Firstly, it’s a good question and particularly when there is now a major drive to stop global warming and focus on sustainability.
The beauty of course of firewood is that it really can be a truly sustainable source of fuel to use at home and as its life cycle is so short, it by far outweighs the sustainability of all fossil fuels that have taken millions of years to produce.
Annual sales of wood burning stoves are thought to be in the region of 150,000 per annum and whilst this has dropped over the last 2 years, wood burning stoves are still regarded as a popular home fixture. In a recent survey undertaken by the Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) over 95% of respondents said they use their stove to provide some form of heating for the home and/or hot water – this a far cry from the thought by many that wood burning stoves were more a ‘fashion’ statement and only used for aesthetic reasons.
It is thought, although always a difficult figure to establish, that the annual volume of firewood used is in the region of 2 million tonnes and this is probably unlikely to change dramatically. There is even an argument that with people using more efficient wood burners rather than open fires, and burning dry rather than wet wood, that this figure may even reduce.
There is total confidence from the Forestry Commission that there is more than sufficient wood available for domestic wood burning and presently only 13% of the annual increment of hardwood is harvested each year and so if no new plantings are made, the wood is still growing a much faster rate that we are using it. The only real caveat to this figure is that a lot of trees are not realistically harvestable anyway due to access, steepness of hills, next to rivers, roads etc.
That said, the government are determined to increase the rate of new plantings and in its recent Clean Air Strategy document it stated “We will appoint a national Tree Champion to…… and make sure that the right trees, in terms of biosecurity, value for money, air quality impact and biodiversity among other criteria, are planted in the right places, in line with the UK Forestry Standard.” This could involve the additional planting of over 130,000 hectares by 2032.
So, it seems that the future of firewood sustainability looks promising, but we have to question the need or indeed benefits of imported firewood.