Less than half of Cumbria’s woodlands are managed, the rest are fallow.(1) But if more were managed they could be providing timber and logs for burning. Using wood for heating helps to create a much larger market for woodland owners to sell their trees and timber and in turn manage more woodlands. Modern wood burning stoves and boilers can offer an affordable and attractive way to provide heat for domestic and commercial properties particularly in rural areas like Cumbria where fewer properties are connected to the gas grid. Burning wood grown and harvested in Cumbria has huge benefits. Harvesting wood for burning helps to create thriving woodlands, encourages better woodland management, allows younger trees to be planted and existing trees and habitats to be looked after. The latest research into climate change suggests that the best way to protect the forests we have is to manage them, so that there is a diverse range of species and ages.(2)
A report of a recent visit to Germany by a team from Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) costs a Short Rotation Coppice system to heat an average farm house. This might need around 6 hectares of land to provide wood from 2 hectares each year on a three year rotation .
There is a danger that the UK Government‘s extremely ambitious plans for large scale biomass plants will divert wood fibre away from more efficient uses such as the provision of heat or combined heat and power to less efficient uses such as electricity generation.
The use of locally sourced sustainable timber and wood waste for energy production via small-scale use of biomass for heat and in combined heat and power stations has an important role to play. But the use of large quantities of biomass in large power stations which burn the material at around 30% efficiency to generate electricity looks unlikely to be sustainable.
The Scottish Government’s Wood Fuel Taskforce concluded that there is no spare capacity to support large scale electricity generation biomass plants from the domestic wood fibre resource. It would be far better to keep domestic wood supplies to help deliver renewable heat.(3)
According to Carbon Commentary, the ambition of meeting the 12% renewable heating by 2020 solely with wood would require about 24 million tonnes of dry wood or about 40 million tonnes when first cut down before drying. The UK currently produces about 9 million tonnes of forest products a year – somewhat less than 25% of what we will need for wood for energy.(4) There is clearly considerable scope for greater use of wood for fuel in Cumbria.
- In 2010, Blencathra Field Studies Council was awarded a grant from the Rural Carbon Challenge Fund and match funding from FSC & Lake District National Park Authority to install a 35kW hydro scheme, a 300kW biomass heating scheme and improvements to the building infrastructure. The project commenced in early 2012 and has now been completed.