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There is nothing like a real fire.  I am sure we have all felt the quiet, relaxing connection with the flickering flames and gently settling rhythms of a fire on a cold evening, possibly with a glass of our favourite scotch. Listening to David Beckham on Desert Island Discs his choice of book was Francis Mallmann’s ‘Book on Fire’, so right up there with the ‘Complete Works of Shakespeare’.

Fire has always been a critical part of human existence and there is something immensely satisfying about gathering the fuel, setting the fire and watching the kindling catch and come to life.  It has to be one of life’s great joys, especially for those of us for whom wood is more than just something that comes in bags from the garage forecourt.

The resurgence of wood as a fuel, with improved technologies, grant funding and a focus on renewables, has seen us look again at many of our most precious woodlands that have been left neglected for too long.  Nothing happens fast in these wonderful habitats, sadly with the exception of new threats from pests and diseases and the presence of ash dieback, which casts a long shadow over some of our woodlands in England.  However, the fact that these areas are now the source of the fuel to keep us warm and renew our spirit, means that they are being looked at in a new light and we are seeing active management breathing new life into some of our most prized habitats…on the back of the simple wood fire. If only life were so simple.

The reality is, as is so often the case, not quite so straightforward.  In the recent Times article, wood burning was being cited as one of the many causes of air pollution, along with our diesel cars, poisoning our children and clogging our clean air. It is certainly true that wood burnt incorrectly can cause many issues, but equally if it is prepared and burnt well with knowledge and experience it can be one of the most efficient and truly sustainable fuels available.

One of the main requirements for your next load of logs is the carbon dioxide, so kindly provided by your current fuel.  In the process we also sustain and nurture our woodland assets and help them to support the multitude of other benefits that we so readily take for granted, in the form of wonderful landscapes, bio-diversity havens, shelter and shade, to name but a few. Vincent Thurkettle, in his fantastic book on Wood Fuel, compares adopting woodland as a fuel to getting a new pet.  It is more than just a simple choice of ‘Fuel A’ or ‘Fuel B’ and more a lifestyle choice; one that can give endless pleasure and joy.

If those of us involved in woodland want to protect it from being labelled and condemned as a pollution culprit we need to ensure that we engage with users and those that we seek to convert.  We need them to understand the intricacies of wood as a fuel and the fantastic benefits that it can bring to all aspects of life, from the exercise provided by the harvesting and stacking, to the pleasure of sitting by the crackling hearth with a good malt whisky late at night.

Author: John Lockhart, Chairman


Biblography: Thurkettle, V. (2012). The Wood Fire Handbook: the complete guide to a perfect fire. London: Octopus Publishing Group Limited.

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