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Wet wood sales ban could hit smaller log dealers, warns supplier

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There are 2.5-million wood-burners in UK homes, according to the Stove Industry Alliance (Photo: stock image)
There are 2.5-million wood-burners in UK homes, according to the Stove Industry Alliance (Photo: stock image)

SMALLER log suppliers in the New Forest could struggle under proposed new anti-pollution laws cracking down on fuel for traditional open fires and stoves, it has been warned.

The government has announced that a ban on selling coal and “wet” wood for domestic use in England will be introduced in February next year, as part of its Environment Bill.

The aim is to cut emissions of certain harmful particles for which the government says woodburning stoves and coal fires are currently the biggest culprit – contributing three times the amount from road transport.

Phased out will be wood with a moisture content of more than 20% sold in loose-stacked single units of less than two cubic metres, and all pre-packaged traditional bituminous house coal.

Woodburners have become increasingly fashionable in recent years, and in the New Forest there are a number of log suppliers.

The business impact could be felt the most by smaller traders who do not have the space to dry out the wood sufficiently to meet the incoming regulations, warned tree surgeon Oliver Rickman, who has run Westbeams Tree Care in Brockenhurst since 2007.

Some are seasoned by being left to dry under cover, and some kiln-dried to be ready faster. “They’re not going to be able to produce as much wood that fits in with the new guidelines,” Mr Rickman said.

His company, which employs seven people, has drying barns and is planning to invest in a kiln-drier.

“There’s quite a few decent, reputable wood sellers in the Forest with good barn storage. But there are others who do not have space and they will struggle,” he said.

“It will be tricky how this gets regulated. Ultimately it will be up to the customer. I think initially as long as people are happy with their wood that’s been turning up it's not going to isolate some suppliers, then it may not hit the prices.”

Felled trees can be dried under cover which can take between six months and a year to season
Felled trees can be dried under cover which can take between six months and a year to season

He advised customers to buy a £10-£20 moisture meter so they can test deliveries, which he said would help police the new rules.

There is no ban on woodburners and open fires.

The new rules are less stringent for wet wood sold in volumes greater than two cubic metres which, from 2021, will need to be accompanied by advice on how to dry it before burning.

Nick Beal, from the New Forest Wood Burning Centre in Ampress Park, Lymington, pointed out that some wood currently delivered as “wet” is dried out by customers themselves in their own domestic stores – but he welcomed the regulation.

He said: “We have been having an awful lot of news coverage recently – mostly negative and not very clear, and that’s been damaging to the industry. Sales are down significantly because there’s a lot of misinformation.

“The legislation really does not make any difference to us. It only reinforces what we have been telling customers – to burn dry wood and use low-smoke stoves. We’re in favour of what’s being promoted.

“Most people buy wood for seasoning. It might be green when you buy it but you store it for a year and then it’s fine to burn.”

A further ban will come in by February 2023 for loose sales via coal merchants. Manufacturers of such fuels will need evidence of very low sulphur content and smoke emission, with labels to show compliance.

James Archer, manager at Drake Brothers coal merchants in Pollards Moor Road, Cadnam, said the 55-year-old business was already advising customers to switch to more environmentally-friendly “smokeless” fuels, so would suffer only a “small drop” in sales.

He said: “Not many of them are using it to heat their homes. It’s a luxury – the coal crackles and gives the romance, if you like. Smokeless fuels more sit there and give a glow. It’s a lifestyle thing.

“It’s the older generation whose only heating in the house is the open fire – those people want to burn the cheapest available.”

Sir Desmond Swayne, Conservative MP for New Forest West, said he had been inundated with letters accusing the government of surrendering to “climate activism”. But he backed the rules as a benefit to public health.

The Tory plans were also supported by the New Forest Green party, although coordinator John Pemberton said more ambitious policies would be needed to tackle climate change.

He said: “Taking the climate emergency seriously will cost money and expel people from their work. But it could well create new jobs such as in renewable technology. There’s huge potential in building these technologies and installing them.”

Industry group the Stove Industry Alliance estimates there are about 2.5 million woodburners in UK homes. Ecodesign-ready stoves produce 90% less emissions than an open fire, it said, and burning wood with moisture below 20% could generate nearly double the heat as wetter logs.

Wet wood and coal are rich sources of pollution consisting of tiny particles – known as PM2.5 – which penetrate deeply into people’s bodies, including lungs and blood. They can cause lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, strokes and asthma.

Environment secretary George Eustice said: “Cosy open fires and wood-burning stoves are at the heart of many homes up and down the country, but the use of certain fuels means that they are also the biggest source of the most harmful pollutant that is affecting people in the UK.

“By moving towards the use of cleaner fuels such as dry wood we can all play a part in improving the health of millions of people.”

What do you think? Write to the Advertiser and Times via letters@adt.press.

This story was updated on 26th February 2020 to clarify a quote by Oliver Rickman.

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