On 21st February 2020, the Government confirmed its plans relating to domestic burning as part of its new Clean Air Strategy for England (Jan 2019). This strategy covers many types and sources of air pollution including from transport, farming, industry and, most relevant here, from the home. This article aims to summarise the main points of the strategy in relation to firewood. It is not intended to either condemn or condone the proposed legislation or the research behind it. The Clean Air Strategy also includes plans for other solid fuels as well as for wood-burning stoves and smoke control areas.
Please note: air quality is a devolved issue and so this information applies to England only. The Welsh Government is currently consulting on proposals before producing its own clean air strategy. The consultation runs until the 10th March and can be found here.
The UK has set targets to cut emissions by 2020 and 2030 with the main goal being ‘to reduce the harm to human health from air pollution by half.’ The Government believes that air quality is the ‘largest environmental health risk in the UK’ and that ‘air pollution has a direct impact on the natural environment’.
The Government claims its research has shown that domestic burning of solid fuels now makes up the single largest contributor to our national particulate matter (PM) emissions at 38% (34% from wood). PM consists of tiny particles suspended in the air that are small enough to enter the lungs and blood and be transported around the body. Domestic burning can produce PM2.5, the finest type of particulate matter, with particles 200 times smaller than a grain of sand. The Government’s aim is to reduce emissions of PM2.5 against the 2005 baseline by 30% by 2020, and 46% by 2030.
The 38% figure being used by the Government has been called into question by some scientists (see the article from Woodsure here) and a Government report states that ‘the uncertainty range in emission estimates could be an order of magnitude’, i.e. out by an order of 10 (see pg 29 of this report).
A consultation was carried out from August to October 2018 to gather opinions on how the future sale of firewood and coal should be changed and regulated. A summary of the responses received and of the Government response can be found here.
Following this consultation, the Government has now released its Clean Air Strategy.
Summary of main points
The main points in the Clean Air Strategy that relate to firewood are:
- The Government plans to phase out the sale of coal and wet wood for domestic burning between 2021 and 2023.
- Sales of wet wood in units of under 2m3 will be restricted from sale from February 2021, though it is proposed that small scale producers (under 600m3/year) will have an extra year to comply.
- It will still be possible to sell wet wood in volumes greater than 2m3 after February 2021 but only with advice on how to dry it before burning.
- The Government will launch a ‘Burn Better. Breathe Better’ campaign to highlight the negative effects burning solid fuels has on health and the changes that householders can make to reduce these.
- The Government plans to take the evidence and views submitted during the 2018 consultation to develop a final proposal for legislative changes.
- The release of the Clean Air Strategy does not yet amount to new legislation, this is still being developed.
- The Strategy does not define what “wet” wood is, though the figure of 20% moisture content was used in the 2018 consultation.
- It is not yet clear how the legislation will be implemented or enforced.
- It is not yet mandatory for firewood suppliers to sign up to an assurance scheme though the Government is proposing to take this idea forward and indicates that the this was largely supported by respondents to the 2018 consultation. Defra currently supports the Woodsure Ready to Burn scheme which guarantees fuel with a moisture content of 20% or less. More information on the scheme, including registration requirements and costs can be found here.
2018 Consultation on domestic burning – summary of responses & Government response:
Defra’s Guide to Open Fires and Wood-burning stoves: