Woodfuel and the future sale of logs….

You will no doubt have seen and heard press reports about the Government banning the
sale of logs (woodfuel). If you heard the discussion that took place on Friday 21 st on the Jeremy Vine
show on BBC Radio2 you would think there is going to be a total ban on burning logs in
the future. That is NOT the case.

Over two years ago DEFRA issued a consultation document about the use of coal and
logs in domestic heating. The NCFed responded to that consultation on behalf of all
member organisations including SSCG. That consultation response was emailed to
everyone in the group when it was available. For this paper I will focus on the woodfuel
side and not address any issues about coal.
To set the scene, DEFRA produced the following diagram:

Relative domestic PM emissions

Relative domestic PM emissions

The Government set out some years ago to clean up the air we all breathe. The ‘Clean
Air Act’ (CAA) initially was introduced back in the 1950’s to reduce the pollution levels in
urban areas. Things have come a long way since the CAA was first introduced and those
with open coal fires in urban areas have had to burn smokeless fuels. Vehicles have, over
the years, had to meet increasingly more stringent rules. Businesses, especially
manufacturing, have had to kerb their emissions and in many cases put ‘scrubbers’ on
chimneys to remove toxic pollutants.

The improvements in air quality have been vast and we have all benefited. What the
cleaner air quality has done though is enable DEFRA and others to identify more clearly
exactly what is now adding to air pollution (and climate change) and putting particulate
matter into the atmosphere. Particulate matter is not clearly defined as far as I can find
but it amounts to very tiny particles that we breathe and is small enough for our bodies to
take in and gradually clog up our lungs and enter our blood streams. It is pretty unhealthy

According to a study by Kings College, London up to 31% of particulate matter in London
and Manchester is attributable to the burning of woodfuel but this reduces to between 4%
and 6% in rural areas and tends to occur during the winter months when log burners are
being used. It is estimated that vehicles are responsible for somewhere in the region of
13% generally.

Climate change agreements (the Paris agreement in particular) and still poor air quality
has led to the legislation that is being introduced in 2022 to ban the sale of some
woodfuel and some wood burning stoves. All new wood burning stoves sold after the
legislation comes into force must meet stringent regulations on their emissions. Woodfuel
(logs) must be 20% or lower moisture content.

A couple of years ago I reported from the NCFed conference that the legislation was
likely to come into being. It has in fact gone further than we anticipated at the time by
banning the sale of unseasoned or part seasoned wood. The various comments in the
press about us only being able to sell kiln dried wood are not true. The moisture content
is the critical point. As most will realise, kiln dried wood is only at the lower moisture
content at the point it leaves the kiln. From that point onwards the wood starts absorbing
moisture and will, over a couple of weeks, balance its moisture content with the ambient
atmosphere in which it sits. So if it is stored outside and it is not covered it will easily go
well above 20% moisture content.

What does it all mean for those of us in the coppice group who sell logs?

It means we can only sell ‘Seasoned’ logs and in the DEFRA definition that means the
logs with moisture content of 20% or below. In practical terms it means we will need to
look at the timing of our processing. If cut and split early enough in the year then stack
and cover the split logs with plenty of air flow the wood will dry sufficiently and, in most
cases, achieve moisture content below 20%. If cut later in the year it may mean storing
the split logs for another year.

Personally, I make sure all of mine is split into logs by May so it can dry over the summer.
I normally achieve 17% or 18% moisture content by the end of September by covering
the stacks with tarpaulins. From 2022 it will mean I have to let it dry outside undercover
and then move it into a dry store once the moisture level has come down.

The problem then comes about how our customers store it. However, once you have sold
it, which has to be below 20% moisture content, is no longer going your legal
responsibility. Most of my customers have stores that are open to the atmosphere and so
let the logs absorb moisture. Legally, when the new legislation comes into being, they will
not be able to burn it if the moisture content goes over 20%, even if they have one of the
new approved fuel efficient wood burners on the DEFRA list.

I have looked into ways we might be able to give some comfort to our customers about
our product being fit for purpose and meeting the legislation. There is only one
organisation that currently provides an assurance scheme and that is Woodsure Ltd (
www.woodsure.co.uk ) They are approved by DEFRA and HETAS but are independent of
both. For a small producer though the cost of getting their accreditation is just over £500
for the first year and then £380 per year after that. It also requires annual inspections of
your operation and written procedures to be in place for a variety of things. They have
advised me that they are looking at other schemes that will be fit for very small producers
as well as possibly group accreditation schemes but nothing is in place right now. If the
latter becomes available then SSCG really should consider taking up the option.

Please rest assured that the new legislation is designed to cut out the sale of wet wood –
freshly cut material and only part seasoned material. Properly seasoned logs with a low
moisture content is not going to be a problem. I believe though that we will also have to
educate our customers too as they will have concerns after seeing and hearing press

Despite all the talk about the legislation it has been very quiet on the subject of how
things will be policed. One of the many articles I have read suggest local government will
be the enforcement agents as they will be given additional powers but there is as yet no
clarity over how what shape enforcement activity will take. My guess is that local
authorities will have little time or enthusiasm for additional tasks so their trading standards
may turn out to be too stretched to anything unless complaints are made. It will be for us
to ensure that, as professionals, complaints are not made against us.

Happy splitting!

Chris Letchford, Feb 2020

The Sussex and Surrey Coppice Group made a press release about this which you can read HERE

You can read the ‘Summary of responses and government response’ HERE