19 January 2021
Intercropping for sustainability

Two-day Conference with AAB, DIVERSify and ReMIX at Reading University

6 September 2021
Organic World Congress 2021

New date! Postponed from September 2020

30 July 2020
ORC welcomes the National Food Strategy

The first major reviewof our food system in 75 years

24 July 2020
The future of organic farming and the environment

All to play for if full benefits of organic farming for wildlife, the environment and health are to be realised

29 April 2020
Tim Bennett is the new Chair of ORC

Former NFU president takes on chairmanship of Organic Research Centre

Community woodfuel: Integrating energy production into farming systems and communities

This session explored ways in which farmers, landowners and communities can localise energy production and make use of existing on-farm resources; using regular management activities to provide sustainable, locally sourced woodfuel for different scales of heating systems. This session was organised by the Organic Research Centre (ORC)
Sally Westaway (ORC): chair.

Session summary

This session had two speakers who shared their experiences of community woodfuel. Andrew Shadrake of Dartmoor Circle/Devon Hedge Group (DHG) explained what they are doing in Devon. He is keen to see what they are doing in Devon replicated or adapted elsewhere. The process starts with getting communities involved with hedge management and increases the value of the resource. It addresses two sides of the issue with farmers being too busy to manage their hedges in a way to promote it as a woodfuel and biodiversity resource and communities that may have individuals including farmers living in fuel poverty. Andrew talked about what the benefits were for the community (fuel) and the farmer (own fuel plus potentially a resource to sell) but also the concerns of the farmer having people working on their land (liability for personal injury, damage to their farm etc) and how the DHG realised they needed to address this. They set up a series of community group meetings that were held on farms with about 30 people each meeting and about a third of those attending being farmers. By the end of the meetings there were at least one group at each event that had reached a provisional arrangement between farmers and communities to look at using the farm resource. In these cases a second event was held where a tool kit for communities was distributed to show people how to set things up constitution, health & safety, insurance etc and a woodfuel agreement between the community and the farmer. This allows confidence between the farmer and the community fuel group. No money has changed hands and the group only needs to raise money to pay for insurance. There are now a number of groups in Devon and others are also very interested. John Halle of Sharenergy talked about the Woolhope Woodheat Co-op which has a different approach as it has no hedges but does have unmanaged woods. They were looking for a way to bring this woodland back into management to support biodiversity and woodfuel. They worked with a local Carbon Reduction Action Group to develop the idea of the community boiler. Canon Frome Court was their first project and the UKs first heat co-op. A share offer raised £325k in 2012 with 160 members (many local but UK wide). A 199kW boiler was installed with a LPG backup with heat main into buildings. It is making savings but they are currently buying in woodchip and not trying to produce it themselves. Now sharing the model with other groups in Leicester and Hamstead Marshall (Elm Farm). The lessons learned are:

  • Ambitious is more fun!
  • People want to support these initatives
  • Need wheelbarrow pushers – people who are prepared to do something
  • Holistic is hard – ensure that it all adds up.
  • Think about where the fuel is coming from
  • Regulations can be stifling
  • Choose project carefully
  • Learn from others. A couple of projects have been set up already so learn from them.

Key conclusions

The discussion that followed the presentations brought out the following points:

  • Communities and farmers interested in community woodfuel initiatives could engage with existing CSAs as these already have constitutions etc.

Individual speaker presentations and abstracts

Andrew Shadrake (Dartmoor Circle): Community woodfuel agreements: how community groups can help manage hedges for fuel

The UK’s hedges are a resource unique in the world, but continue to be under threat. Devon Hedge Group helps farmers and people from the communities near them to reach agreements under which woodfuel groups fell and chop firewood. The benefits to farmers include reduced management costs for hedges, a supply of firewood, increased understanding of farming issues among local people, and hedges laid using local traditional techniques. Woodfuel group members benefit from free heating fuel, exercise, social interaction and learning about the role of hedges in farming and biodiversity. Devon Hedge Group held a very successful series of community events on farms around Dartmoor last winter. It has published the Community Woodfuel Toolkit, which shows how to manage issues of insurance, health and safety and competence. It also contains templates for the farmer/community agreement and woodfuel group constitution. Copies of the toolkit will be available at the event. Devon Hedge Group is keen to share its experience in the hope that other parts of the UK might develop locally-appropriate models for farmer/community hedge management.

Jon Halle (Sharenergy): Woolhope Woodheat Co-op - a new model for community woodfuel

Woolhope Woodheat is the UK's first green heat co-op - aiming to source wood from neglected woodlands in South Herefordshire and use it to fuel boilers in the area, selling low-carbon heat to residents of hard-to-heat buildings. Jon will look at the inception and development of this successful project and some of its lessons and successor projects.