As the dust begins to settle regarding the recent announcement over the sale of wet wood, we need to start asking questions as to how it will work in practice if indeed it is brought in.
As people who use wood, supply wood, install woodburning appliances and sweep them, we are best placed to feed into this process.
For my own part, I can see at least EIGHT questions that need answering initially…
#1 – Will the ban apply to ALL wet wood sales under two cubic metres?
The aim of the ban is to stop people buying wet wood and burning it straight away. But what if it isn’t sold as ‘firewood’? What if it is sold as something else, like ‘ornamental logs’ or ‘logs for woodworking/carving’ or whatever?
If the promotional materials don’t mention ‘firewood’ then would it either a) be banned or b) result in unsuccessful enforcement?
I imagine a half decent solicitor could have a field day with this if the definitions are quite broad.
#2 – What constitutes a wet wood ‘sale’?
Picture the scene:
⁃ Two neighbours both burn wood at home and decide they want to continue using the farm down the road for their logs. They go in, and each want to buy one cubic metre of wood each to season as that’s all the space they have on their property.
⁃ They are told by the farmer they can’t sell wet wood under two cubic metres anymore.
⁃ Neighbour A then gives his money to Neighbour B, who then buys two cubic metres under his own name and in one transaction
⁃ They take their wood home and immediately divide it up, each with one cubic metre each
The net result would be exactly the same if no ‘ban’ was in place. After all, where there is a will, there is a way… how can that be accounted for?
#3 – Will the ‘ban’ result in MORE emissions?
The fear is that smaller wood suppliers will simply shut up shop. Perhaps they can’t be bothered with the extra hassle of certification schemes and so on. So wood that was chopped down locally will no longer be available.
Less seasoned wood could create a greater demand for kiln dried wood. A large amount of kiln dried wood is ‘baked’ in kilns over in Eastern Europe, and then transported by road over to the UK. So that’s two lots of unnecessary emissions to start with. Oh, and higher prices.
Are we simply solving one problem to cause a few others? Law of unintended consequences?
#4 – Will it create a ‘black market’?
Just because smaller wet wood sales would be banned, it doesn’t mean to say it wouldn’t be available – the produce could simply just be driven underground.
‘Oh, speak to John round the corner… he’ll sort you out’.
Maybe John is a tree surgeon and has loads of the stuff – too much for himself which he’d happily sell under the radar.
In some parts of the UK, the amount of very small-scale suppliers actually form the majority of the retail outlets. Some of these don’t appear anywhere except in people’s mobile phone contacts.
Trying to identify these is pretty much impossible.
#5 – What about eBay and Facebook sales?
‘Conifer logs – freshly chopped down today in my garden. £50 pick up.’
We’ve all seen posts like these. Are these private sellers also going to be told they are breaking the law? Will they need to sign up to a certification scheme?
After all, if it’s a blanket ban, then everyone is potentially caught by it…
#6 – Who will run the certification scheme?
This has the potential to be quite a large undertaking if it is done nationally, so will the government be putting it out to tender?
If so, will there be any qualifying criteria set out to bidders?
Going forward, what will be the penalties if any scheme members flout the rules? Will they have any clout?
Or is it more sensible for it to be done at a local level…? (See below)
#7 – How will the scheme actually be policed/enforced?
I can hear the groans from local councils now over this. They are already stretched as it is and, quite frankly, from the discussions I’ve had with those who work for them, there really isn’t any appetite for this ban.
They say enforcement will be a nightmare/impossible and they’re the ones who may end up having to do it!
Maybe local councils will be offered the chance to run their own local certification schemes, perhaps through their Trading Standards, so that enforcement would be easier?
It would also help raise revenue to help pay for that policing/enforcement, rather than having national certification and local enforcement…
#8 – Will there be exemptions?
I’ve talked in the past how I have customer who are members of organisations which fell their own wood and sell it for a profit to help raise funds.
These include golf clubs, local allotments and heritage sites. Would the government consider exempting these from the ‘ban’?
If not, it could not only be counter-productive from an environment/community sustainability point of view, but it could also impact on their finances.
The government has already signalled that, despite the imminent housecoal ban, the Forest of Dean freeminers will be allowed to sell coal.
This is because “the volume of coal sold (and the impact on air quality) is very low, the freemining tradition is unique to the Forest of Dean, and freemining is reliant on local domestic sales (and would become unviable if the exemption was not applied)”.
Interesting development; let’s see if any other exemptions are forthcoming.
At the end of the day, the government has set out on a course of action over this, but that doesn’t mean that those of us who have an interest in woodburning, either for business or pleasure, should simply shrug our shoulders, forget about it and move on.
Any scheme has to actually work in practice, and that will largely depend on how issues such as those above, and others, are tackled.
I continue to believe that a blanket ban on wet wood sales under two cubic metres is flawed, and that education is much better than legislation.
There is still a long way to go, but at least let’s ensure that the voices of those of us who have experience in this field continue to be heard, whether you are for it or against it…
Mr Soot Chimney Sweep is a HETAS Approved Sweep, and member of the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, offering a professional and friendly chimney sweep and stove service. Book Mr Soot online or call 0800 0541154.