Skip to content

Burning Britain’s Forests

June 21, 2015
tags:

By Paul Homewood 

 

image

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3122851/Where-woods-gone-smoke-new-trendy-green-wood-burning-stoves-boilers-funded-tax-millions-fuelled-birches-oaks-leaving-swathes-Britain-barren.html

 

David Rose highlights how government incentives to burn wood are making big holes in our forests. 

 

One gloomy day in March 2012, Pip Pountney, recently retired from Warwick University, went for a walk in Ryton Wood near Coventry with Ann Wilson, a former textile chemist.

Ryton’s 216 acres are described by its owners, the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, as ‘one of the largest semi-natural ancient woodlands in Warwickshire’. A Site of Special Scientific Interest, it has long been famous for its bluebells, which flourished every spring beneath a canopy of English oaks.

But what ex-teacher Pountney and Wilson saw looked to them like utter desolation. They came across a stand where about 50 mature oaks, some 300 years old, had been felled the previous winter. Their trunks lay in ragged piles, some sawn into roundels.

 

Around two-and-a-half years ago, in December 2012, Bickerton Hill in Cheshire was covered in trees

Around two-and-a-half years ago, in December 2012, Bickerton Hill in Cheshire was covered in trees

 

The oaks’ fate, the Trust has confirmed, was to be burnt: as ‘sustainable’ heating fuel in log-burning stoves – a market which is expanding rapidly. According to trade group HETUS, almost 200,000 such stoves are installed every year – a five-fold increase since 2007.

Logs, however, feed only a part of Britain’s expanding appetite for ‘green’ wood-sourced energy. Adding to demand is the even faster-growing market for heating and hot-water systems fuelled by wood chips and pellets – which is heavily subsidised by taxpayers.

The Forestry Commission and the biomass industry’s lobby group, the Woodland Heat Association, insist this policy is justified on environmental grounds. They say the new ‘biomass’ energy market can improve the quality of forests, by creating new financial incentives to ‘manage’ woods that have been neglected and allowed to run wild.

However, other experts fear that in some forests, the consequences will be disastrous. Oxford University ecologist Clive Hambler said: ‘Subsidising biomass is one of the most counter-productive policies ever invented, and about the most bizarre thing you could possibly do to counter climate change.’

 

 

 

 

 

Now many of the trees in the area, which is owned and managed by The National Trust, have been cut down

Now many of the trees in the area, which is owned and managed by The National Trust, have been cut down

 

Overall, more wood is now being burnt from British woods than at any time since the industrial revolution

Overall, more wood is now being burnt from British woods than at any time since the industrial revolution

 

In his view, felling British hard wood forests in order to burn them is harming biodiversity, destroying habitats, and may well increase emissions. He said: ‘Big, hardwood trees are enormous carbon sinks, and take hundreds of years to be replaced.’

Dr Mark Fisher, research fellow at the Wildland Research Institute at Leeds University, agreed, saying: ‘Forests are being butchered in the service of an ideology. This new industry incentivises devastation, and no one is looking at the long-term consequences for our woods.’

Overall, more wood is now being burnt from British woods than at any time since the industrial revolution

Last week, this newspaper revealed how the burning of millions of tons of wood pellets at the heavily subsidised Drax power plant in Yorkshire is destroying forests in America. Today the focus is closer to home – the impact on domestic woodlands of the vogue for burning wood. Under EU rules, wood fuel qualifies as ‘zero carbon’, because felled trees will supposedly grow back and re-absorb the CO2 emitted by burning them. Burning wood to generate electricity or heat counts towards emissions targets, so that chips, pellets and sometimes logs qualify for a ‘green’ subsidy.

Known as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), this has rewarded the owners of wood burning boilers with a sum close to £200 million since it started in April 2012. And such installations, despite the cheapest system for an average farmhouse costing about £6,000, are growing exponentially: the 1,667 domestic units registered in the first quarter of 2015 represented a 96 per cent increase on the previous year.

Overall, more wood is now being burnt from British woods than at any time since the industrial revolution. The Government’s target is that the annual fuel harvest should reach two million tons by 2020 – about 18 per cent of the current total cut from British forests.

