Homegrown logs or Imported logs?
Homegrown or Imported Logs?
Most of the firewood sold in the UK and especially the palletised kiln dried logs and increasingly nets of logs too, is imported from former communist bloc countries in Eastern Europe. According to figures issued by the Department of Energy and Climate Change up to 60% of the firewood due to be burnt this coming winter will have travelled well over 2000 kilometres to get here. The main exporter is Latvia though Russia, Poland and Bulgaria are attempting to develop markets in the UK too. You may not be aware of that fact as many national and even “local” log suppliers seem rather reticent when it comes to telling their customers exactly where their firewood comes from. Homegrown logs or imported logs? Should we be concerned?
Sold at a premium
Border Biomass Fuels Ltd are regularly approached on a daily basis by companies based in Latvia and elsewhere trying to persuade us to buy their products. Latvia is a beautiful country, smaller than the UK with a forested area of just over 33,5600 square kilometres which is around 50% of the total land mass. These woodlands represent that country’s major natural resource. As well as the UK, Latvia also exports firewood and timber used in the construction industry to Sweden and Germany. The firewood on offer is for the most part reasonable quality, cheap to import with good profit margins. It’s kiln dried immediately after felling then packed in open crates for ease of transport. The kiln drying process produces a firewood product with a moisture content similar in quality to well seasoned logs but is marketed and sold at a premium.
A UK online retailer of hardwood logs who supply customers nationwide claim that the demand for wood fuel in the UK is so high and our own resources so limited that it makes more environmental sense to import firewood. They go on to claim that logging in countries such as Latvia is carried out under the auspices of the Forestry Stewardship Council and many of us will have seen firewood offered for sale with this FSC stamp of approval.
Curiously the Forestry Stewardship Council, after carrying out an audit on the scale of logging in Latvia, decided to withdraw their support way back in 2010, citing unsustainable logging and destruction of the natural environment as the reasons. How then can this imported firewood continue to be sold as FSC endorsed here in the UK? The answer is simple: the Latvian State owned logging company immediately applied for and was granted FSC approval from another governing body. The current FSC endorsement principally guarantees that felling activities are not carried out on land owned by threatened indigenous peoples. Now that is an important consideration especially in say the Amazonian rainforest where indigenous people really are under threat. But is it applicable to Latvia? It’s clearly not, as most people here in the UK are being led to believe, a guarantee that logging is carried out in a sustainable manner with minimal impact to the natural environment and biodiversity of the region.
“According to the executive director of the Latvian Forest Industry Federation, Kristaps Klauss, the FSC certificate is “a marketing tool and nothing else.”
Latvia’s Green Gold
The Baltic Times recently published an investigative article on logging in Latvia entiltled -“Latvia’s Green Gold”. The full article can be found HERE.
From that article it would seem that all is not as it should be. “With a rapid system of exportation (of wood pulp and raw timber), especially to the UK (which receives about two-thirds of Latvia’s timber), some have raised concern that the forests are being diminished quicker than new trees can be planted, all for the sake of fast money”.
Clear Cutting of Forests
The most controversial practice in place – the clear cutting of forests. “A quick plane ride will demonstrate the impact of clear cutting, with huge empty patches visible from the air. Agriculture professor Maris Strazds was quick to point out that, despite the quick cutting and sale of timber breathing life back into the economy, the negative effects are being ignored. “People do not realize the true scale of what is going on yet,” said Strazds”.
It would appear that the claims that importing our firewood makes more environmental sense are rather disingenuous. What then of the statement that the UK’s own woodland resources cannot hope to meet demand without a catastrophic destruction of our natural environment? Here in the UK according to statistics issued by the Forestry Commission in 2013, there are 1.36 million hectares of woodland, much of it in private ownership.
British woodland has returned to the levels of the 1750s, with tree cover having more than doubled since the end of the First World War, a United Nations report has shown.
Up until the mid 19th Century wood harvested from UK woodlands was the principal fuel used to heat homes. The industrial revolution and the new technologies centred around fossil fuels saw the demise of harvested firewood as a readily available fuel. As demand fell so did the economic value of our native woodlands with a consequent reduction in woodland management and loss of traditional skills and knowledge.
The resurgence of demand for homegrown firewood here in the UK is revitalising woodland management and those same, formerly neglected woodlands are now increasingly seen as a valuable resource both in economic and biodiversity terms.
FSC Approval in the UK
Unlike many other countries, firewood in the UK is harvested under strict Forestry Commission licences and Woodland Management Plans. Logging is carried out in a fully sustainable manner with minimal disruption to the natural environment and as part of ongoing woodland and biodiversity management. The emphasis is now on locally produced wood fuel – premium grade firewood, seasoned and/or kiln dried and harvested and processed in local woodlands for local markets. The UK can and is meeting the increasing demand for high quality wood fuel and a sophisticated fuel supply chain is being developed hand in hand.
Rather than be an unwitting accomplice to deforestation in countries such as Latvia all for the sake of a “fast buck”, we in the UK have a choice.
Homegrown logs or imported logs? The arguments for importing logs over a distance of 2000 kilometres by road and sea are spurious at best. Such action is bad for the UK economy, bad for the environment and harmful to the planet. Support your local rural economy and buy locally produced homegrown logs!
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