"Clients are saying things like ‘They’d have to kill me to take my stove out,'" said ” said stove fitter Ivor Clelland, "Or, ‘I’ve worked so hard to be able to save up for this. It’s mine.'”

The wood burning stove, for many who have them, is about more than just heat. There is an emotional element to its appreciation, a romance. That is one of the reasons why, when news spread in March that the Scottish Government had banned stoves in new builds, the reaction was so fiery.

Though the new restriction only applies to planning applications for new buildings, the social media and political backlash was fierce - and has now prompted a Scottish Government review of the plan.

Among Ivor Clelland’s clientele, he recalled, the response was indignant. "They are saying, 'Government can’t just turn round to me and say, 'You can’t have this.' It’s my house. I’ve saved up for this. It heats my water. It warms my children. You’re not taking it.'”

The Scottish Government has repeatedly stated that there is no blanket ban on stoves and that even in new homes where a "need can be justified" they are still permitted,  but many owners were rattled, and concerned at what this meant for already-installed stoves as the drive to net zero proceeds.

These reactions spoke of the depth of attachment people have to their stoves and to the process of burning wood.  Some talk of it as "primal", or "in our DNA".

Mr Clelland's own home, for instance, is solely heated by a stove. “I’m off the gas grid,” he said. “I’ve got electricity coming into my house, but my heating is just my log burner. I built my house around it."

In the living room of Ann Quinton and Simon Llewellyn’s home near Elvanfoot a stove burns throughout most of the winter. From when they rise in the morning to when they go to bed, it provides more than heat for that room. A pot of soup often bubbles on its hood, gloves are dried out on a peg ring nearby and laundry is hung above. "We don't possess a television," said Ms Quinton. "And I think there's probably more interest in the fire than on the TV. You don't get repeats."

Tending their stove is an important element of their way of life. “We process our own wood," she said, "which not everybody has the means to do. We enjoy it. We get in an artic-load of trees and Simon cuts them with the chainsaw and I’ll cut them with the hydraulic splitter. It’s lovely sitting on a summer’s day, rolling the log under the splitter. That’s very satisfying. You get a great tan."

Their home has no central heating, though it happens that the couple also has an air-to-air heat pump, which is only ever cranked into action during the summer when its cooling air conditioning powers are put to use.  "We don’t use it, it’s just there for the sake of it being there."

But Mr Llewellyn, who is a chimney-sweep, pointed out that most of the people whose chimneys he tends don’t depend on their stove in the way that they do. Over 90% have them for pleasure, rather than necessity, and often have gas as their primary source of heat.

Forestry Journal: Ann Quinton in the wood storeAnn Quinton in the wood store

Over the 25 years he has been doing the job, he has seen, he said, the stove shift from primary heat source to an accessory.  He believes that stove owners who have them for pleasure, not necessity, are even less likely to let them go.

"They nurture it. They get the chimney swept. They explain how they enjoy it and wouldn't be without it. They talk about the things they do around it, the evening glass of wine by the fire. In reality, of course, they could be without it; it's just they don't want to be."

“A lot of these people,” he said, “view it as their right to have a wood-burning stove which is a cost-effective supplement for their heating, especially in emergencies. It’s part of their assets. It’s part of their home. Perhaps they have saved up for it. They have planned it and dreamt about it. Whereas people who have it as a primary heat source sometimes don’t want it. They want something different.”

Many stove owners describe them as "carbon neutral". As Ann Quinton put it, "Trees are taking in the carbon dioxide when they're growing, and when you burn them they release the same carbon dioxide. Whether a log is burnt for heating or the tree decomposes, the same amount of CO2 is produced." 

Forestry Journal: Logs burn on a wood burning stove

However, the most frequent criticism of wood burning stoves is not their greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, it's the particulate matter released when they burn and their impact on human health.

Last year,  the historical geographer Fraser MacDonald wrote an essay, Burning Questions: Home Fires, about the debate around wood-burner emissions and his experiences of fire-making throughout his life, for the London Review of Books. 

He described a relationship with fire that is about more than the practicalities of heat. His essay delved into his family’s past, describing a thread that reached back through the coal fire burning in the 1960s brick fireplace of his childhood to the fire on the blackhouse floor of his great grandparents; fire-making as a skill and tradition passed on.

Speaking a year on, following the new build regulations around stoves, Dr MacDonald described the current public policy debate about them in Scotland as “an avoidable but now raging lum fire”.

He lives on the outskirts of Edinburgh and has a Morso stove. The part of the city, he noted, that he lives in is within the lowest decile for air pollution in the UK. 

“It’s not as straightforward as cities are dirty and rural areas are clean. It’s more complicated than that and I only wish the debate could be open to this kind of nuance and complexity.”

While he is not one to dismiss the impact of stove pollution, of which he has much to say, he is also keen to explore the emotional resonance of fire-making and its connection to the past and ancestry.

“I feel that my affinity for a living flame," he said,  "is a point of continuity with past generations. There’s something about the labour of fire setting and fire lighting, of fuel gathering and stacking, that connects me to them in a way that is beyond memory or thought but simply habit."

He observed that there are aspects of agency and independence attached to the lighting of a fire. “The matter of heat,” he said, "isn’t just temperature. It’s about radiant heat in the direct and familiar form of the flame, something that reflects our own agency in bringing it to life. It reflects a profound human desire in a way that isn’t captured by a central heating thermostat.”

“So much of what is hidden in the debate about stoves is about the importance of human agency in an age when our political and economic circumstances reflect narrowing horizons. If you have a high trust society people are not going to be so sensitive about regulation.”

There is also, said  Dr MacDonald, a philosophical point to be made. “The debate is primarily structured around what we can measure. We can readily measure pm 2.5 with a laser monitor. But there isn’t a corresponding measurement of wellbeing or culturally-derived satisfaction that stoves might provide.”

This feature originally appeared in our sister title, The Herald.