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Connecting small forest owners to developing demand for woodfuel in South Yorkshire

(by Vince Carter)

The main objective of the AFO-project (Activating Private Forest Owners to Increase Forest Fuel Supply) is ‘to activate private forest owners to develop and establish woodfuel supply clusters’ and thereby increase the amount of woodfuel coming to the market.

A number of barriers have been identified and were outlined in a previous article by Martti Kuusinen. This article seeks to provide more detail about the situation in South Yorkshire, the target region for the AFO project in the United Kingdom, and to outline ways in which those barriers might be overcome.

The lead organisation for the AFO project in South Yorkshire is the South Yorkshire Forest Partnership (SYFP). SYFP was established as one of the original twelve ‘Community Forests’ that form a national partnership to regenerate and revitalise greenspace in and around some England’s major towns and cities with the aim of improving the health, well-being and quality of life of over half of England's population.

Data collected by SYFP identifies that there are 15,879 hectares of woodland in the target region, or approximately 10% of the total area. National data suggests that woodland cover has increased by around 16% over the past 10 years.

Woodland owners number 493 in total, giving an average size of ownership of 4.91 hectares. However, this includes a small number of large forests in active management so the average size of unmanaged woodlands is likely to be much smaller than that. Indeed, over 66% of all woods in South Yorkshire are less than 2 hectares in size.

Analysis of data at an England level suggests that currently around half of all woodlands are not being actively managed. Analysis of data for the South Yorkshire target region suggests that, particularly for smaller size classes, the percentage of woodlands currently not in active management is considerably higher.

Owner attitudes are clearly important in influencing the prospect of woodlands being brought back into active management. In a recent review of current evidence, there appears to be a distinction between the attitudes of farmers and other traditional forest owners (approximately 38% of the owners in South Yorkshire who own 2 hectares or more woodland) and non-traditional forest owners. The evidence suggest that the former have “a shared culture which seeks peer respect based on ‘good’ or ‘correct’ land use”, whereas the latter places greater emphasis on environmental considerations and is perhaps less interested in generating profit from their land ownership. Therefore, it might be expected that existing incentives and the improving price of timber and woodfuel should encourage farmers and other traditional forest owners to consider bringing their woods back into management. However, the bigger and more challenging task is to persuade non-traditional forest owners (by far the larger proportion of owners in South Yorkshire) to actively manage their woods.

In England, the number of heat installations powered by woodfuel has increased significantly in recent years. In 2010, the number of installations stood at 2372 (up 21% on the previous year) with a total installed capacity at 608MW Thermal (up 17% on the previous year). However, the UK Government estimates that by 2020, the renewable heat sector will have grown to include around 13,000 installations in industry plus a further 110,000 installations supplying 25% of the heat demand in the commercial and public sector sectors. This represents a seven fold increase in the number of anticipated installations in 2014 and illustrates that demand for woodfuel is likely to increase rapidly over the next decade.

A survey by Renewable Energy Association Ltd. suggests that to date Yorkshire and Humber Region (one of nine former Government office regions in England) has led the way in promoting the use of woodfuel. The South Yorkshire AFO target region has been particularly active and successful in this regard with 24 woodfuel boilers installed by 2010. The majority of these, 16 out of the 24, were operated by Local Authorities, with only 3 being non-public sector.

Given the importance of the public sector in generating demand for woodfuel in South Yorkshire, supply of woodfuel to date has been secured by a two main routes:
• Public sector assistance and support for the establishment of local supply chains – e.g. the grant aiding of capital equipment for the felling, extraction, processing, storing and distribution of woodfuel;
• The use of public sector purchasing power to establish medium-term supply contracts through Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation, a large, public sector purchasing organisation.

With national demand for woodfuel increasing rapidly in recent years and deliveries of UK roundwood to the woodfuel market estimated to have trebled over the last five years, private sector suppliers are now actively engaging in the woodfuel market.

Biomass producer groups have been established in the Yorkshire and Humber Region for a number of years (e.g. Yorkshire Woodfuels  Ltd. and Regro), and other models of co-operative working are now being explored in other parts of the UK (e.g. Ward Forester).

Experience gained from other EU funded woodfuel projects such as Woodheat Solutions and the Bio-energy (BEN) project is being used to inform local decision making. This includes the use of the generic guidance for businesses on co-operative working in the woodfuel supply chain developed by the RBAN Project in Scotland.

The UK Forestry Commission also hosts the Biomass Energy Centre, a 'one stop shop' to provide information to anyone in the UK with an interest in biomass.

Woodland owners and woodfuel suppliers in South Yorkshire have participated in a number of workshops and training events over the past 18 months. The experience and expertise of our Finnish and Austrian partners has been used to highlight the possibilities for future cooperative working. The next stage for the AFO Project in this target region is to work with woodland owners, consultants and contractors to explore which supply chain model or models are most appropriate in the local circumstances. The results of this next stage will be reported late autumn 2012.

Vince Carter      
Forestry Commission, United Kingdom
Tel. +44 1904 448778

Read more about the AFO-project at

AFO is supported by the European Commission under the Intelligent Energy – Europe Program. The sole responsibility for the content of this article lies with the author. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Union. Neither the EACI nor the European Commission are responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

Published by Marta Gaworska 18.11.2011

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