The long spell of cold weather we are having down South has caught people unprepared, at least in terms of firewood. Demand seems to be rising fast. No doubt also stimulated by the high cost of energy and credit crunch.
Birch makes good firewood, and thats lucky because when we are managing woodland or restoring heathland on the Lynchmere commons we are mainly cutting silver birch. A lot of it has grown as scrub and needs thinning out gently to improve the quality of both the woods and heath.
The wood used to be sold to contractors (mainly for pulp) but by the time transport is included it’s not very valuable and they tend to deal in whole lorry loads (an artic load is around 20 tonnes of wood depending upon density and moisture).
In my view transporting the wood around the country is plain daft. I have copies of old weighbills from South Wales and Yorkshire. Even Slough (where there is a biomass power station) is a bit far if there is a use and demand for it in the local community. For the last few years we have been selling the cordwood directly as firewood.
This year we have experimented with managing the felling and the extraction using our own volunteer resources on the principle that many hands make light work
The first task was to fell the trees, and we managed to combine this task with running a refresher course for our chainsaw users. The trees don’t always come down cleanly and can ‘hang up’ in other trees. Getting them down safely is an important skill and worth practicing on a training day.
Extraction is the technical term for moving the logs out of the woods. Some pretty fancy, and expensive, machines are used, skidders, forwarders, yarders and so on. But we used the tractor, trailer and a gang of enthusiastic volunteers. Who needs a timber crane when you’ve got this lot?
As its a heathland site we burnt the remaining brash that is too small to be used for firewood. This stuff is too old to be used for pea-sticks, bean poles or besoms otherwise I would have bundled it up for later use.
Not so long ago it would have been bundled into faggots for kindling if it had no other use. I haven’t quite succeeded in persuading people to take faggots home yet, so it cooked my baked potatoes and Andy’s sausages instead.
The thinning will give the trees enough room to grow and also encourage more plants to grow underneath.
Another aim of this work is to create a wildlife corridor through the tree belt and join up two recently restored sections of heathland as a part of the ‘Serpents Trail’ a long distance heathland path through West Sussex.
The next day bedlam ensued as people queued for the firewood. I didn’t even manage to take a picture until the stack of logs had almost disappeared.
As we shifted a few tonnes of cordwood in only a couple of hours, it seems that burning wood is coming back into fashion. Burning local wood must be better for the environment (and the economy) than burning imported Russian coal?