A Forest of Trees
PUBLISHED: 10:26 31 October 2016 | UPDATED: 11:16 31 October 2016
Walking through Wood Management
I was ‘trapped’ in a car for 4 hours over half term with two ever-hungry, argumentative boys and a road-stressed husband. I spent long moments gazing out of the windows pretending I was not affected by the petty fights in the back of the car, or the grumbling and gesticulating next to me – and was soon mesmerised by the fabulous autumn colours on either side of the motorway. Really, it was utterly glorious. I will admit to being slightly obsessed by trees: from the first green appearing in spring, to dappled shade in summer hiding the makers of widely-varied birdsong, to the kaleidoscope of autumn colours, to the piles of leaves on the lawn, and finally the strange majesty of bare branches against a cold winter moonlit sky. I like the smell of fresh sawdust and of bonfire smoke; some of my favourite homes are black-and-white timbered, log cabins and clapboard houses. And my favourite home accessory? A wood burning stove.
In our old house, the first thing I would do when we got back home from anywhere was to light the fire. Even if the warmth didn’t hit straight away, the sheer joy of looking at flames seemed to be enough! As I had been reading our latest Land Business Magazine the week before half term, the ‘science of logs’ was subconsciously in my mind. There’s a great article on the value of woodland – written by those who are far more professional than me – but some facts really stuck with me. Trees cover over 7.7 million acres (around 13% of land) in Britain. Now that the world is more focused on biodiversity and green-energy technology, and the glory and efficiency of woodburners and biomass boilers are coming to the fore, it is interesting to find out that the price of hardwood destined for firewood has doubled in price from that of a decade ago. At that time, there was no financial incentive for putting money into forestry, but now land owners and woodland managers are motivated to do more forestry planting: in the UK, England has a target of planting over 12,000 acres of trees annually, Wales over 9,750 and Scotland almost 25,000 acres. It is strange to think that, until the industrial revolution began over 200 years ago, wood was the traditional fuel in Britain. It is only now that we have an understanding and awareness of the environmental damage we have caused by our use of fossil fuels that there is a growing interest in using wood as a sustainable, renewable, low carbon alternative. A full tree circle, if you like.
Managing woodland improves biodiversity and increasing the proportion of managed woodland supports jobs in the forestry industry as well as the future of forests and native woodland. As well as the traditional markets (fencing companies, round timber merchants, specialist building companies, sawmills and craftworkers), there is the rise of green technologies with biomass boilers and off-shoot markets (forgive the pun) for such things as charcoal burning.
If you have recently invested in a piece of woodland (and there are currently about 50,000 UK medium and small woodland owners!), the first thing you need to do is to get to know it, following it through the seasons before deciding on any major project – felling or planting. You might want help to find out about the various grants that are available, as well as getting advice on woodland management in general – everything from what to plant to how to deal with pests, from how to sort out access for getting your timber out, from coppicing to drainage, from storage to selling into the different markets. Wherever your wood, you can’t start felling trees without a Felling Licence from the Forestry Commission – which they should issue if the work you are undertaking is for good woodland management purposes. The usual requirement is that if you clear fell any part of your woodland, you will be asked to restock the area with more trees. Having said that, you are allowed (without a Felling License) to fell up to 5 cubic metres of timber per calendar quarter for your own use. You might require help with an operational and technical plan, or you might just need to know what wood to buy for your burner; you may want advice on nesting seasons or coppicing, or you need information on people, resources and markets; you could have a burning desire to know about calorific value (truly!) or how to keep up to speed with planting specific species for bespoke craft and furniture products. I can tell you that my personal vocabulary has increased significantly this week, learning about stumps, butts, hoppus foot, rideside and skidding.
If you can supply your own house with your own logs, advice seems to give a general quarterly cycle: fell by April; stack for summer; cover in autumn; bring in in winter. Sounds simple? There is a whole art to stacking logs – let alone the skill involved in chopping them all to the right size and getting the right sort of hardwood or softwood. The “obsession” with making perfect logs, and making the most of your woodburner, was proven with the surprise literary hit “Norwegian Wood”, the Non-Fiction Book of the Year 2016 by the author Lars Mytting. Who knew?!
When I was inspired to write this particular missive, I imagined my research would be straight-forward: more fool me! It’s a wonderfully complex subject, with a mixture of wisdom coming from age and experience, layered up by exciting new technologies. Whether walking dogs and family through piles of leaves in the park, stacking your own cut wood artistically inside and out, or toasting your toes in front of your picturesque wood burner in your beamed sitting room, I hope you can take a moment to ruminate on the glories of wood. It’s an incredible subject for getting side-tracked by proverbial off-shoots – nature, industry, technology, design, government, climate change, and the written word: it’s been a relief to finally see the wood for the literary trees.
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