Protect our forests!
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Thanks for a very interesting post, Matt. As a professional forester I've been concerned about what is going on, and not entirely convinced by assurances of sustainability. The extraordinary TV programme 'Swamp Loggers' was anything but reassuring and is backed up by the reports you cite - this does not look too sustainable to me !
10 years ago I was responsible for developing woodfuel in England. There was a general assumption the market would be big electricity - large volumes moved long distances at starvation prices for growers. Which didn't seem to sit too comfortably with England's woodland resource - and, as you point out, burning for electricity is far from efficient. So we developed the policy now backed by the renewable heat incentive, for small to medium heat, preferably close to where the wood is. We didn't initially aim to support small domestic - woodburning stoves - because it was happening anyway and there are particle pollution issues in big cities.
Most of the fuel in England will come from thinnings - big timber goes into flooring, timber framing and furniture - uses which lock the carbon for 10s to 100s of years. Some may come from coppice - vital for the future of iconic birds like Nightingales. In contrast to the issues you rightly highlight, the carbon from much of wood used for heat in England may be recaptured even before the wood is dry & burnt. We still have huge areas of neglected woodland which have grown past the point of suitability for many of our threatened woodland birds.
RSPB has an exemplary record in woodland management - places like Church Wood, Blean, are superb - and only maintained by the continuous coppice cycle. And if you are in the new Avalon Hide at RSPB Ham Wall you can hear and see another aspect of the woodfuel story off to the left - those huge heaps of waste are waste wood which 10 years ago would have gone to landfill being ground up for wood energy.
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