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The Times Online - June 29 2011 by Ben Webster Environment Editor

Ten million more trees will be cut down each year in woodlands across England under a government plan to persuade thousands of homes and businesses to install wood-burning stoves and boilers.

Woodland owners across the country will be encouraged to fell more than a third of trees from dense forests to feed the growing market for wood fuel. The Forestry Commission has calculated that more than 2 million additional tonnes of wood could be stripped from England’s forests each year without undermining their long-term future. This would treble the amount of wood being burnt as fuel by 2020.

It says thinning dark woodlands by taking out smaller trees will bring light back to the forest floor, helping to revive bluebells and other flowers and enticing back endangered birds. The commission will publish a plan today to harvest enough additional wood to heat the equivalent of 250,000 homes or 3,000 schools. This would save 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by avoiding the burning of gas and oil.

The plan says that more than half of England’s 1.2 million hectares of woodland is “undermanaged”, meaning the owner is extracting few, if any, trees. In many cases woodlands have been left untouched for decades and have become choked by too many trees competing for space and light.

Woodland owners will be able to apply for a share of a £10 million fund to help them build access roads for cutting equipment. The plan acknowledges that owners will harvest trees only if there is a market for them, but the commission predicts that demand will leap after next months’s launch of the Renewable Heat Incentive.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change will encourage thousands of homeowners and businesses to burn wood by offering them guaranteed payments for every unit of heat generated. The number of homeowners installing wood-burning stoves has already doubled in the past five years to more than 160,000 a year.

Ian Tubby, the commission’s policy officer, said many more people would be willing to switch from burning fossil fuels to wood if they could count on a regular local supply.

“We will be demonstrating to woodland owners that there is a growing market for their wood that is presently just standing there unmanaged, with the canopy shading out other wildlife. Also, land owners will be encouraged to plant more woodlands if they see there is a healthy and sustainable market.”

He said most of the 10 million additional trees that would be felled each year under the plan would have trunks of less than 30cm (12in) in diameter. Bigger, older trees would usually be left standing.

Justin Mumford, a chartered forester who helps to manage the Arthingworth Estate in Northamptonshire, said that thinning dense woods resulted in rapid improvements in the diversity of wildlife.

His company removed a third of the trees last year in one neglected section of broadleaf woodland, where there was nothing growing on the forest floor and birdsong was rarely heard.

“This year it has come back to life with a carpet of bluebells and several bird species, including spotted flycatchers, willow tits and wood warblers.”

The commission’s plan is supported by a group of 13 conservation charities including the RSPB, Woodland Trust and Friends of the Earth.

They said in a joint statement: “Given properly regulated and certified forestry practices, there is no reason to believe that woodland conservation need be in conflict with attaining this ambitious target for an increase in wood fuel production.

"Indeed, the careful management of native woodland may bestow many conservation benefits for woodland birds, butterflies and plants and is very much in keeping with the history of much of our ancient woodland as places that provide fuel and raw materials for local use."

Original article appeared on The Times on 29 June 2011: