England manager of Confor and DR Director Caroline Harrison writes in the Issue section of today’s Western Morning News of the importance of buying local and burning local when it comes to timber. Caroline refers to Moorwood Timber in the article, who received money with help from the DR Company from the Greater Dartmoor LEAF programme. Read the full article text below and read more about Moorwood Timber and how the DR Company and the funding helped their forestry business here:
The Importance of NOT Importing: Buy Local, Burn Local
THE growth in popularity of wood-burning stoves has put pressure on firewood supplies. As a result, imports have increased; latest available figures show England and Scotland combined imported 32,000 tonnes of firewood in the first nine months of 2017, predominantly ash.
This might seem harmless, but it actually poses a substantial risk to our economy and environment. Why? Because bringing in firewood from outside the UK can also mean bringing in pests and diseases, in the firewood or in its packaging.
Pests we want to keep out include the emerald ash borer beetle, which has killed millions of ash trees in Canada since it arrived from Asia. There is uncertainty about the bug spreading towards Europe from Russia but the evidence from North America is devastating – firewood has been a major factor in the rapid spread of the beetle and led to the deaths of millions of trees.
We need strict controls to prevent pests like emerald ash borer arriving in the UK.
If these pests do arrive and spread, trees in our forests will be killed, affecting air and water quality, biodiversity, and the economy – in areas like the south-west.
Firewood imports into the UK are inspected under the Statutory Notification Scheme implemented by the Forestry Commission on a risk basis. In the nine months to the end of September 2017, spot checks revealed 28 per cent of imports inspected did not comply with UK regulations.
These cases mostly relate to paperwork inconsistencies or packaging being non-compliant. However, they raise a fundamental question – why take the risk and import firewood at all?
As England manager of Confor, which represents 1500 forestry and wood-using businesses across the UK, I helped produce a recent report on plant health. It made a very simple point – the UK’s elm, larch and ash trees have all been devastated by imported pests and diseases in recent decades and we need to take action before another catastrophe.
There are two simple actions we can take on firewood – the UK should refuse to import firewood with bark still attached or firewood that hasn’t been properly dried. This would reduce the risks of importing pests and diseases dramatically, but also help to stimulate domestic firewood markets – and there are huge opportunities to do this in the south-west.
Phasing out firewood imports will protect the UK’s native broadleaf woodlands from pests and disease, and deliver wider economic benefits by fulfilling the demand for firewood from home-grown sources.
Managing native woodland by thinning (cutting down certain trees to allow others to flourish) can deliver a regular firewood supply. Thinning makes woods better for wildlife by diversifying their structure and allowing in light. The remaining trees are therefore encouraged to grow better, increasing the amount of carbon they can capture and providing high-quality timber.
Another 8,000 hectares of managed broadleaf woodland could provide the 32,000 tonnes of firewood that was imported in the first nine months of 2017 – and there is plenty of opportunity to do this.
The latest Forestry Commission statistics show there are just over 110,000 hectares of woodland in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Around 60 per cent of this is classed as ‘unmanaged’ which means it is not looked after to produce any kind of crop or to deliver the environmental and economic benefits produced by thinning and general management.
So there are lots of woodlands out there which could be playing a part in building firewood markets, helping the local economy and reducing the risks posed by imports.
The clear message on firewood is Buy Local, Burn Local.
This has been well-illustrated through the DR Company’s support for Moorwood, a small business in Dartmoor which has invested in kilns to dry firewood – a perfect example of supplying high-quality local firewood to reduce the risks from imports.
Husband and wife team Max and Jo Bayles used Greater Dartmoor Local Enterprise Action Fund (GD-LEAF) money to grow their innovative business. The £22,000 award allowed them to buy a cone splitter and excavator and improve the production area, which will ultimately increase sales of kiln-dried wood and secure Moorwood’s future.
The improvements have created a circular business which sees waste from timber felling being used to fuel a biomass boiler, which in turn heats the kiln to dry the firewood logs.
“I want to see every pound reinvested, replanted, or recycled in our business,” said Max Bayles. “For some, the waste from a timber business is useless, but by investing in biomass we have created a way to make our waste an incredibly powerful tool that distinguishes our products from others in the market.”
There are plenty of opportunities for other South-West businesses to follow Moorwood’s example.
In my England-wide role, I am fortunate that I often have the chance to speak about these issues – recently on Radio 4 and at a plant health conference attended by Alan Titchmarsh and UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
On each occasion, I stress the same key points – we do not need to import firewood. It is risky and it is unnecessary – so let’s support our own local firewood markets and Buy Local, Burn Local.
by Caroline Harrison