Tag Archives: coppice

Charcoal, the Good, the Bad and the Dirty

Locally produced Charcoal

With the Summer weather improving there will be more opportunities to cook on a barbecue and dine with friends and family outside. You might not think that there could be many differences between brands of charcoal, but there are. In this post I will compare home produced from our native hardwoods with that from tropical hardwoods. Unfortunately, the UK still imports the majority of charcoal consumed annually. British hardwood charcoal is a higher quality and a better product than that produced from tropical hardwoods, and here are some reasons why:

Benefits

  • There are far fewer impurities in the finished product so it will not taint the food being cooked. The same thing cannot be said for that produced from tropical hardwoods.
  • It is easy to light with a taper of twisted paper, so does not need any lighter fluids or firelighters. When using lighter fluids or firelighters with charcoal, you will increase the chances of tainting any food being cooked from the extra residues.
  • Charcoal made from UK hardwoods has a high carbon content. It will burn slower, you will use less, so it will last longer than tropical hardwood.
  • UK production is often associated with sustainable forms of woodland management like coppicing. This type of woodland management enhances and maintains a diverse mix of wildlife habitats in our woodlands, thus keeping our woodlands healthy and thriving with wildlife. Whereas tropical hardwood charcoal often comes from rainforest and mangrove swamps, that use unsustainable and ecologically damaging harvesting practices in the form of deforestation.
  • Buying British helps sustain rural employment. It is more environmentally friendly than imported charcoal that has to be shipped long distances using more fossil fuels in the process. Importing less will, in a small way, contribute to reducing our trade imbalances.
  • Making it is a good method for using up small otherwise unusable pieces of wood by converting them into a higher value product.

Based on retail price British hardwood charcoal is more costly than imported tropical hardwood charcoal. However, comparing purely on price is not a fair comparison as I hope you will appreciate from the points mentioned above.

There are many smallscale producers all over the country. Some do supply big retail outlets directly, but be aware that big retailers squeeze producers in all sectors. So if you can, try and source either directly from the producer or from small local retail outlets and distributors selling their products.

British Hardwood Charcoal in a round Kiln

Fresh from the kiln

Wood for?

A few weeks ago I attended a woodfuel seminar, which was a useful update to previous ones I had been to. This is certainly a market that over the years is developing significantly from the traditional log and charcoal products. There is a long way to go to a mature market and there will be bumps along the way before we reach that point. With new Government backed assistance through schemes like the Renewable Heat Incentive, the Forestry Commission launching a Woodfuel Woodland Improvment Grant and existing EU funding to aid the rural sector in development, the market could shake off many of the current constraints and propel itself forward very quickly over the next few years. 

This brings me to the question in the title of this post “Wood for?” One particular thing stood out at the seminar and it was not from the course content but came from another delegate. This person was already using a significant amount of wood for heating on their farm and they had recently taken delivery of an lorry load of hardwood. It transpired that the wood was mainly Oak. However it was not just branchwood corded up but contained main stems cut to cord lengths. As you can imagine a few of us winced when we heard this. There are several other similar situations I have heard about or encountered where quality wood resources are being diverted to energy consumption instead of useable timber products. There is a significant risk that such occurrences will become more and more common place over the next few years. The hope is that this doesn’t happen.

Sweet Chestnut stack of coppice produce

Stack of Sweet Chestnut coppice produce destined for fencing

Stack of Mixed Broadleaf coppice

Stack of Mixed Broadleaf coppice destined for the woodfuel market

Native Albino Bluebell

Array


It seems to be a blogger’s rite of passage to mention bluebells at the moment. Before they fade from seasonal popularity I thought I’d post a photo of a less common albino bluebell. There were others like this scattered amongst a sea of familiar bluebell colour. These were found in a woodland that coppiced cordwood is being extracted from. Many tonnes of Sweet Chestnut, Ash, Silver Birch, Hornbeam and some Hazel have now been transported to the landing site, ready to be turned into fencing materials or sold on for firewood. Other coupes that were coppiced in previous years are growing rapidly and are buzzing with wildlife. There is now 1.5 hectares of coppice that is protected by temporary deer netting. The hope was to reuse the netting from a few years ago. However, even though the coppice has put on tremendous growth in that particular coupe, there is some natural regen in parts that the owner did not want to risk losing to the deer. There is a large fallow herd in the area that could pass through anytime and destroy all the good work. Whilst on the subject of deer, there was a sad discovery of a recently dead roe buck that was the victim of a road collision. It looked like it was struck at the rear and collapsed a short distance in the woodland from the main road.

Coppice Wood Extraction

What a difference a couple of weeks have made. The woodland is bursting into life with the leaves on the trees flushing, the Bluebells taking over from the finishing Wood Anemones. On the work front good progress was made on extracting the coppice wood to the landing site. The extraction route is a quite a distance from the felled coupe and in parts it is not straightforward to navigate. The Iron horse is coping well with the task, although there is a lot more to do before this job is finished. The majority of the coppice stools have new shoots developing. What is encouraging is that some of the coppice stools that were in a very poor condition before cutting are also sprouting new growth too. Whilst working a pair of buzzards were circling high above in the thermal updrafts. With an environment like this to work in it is difficult to better no matter how hard the work is.

Deer netting goes up

Temporary deer nettingThe first few days of April were dedicated to erecting 270 metres of temporary deer netting with Sweet Chestnut posts. In this particular woodland Fallow deer are frequently seen and the occassional Roe deer, so it is vital that protection is in place before the coppice stools start to regenerate with new shoots. There was plently of insect and bird activity, some common butterflies seen while working were Orange-tips, Yellow Brimstones and possibly a Small Copper but couldn’t be certain on the id. Wood Anemones are growing in abundance, along with small groups of Primroses and Purple Violets growing on the ride margins. The Bluebells are developing well in preparation for their vibrant bloom in the near future.

Finished Coppice

recently cut coppice in March 2011

After finishing the coppicing the next job is to extract the cord wood and erect the deer fencing. There are lots of deer in the area and it is important that they do not damage the coppice regrowth. This might look drastic at the moment but by mid-summer this area will be reinvigorated with fresh new growth.