Manage woodland to maximise profit

Demand for wood fuel is soaring, offering an ideal opportunity for landowners to actively manage their woodlands for profit. And a new Forestry Commission grant scheme could help to improve access to under-managed woods, according to speakers at a South West Rural Update conference last week.

With the new Renewable Heat Incentive set to buoy demand for biomass heat and power systems, landowners should consider thinning and coppicing woodland to generate additional income, said David Lewis, senior lecturer in forestry and land management at the Royal Agricultural College.

“But wood fuel is just one of a number of markets – and it is the low-value end. Hopefully it will put a base in the market, but you also need to look at the quality, high-value end.”

Landowners should identify what type of timber they have available, and draw up a management plan to meet their long-term objectives. “Consider access and stacking areas, and the quality of the timber. It’s very difficult to get accurate information on prices and trends, so get someone in who knows what they’re talking about.”

Foresters needed to consider every aspect of the market, ranging from furniture production and building material to hazel stakes, firewood and woodchips, said Mike Hartnell from MDH Forestry Services. “Good-quality material should always be sold to bring in income to restore ancient woodland – and you can use everything.”

Typically, woods had to be over five hectares to be commercially viable, so farmers with smaller pockets of woodland should liaise with neighbours to deal with timber merchants together.

New grant scheme

The Forestry Commission hoped to introduce a new grant to promote commercial management of woodland, said outreach manager Bob Evans. The Wood Fuel Woodland Improvement Grant had yet to receive ministerial approval, but should be available from July 2011 until 2013/14.

The £10m fund would target under-managed woodland with poor access but good commercial potential, providing up to 60% of costs to create or improve access, evaluate the timber and market it. “It is not just about wood fuel – it is to support delivery of all timber to market.”

Other grants were also available, which could help landowners to improve their woodland management, he added. “What we want is to get those woodlands that should have been delivering timber to the market, to do so.”