 

Trunks from dozens of trees lay in ragged piles with some sawn into roundels at Bickerton Hill in October last year

Trunks from dozens of trees lay in ragged piles with some sawn into roundels at Bickerton Hill in October last year

 

At present trends, it will easily be surpassed, because the RHI is astonishingly lucrative. Piping Hot, a wood-heat company in Daventry, 15 miles from Ryton, says on its website that it ‘will not only give you free heating, but also generate staggering paybacks, often paying for a biomass installation within 3 years, and then years of free heating. The fact that RHI is linked to inflation means that you are virtually protected against increases in fuel prices.’

Under the RHI, householders, businesses or public bodies with a biomass boiler make a profit every time they use it. The rates are different for domestic and commercial premises, and they vary with the size of boiler. But they work out as about 8p per kilowatt hour of heat produced for homes, and 6p for most businesses. But the cost of chips is much lower – between 2.7p and 3.5p per kilowatt hour, depending on the size of a delivery. The subsidy is index linked, tax-free and guaranteed for 20 years in the case of businesses and seven for homes.

However, unlike the subsidies for other ‘renewable’ energy, the RHI is met not by levies on consumers’ energy bills, but general taxation. A part of every VAT or income tax receipt goes towards it – cash which could have been spent on the NHS or schools.

The argument over whether the RHI is justified is focused especially on hardwood forests such as Ryton. According to the Forestry Commission, 75 per cent of British hardwood cut in 2013 – some 400,000 tons – went to fuel.

But conservationists have been sharply divided for years as to how such woods should be managed.

One view, held by the Warwickshire Trust and others, is that in woods which have been left ‘unmanaged’, trees such as oaks should be reduced in density, to allow more light to penetrate the canopy. This, the Trust says, will help butterflies and certain flowers flourish.

The Trust says it is also trying to restore traditional ‘coppicing’ – cutting trees such as hazel close to the ground, so they rapidly sprout multiple stems. In past centuries, coppicing supported rural crafts, such as fencing.

The devastating impact of the ‘re-heathing’ scheme in Cheshire. This, above, is how Cuckoo Rock Valley looked from Bickerton Hill before the National Trust cut down a birch wood in August 2008 for logs and biomass

The devastating impact of the ‘re-heathing’ scheme in Cheshire. This, above, is how Cuckoo Rock Valley looked from Bickerton Hill before the National Trust cut down a birch wood in August 2008 for logs and biomass

 

This is the same location but pictured last month - the view now is of scrubland and bare earth

This is the same location but pictured last month – the view now is of scrubland and bare earth

 

Clive Hambler said that sometimes, this was ‘defensible’. But often, he added, it ignored the many species that flourish in shady broadleaf woodland, including bats, woodpeckers, many kinds of moth, stag beetles and several rare mosses. Moreover, restoring coppiced woods which had been left to grow for decades was extremely difficult. Dr Fisher said: ‘You can’t just recreate conditions that existed 40 years ago or more. The effect of bringing back coppicing to woods like these can be to wipe out the entire ecosystem which is actually there. When you cut down the trees, you remove the homes of animals, birds and plants.’

Woods where there has been recent felling never look pretty, and in Ryton last month, it wasn’t hard to tell felled and untouched areas apart. Where no trees had been cut, there was still a lush canopy, and carpets of flowers. Elsewhere were dozens of newly felled oaks, their stumps still coated with sawdust. Just a few isolated examples had been allowed to remain – in forestry parlance, ‘standards’. Many of these trees, no longer protected from the elements by the oaks that had surrounded them, seemed to be dying.

Moreover, in areas felled in previous years, the open forest floor had vanished. Instead, the ground was choked by rampant brambles and impenetrable hazel, with few mature broadleaf trees to be seen

Moreover, in areas felled in previous years, the open forest floor had vanished. Instead, the ground was choked by rampant brambles and impenetrable hazel, with few mature broadleaf trees to be seen.

At nearby Wappenbury Wood, also owned by the Trust, the scene looked still worse. There too, the Trust is trying to restore coppicing and thin out mature hardwoods. In one spot, a huge grove of aspens had just been felled, leaving almost no vegetation at all. In its place was just several acres of black mud.

