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South East decision makers missing out on wood fuel
The South East is England’s most wooded region, yet decision-makers are failing to capitalise on the region’s potential to produce renewable sources of wood fuel. Public sector decision-makers, in particular, are making slow progress on developing the sourcing and supply of wood fuel, when compared with their colleagues in the north east and south west, says Kent land manager, Nick Sandford. A low level of understanding of wood fuel technology for space and water heating is also hampering progress.

The unenlightened include professionals such as local authority planners, developers and architects, who are unaware of the opportunities for biomass boilers to heat individual buildings or for large district heating systems in the homes, offices and business parks of the future.

Sandford, the resident agent at the Godinton Estate, near Ashford, in Kent and a member of South East Wood Fuels Ltd, said: “There are some 700 biomass boilers nationwide yet only around 20 in the South East. The slow progress in the South East is caused by a low level of understanding by professional and technical staff. There is also a lack of confidence in the fuel supply, despite the huge resource. The quality and reliability of equipment is not an issue, but the requirements of fuel production and delivery is an issue and the bulk of my research has been on the logistics.”

Sandford also found that forestry workers and woodland managers were missing the opportunity to create woodchip from the by-products of forestry operations. “We are talking about the by products of forestry operations – ‘lop and top’ – the small section timber left after valuable timber has been taken for commercial use, small round-wood from thinnings and coppice, also the leftovers from sawmills and tree surgery. Chip wood provides an end market for by products that would otherwise be waste and its sale increases the overall return for the woodland owner,” said Sandford. “A new long-term market for small round-wood would bring the woodlands back into production, delivering benefits for people and increasing biodiversity.”

Woodland covers 14 per cent of the South East, the most wooded counties being Surrey followed by West Sussex and Hampshire. But to capitalise on this under-utilised resource, woodland owners, managers and forestry workers need to grasp the standards required in a fuel supply chain and to purchase the correct equipment.

Funding for Sandford's project came from SEEDA via the Farming and Rural Issues Group (a consortium of land-based organisations). The Group is helping farmers and growers to champion pioneering projects that can boost the knowledge and opportunities in agriculture and forestry.

Farming and Rural Issues Group chairman Shaun Leavey said: “Nicholas Sandford's project has confirmed that wood from a well managed source can be the cheapest source of heating fuel when compared with fossil fuels such as oil or gas. It provides an opportunity to make a real contribution to climate change mitigation in this region. There could be enormous benefits to rural economy of the South East by bringing woodlands back into a management regime, providing a sustainable source of fuel, creating rural employment and benefits for biodiversity.”

Today’s woodchip heating boilers are fully automated and over 90 per cent efficient. They are used to burn clean wood of known provenance (ie wood that is not contaminated by glues, paints, plastics). They can also burn by-products from commercial timber production, or manufacturing. Only a tiny quantity of ash is left after combustion and it can be used as a fertiliser, being high in potash.


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