Firewood / Woodfuel - Where does it come from?
Some wood, mainly oak, comes from our own broad-leaved woodland. This woodland is managed non-commercially, with the emphasis on increasing bio-diversity and wildlife, notably woodland flowers, birds and bats.
The material that is burnt as firewood, is usually the poor quality or ‘low-grade’ timber that is not suitable for construction, furniture, fencing or other long-term options.
The ‘raw’ or ‘base’ material is derived from a number of sources. It can be a ‘primary’ product, as a result of scheduled woodland management operations eg ‘coup felling’ or ‘thinning’, or it may be a secondary or ‘by-product’, such as the material obtained from ‘tree surgery’ or arboricultural tasks, sometimes known as ‘arisings’.
Sometimes trees and forests can be damaged by strong winds and storms, resulting in fallen trees and branches, described as ‘wind -blow’. Quite a lot of timber can be made available from the salvage operation.
Usually the best timber is sent to a sawmill to be cut into planks and beams. When the round logs are sent on a first run through a saw another source of woodfuel is created. The sawmiller cuts the outer or rougher parts of the log, in order to obtain the better quality inner wood, or ‘heartwood’. These outer pieces, known as ‘slabs’ or ‘cants’ , will dry quickly, can then be sold as firewood.
Woodlands and forests when managed sustainably can provide many forms of woody material, that if cut from ‘incremental ‘ growth, (ie the amount of wood that the tree has grown in a year ) can provide a continuous supply, without reducing the volume of timber contained therein. It can have many beneficial effects, without damaging the environment, often enhancing wildlife and increasing bio-diversity.
When woodlands are managed sustainably, timber becomes available as the result of forest management operations such as thinning & coppicing. Thinning is done when space between the trees becomes tight, being overcrowded and growth becomes restricted. A solution is to remove the poorer specimens, leaving room for the better quality trees to grow bigger and straighter, perhaps ending up as sawn material used for furniture and other long term uses such as construction.
Under these circumstances, the carbon contained in the timber is ‘locked-up’ for as long as possible, perhaps only released again after many years, possibly when centuries have passed. A good ‘carbon sink’ is created from young trees that are growing quickly, especially after older wood has been harvested, and the remaining stump is allowed to re-grow, as happens with ‘coppicing’.