Forestry Journal:

This piece is an extract from our A View from the Forest (previously Forestry Features) newsletter, which is emailed out at 4PM every Wednesday with a round-up of the week's top stories. 

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IF it looks like a ban, walks like a ban, and quacks like a ban, then it's probably a ban. 

Despite the best attempts of ministers to insist that, no, the Scottish government was not banning wood-burning stoves in new builds, it didn't take long for this narrative to unravel.

Not least when the government used the word "banning" in its own statement as it attempted to put out the fire (oh, the irony) sparked when changes to the building standards went viral this week. 

For those who are new to the story, the gist is this: new houses and conversions are no longer allowed to use gas or oil boilers, or any form of bioenergy where electricity or heat is generated from organic matter such as wood. Instead, housebuilders are expected to use what are known as 'zero DEH' systems such as heat pumps, solar thermal storage systems or electric storage heaters.

While some exceptions will be allowed (and it's important to note the ban doesn't apply retrospectively, so only affects new builds), the government itself says that in "smaller buildings, including dwellings, there will be little justification to install emergency heating as heat demand on failure of the normal heating system can usually be addressed simply and easily through use of independent, portable heaters". 

As the story unfolded on Tuesday, the fallout grew arms and legs. Green and SNP MSPs assured the public that it was all a storm in a teacup. Rural communities were told that their concerns had no basis in fact. Patrick Harvie proudly declared that there were in fact no tanks in Baghdad.

Forester and former Green MSP, Andy Wightman, perhaps summed it up nicely when he said: "A blanket ban is really silly." 

Forestry Journal: Forester Andy Wightman called the blanket ban 'really silly' Forester Andy Wightman called the blanket ban 'really silly'

The government and its ministers insisted the plan had been agreed upon during two public consultations, but did anyone in forestry – inherently linked to moves to reduce the country's use of firewood – know they took place?

Given that Northern Ireland-based Balcas Timber appears to be the only industry-linked organisation to have responded to the first one in 2021, we probably have an answer.

A list of the respondents to the second consultation can't be easily found, but FJ has asked for it. What we can say is that 112 responses were submitted to the 2022 survey, most of these from unspecified organisations. 

"On the 'should have known about this already' point, it's striking that the forestry sector – which actually produces the biomass in question – appears to have been unaware of this," Jamie McIntyre, a member of the Forest Policy Group, wrote on X, the platform previously known as Twitter. "Consultation that fails to engage a major stakeholder can't be considered fit for purpose." 

Forestry Journal: Jamie McIntyre has been a vocal critic of the move Jamie McIntyre has been a vocal critic of the move (Image: FJ/JM)

As for what comes next, forestry organisations appear ready to fight this.

Poppy Airey, heat policy analyst, on behalf of the Wood Heat Forum (previously the Wood Heat Association) at the REA, said: “Whilst we welcome that the legislation will result in no more fossil fuel boilers being installed in new buildings, we are disappointed that the ban will also apply to all bioenergy related heating systems. 

"This includes biomass boilers, which are the largest contributor to heat decarbonisation in Scotland to-date – making up 79 per cent of all renewable heat generated. 

"The Scottish Government should recognise that bioenergy will continue to have a role to play in heating new and existing buildings – particularly in rural and island communities, where there are strong links between the biomass and forestry sector and many associated local benefits for both the environment and bioeconomy." 

Watch this space.