At least in Warwickshire the intention is to preserve, not destroy, the woodland. But at Bickerton Hill, on Cheshire’s Welsh border, the owner – the National Trust – is trying to wipe out huge swathes of a much loved birch wood altogether. Here, the plan is to ‘re-heath’ – restore the heathery, open slopes that existed before the birch trees began to grow 80 years ago.

A local forest contractor said that last winter he helped remove 3,000 tons of birch that had been felled – all sold for logs and biomass. Yet according to Hambler, the scheme is doomed. It takes centuries to create the biological conditions that had created a heath, he said – not just a few years. Indeed, in areas felled in 2008, it could be seen that when resilient birch seedlings had started to sprout the Trust had them doused in powerful herbicide, wiping out all the vegetation – birch and heather alike. A Trust spokesman acknowledged the concerns of locals but insisted that eventually, the re-heathing would be successful.

 

Walkers make their way between tree stumps and open ground along what used to be a forest path at Bickerton Hill

Walkers make their way between tree stumps and open ground along what used to be a forest path at Bickerton Hill

 

Either way, although the NT also received a grant, it is clear that demand for biomass has made this scheme more economically viable.

The same is true for the felling and coppicing at Wappenbury. Wildlife Trust woodland officer Eddie Asbery said that there a deal was done with a contractor: in return for removing the trees for free, he sold the wood for biomass.

Hambler said: ‘British forest wildlife has been on a downward spiral for thousands of years. A massive new market for wood should be ringing very loud alarm bells. We should not be complacent just because removing wood is a defensible management in some sites.’

Be that as it may, the results dismay Pip Pountney – who along with Ann Wilson, has formed a campaign group to preserve Warwickshire’s forests, and taken an ecology diploma at Warwick University.

‘This is where I played as a child,’ she said in Ryton Wood. ‘They call it an ancient woodland. The way things are going, it’s going to end up as an oak forest with no oaks.’

 

 

While there may be a case for proper coppicing, as the article points out, there seems to be a danger that govt subsidies will distort the market and lead to long term damage to woodlands.

As for CO2 emissions, it could decades or even longer for the carbon to be resequestered.

The RHI scheme pays up to 12.2p/kwh for domestic users, calculated to cover the cost of renewable heat generation over 20 years:

 

image

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/2010-to-2015-government-policy-low-carbon-technologies/2010-to-2015-government-policy-low-carbon-technologies

 

The online calculator offered by DECC suggests total payments could be up to £10000 for a typical property. The payments are fixed (but inflation linked) and are calculated against a theoretical energy usage, so the bigger the boiler, the bigger the subsidy. 

   

image

https://renewable-heat-calculator.service.gov.uk/

 

 

As with solar panels, it is richer people with larger properties who will end up being subsidised by those less fortunate.

Advertisements
34 Comments
  1. June 21, 2015 2:02 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections and commented:
    The Law of Unintended Consequences–demonstrated here:

    • Kartoffel permalink
      June 22, 2015 10:13 am

      Is there a program to re-forest the desolate countryside, where are the men that planted trees? planting fast-growing species is not restoration

  2. June 21, 2015 2:33 pm

    Reblogged this on JunkScience.com.

  3. June 21, 2015 2:34 pm

    Reblogged this on the WeatherAction News Blog and commented:
    Clearly ‘sustainable’ policies brought about by the carbon fixated crowd is all about ‘mangling’ not ‘managing’ our woodlands

  4. JimBob permalink
    June 21, 2015 2:42 pm

    There haven’t been any wild wood areas in the UK for 100s of years. Heath land is just that low lying evergreen green shrub’s such as heather, bilberries, interspaced with Grazing. Brush wood such as that occurs because the Heath hasn’t been maintained by the commoners, or the ground owner. Brush land support virtually no wild life, heath land support a wide Varity of wild life from butterflies, adders, grass snakes, larks, rodents and the raptors that feed on them and wild foods such as blackberries and bilberries as well as deer and muntjacks.
    The UK landscape is an industrial area, as such it need maintenance and not interference from Nimbies who value nothing other than the view from their back garden.

  5. Mark Leskovar permalink
    June 21, 2015 3:41 pm

    And this is only the beginning. One only needs to look to Haiti to see the consequences of burning trees and shrubs instead of fossil fuels for heating and cooking. Europe will be the first to denude their forests since they feel compelled/proud to be on the cutting edge of this insanity.

  6. Bitter&Twisted permalink
    June 21, 2015 3:52 pm

    It’s OK it’s “green” and “renewable”- we are trying to save the planet.

    Pass me the sick-bucket, puh-leeze!

    • AndyG55 permalink
      June 21, 2015 9:56 pm

      Hey, they are replacing all those nice green trees with big tall white ones… stop complaining !

      Of course, by burning wood in home heaters, that are taking themselves back to the “smog” era, with far more real chemical and particulate pollution that comes out of even a very old coal fired power station.

  7. TonyM permalink
    June 21, 2015 4:05 pm

    In the U.S. the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency and ardent destroyer of the U.S. economy) has now passed regulations on new wood burning or pellet burning stoves. They must limit the amount of CO2 being produced. “The proposed new rules would require manufacturers of wood stoves, wood-pellet stoves, forced-air wood furnaces, wood boilers, fireplace inserts and masonry heaters to build a generation of devices that burn 80 percent more cleanly than current models”(Washington Post, Jan 3, 2014). This, of course would make the stoves much less affordable or maybe even impossible to manufacture. Naturally, that is the goal – all in the name of science fiction.

    • Le Gin permalink
      June 21, 2015 6:32 pm

      Exactly what i’m worried about.
      When quarterly Gas and Electric bills cost more than two weeks pay (currently one weeks pay in every quarter goes to the energy companies) I should think most people will start thinking why they tore their fireplace out and replaced it with a nice shiny gas fire, that will be prohibitively expensive to use.
      My fear is that to sustain the Energy Co’s profits, regulations will be introduced to stop home heating using wood fired stoves and fires.

      • Joe Public permalink
        June 21, 2015 7:17 pm

        “I should think most people will start thinking why they tore their fireplace out and replaced it with a nice shiny gas fire, that will be prohibitively expensive to use.”

        Not knowing your location or circumstances, I can’t comment on all variations – but in the UK, if you haven’t got your own stock of firewood AND have access to Natural Gas, it’s a no-brainer. Gas at ~3 – ~4p/kWh input (3.75p – 5p/kWh useful heat output) is a lot cheaper than logs. Especially when you factor-in instant controllability; no need to pre-purchase & store fuel; and, instant-on and no time wasting ash removal.

      • Kartoffel permalink
        June 22, 2015 8:20 pm

        It is true Mr Gin, anyhow you better look for an other job.

  8. Jeffrey Kreiley permalink
    June 21, 2015 4:37 pm

    Let’s go after whales too-kerosene lamps are evil.

  9. Graeme No.3 permalink
    June 21, 2015 4:55 pm

    How lovely is a tree,
    that burns with a subsidy.

    The usual warped thinking from the believers in an unproven hypothesis. We have to destroy nature in order to save it.

    • June 21, 2015 6:46 pm

      Ironically, in Devon last week, we met a guy out shooting squirrels. He reckons that they are eating their way through valuable woodlands.

      We were in a beech forest at the time, and he pointed out that one full grown beech was worth about £20 grand, purely because of the quality of the wood.

      It would be worth rather less on a bonfire!

      • June 22, 2015 6:22 am

        I have a wood burning stove here in Devon and I source my own wood from my own trees. I have more than enough wood, just from ongoing tree management, to keep me supplied, and I dry the logs thoroughly for several years before use. I confirm that squirrels are the enemy of anyone with trees. I lost about 20 young trees one year from one squirrel stripping the bark and I have a permanent trap to get rid of the vermin. Not being on mains gas and otherwise being reliant on oil for heating, wood is a major source of heating in the remote part of Devon where I live, virtually every house having a wood burner.

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        June 22, 2015 8:09 am

        Grey Squirrels are also the enemy of the urban home owner. We had a pair in our roof who chewed anything they could find including joists and electric cables. Despite paying to have the roof made “squirrel proof” they returned a couple of years later. This time I was prepared with a couple of Fenn Mk4 traps. That sorted them in pretty short order. The campaign then extended into the garden where over a few years I destroyed about 40. late in the campaign another neighbour, presumably another victim of an infestation, also got rid of them. One would visit the garden then disappear within a couple of days.

