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Foresters in Wales are adapting the way they manage Welsh Assembly Government woodlands to ensure that almost every inch of our trees can help towards tackling climate change.
Forestry Commission Wales is modifying how it fells trees so that every branch contributes to the battle against global warming.
Machines called brash balers collect the material that would normally be left to rot on the forest floor after the trees have been removed.
The balers - which cost over £300,000 - process the material into compact bales which can be used by biomass power plants as feedstock.
The technology for brash baling was developed by the Scandinavians a decade ago.
The aim is to increase production of brash from Assembly woodlands so that more woodfuel can be used for energy instead of traditional fossil fuels.
There are currently four brash balers operating in Wales, producing bales which weigh about half a tonne and have the equivalent energy content of half a barrel of crude oil.
Marius Urwin, FC Wales's Biofuels Manager, said, "Brash baling operations generate low levels of income for FC Wales but, more significantly, help FC Wales to meet its wider forest management objectives.
"For example, removing encroaching vegetation from along 3,000kms of our forest roads and baling it as biomass results in considerable savings on annual road maintenance costs. It also significantly improves safety for road users.
"Brash recovery following clearfelling improves conditions for subsequent restocking by reducing the proportion of brash retained on site.
“Furthermore, these operations reduce the visual impact of harvesting operations, improve the amenity and landscape value of our woodlands and help promote biodiversity.”
FC Wales has developed three-year contracts for the recovery of biomass in the form of brash bales from the 126,000 hectares of woodlands it manages on behalf of the Welsh Assembly Government.
In south Wales, FC Wales contracts a company called Spencer ECA to produce approximately 12,000 tonnes of brash bales annually. FC Wales supplies these bales to the new Western Bio-Energy power plant near Margam.
In north Wales, FC Wales sells 10,000 tonnes of brash as a raw material to UPM Tilhill. Tilhill supplies the bales to fuel the Combined Heat and Power plant at Shotton papermill on Deeside.
The concept of brash baling coincides with the retirement of Tilhill Harvesting Manager Wynn Humphreys following 51 years in forestry after joining the Forestry Commission in April, 1959, and he has no doubt about the benefits to the industry.
"I think it's an extremely good thing. It doesn't take quality timber from other markets," said Wynn.
"It's something new and something I've taken a lot of interest in. It's one aspect of forestry which I'll definitely miss. If somebody had told me four or five years ago that we'd be doing something like this, I would not have believed them."
The key role that trees can play in combating climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it is widely recognised.
The emergence of brash baling provides fresh hope that our woodlands can help in the ongoing fight for the planet's future.
NOTES TO EDITORS
About 14% of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Assembly Government.
Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Assembly Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.
Forestry Commission Wales provides advice on forestry policy to the Minister responsible for forestry. It provides grant aid to the private sector and regulates forestry by issuing felling licences.
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales.
Media enquiries to Clive Davies, Forestry Commission Wales, on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, firstname.lastname@example.org