Coppicing can easily generate 60 tonnes of wetwood per hectare over a 3 year cycle. so that's more than 30 tonnes of dry wood over three years, or in other words over 3 tonnes of drywood per acre per year.
Now, if we insulate our bog standard houses fairly well and run a fairly efficient wood stove, it would be very easy to stay snug on well under 15000kwh energy usage per annum for space and water heating (20-25000kwh is the average for a uk 3 bed semi, most of which are woefully poorly insulated).
Dried woodfuel typically has an energy content of over 4000kw/tonne, so it's well within the realm's of possibility to heat a home on one acre of coppice. Increase the insulation levels a little further and of course it is entirely possible that several houses could be run off an acre of coppice.
The intention of this thread is to explore what's involved in environmentally-friendly coppicing, and how a household could be self sufficient in heating energy whilst at the same time promoting biodiversity. Some of the many other uses of homegrown will hopefully also be explored.
At this stage I know nothing on the subject, and would be very grateful to hear advice and guidance anyone else can offer.
Here's where I started, an article in the New Scientist entitled "Seeing the Wood for the Trees"
I had a read through that New Scientist Article, it seems to have some good info although I wonder if they have done a follow up to it, the article is dated about 7 years ago.
I don't know a thing about coppicing beyond a few things I have seen on TV and read in magazines, books and on the web. None of the information was very in depth so I basically know what it is and what it is for, but that's about it.
For the purposes of this thread there are a couple of issues that would be interesting to find out more about, the more academic things such as :- is it environmentally friendly, is it the best use of land, would it be better to be 'Organic', etc. The second part would be the more practical :- how do you 'do' coppicing, what are the best plants, can you produce enough, how much work is involved, where could we get land to use, Where could finance be raised, can the land be used for anything else, where could you store cut wood, security etc.
I have always thought that my dream home would sit on a piece of land that would have enough space to allow me to grow enough fuel for my needs, as well as growing vegetables and fruit.
well i'm sure a few others here would have better ideas than I on whether it is the best use of land, but my own current interest in this subject is for a potential community project where the land chosen would probably not normally be used for anything other than forestry anyway, i.e., not great land, and likely to be nearer the tree line than the more generally sought after arable land.
is it environmentally friendly? well. i can't comment on whether the industrial scale willow farming typically used for wood pellets uses nasty herbicides or artificial fertilisers, but the project we are considering would involve planting a range of native broadleaves including willow and would try to adhere to soil association standards. all the native broadleaves are suitable for coppice but the native conifers are not, with the exception of yew, which is less likely to be planted anyway due to it being poisonous to cattle. oak isn't suitable for poorer ground so it's unlikely to be planted. some of the land (probably the borders)would be planted with classic hedgerow such as blackthorn (sloe berries!), hawthorne etc, some of the land would be used to grow broadleaf long-term for timber, and the rest would be used for short rotation coppice. the most popular coppice wood seems to be willow. the great thing about it is that one can start harvesting from year 4 and harvesting the wood does not require machinery & can be cut by hand, time permitting. furthermore, coppice rods are fairly thin and won't need the extra labour of log splitting associated with the traditional approach firewood, and, having a large surface-area-to-volume ratio already, will dry well when kept under cover and well ventilated. the 'native species only' rule will encourage biodiversity that intensive farming will not. we could also look at native forest floor planting like bluebell, wild garlic, dog wood, etc.. and take advice on what all we would need to plant in the hedgrow to support birds.
the funding is expected to be community derived, though there may be planting grants available and other sources of income if the educational aspect can be exploited. forestry land can be acquired from £3.5k per acre which is much less expensive than traditional arable (@£10k per acre).
one business model could be to run it as a 'tree allotment' affair, whereby an incorporated community group (collective) buys the land initially, and depending on what folks can afford, sells plots in various sizes from tiny 100sq foot plots up to perhaps an acre to individual members. Members would have to sign up to basic rules on say native species only, promotion of biodiversity, etc. the collective could then issue title to individual plots via trust deeds, the idea being that the land would always have to stay in use as woodland, could never be developed, and that the title to each plot would pass down through the generations, staying in the families of those who bought plots in the first place. the smallest of plots would be totally affordable and wouldn't cost more than say £40, though larger plots would be less expensive per square metre - I find it hard to believe that any green family,would not feel empowered by owning a slice of native woodland, guaranteed to stay in their family for ever, even if it were only 100 sq foot!
tree allotments would not require the same attention as normal allotments. Unlike vegetable allotments, problems in woodland develop more slowly and do not generally require immediate attention. this lends itself to the community/collective putting a bit of work in 'once in a while' rather than on the more regular basis required by vegetable allotments. if a member was too busy to manage their own trees, they could always trade some wood with another community member who had more time available.
Those ideas were just possible subjects to start conversations, not necessairaliy things that I would spend a lot of time worrying about.
I didn't realise that you had gone quite so far down the road of setting up a 'tree allotment' or at least researching it. Do you have any plans in place yet or are you still at the planning stage? Is it just you so far or are you already working with a group? Is there land that you already have in mind?
I'd certainly be interested in this, so if you have any more info then please let me know.
Thanks for the link to the tveg tree allotment site.
No formal plans yet, just kicking around some initial thoughts so you're one of the early sounding boards(!), but there is a meeting already scheduled to discuss this with transition groups in the North west and in neighbouring Inishowen (Donegal), so plans may emerge from that, who knows.
If you know of potential sites in the greater belfast area please let me know, and we could perhaps investigate doing something locally too?
As a general model/idea I think the 'woodlanders collective' idea has great potential and fits really well into the transition towns sustainability ethos. City folks who never dreamed it was possoble to have a wee plot of woodland may soon have an opportunity to learn woodland skills, work with nature, gain access to renewable biomass fuel, and lay something down to be passed onto their children's children into the bargain.
Hmmm, I think thats the first time I have been called a board mind you I have been called boring many times as I do tend to tell people about my little projects or interests, honestly It always seems interesting to me
I was browsing about the interweb and came across this site
Seems pretty interesting, I haven't read it all yet but it is a commercial company who sell various kit and coppice kits etc., but they also have a bunch of info about how to grow wood for fuel, certainly seems a lot more practical than some I have read.
Something that seemed interesting and might save the cost of buying land was the following about farmers hedges, it was at the bottom of the 'Grow your Own' page
In some parts of the UK, a 250 acre farm could contain up to 10 linear kilometres of hedgerow. Such a resource, if managed to regular cycles, instead of neglected to mechanical flailing, could yield up to 10 tonnes of woodfuel a year (depending, of course, on the age and density of the hedges). This yield could generate up to 8000kW of electricity, using a wood gasifier. Similarly, this much wood could heat your house and hot water for between 9/12 months.
So if you know any friendly farmers! It might be a possibility to look after a farmers hedges at no cost to either party and also run your home heating for free. Just a thought, but it means you could be cutting wood in the next feww months rather than in 3 years.
I'm not sure if there is a change of use application that we would need to make on land like this.
Another possible option is that there was some sort of tree disease that meant that whole forests got cut down last year, there has been no planting on them since. These areas may be available to buy or rent, I think most of it was forestry commission land so normally they wouldn't sell but for a tree allotment scheme they may make an exception.
I don't know if the land is even useable, the disease might mean that the land has to lie fallow for a period of time.
I came across this course run by conservation volunteers shop.btcv.org.uk/shop/level4/31/stock/8899 on coppicing and hurdlemaking, mind you it is in England so might be a pain to go to and I just noticed that the dates kinda clash with another thing I might be going too
Wow Jim, you've been busy investigating! Thanks for all the info.
Doagh looks interesting and what a cracker name "The Longshot". Now the forestry would be a good deal less expensive than the arable so I wonder if buying just the forestry would be an option. The broadleaves could be coppiced and the conifers cleared and replaced with native broadleaves. Then we would have to drum up interest from some of the local community groups. Transition Whitehead are about 10 miles away from the site and may be interested? We could also try Transition Belfast but I haven't had any success contacting them in the past. If you want to sound out the vendor/agent re splitting the forestry from the arable that might be a useful first step?
Any further details on your ideas re the disease/ clear-felled land?
And I had already stumbled on the blackmountain site (Red Pig Farm) and I believe they have the right idea about many things. Their coppice stove is really a rocket stove design, a very efficient but low tech gasifying woodburner, which is something that very much appeals to me.
Our ideas will never come to anything if we do not discuss, explore, promote, so it's worth persuing all avenues at this stage. if we find enough interested and like-minded folks it will happen!
I'll contact the estate agent about the land, I haven't actually looked at it yet and Google earth dosn't show anything in the area that looks like woodland so it is probably a fairly new planting. The only problem I could think of is access, if the wood is inland from the road we may not be able to guarantee right or way access to it if someone unfriendly buys the field.
What size of land do you think would be the minimum we should look for? If we assume that your numbers at the start of the thread are OK at heating a house on one acre, and we had say 5 people who wanted to do that and a few others who wanted to get a smaller amount then i'd say we are looking for at least 10 acres, so if we got that at £3,500/acre we'd be looking at £40,000 ish by the time we add in fees etc.
Obviously we would have to have a fair number of interested people before we could finance that unless you have pockets that are way deeper than mine
Mind you there may be other options, banks, personal loans, etc or support from other organisations, set ourselves up as a charity and get money from the lottery fund, maybe there is something around the carbon credits that big companies buy to offset their carbon footprint.
I don't see Whitehead or Belfast Transition being interested in a project in Doagh I think it would be just too far outside their range. Do you have a link to the Transition Towns project as I don't know a thing about them.
I'll have a think about the cleared forestry land, msaybe I can have a chat with someone to see if there is anything available for this type of thing.
There are also a bunch of forest/woodland type charities about that might be worth contacting to see if they have any ideas or support available.
Another thing I meant to mention is that we should keep an eye on the local property auctions in case any land comes up, the biggest I know is Wilsons auctions in Mallusk, they normally have an auction every 2 months.
I think initially folks shouldn't necessarily plan to acquire as much forestry as they would need to meet their entire heating needs, unless they're 100% committed to the idea.
I'm guessing most green folks would be more interested in 'a taster', i.e., something quite small. definitely not big enough to meet their whole fuel requirement, but enough to give them the opportunity to find out whether a larger plot will work for them, without committing too much of their time or money.
If a good percentage of the initial 'subscribers' were of the type described above, some would lose interest and want to sell their small plots. Others would love the whole thing and buy the surplus plots, increasing the scale of their self sufficiency.
A family meeting 10%, even 5%, of their home fuel needs by growing it themselves is certainly better than nothing. At the same time they get all the educational and community benefits from being part of an important environmental and renewable energy project. there may also be others who just want a small plot to plant a few trees for the long term and not for firewood, to be able to pass these down to their next generation - big plots would not be required in these cases.
i was talking to a wise fellow who started a community allotment project in his neighbourhood in Donegal. He was adamant that a family should not start off with more than an 8X4 raised bed. Anything bigger and he said they'd lose the will to live until they'd reaped the benefits of their first harvest.
i would encourage people to commit to such a project but to commit to it on a small scale, see how it works for them, and if they don't like it then they'll be able to sell out to other families in the project who want to increase their scale.
I would hope to see a hundred or more families participating on a 10 acre plot. You'll then hopefully get a mix of those who want an acre or two, but many more who want something much smaller scale.
I have been poking about on Permies.com and all this talk of coppice brought me back to thinking about rocket mass heaters. Erni Weisner has a few videos on building RMHs and they go hand is hand with coppice.