Welsh households go green with fire wood

Rising energy costs and a greater awareness of just how unsustainable fossil fuels are – namely gas, oil and coal – has led to greater interest in the use of our oldest source of fuel – fire wood.  But important questions remain, such as how many households in Wales are actually using fire wood? Where do they get it from and how much renewable energy does it generate across Wales as a whole?

A report released today (23.07.13) at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show is the first significant attempt to answer these questions. The report, titled ‘Wales Domestic Firewood Survey 2012’ has been co-authored by Dr Jenny Wong, member of Llais y Goedwig, Director of Wild Resources Ltd and honorary lecturer in the School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography (SENRGy), Bangor University and Dr James Walmsley, lecturer in forestry in SENRGy.  This research was made possible through a Go Wales placement and the support of Forestry Commission Wales (now Natural Resources Wales). 

The findings of this study indicate that the number of households in Wales using firewood is increasing. This is most apparent in the most rural areas where up to 75% of households use fire wood. But even in urban areas 5% of households use fire wood with a further 5% saying they would like the opportunity to burn wood. Overall around 11% of households in Wales burn wood. The researchers’ best estimate of the total volume of wood burnt in homes in Wales is around half a million cubic metres of wood.

Where does it come from? Interestingly, the researchers found that less than half of fire wood users actually purchase fire wood, sourcing it instead from their own property or from neighbours or friends.  Households in Wales make a considerable contribution towards renewable heat energy generation in Wales, equivalent in magnitude to large-scale renewable electricity generation, but these important efforts are not currently measured, reported or recognised.

Commenting on the report, Dr James Walmsley said: “This meticulous research provides very strong evidence that households in Wales are increasingly looking to fire wood as a low carbon, sustainable and secure alternative to fossil fuels when it comes to heating their homes.  These efforts should be recognised in official statistics and measures put in place to ensure that Wales realises the potential of its woodlands to provide households with a reliable and affordable source of renewable heat.”

David Williams of Blaen Bran community woodland group near Cwmbran in South East

Wales stated:  “We were really pleased to be able to assist with this survey – it has highlighted that there is a demand for firewood across all parts of Wales, and this means that many groups can seriously look at producing firewood logs as part of what they do in managing small woodlands. There is a developing demand – now we in Wales have to look at how we can address this in a sustainable way.”

A fully funded, full-time one year KESS Master by Research at Bangor University has recently been approved to take this research forward.  This opportunity will be advertised shortly on the Higher Skills Wales website with a closing deadline of 16th August for applications.

Publication date: 23 July 2013