Woodland Management

Much of the woodland in the UK is semi-natural woodland and benefits from being managed. Many small woodlands are under-managed, so cutting firewood and producing charcoal from them can help re-kindle traditional woodland management.

Active management of woodlands can be seen to have three broad benefits — social, economic & environmental.

Social benefits of woodland management
This can be seen especially at the two extreme ends of the woodland spectrum. From the huge conifer plantations, where intensive management and good interpretation makes the forest accessible and non-threatening, to parks and gardens where equally nature is tamed and peoples enjoyment enhanced by management. There have been many studies on the benefits of getting people out into nature and the basis of social forestry policy has been based on this for the past 30 years.

Economic benefits of woodland management
Timber is a commodity and it has a monetary value. This can range from high value for rare figured timber trees for veneer, to low value chip and pulp to feed the fibre and fuel markets.

There is, of course, a massive range in between, not least the firewood market which has been experiencing a boom in recent years. Fossil fuels have increased in cost and incentives have been introduced to encourage conversion to renewable fuel. There are also new aspects to the economics of forestry as ‘carbon capture’ or sequestration becomes a commodity that can be bought and sold.

Environmental benefits of woodland management
Many woodland plants are adapted to the managed environment. This provides:

Woodland plants, including trees, shrubs and ground flora, require sufficient light entering the woodland periodically for germination, establishment, flowering and seed production. These plants are also the food source for many woodland insects and animals and birds. So sufficient light in a woodland is essential to healthy ecosystems. Dense canopy woodlands do have their role in providing shade-loving species like ferns and mosses and some fungi to thrive.

Woodlands, where the trees are of a uniform age and structure, do not provide a range of habitats. The canopy is closed and all other light-requiring species below are shaded out. A healthy woodland has a range of ages and heights of trees within it with canopy gaps and rides and edges providing a range of habitats for woodland species to colonise.

Species mix
Monocultures have their benefits but these are mostly economic as uniformity of product and ease of harvesting enhance the financial viability of a tree crop. This has to be weighed against the dis-benefits of increased vulnerability to tree pathogens and environmental stresses such as we are increasingly seeing with climate change. Healthy woods will have a good mix of tree species and new woodlands designed with tolerance to higher mean temperatures in mind.

Deer – we all love to see deer in the wild but they are devastating our woodlands. Numbers have increased steadily over the decades to a level now where there is very little natural regeneration in our woodlands. Domestic animals are also a problem as they too do love young tree shoots to eat. Woods that are used for shelter do not have a future unless stock is excluded for a limited period to allow young trees to grow.

Making Charcoal
Charcoal is made by heating woody materials to high temperatures in an environment with little or no oxygen (pyrolysis). The heating removes water and gasses that are in the wood, leaving behind charcoal. As the water and volatile gases are removed, the resulting product can be burned with little or no smoke. Traditional methods of charcoal making require a great deal of fuel to generate the charcoal and also create the most emissions. The retort
method, where the gases are rerouted through the fire, heating the wood, is a much cleaner and more efficient method.

The Devon Charcoal Company uses a retort, designed and manufactured in Exeter.

Types of BBQ charcoal
The two types of charcoal most commonly used for barbecues are lump charcoal or briquettes.

Charcoal briquettes, or heat beads, can contain the following:

  • Wood charcoal
  • Coal
  • Limestone
  • Starch
  • Borax
  • Sodium nitrate
  • Sawdust
  • Lighter fluid

Other ingredients
While starch isn’t really a concern, the other components are a bit of a worry; not just because the food is in direct contact with the emissions, but also
general air pollution concerns. Given the mix of possible components, it’s not just soot and carbon dioxide being produced, but also mercury and other nasties.

Lumpwood charcoal
Lumpwood charcoal is made from wood only – there are no additives. This is what we produce at the Devon Charcoal Company. It burns cleanly and evenly without giving your food a taste of chemical, like briquettes. Try ‘cooking dirty’ – food straight on the charcoal!

Imported Charcoal
Over 90% of the charcoal used in the UK is imported, predominantly from the endangered tropical rainforest and mangrove habitats of South America, West Africa, and South East Asia. In addition to the damage caused by unsustainable forestry practices in these regions is the negative environmental impact arising from the consumption of fossil fuels transporting charcoal so far around the world.