The increase in fossil fuel prices, and rapid rise in sales of woodburning stoves has led to an increasingly buoyant firewood market. While this has potential to benefit woodland wildlife, ignorance and plain dishonesty could also lead to even more erosion of biodiversity in our beleaguered woods.
Dead wood lying on the woodland floor creates an extremely important habitat. Well-meaning firewood scavengers may think they are doing woodland owners a good turn by “tidying up” what appears to be waste wood. However, owners carrying out conservation management often leave some wood lying, where it falls, or stacked to form “habitat piles”, to increase the volume of deadwood in their wood.
Dead and decaying wood provides micro-habitats for small animals, insects, flowering plants, mosses, lichens, and fungi – often species that play a vital decomposing role in the woodland ecosystem, and many that are either rare or endangered. The value of deadwood is such that woodland managers are encouraged to retain specific volumes per hectare within their woods, through woodland management grant schemes. If you want to know more about the value of deadwood, the Royal Forestry Society have a great page.
Where wood has not been left to decay, but has been felled as part of woodland management operations and is waiting to be sold by the owner, deliberate theft robs him or her of an economic return and could deter further management that might benefit biodiversity.
Markets for small scale timber have been poor in recent decades, but increased interest in woodfuel and firewood is beginning to change that. This is good news for woods that were managed over centuries and developed communities of plants and animals that depended on traditional forms of management. However, it relies on woodland owners being able to manage according to a properly thought out and agreed management plan, that ensures biodiversity is enhanced rather than harmed by any operations, and to receive a return on wood taken out.
At the Woodland Trust, we support woodfuel as a renewable energy option, but only where it delivers both genuine greenhouse gas savings, and positive biodiversity benefits.
We would urge you to buy your firewood from a reputable dealer, and if possible ensure that glowing log fire isn’t contributing to woodland wildlife decline.
Sian Atkinson, Conservation Communications & Evidence Adviser