A grant scheme has been launched by the Forestry Commission to help tap one of the West Midlands' greatest assets – its trees.
Forest chiefs have unveiled the initiative to help local landowners produce woodfuel and timber by improving access to their often inaccessible woodlands and also by providing assistance in marketing timber.
The West Midlands woodfuel sector is buoyant.
The number of medium sized wood fuelled installations soared by 14% in just one year up to 2010 - many in schools, businesses and offices.
Not only is wood a leaner burning alternative to fossil fuels, but it is a renewable resource.
But a key bottleneck could be lack of local timber to meet demand.
Trees cover nearly 117,766 hectares (294,415 acres), or 9.1% of the region.
Over half of these woods are thought to be undermanaged – representing a massive missed opportunity to boost rural businesses and employment.
Simon West, from the Forestry Commission, said:
“Too many woods are rarely worked and not delivering anything like their potential for the owner, wildlife or timber. Yet timber is in demand and fetching good prices. One of the key reasons is the cost of extracting wood, especially in remote locations, and lack of expertise in marketing. The new grant will tackle these issues by helping to pay for forest tracks to be built and gateways widened, thereby making harvesting much more financially attractive. But it's not all just about economics. A wood that is being worked is also a far better place for wildlife than one that has become dark and dense. Woodland birds, insects and flowers will all gain.”
Prices for woodfuel have risen sharply in recent years. Faced with the long-term hike in oil and gas prices, the sector is expected to continue to grow, especially with the Government's introduction of the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, making switching to greener energy even more attractive.
Pam Warhurst, Forestry Commission Chair, added:
"There is an old phrase that says "A wood that pays is a wood that stays." We are delighted to be able to launch this new scheme to revitalise the economic viability of sustainable woodland management by helping get timber to market. It will create rural jobs and help grow the green economy."
More details from the Forestry Commission on 01905 532212 or visit www.forestry.gov.uk/westmidlands
Note to Editor
- The Forestry Commission calculates that more than 2 million additional tonnes of sustainable wood could be harvested from England’s forests each year. This would treble the amount of wood being burnt as fuel by 2020. More background can be found at www.forestry.gov.uk/ewgs-wigwoodfuel
- Grant applicants will have to have long term management plans for the woodlands that meet the new UK Forestry Standard. The plans will say how much timber they expect to harvest over the next decade so we will be able to see clearly what the benefits are from each new road built.
- The new Woodfuel Woodland Improvement Grant (or Woodfuel WIG) will improve the infrastructure of under-managed woodlands and contribute to the costs of marketing timber. As well as supplying the growing woodfuel market from thinning and other operations, well managed woodland can also produce high quality timber. In turn this management improves the quality of woodlands for wildlife.
- This new grant is open for applications now and will operate alongside the Farming and Forestry Improvement Scheme, recently launched by Defra to provide comprehensive support to the woodfuel supply chain.
- Forestry Commission England runs the English Woodland Grant Scheme (EWGS) to protect, improve and expand our forests, as set out in the government's Natural Environment White Paper www.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/whitepaper/. EWGS is a part of the Rural Development Plan for England (RDPE). Further information about these schemes can be found at www.defra.gov.uk/rural/rdpe/index.htm
- Forestry Commission England is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Forestry makes a real contribution to sustainable development, providing social and environmental benefits arising from planting and managing attractive, as well as productive, woodlands.
Media calls: Richard Darn on 0750 8010411