Fuel For Free, Grow Your Own
Creating a woodland is a uniquely rewarding project. If you have land, and can spare the space, it makes sense to grow trees for economic, practical, ecological and aesthetic reasons. You can produce a valuable harvest while creating a wonderful landscape amenity of immense value to both wildlife and people.
A well-managed woodland can start producing a sustainable harvest of firewood within as little as ten years. Just one hectare can yield sufficient firewood to heat a three-bedroom house, if it is managed on a coppice system. This is where broadleaved trees are cut down to the ground on a rotational basis, so that they regrow from the base. A new area of the woodland is coppiced each year, allowing wood to be harvested on an annual basis.
The cost of fuel is increasing well ahead of the rate of inflation, and that trend will continue as fossil fuels become scarcer and more difficult to extract. Self-sufficiency in fuel is an increasingly attractive option, and wood – unlike fossil fuels – is a sustainable, renewable source of energy. Demand for wood fuel already outstrips supply; by growing your own firewood you will help to supply the shortfall, and if you grow more than you need, you will always find a ready market.
There has been a huge increase in sales of wood-burning stoves. These make burning wood much more efficient and create little or no pollution, which also means better air quality inside your home. And the value of growing your own firewood is not merely economic. There is enormous pride and pleasure to be had from laying down stores of wood and knowing that you can guarantee your family a warm home for the winter – and little to beat the joy of having a wood fire!
There is nothing quite like the pleasure of an open fire.
Firewood is not the only harvest you can take from your woodland. Growing wood for fuel can be combined with producing timber, whether on a small scale for use in craft projects and for stakes and fencing, or over the longer term for furniture-making and building.
The only other space requirement is a shed in which to season your firewood – proper storage and seasoning is essential if you are to produce wood that burns well.
A good log store is essential – and will become a huge source of pride.
Planning for success
Planning is key to achieving a productive woodland, especially if you have additional objectives.
It is possible to prepare a Woodland Management Plan yourself, but the reality is that most prospective owners of woodland have little experience of woodland management, so it is better to call on the expertise of a professional. Planning, designing, planting and maintaining a woodland can be a daunting project for those without previous experience, and professional help can be invaluable.
A Woodland Management Plan is a detailed document that assesses your site as it is today and sets out how best to reach your objectives. It starts with a comprehensive survey of the site and an assessment of your aims and aspirations, and then analyses all of this information in order to identify the best way forward. This leads on to scale drawings and plans showing the design of the new woodland, and a detailed implementation programme setting out how to achieve the design and the objectives within the available time and budget.
Once your plan is complete, you will have a clear vision of how best to proceed. You will be able to look forward to harvesting your first firewood within a decade, and to creating an inspirational landscape amenity to be enjoyed now and in the future. Growing trees is a project for the long term, but with the right plan in place, having the woodland of your dreams is only a matter of time.
From planting to harvesting can be as little as ten years.
Michael Littlewood is a landscape designer and the author of many gardening publications.
For details of his woodland planning and design services, call 01460 75515 or see www.ecodesignscape.co.uk