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Stick Farming - Living Woods

Stick Farming - Living Woods

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Published by: stickfarmer on Jun 03, 2012
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Stick Farming
In times of fuel poverty we cannot afford the luxuryof planting trees, writes
Richard Edwards
, allowingthem to grow for 100 years to store carbon
any people reading this article will beaware of the importance that the UK Government attributes to trees intackling climate change by methods of carbon sequestration and storage. The ForestryCommission (FC) has recently published its thoughtson the subject (
Combating Climate Change – A rolefor UK forests
(1)). The document suggests that‘Woodlands planted since 1990, coupled to anenhanced woodland creation programme of 23,000ha per year over the next 40 years (2millionacres), could, by the 2050s, be delivering, on anannual basis, emissions abatement equivalent to10% of total GHG emissions at that time. Such aprogramme would represent a 4% change in landcover and would bring UK forest area to 16% whichwould still be well below the European average.’ To quote the eminent botanist and historianProfessor Oliver Rackham OBE: ‘For its practicaleffect, telling people to plant trees {to tackle climatechange} is like telling them to drink more water tokeep down rising sea levels.’ There is another way, and it involves makingbetter use of what we already have. We need toimprove the way that our broadleaved woodlandsare managed, we need to make rewood/woodfuelcompetitive in terms of value, ease of use andefciency when compared to fossil-fuels (the causeof fuel poverty), and, in doing this, cut carbon waste,create rewarding jobs and increase biodiversity. A tall order? Of course, but a twin approach tocare in woodland management and use of theresource could produce some remarkable solutions.Who knows? We may even be able to ‘save ourforests’ along the way.
The business of wood energy 
 The costs of gas, coal, electricity and oil are nevergoing to come down in price because theseresources are getting more difcult to exploit andmore costly to supply. Wood, on the other hand, if managed properly, can continue to provide energyfor centuries to come, with gains in biodiversityoutweighing the minor detrimental effects of theurgent changes required in UK woodlandmanagement policies. There has never been a better time to develop abusiness around the supply of woodfuel. TheGovernment wants a low carbon economy, and anindustry based on efcient methods of growing,processing and burning woodfuel can help deliverthis aim. Given that 35% of the UK population arecurrently experiencing fuel poverty, then this is thetime for wood – but not as we know it.
 An ‘average’ three-bed house in the UK requiresbetween 7-12 tonne of rewood a year – to heatwater and room-space. According to FC data (2),around 500,000 tonnes of rewood was burned aswoodfuel in 2010. If we suggest that at least half of this rewood was used to generate comfort re(heating nothing more than one room) it follows thatfewer than 25,000 households in the UK rely totallyon rewood for heat/warmth/energy. Given thatthere are 25million households in the UK, it wouldappear that there is considerable scope to increasethis market share!For rewood/woodfuel to become more attractivein the energy market it needs to compete with theease of a switch: every other source of domesticenergy can be turned on at the wall, and people arecomfortable with this. From where it is today,rewood is very unattractive as a form of domesticfuel when compared to the ‘norm’. The greatest problem to overcome before we canskip down this particular yellow-brick-road is thatthere are too many BIG trees in the way. Big treesdemand the attention of big machinery, lots of oil,energy, time, handling, processing, mess, noise andthey hold too much water. Cutting big trees forrewood is nothing more than madness, but it’s thenorm in our broadleaved woodlands today.Processing and burning woodchip simply doesn’tadd up and warrants no further comment here. Thefuture of wood energy is in small trees, naturalregeneration, coppice and short-rotation-coppice.
The Business of wood
Most would agree that we need more woodlandcover in the UK, and, of course, trees will capturecarbon dioxide and store carbon, but when there
July/August 2011July/August 2011
are more than 500,000 acres of ‘neglected’broadleaved woodland in the UK, with more than500,000 deer roaming through them, oftenunchecked – chewing bark (killing trees), eatingplants (oxlip, primrose, etc...) and any naturalregeneration – then it seems hypocritical to createmore woodland when so much lies neglected.Deer grazing is a bigger threat to ‘our forests’ thanGovernment sell-offs!The term ‘neglected’, when applied tobroadleaved woodland, often indicates lack of management. The term is also widely used for oldcoppice that has not been cut for more than 40years. Sadly, it also describes woodland to which nocurrent economic value is attached. If woodlandowners are unable to market their wood then thatwoodland, more often than not, becomes neglect of any attention, other than subsidised gardening. The fact that we have vast areas of ‘neglectedbroadleaved woodland in the UK tells us that themarkets that were once demanding coppice andhardwood poles, in the main, no longer exist, andwhile a lot of energy (talking) has gone into trying toreinvent these markets, the area of ‘neglected’woodland increases year-on-year, with the supportof Government subsidy! This subsidy sustains deer,which will, eventually, be the sole reason thatneglect reaches its natural climax – death and loss!It is wrongly assumed by the vast majority of people in the UK that all trees, whether planted orself-sown naturally, have to be allowed to grow intobig trees. We are a population raised on images of rainforest destruction in the Amazon, and thedemise of the orangutan habitat in South East Asia,caused in the main, by our demand for beef and oil.In the UK, we can appease this ‘loss of forest-guilt’
 Ancient oak pollards on Exmoor,Somerset (top, photo courtesy ofFC Picture Library). RichardEdwards believes that coppicedbirch (above) is the future ofwoodfuelIf you want big trees you’llneed to pollard, like this willow

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