Managing UK hedges for firewood: is this practical, economic and environmentally acceptable?
The UK’s hedges are in decline, with recent substantial losses being reported in all four countries. Much of this decline reflects unsustainable management. At the same time public funding for essential hedge rejuvenation work, laying and coppicing, is falling. New economic reasons need to be found for farmers to manage their hedges sustainably, and production of wood fuel offers significant hope in this respect. Experience from northern continental Europe, supported by recent work in south-west England, demonstrates that hedges can be sustainably and practically managed to produce heating fuel at a very competitive unit price. However, this requires a change from the traditional system of laying hedges and producing logs to one of coppicing and producing woodchips. This will have both positive and negative consequences for biodiversity and several of the ecosystem services delivered by hedges: appropriate environmental safeguards need to be put in place. Cultural resistance may be expected, necessitating engagement with local communities. Overall, managing hedges once more to provide an energy crop offers a substantial opportunity to stem the current decline in the UK’s rich hedgerow heritage.
Author(s): Wolton, R
Journal: Hedgerow Futures