        Grey squirrels and the magpies also decimated the garden bird population.

      • A C Osborn permalink
        June 22, 2015 10:57 am

        Back in the 50s & 60s they used to pay 6d (six old pence) per Grey Squirrel Tail. You could get a Licence from the Council to “Discharge a Canon” (read Shotgun) in your local Park to do so under a 1937 Law introduced to erradicate them.
        How things have changed, go in a Park with a Shotgun or Air Rifle today and you will find youself surrounded by a Police SWAT Squad and just as likely to end up dead.
        In fact it is now ILLEGAL for ordinary folk to kill them under the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, unless you have a licence to poison them.

  10. June 21, 2015 5:17 pm

    Reblogged this on thereadphonebox.

  11. June 21, 2015 5:18 pm

    People always describe wood burning as carbon neutral, but it isn’t if you hack down huge swathes of trees and only replant tiny saplings!

  12. Le Gin permalink
    June 21, 2015 6:24 pm

    So what happened to all those ideas 15-20 years ago of short rotation coppice for exactly this sort of use?
    It didn’t attract any subsidy, so no-one did it. Plenty of trees just lying about doing nothing, weren’t there. Funny old world, eh.

  13. June 21, 2015 7:46 pm

    Reblogged this on Wolsten and commented:
    I wonder how many woods and forests will be cleared before Greenpeace, 38 Degrees etc decides this is a bad thing…I won’t be holding my breath.

  14. AndyG55 permalink
    June 21, 2015 9:50 pm

    This is a pic of the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic

    Haiti, without proper coal fired solid, reliable energy supply, is the left half.

    • Joe Public permalink
      June 21, 2015 11:08 pm

      That’s a powerful image, Andy. Thanks for sharing.

      • AndyG55 permalink
        June 21, 2015 11:26 pm

        google “Haiti, Dominican border” and choose ‘images’….. for heaps more. 🙂

        here’s another

      • AndyG55 permalink
        June 21, 2015 11:28 pm

        ps.. this is were the US should be shipping its wood pellets,

        not to Drax for electricity in the UK.

        But no green funds/robbery for that is there. !

  15. Richard111 permalink
    June 22, 2015 7:42 am

    Greenies are certifiably mentally handicapped! They BELIEVE that trees which took 300 years to grow can regrow to the same size before all the original wood is burnt!!!
    This is beyond madness!!!!!!! And our stupid government supports this!!!
    If Cromwell turns up I will volunteer instantly.

  16. Bloke down the pub permalink
    June 22, 2015 8:55 am

    I once considered fitting a wood burner, not for the subsidies, but as a back-up for that time in the not too distant future when our whole energy grid collapses under the strain of eco legislation.

  17. Derek Buxton permalink
    June 22, 2015 9:08 am

    The so called “trusts” are becoming the new vandals, readily damaging the land wherever they please to enrich the rich. They should be called to account, 30 or so years in gaol would work. Why are these clowns, telling us to save Gaia doing besides criminal damage but allowed just like greenpeace,WWF and the rest of the band, to get away with it.

  18. June 22, 2015 1:47 pm

    Reblogged this on Climatism and commented:
    From the department of ‘killing the planet to save it’ ….

  19. Simonj permalink
    June 22, 2015 2:49 pm

    I have a Multi Fuel Burner. Not only does it warm my house. I can cook on it as well. I am very careful on where I source my Logs from. The reason I had it installed was my fear that UK Energy Policy was going to lead to blackouts. The more Coal Fired Power Stations that are taken off line, the greater the risk. Nothing has changed my mind.

Trackbacks

  1. Burning Britain’s Forests | NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT | Cranky Old Crow
  2. Apocalyptic Fear-mongering: Sometimes Rush Limbaugh is Right! | I World New
  3. Wood burners ‘worse than cars’ for contaminating air | NOT A LOT OF PEOPLE KNOW THAT | WORLD ORGANIC NEWS

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: