LANDOWNERS, buyers and sellers are gearing up for Northumberland’s first Wood Fuel Week and Firewood Fair.
The campaign has been organised by the Forestry Commission and Northwoods following a surge in interest in timber across the county.
With oil and gas prices rocketing, woodfuel boilers are being installed in schools, hotels and offices and wood burning stoves are increasingly popular with residents.
The Firewood Fair will be held at Meldon Park near Morpeth for people to meet wood processors and stock up on firewood and wood burning equipment.
Sponsored by George F White, it is only the second event of its kind in the UK.
Hundreds of lots will be on sale, including firewood, kindling, round wood and hardwood logs, and people can bid for net bags, dumpy bags, a trailer full or even a lorry full.
There will also be demonstrations and exhibits.
Project Director for Rural Development Initiatives Ben Tansey said: “In Northumberland there are over 1,500 people employed within the industry, it contributes over £40million to the local economy and is one of the few sectors where growth is being achieved.
“An event such as this is an innovative way to raise the profile of an industry that is so important to the North East.
“In recent years more and more people have installed wood burning stoves and opened up their fireplaces so this event also gives people the chance to see their logs before they buy, buy locally produced sustainable firewood, meet the people who chop and process the logs and learn more about the best type of logs for different types of stoves and fires.”
Exhibition stands will include stove and boiler retailers, firewood production equipment and woodland management tools, and experts will be at hand to guide novices through the bidding process for the auction.
Prior to the sale, auctioneer Tom Oates will advise on bidding, while Northwoods will offer guidance on buying and storing winter wood fuel. The awareness week will also include a free workshop for landowners at Kirkharle Courtyard near Belsay for them to find out more about the benefits of managing their woodland.
The private sector has 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) of woodland in the region, but experts say that as much as half could be under managed and they are keen for more suppliers to enter the industry.
Ian Everard, who works for the Forestry Commission, said: “It’s great news that more people and organisations are going down the wood fuel route, but a bottleneck could be a lack of locally supplied timber.
“That means we need to get more felling and planting into our neglected woods in the North East.”
The Kirkharle event will tell landowners about a new grant scheme being rolled out by the Commission to help pay for woodland roads and tracks to be built to make it easier to extract the timber.
And there will also be details of Northwood’s Bioenergy Programme that provides grants for forestry equipment and machinery.
Kirkharle Courtyard owner John Anderson said: “We have 80 hectares (200 acres) of woods, some of which badly needs thinning.
“Before, active management didn’t stack up economically, but now with the wood fuel market expanding, the business case is more compelling.
“Better management will result in healthier woods and have spin-offs for wildlife, which we are keen to see.”
Wood Fuel Week runs from Sunday, kicking off with the Meldon Firewood Fair. Viewing commences at 10.30am and the auction starts at noon.
The Kirkharle workshop takes place on Wednesday. For more information call 01388 488721, or visit www.forestry.gov.uk/NorthEastEngland