by Michael Smith
In this current climate in Europe with the demand for firewood being at an all-time high anyone who has the slightest idea how to manage the woodlots on his property can make quite some money.
Many people in Britain and also elsewhere do have their own little or even not so little woodlots on their property but have no idea as to how to mange it for their own benefit and also for profit, as far as firewood and such are concerned.
In addition to that there are farms that have quite a bit of woodland, even to such an extent that those plots of woodland are being used for shooting and such like. Very often, however, the tress are left to their own devices, so to speak, and no real management is being undertaken.
The same, in a way, is true for wooded parks, municipal or otherwise, where trees that have fallen are, unless the pose a danger, left where they have fallen to just rot away.
In other cases, where trees are cut in countryside management and municipal and public parks the trees are often cut into lengths and then left as “habitat piles” laying about higgldy-piggledy piled up. This is lazy forestry practice in fact despite the claims that it is “for the wildlife”.
In years gone by when people has Estovers rights and such like and even when it was no longer used in such ways woods and forests – including parks – did not have any of such debris left laying about and neither were logs left, and still wildlife thrives. More at times, it would seem, that today with the “habitat piles”.
Many forestry authorities are now advising against such “habitat piles” and that for more than one reason. The main reason being that those higgledy-piggledy left piles cause diseases to spread amongst the trees and therefore the advice is no to build proper “habitat piles” where the logs are sunk into the ground some way. That, however, requires time and effort.
The other reason is that trees left to rot in the woods and forests are a CO2 hazard, do to speak, for int heir decaying process the wood that is left to rot releases the CO2 that it has absorbed during its growing process. Fart better, therefore, to use the wood, even if it is just for firewood. The release of CO2 if the same but the heating with wood is carbon-neutral.
Also to be considered is that during he decaying process of the wood left laying about not only CO2 is set free but also a much more dangerous greenhouse gas, namely methane. This does not occur when the wood is burned.
So, instead of leaving the wood to die out there in the bush it is time to bring it in and turn it into an income, even if it be just a small one, whether for a farm or a municipal and public park or those that manage the countryside areas.
With the current demand for firewood for homes and – it could soon be – power stations we cannot afford to leave wood too rot out there.
If the right methods be applied some of the country's heating needs and those of power stations could be met by that wood which no one wants for anything else or which has no other market.
The issue of the Dutch Elm Disease in Britain could also be solved – to a great extent if not entirely – by removing all dead and dying elm trees and burning the wood in homes or better still power stations. The reason I recommend power stations here is because the wood then is not going to sit on someone's porch or in someone's yard at home for the beetle to mature and swarm and infect further trees with the pathogen that the, inadvertently, carry about.
Within less than a generation, if done correctly, the Dutch Elm Disease could, I am convinced, be overcome, if the above be employed. Other diseases too could be dealt with in this way, e.g. felling the diseased trees and burning the wood.
This is a case of killing two birds with one stone: removing – hopefully – the disease and providing carbon-neutral energy.
From the woodland owner's side this, obviously, does require some more work than just leaving things to fall and then in situ as they are. It requires the active cutting and bringing in of the wood and then preparing and selling it. The reward, however, could and should be grater here than the outlay, in finances and time.
It can be done because it used to be done. We have but become lazy in our management of woods over the years as, to some extent, the market for firewood was not there and the demand was rather low, and also as we were told in woodland management by certain people with little knowledge who thought that they knew it all to leave the wood as “habitat piles”. This, however, has caused more problems than that it did good; something that anyone with just half and ounce of brain could and should have seen coming.
If you leave diseased wood out there to rot down then you will spread the disease to other trees. This is so obvious but those misguided environmentalists who thought that they knew it all did not care about the trees and the possible income from those; all they cared about was invertebrates and such like needing a place to be.
What did they think those creatures did before when all woods and forests were managed properly, including for firewood and very little debris was lost? They lived quite well on the forest floor without human interference of giving them piles of wood to chew.
We cannot afford this practice, and in fact never could, for it caused disease to spread. Today, however, we can afford this even less for it is not beneficial for anyone, not at least the environment, that we import firewood from as far field as Poland to satisfy the need in Britain, especially as we here waste such wood.
It is most urgent that we manage our own woodlots, whether on farms or elsewhere, in such a way that they benefit us all.
The use of firewood is, as I have said before, carbon neutral as the wood only releases the amount of carbon that it accumulated during its growth. The same carbon is also released while the wood is a “habitat pile”. So not all that good for the environment, is it now.
Much better, therefore, to burn the wood and to have carbon neutral energy rather that to waste it by letting it rot in the woods.
Managing woodlots for firewood, especially if only dealing with dying and fallen timber, is not rocket science and the market is out there, at least presently, for firewood, and if we keep on at the right people the market may even get bigger as time goes by, especially when everyone realizes the facts about carbon neutrality of firewood.
This does only, though, really work, as to locally harvested firewood and not too that that has been imported from nearly as far afield as Russia. That is not a sustainable way to go. Using homegrown wood, on the other hand, is.
While I have been addressing here the British market, the lesson applies also for other countries. I do know that in other countries this seems too be understood far better than in Britain, such as in those of Europe and especially in the USA and Canada, but still there are some people who have little idea of how to get people to buy firewood because some see the smoke as an issue, as far as being “green” is concerned. However, the carbon neutrality of firewood is what should be considered by all of us; the smoke is something that is secondary and negligible, especially as far as untreated natural wood is concerned.
So, let's hear it for local firewood.
© M Smith (Veshengro), February 2009