Wood fuel for thought
23rd August, 2007
Today's energy policies are concerned overwhelmingly with generating electricity. But 84 per cent of the energy we use at home is to heat our rooms and hot water. What if that energy could come from a source which is not only renewable, but is cheap, readily available, and even improves the environment it is extracted from? Adam Nicolson reports on the growing potential for wood fuel in Kent
If you go out in the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise. Almost unnoticed, the total weight of the trees in the south-east is expanding by an estimated million tons a year – opening up the possibility of an environmentally sound solution to our energy needs. Not only are the existing tree getting bigger, the number of trees is increasing and hedges are getting thicker. As a result, a good percentage of the carbon dioxide being pumped out by our cars and our oil-fired central heating systems is being absorbed by the trees.
The growth of our woods provides huge benefits, including more cover for animals, a massive stimulus for invertebrate and bird life and a more extensive carbon sink. However, it is also a sign of failure and neglects. Woods are no longer being maintained. In particular, the coppice woods of the south of England, which used to provide hop poles, fencing, hurdles and even the wood that was pulped to make paper, are being neglected.
There are thought to be more than 40.000 acres of coppice woodland in the south-east and a large proportion of those acres has been abandoned. The flowers that used to thrive around the coppice stools, when the wood was being cut...
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