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Campaign run in partnership with New Forest District Council warns of the dangers of log burners

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THE health dangers of wood smoke in homes are being highlighted in a new campaign urging people to limit their use of log burners.

Stoves and open fires are particularly popular in the New Forest, and have been popularised in recent years by lifestyle magazines.

Now the Wood Burning Engagement Programme aims to raise awareness of the risks of breathing in their pollutants.

The charity says many residents are unaware of the risks to health from burning wood (picture: iStock)
The charity says many residents are unaware of the risks to health from burning wood (picture: iStock)

The effort is being led by Southampton-based group the Environment Centre in partnership with New Forest District Council.

A government commissioned report has shown that 8% of the population cause pollution by burning wood indoors, and of those nearly half were affluent and chose a fire for aesthetic reasons rather than heat.

Prof. Sir Stephen Holgate, who works at Southampton General Hospital and is behind the campaign, said the millions of tiny particles contained in wood smoke are a "leading cause of ill-health".

"These miniscule particles are invisible to the naked eye and are small enough to pass through the lungs, into the bloodstream and into your organs," he said.

"This can contribute to diseases such as asthma, coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

"I would encourage anyone who is considering burning wood – either for home heating or on a bonfire – to think very carefully about what they are burning.

"In fact, choosing to stop burning wood is one of the best ways of improving local air quality and protecting your health.”

The programme aims to promote "cleaner burning" in open fires and stoves, and households are being urged to "burn less" and save fires for extremely cold weather.

Using either smokeless, authorised fuels or dry, well-seasoned wood with low moisture content will also reduce emissions, along with servicing stoves and regularly sweeping chimneys.

If possible, residents are advised to switch heating to no or low-emission fuels, such as renewable, electric or gas alternatives.

Rachel Higgins, environmental protection team manager at NFDC, said: “Wood burning stoves are popular within the New Forest but many are used for comfort rather than as the primary means of heating.

"By choosing to use cleaner fuels and only burning when necessary, we can help to reduce harmful particulate matter in our homes and local areas.”

Wood burning also has an adverse impact on the environment, said the Environment Centre.

"In most cases wood burning is not low carbon," said a spokesperson. "It takes a long time for trees to regrow and recapture the carbon that is released during burning, and the transportation and drying processes add to the carbon footprint."

The A&T approached Hordle-based New Forest Fires, which sell wood burners as well as electric and gas fires, but the company declined to comment.

As part of its campaign, the charity is offering to deliver talks at meetings of community groups, such as the WI and residents' associations.

It is also offering free advice on wood burning and the most affordable and sustainable ways to heat homes. Call 0800 804 8601, email cleanair@environmentcentre.com or visit environmentcentre.com/wood-burning

Earlier this year, curbs on the sale of house coal and wet wood for domestic burning came into force under new rules aimed at cutting air pollution.

As reported in the A&T, many smaller log suppliers in the New Forest warned they could struggle under the crackdown due to a lack of space to dry out wood sufficiently.

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