Forestry Journal:

This piece is an extract from our Latest from the Woods newsletter (previously Forestry Latest News), which is emailed out at 4PM every Friday with a round-up of the week's top stories. 

To receive our full, free newsletter straight to your email inbox, click here.

WOOD burning has been in the news a lot lately – and rarely in a positive light. Whether it's firewood or biomass, a steady stream of articles has appeared in the mainstream press in recent weeks promoting voices who would gladly dampen the flames of two of forestry's booming sectors.

Emissions and particulate matter (PM) may not be the sexiest thing in the world for a Friday newsletter, but they appear to be becoming increasingly important. The perceived health risks of burning wood for heat have long been touted by detractors, specifically around PM 2.5 emissions and the harm research suggests they can cause, but more and more names are being added to those questioning the safety of wood-burning stoves.


A 2022 study cited by Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, showed that even ‘eco-design’ stoves generated 450 times more toxic air pollution than gas central heating, while older stoves now banned from sale produced 3,700 times more. A separate study claims wood burning in homes produces more PM 2.5 than all road traffic in the UK.

Just this week, Scotland's environmental watchdog told ministers to scrutinise the impact of wood-burning stoves on the country's air quality.

Mark Roberts, chief executive of Environmental Standards Scotland, said: “We do find that reductions in emissions from residential burning have stalled and are proportionately of increasing concern. For that reason, ESS has concluded that further action is needed to tackle emissions from residential burning if Scotland is to achieve more stringent standards."

Perhaps this will soon be an issue forestry has to face head on – but maybe better-managed woodlands could be part of the solution?

Writing in Voices of Forestry last year, director for leading solid fuel not-for-profit organisation Woodsure, Helen Bentley-Fox, said: "For wood to be of good quality, we must first and foremost ensure that our woodlands are well managed and resilient. Not only are carefully attended woodlands better for the environment, but they provide added health and wellbeing benefits too."

However, maybe it is already too late. Writing in March's edition of Forestry Journal, Dr Terry Mabbett suggests: "Chances are we are moving inexorably towards a total ban on wood burning in urban areas, with London leading the way. As of February 2023, wood burners have, in effect, been banned in new and refurbished buildings in London."

Let's hope Terry is wide of the mark on this one.

Dr Terry Mabbett's full analysis will be published online at a later date.