and density. About half the weight of a freshly felled cubic metre of wood is water, but this reduces to a third when the wood is air dried for a year. If wood is damp, it will smoulder and burn inefficiently (the energy in the wood is wasted in evaporating the water in it!), so it’s important to either buy dry ‘seasoned’ wood or green logs and ‘season dry’ them out yourself.

It’s also worth thinking about the density of the wood you’re buying - hardwoods tend to be denser than softwoods and will therefore burn for longer, meaning fewer top ups are required. For example, oak, beech and ash have the same energy as about 250 litres of heating oil, whereas pine – which is less dense – equates to about 180 litres of heating oil. So if storage space is an issue, hardwood logs are a better solution for you.

 As temperatures drop this winter, why not consider a local and sustainable solution that not only offers a competitive way of tackling the cost of heating, but helps to lower carbon emissions, and support local jobs and employment too.

To learn more about the Forestry Commission visit http://www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest