Here at Certainly Wood, just five miles west of Hereford, near to Bridge Sollars, we have been producing and supplying firewood for over twenty years. From starting with just ash species, being dried in the barns on the farm to building our very first kiln in 2005 and pioneering kiln dried firewood when we established Certainly Wood. It's been an interesting journey and learning curve from producing a few hundred tonnes a year where we were paying around £40 per tonne for our local woodland thinnings.
Back then, there were no firewood imports, no industry standards, no kiln dried and thousands of part-time suppliers of firewood around the country and we have no idea how many there will have been around the towns of Hereford, Ross-on-wye, Ledbury, Hay-on-wye, Leominster and Monmouth to mention just a few, but there will have been a lot.
Firewood was very much a cottage industry, something purchased by the load or the tonne from your local supplier who tipped it to your drive, you paid by cash, and that was that! Smokey chimneys were not uncommon with stove efficiency around 65% and open fires were the most common option. Articles in glossy magazines were all about the wonders of wood-burning and everything was positive. There were no mentions of the PM2.5 particulate matter or any concerns over the environmental impacts of wood smoke. Gathering around the campfire and the familiar smell of wood smoke for many was a fond memory.
Roll forward to now, and things have changed in a big way:
In the current climate, a huge amount of softwoods and woodland thinnings are now being brought by the biomass industry and turned into wood-chip for the boilers. There are certainly an abundance of Herefordshire chicken farmers who have converted their houses from gas heating to biomass. A government push encouraged us to move away from fossil fuels to more sustainable ones. Consequently, the price for raw materials began to increase significantly and has nearly doubled to £70-£80 a tonne now, compared to £40 when we first started Certainly Wood.
We now produce over 20,000 tonnes every year here in Lulham, nr Madley and have 2 wood-fired boilers that heat our 8 kilns. Many other suppliers have also grown into full-time businesses supplying across the UK. Imports from Eastern Europe are now in abundance, mainly from Latvia & Lithuania. It is thought that as many as 150,000 tonnes are brought over annually. The market for firewood is believed to be around 1.8 million tonnes every year!
New legislation introduced in May this year means that it is now illegal to supply wet wood that has is not dried to below 20% moisture content in volumes under 2m3. Many of the smaller, more traditional firewood suppliers are wondering how they will comply with the new legislation with many ceasing operations and much more surely to follow. We already know of some in Herefordshire and surrounding counties that have decided not to continue supplying. Others are adapting and growing their business to meet these demands.
Recently the Clean Air Strategy was introduced by the UK government that looked closely into air pollution. There was a need to address issues that were being caused by burning wet wood on domestic appliances. This was seen to be a considerable contribution to smoke and finer particles known as PM2.5.
In May this year, it became law that firewood that was under 2m3 in volume had to be Ready to Burn approved, a quality assurance scheme run by Hetas. The scheme addresses issues with moisture content rather than the origin or volume of the firewood. Currently, there are over 150 firewood suppliers across the UK enrolled and registered under the government scheme.
Wood Burning Stoves
The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) over the past 10 years has strived to meet the challenges set by the UK & EU governments to help combat environmental issues caused by burning, by improving efficiencies of wood-burning stoves and reducing particulate emissions. There has been a significant improvement in this with stoves now being over 80% efficient and the introduction of a new certification scheme, called clearSkies to meet the ever-rising industry standards.
There has been a significant focus over the past 4-5 years on domestic burning and many negative articles about the impact it has on the environment. Some hard-hitting headlines suggested that 38% of all particulate matter was caused by wood burning in the home. Even Defra have now agreed that this figure was incorrect and the true amount was more likely to be 12% even before the introduction of the Clear Skies & Ready to burn schemes.
The market itself is evolving and we have hopefully now reached a point that as standards rise, negativity will dwindle as facts start to come into focus that wood burning is not the big contributor to the particulate emissions that it was originally seen to be! It should be seen as part of the solution to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels for heating our homes and promote the use of more renewable and sustainable fuel sources.
With firewood supplies, the immediate term suggests that there will be a continual rise in good supplies of woodland thinnings and imports. Firewood suppliers will reduce in numbers, leaving remaining suppliers to improve and meet the challenges of higher standards with kiln drying and will continue to develop and grow. Supplies will improve, higher quality fuels, and efficiency. However, pricing is a very grey area to try and predict. The drive on biomass is pushing prices up combined with challenges faced due to Brexit and COVID-19.
These are challenging times, but we are hopeful that in 12 months, the market will be more predictable.