Defra is considering greater exploitation of British forests for the woodfuel market.
The department considered the future for biomass in its Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement, published after controversy in 2011 when ministers reined back from privatising publicly-owned woodlands.
The statement confirms that the forest estate will remain in public ownership with an independent body set up to hold the estate in the trust of the nation.
The statement also says that one potentially valuable area for further exploration, via the industry’s Action Plan, will be the woodfuel market.
“Local renewable heat projects have the potential to provide an economic return to owners of even small areas of woodland, benefit many businesses involved in the wider forestry sector and address the energy needs of communities, especially those in more remote parts of the country,” the statement says.
The Defra report notes there are currently around 600 woodfuel supply outlets across Britain selling to local markets.
“There is potential to do more, provided this market is not developed at the expense of other wood processing industries and does not create unfair competition for our home grown products. Undermanaged broadleaved woodland in particular could supply significant quantities of fuel without interrupting current supply chains”.
Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA), welcomed the statement, saying it recognised how biomass can add to the economic value of forests.
She said: “By sitting alongside other industries like construction and carpentry, bioenergy uses by-products that can find little other value – such as thinnings, off-cuts and residues. That provides an extra revenue stream which, coupled with robust sustainability criteria, helps landowners to invest in responsible forest management.
“We’re pleased to see the policy statement acknowledging this compatibility, especially in undermanaged broadleaf woodlands.
“We look forward to working with Defra, our own REA/Confor Woodfuel Suppliers Group and other industry leaders to show how biomass is key to English forestry’s future.”