When Robert Lodge installed a log burning stove in his farmhouse near Tankersley, Barnsley, he could hardly imagine what would happen next.
First the local pub and then other locals asked him to help them find hard to source timber for their own new stoves and fires.
So adept did he become, that an inkling of an idea began to form to diversify his farm business. Five years later, having spent £30,000 on timber processing machinery, 90% of his time is spent on his new timber-based business, rather than in the fields of his 1,000 acre family farm.
And Robert’s order book is bulging.
With a presence on Ebay and Facebook, he’s taken to cyberspace to connect with the soaring number of customers wanting to come home to a real fire.
Robert, 48, explained:
“I never had any intentions of getting into the firewood business, but it really sort of crept up on me. Initially I just used wood laying around farm for my own needs, but things took off from there. The number of people installing woodfuel boilers and log fires is really amazing. That’s partly due to the surge in energy prices making it more attractive, but there’s also a feel good factor looking at an log fire and also using a more eco-friendly fuel.”
Robert’s success is music to the ears of the Forestry Commission, which believes that woodfuel could be a major growth area for businesses and woodland owners in South Yorkshire. Stoked by the prospects, Robert recently joined a five day fact finding mission to Austria, organised by the Forestry Commission and South Yorkshire Forest Partnership. It was funded by a European Union scheme called Activating Forest Owners, which has invested 200,000 Euros over two years into South Yorkshire to boost the woodfuel sector by getting more woods into management.
“Austria is far more advanced than we are and have lots more biomass boilers, but we are moving in their direction as oil prices keep on going up. The trip made me even more optimistic about the future. But we need to get more local woodlands producing timber in South Yorkshire. At the moment most of my supplies come from other parts of the country, especially the Midlands. But there are lots of neglected woods here that should be put back to work.”
South Yorkshire has 11,465 hectares (28,662 acres) of woodland – over 9% of land area – but forest chiefs estimate that around half remains an untapped resource. Yorkshire currently produces about 300,000 tonnes of timber each year – over a third of which comes from Forestry Commission woodlands.
Rudie Humphrey, from the Forestry Commission, said:
“Robert’s experience shows the two sides of the story. Woodfuel is an opportunity to create profitable rural businesses and employment, but we need more raw materials coming out of local woods. We also had woodland owners on the trip to Austria and the message is getting home. Our local woods are a big asset for us and well managed can produce economic and conservation gains.”
Media calls: Richard Darn on 0775 367 0038
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