Meeting the needs of the people and the forest: woodfuel and woodland management across the United Kingdom’s Midlands

Rison, J.R.A. (2017) Meeting the needs of the people and the forest: woodfuel and woodland management across the United Kingdom’s Midlands. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Building on work in the field of rural geography, this thesis considers the changes which have taken place to the ways in which woods are managed and how the market for woodfuel has evolved following the considerable growth in demand for firewood and woodchip over the past decade. Through the use of in-depth interviews and field visits to woods and woodfuel businesses across the Midlands, it is demonstrated that the growth of the market has encouraged private woodland owners to carry out more management. This is a significant change from the latter half of the 20th Century when falling timber prices, and the lack of a market for wood products generally, resulted in many woodlands being neglected. In particular, the woodfuel markets have stimulated the removal and restoration of ‘Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites’ (PAWS) by creating a market for the products of first and second thinning operations. Woodland owners are now able to make small, but significant, profits from their woods which is a marked change from a decade ago. A principal driver of the woodfuel market is the ‘Renewable Heat Incentive’ (RHI), whereby the Government is subsidising the use of woodchip-fed biomass boiler systems as part of the transition towards a greater use of renewable energy sources. Whilst the Forestry Commission’s principal objective remains the production of high quality timber, this thesis demonstrates it is reviewing how it may contribute to the woodfuel market’s growing share of the UK’s energy sector. In the thousands of small, privately-owned woods across England, the majority of which are owned for amenity and wildlife purposes, the thesis explores how the growing demand for firewood and woodchip is encouraging greater management. The many ways in which woodfuel management is complementary to other management objectives like timber production, wildlife and shooting are highlighted.

The changes which have taken place to the UK’s forestry sector with the growing use of woodfuel is contextualised by exploring the extent to which they typify a ‘post-productivist’ shift. In many ways, the UK’s forestry sector appears to have entered a post-productivist era, with less emphasis placed on timber production since the 1980s and more policies to promote wildlife. The doctrine has been widely critiqued by examining the changes to agriculture but the forestry sector has been largely neglected, barring the work of Mather et al. (2006) who claim it has undergone a post-productivist shift. This view is contested by exploring how the growth of the woodfuel markets is promoting greater timber harvesting, as well as affecting how public and private woodland owners view their woods as money-making assets.

The market from the perspective of the woodfuel merchants is also explored. Their histories and backgrounds are presented, revealing a diverse community of people with different business aims. Following an analysis of the ways in which merchants operate, from the types of machinery used to the methods of delivery, a typology of merchants is proposed. Whilst a ‘professionalisation’ of the sector has taken place over the past decade, with more standardised units of sale and improved customer service, an informal firewood market exists whereby some customers are unwillingly sold unseasoned firewood. With wood burning becoming a more popular activity in the UK following a surge in the use of dedicated wood burners, people are becoming more knowledgeable about the burning properties of different species of wood. However, the growth in demand for wood has led merchants to question whether the UK’s woods and forests can continue supplying the market at the current rate. Many merchants struggle to source timber for woodfuel and this had led them to supplement their stocks by purchasing from European suppliers. A contrasting view, however, is that the UK has a surplus of timber across its many unmanaged woods, as demonstrated by the Forestry Commission’s most recent national survey. The thesis therefore highlights a perception amongst merchants that the country’s timber supplies are at risk from the growing demand for woodfuel.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Watkins, C.
Endfield, G. H.
Keywords: woodland management; forestry; post-productivism; woodfuel; biomass; coppicing; nature conservation; firewood; cultural severance; British woodland management
Subjects: S Agriculture > SD Forestry
T Technology > TP Chemical technology
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Geography
Item ID: 43604
Depositing User: Rison, Jeremy
Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2017 00:03

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