We may have left the EU behind, but are we being conned over logs coming in from Eastern Europe? Graham Mole spoke to two British producers who think so – Richard Lyne and Tom Hams of Test Valley Logs.

CRITICS are claiming that much of the kiln-dried firewood being sold in the UK is sourced from Eastern Europe and any boasts that it’s good for the environment just don’t stand up. The amount of fuel used to power the kilns, transport the logs across the continent by road and sea, and finally deliver them nationwide throughout the UK far negates any positive effects of actually burning them. If the ideal is locally sourced, properly seasoned logs, these are anything but.

And the critics should know, for two of them run a Hampshire-based firm that supplies seasoned firewood, all of which is sourced and delivered from within a 20-mile radius of their yard in Stockbridge.

Test Valley Logs has been run for the last 10 years by Richard Lyne and Tom Hams and they are extremely sceptical of imported kiln-dried firewood.

Richard said: “Our firewood is dried over time by the sun and wind, as opposed to force-dried in a kiln that’s heated by biomass. It’s delivered locally in loose loads, so we don’t use any unnecessary packaging; and all our wood is sourced locally, which helps maintain our local woodlands.

“That creates jobs not just for us, but for many others who rely on English timber to make a living. Although the phrase ‘locally sourced’ is often thrown about nowadays, we genuinely believe that to run a sustainable firewood business it is the only genuine way of doing so. There are just so many plusses in being local.”

What a lot of it comes down to is educating people who buy firewood – letting them know where their wood’s sourced, how to store it properly, the burning qualities of different species and, in some cases, even how to light a fire properly.

For this, the firm has a few useful tips.

Forestry Journal: Firewood drying naturally at Test Valley Logs.Firewood drying naturally at Test Valley Logs.

The problem with starting a fire in the traditional way (kindling first with logs on top) is that, as the flame is at the bottom of the fire once the logs start to heat up and produce gas, there is no flame at the top to ignite the gas, so the logs pollute rather than burn.

Richard explained: “This is why, when you first light a fire, you’ll see a large amount of white smoke coming from the chimney. There is a solution. If you lay the logs on the bottom of the fire with the kindling on top, the fire eats its way down as the logs heat up and produce gas, so there’s always a flame above to ignite the gas.”

As the firm explains on its website: “Fires and smoke pollute if they don’t burn intensely. To burn all the gases emitted from wood, you need to create a temperature of 300–350 degrees. Anything lower and the gases, the smoke, will go up the chimney unburned and pollute. For this reason, a hot fire will burn cleanest.”

The firm has hit out at the way kiln-dried logs are marketed as “a superior product being better for the environment and more cost effective”, responding: “All of this is just clever marketing to justify the extra cost.”

Richard explained: “What they don’t take into account is that apart from the costs and pollution from transport, there’s the energy that has to be used to dry them out in the first place, so in that sense those logs are actually worse for the environment.”

And then there are outright lies about the provision of kiln-dried logs. Tom said: “Suppliers are very good at wording things like ‘we supply kiln-dried logs’, but they never say where they come from. If you read between the lines, you’ll find around 80 per cent of it comes from Eastern Europe. If we had that market in-house, our woodlands would be in better shape, there would be more forestry jobs and it would be better for the environment.

“We’re firm believers in local produce because it’s good for everybody in the industry. And something needs to be done about it and soon.”

Forestry Journal: Richard and Tom make sure the logs are stacked properly.Richard and Tom make sure the logs are stacked properly.

But which species of tree provides the best firewood? The firm’s verdict: beech. Test Valley Logs declares: “Beech is one of the finest woods to burn. It burns hot and for a long time. But beech has many uses other than firewood, which means it doesn’t appear on the market as much as some would like.”

And then there’s birch which, says the firm, is “a wonderful and often overlooked species. It’s a ‘pioneer’ species, seeding freely and improving soil quality for other trees and shrubs. It’s a good, clean firewood and has a lovely scent when its burned.”

The firm’s advice is that each species has its own individual merits. It says ash is a good all-round firewood and burns easily with little smoke. But green ash doesn’t burn at all well.

The firm reports: “It does have a naturally low moisture content, but needs further seasoning before burning. Oak is a very dense wood and has a tendency to smoulder, rather than burn. Ideally, it’s best mixed with lighter woods, such as birch or sycamore. Allow plenty of airflow into your appliance, split the logs small and it will, once mastered, give a hot and long fire. Sycamore is another underrated firewood species. It grows quickly, splits easily and is relatively quick to season.”

But, say the experts, there’s a total lack of knowledge amongst some customers on how to even light a fire.

Tom said: “I had one chap who complained he couldn’t light a fire, when all he’d done was drop some burning paper onto a log. I just had to treat him as if he were a kid to show him how to do it.

“We are here to serve our customers, but we’ve also got that other job – taking care of the environment. Nobody can dodge helping in that. It’s what we all believe in and why we do the jobs we do.”

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