Landowners urged to join green revolution of wood

John Anderson from Kirkharle Estate who is looking to exploit the growing market for woodfuel in the region.  Mark Pinder.
John Anderson from Kirkharle Estate who is looking to exploit the growing market for woodfuel in the region. Mark Pinder.

THE growing take-up of woodfuel in Northumberland has prompted forest chiefs to stage the first Woodfuel Week in the region.

From October 16 to 23, workshops will be staged to encourage landowners to join the green revolution and produce more timber, while a Firewood Fair and auction will be held for the first time on the Meldon estate, near Morpeth, on Sunday, October 16.

The Forestry Commission and Northwoods want see more timber used as an energy source.

And with woodfuel boilers being installed in schools, hotels and offices against a backdrop of rising oil and gas prices, demand for timber is soaring.

But a brake on this welcome development could be securing timber supplies from within the region’s borders.

“It’s great news that more people and organisations are going down the woodfuel route, but a bottleneck could be a lack of locally-supplied timber,” said Ian Everard from the Forestry Commission. “That means we need to get more felling and planting into our neglected woods in the North East.”

The capacity for growth is in the private sector’s 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) of woodland in the region. But as much as 50 per cent of this could be under-managed. That’s an economic opportunity going begging. To put the woods back to work a new grant scheme is set to rolled out by the Forestry Commission helping owners pay for woodland roads and tracks to be built so timber can be extracted from often difficult to work woods.

Ben Tansey, from Northwoods, added: “Some private woods are not managed because they were planted on inaccessible terrain making harvesting tough and previously uneconomic. But with firewood prices rising 20 per cent over the past year and with this new grant coming it becomes a much more viable proposition.”

To explain more the Forestry Commission and Northwoods are staging free workshops at Kirkharle Courtyard, near Newcastle, on October 19, and on the Barningham Park, near Barnard Castle, in Co Durham on October 21. There’ll also be details of Northwood’s Bioenergy Programme that provides grants for forestry equipment and machinery, along with tours of both estates.

John Anderson, who owns Kirkharle Courtyard, birthplace of Capability Brown, is among the private owners looking to exploit woodfuel. He said: “We have 80 hectares (200 acres) of woods, some of which badly needs thinning. Before active management didn’t stack up economically, but now with the woodfuel market expanding the business case is more compelling. The woods were planted for a variety of reasons and as a shelter for livestock and for amenity and recreational use. Better management will result in healthier woods and have spins-offs for wildlife, which we are keen to see.”

To find out more contact the Forestry Commission on 01388 488721 or go to www.forestry.gov.uk/NorthEastEngland