Hazel, willow, beef and storytelling from Bedfordshire

A farewell to fires?

ash firewood ready to burn winter 2018/19

Recently cut ash wood harvested from a wind thrown coppice stool. Ready for burning 2018/19

I heard earlier this week that the Mayor of London’s office is considering a ban on wood burning stoves and open fires in some parts of the capital where air quality is very poor. This is due apparently, to the high particulate content of wood stove smoke. My initial reaction was one of horror, of course extending that potential ban in my mind, to our own much-loved stove, in rural Bedfordshire. Such a move would be awful; our stove is the centre of the sitting room and we often say that of all our possessions, it would be close to the top of the list of things for rescuing in the event of a catastrophe. Ok, I’ve just had a vision of me carrying a cast iron lump out of an upper storey window and insisting it be carried with me as I’m winched into the helicopter – however, you know what I mean.

On reflection, I accept there’s broad sense in Mr Khan’s thinking that I overlooked in my initial reaction. In a large city, fuel for a stove will need to be brought in by road, inevitably, over longer distances that would be the case in more rural areas, thus contributing disproportionately to road congestion and air pollution.

We had our chimney swept last week by someone we’ve not used before. I’ve often felt in the past, slightly ripped-off by chimney sweeps – a feeling a little bit like a visit to the dentist where stuff can happen without explanation. It appears that my suspicions have at least in part been justified and our new man was offended by his colleague’s poor service. Last year’s sweep had failed to remove debris from the chimney which could have caused a fire. Our new man took pains to explain what he was up to and gently suggested the addition of a cap to the chimney pot to keep birds and their nests out as well as a carbon monoxide alarm in the room with the fire – a new one on me. Biggleswade-based sweep – www.bedfordshirewoodschimneysweep.co.uk

He was also quite strong on what he termed ‘slumber-burning’. Another new term for me. Our stove is nearly twenty years old and things have moved on since it was made. It turns out that one of the things I most value about the stove is causing high levels of particulate and other noxious emissions. We tend to have the thing burning continuously from November through February; it will stay in overnight simply by adding a good-sized log and closing down at bed time. It’s a great pleasure to stumble into a cold sitting room next morning, throw on more wood, open up all the vents and watch it roar away. We will have to examine our consciences carefully once the weather chills and fires become part of the homely scene once again.

It seems the once all-virtuous wood burner is fraught with painful conundrums. We are very fortunate to have our own source of wood fuel and getting it to the stove requires petrol to power a chainsaw and then diesel to cover the 1.5 miles from wood to house. Perhaps a fuel source within a certain radius should be essential for legitimate use of a stove. Not exactly a free-market solution I know, it may not directly address the air quality issues that Sadiq Khan is faced with and

 I have no idea how it could be policed, but it would be fairer to those in a city who are able to source wood fuel from a local woodland.

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