With the focus on climate change and air pollution remaining high on the government’s agenda, many woodburning stove owners are awakening to the impact their solid fuel burning can have on the air we all breathe. With the identified need for the UK to reach net-zero carbon by 2050, director for leading solid fuel not-for-profit organisation Woodsure, Helen Bentley-Fox, discusses the importance of woodfuel quality and the need for well-managed woodlands.  

AIR quality in the UK has improved significantly in recent decades. However, the ‘Emissions for air pollutants in the UK’ report (published this February) focused heavily on the negative impact attributed to an increase in burning wood for fuel. The report concluded that there has been a 124 per-cent increase from 2011 to 2021 in the use of wood as a fuel source, along with a decrease in the use of coal for domestic heating. Whilst we acknowledge the recent statistics, measures are already in place to tackle these harmful emissions and we are confident that, as a sector, we can dramatically reduce these levels.

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. Once the trees are suitably established, it is essential to thin/manage the smaller ones to allow the woodland to breathe, increasing the woodland resilience to drought, extreme weather events, pests and diseases; the impacts of climate change. This process of removing individual trees from a forest to reduce the woodland density not only allows the removal of poorer-quality stock, but also focuses on the growth of the stronger remaining trees, which serves to enrich the quality of their timber, improve their structure and enhance the woodland’s biodiversity. 

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Striving to achieve the highest standards of woodfuel production throughout the UK, we work closely with Grown in Britain to help encourage home-grown supply where possible.

The not-for-profit organisation reduces unnecessary imports by encouraging and supporting active and sustainable management of our own forests and woodlands.

Supporting the use of UK timber, those certified through the Woodsure scheme can, for a small fee, obtain Grown in Britain certification which provides visible assurance of a brand that can be trusted.

Working closely with DEFRA, we help to provide evidence-based advice to improve legislation and air quality in the UK. With measures such as the Woodsure Certification and ‘Ready to Burn’ schemes, we want to encourage forestry professionals and suppliers to register and get certified. 

The Woodsure scheme works closely with producers and suppliers to achieve the highest standards of woodfuel production throughout the UK, and at our Woodsure UKAS-accredited laboratory we test woodfuel products for the Ready to Burn and Woodsure fuel quality schemes.

At the lab, we are testing for particulate size and moisture content on woodfuel and woodchip. As a UKAS-accredited laboratory, we follow the methodology of the internationally recognised standard, ISO 17025, used to define the fuel on which appliances are designed to operate. In the case of firewood for Ready to Burn, woodfuel – sent in directly from suppliers or auditors – is tested to ensure all of the water has evaporated from the product and they can be certified as having a moisture content of 20 per cent or less. 

In addition to testing and assessment, we also provide technical and regulatory support and assist in the process to become Ready to Burn approved. The Woodsure fuel quality scheme covers every stage – from the harvesting of timber and the selection of raw materials, through to post-timber processing – and confirms the critical control points needed to ensure that the timber is of the right quality and users can trust the product quality.

The Ready to Burn certification scheme, administered by DEFRA, makes it easier for homeowners to burn cleaner fuel. The Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) Regulations (which now apply in England) aim to prevent harmful pollution from domestic burning of all solid fuels by ensuring wood sold in volumes of under 2 m3 is certified as having a moisture content of up to 20 per cent. By looking out for the Ready to Burn certification mark, users can have peace of mind that the fuel they purchase is compliant with emissions regulations.

Forestry Journal: Bluebells in springtime, in Ruislip Woods National Nature Reserve, Hillingdon, UK.Bluebells in springtime, in Ruislip Woods National Nature Reserve, Hillingdon, UK. (Image: FJ)

While we work towards a cleaner, safer future, we want to bring attention to the fact that woodfuel remains a vital energy source for many within the UK. We all breathe the same air and must do more to tackle air pollution. Forestry professionals and woodfuel suppliers alike can help people make better choices, which in turn will help us all move towards a cleaner, safer world. 

Woodsure is the UK’s only woodfuel quality assurance scheme, raising awareness of the importance of the quality of woodfuel. The Woodsure certification scheme and its logo shows woodfuel users the suppliers and promotes the products they can trust. For more information, visit www.woodsure.co.uk.