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Tom D

We have been splitting logs lately, the timber has been lying in the yard for a couple of years and now we want to get it converted into logs to finish seasoning indoors so we have been busy with the firewood processor. Looking at the pile of logs and thinking about selling it all next winter has led me to consider the best way to market and sell our produce.  Since Trading Standards and the Weights and Measures Act 1985 have little to say regarding firewood we are a bit in the dark when it comes to quantities, packaging and pricing. With most goods the law is quite clear and very strict with serious penalties for suppliers who sell goods in quantities or measures outside those prescribed in the Act. Firewood however is a bit of a mystery, I suspect that it falls under the category of solid fuel, but its hard to confirm if thats the case. However it is viewed officially it would appear that the market is wholly unregulated.

 

Logs are sold in a variety of ways, here are a few of the most common:

 

By weight; usually by the “ton” however this is almost never confirmed by any kind of weigh bridge ticket something which  is likely to be illegal as far as the weights and measures act goes as one thing they are strict on is selling by weight. There is however a fundamental problem for the consumer with buying timber by the ton, this is simply that the wetter the wood the more it weighs. So there is an obvious incentive for the supplier to sell unseasoned wet wood as this will significantly ‘up’ his margin, if he bothers to weigh it at all that is!  Supermarkets have been dicing with the same issue for years when it comes to meat, hanging the meat performs the same function as seasoning logs, it dries out a little and whilst the flavour may improve, and possibly the price per kilo, the lost moisture is lost profit since they bought the meat by weight in the first place. They have got around this problem by injecting the meat with “stuff” to bulk up its weight, and apparently this is ok with trading standards! This has gone on for years of course, in times gone by bakers used to be infamous for adulterating their flour with fillers such as bone meal, chalk, sawdust and even gypsum! Thankfully at the end of the 19th century laws were brought in to standardise what could be called flour, maybe its time they took a look at bacon! (all that white stuff that comes out as it fries is the supermarkets added filler).

 

So back to logs, selling by weight simply encourages the supplier to sell wet wood, and wet wood is not good for burning, not only does it produce little heat but because it burns at a lower temperature the combustion is incomplete, so gaseous tar and soot condense in your flue potentially leading to chimney fires. It would perhaps be ok to buy logs by weight at a known moisture content as happens in the wood chip for biomass industry, but that rarely happens.

 

By far the best way to buy firewood is by volume, this way you get what you pay for, they may still be wet, but 100 logs are still 100 logs wet or dry, so now the incentive is with the supplier to sell a quality product, assuming he wants to keep your business that is. So the next problem to arise is quantifying that volume, a cubic meter is a relatively common unit and should be the ideal but thats not always the case, which leads us to what is perhaps the most common way of selling logs…..

 

The load. So what is a load of logs? Well, anything you want it to be really, and this is where the industry really needs some guidance from the government. The load could be a bulk bag, but these vary in size from 2 cubic meters down to less than 0.5, or it could be a vehicle of some sort, trailer, pickup, 4×4 or even a car boot. From the consumers perspective how are they to compare one ‘load’ with another, does the back of one suppliers transit van compare favourably with another’s trailer? Who knows?  The upshot is the poor consumer is left in the dark. With weights and measures regulations so strict on other industries, including coal and smokeless fuel, why is it that logs are still in the dark ages when it comes to consumer protection?

 

The answer may lie in the fact that during the industrial revolution we abandoned wood as a fuel, only to re-discover it in the last 10 years or so, and when the laws on weights and measures were made firewood just wasn’t on the radar. But these days it is most definitely back as a serious contender in the fuel market, sales of wood burning stoves have soared thanks to the carbon neutral credentials of  burning wood over fossil fuels. (don’t get me started on the carbon credentials of imported eastern european logs though!)

 

Its time for HM Government to wake up to the burgeoning market in firewood and apply a little common sense to the way in which our logs are sold. We could do with a standardised moisture content for firewood, so that customers can expect to be able to get a certain calorific value from their wood, at least if its advertised as ‘ready to burn’ anyway. Then theres the weight / volume issue, logs really should be sold by volume, and all prices should be advertised by the cubic meter, irrespective of the size of vessel used to deliver them. This way the consumer can confidently compare prices from one supplier to the next. We have found that selling by the cubic meter we loose out to other suppliers selling by the bulk bag, our £60 per m3 has less appeal than a £50 bulk bag even though that bag may only contain 0.6 cube, making it considerably dearer, what do we do, sell unseasoned wood in order to cut our prices further, or try and skimp on the amount we sell?. Sadly the lack of regulation is currently driving quality down as firewood producers engage in a race to the bottom to stay in the game.

 

So if you agree with the views expressed above please share this article on Facebook with your local trading standards office, yes they all appear to have FB accounts! You could also share it with your MP. You never know we may end up with a fairer firewood market in the not to distant future.

 

For some further reading here’s a helpful PDF from the Forestry Commission.

Tom D

Some thoughts on our green infrastructure and its use as a fuel source.

 

The benefits of our urban green spaces are well documented, we know for example that they aid heat amelioration, improve air and water quality and improve urban drainage helping to prevent flooding.  They are also responsible for improving our health and well-being; encouraging people to spend more time outdoors improves physical fitness and studies show beneficial impacts on cognitive function. Trees raise house prices too: estimates vary between 5% and 30% increase in value for houses in leafy areas compared with those where trees are absent.  They also harbour urban wildlife, which again has a positive impact on our wellbeing.

 

What we don’t seem to do is consider our urban green space as a sustainable fuel resource. Yet huge quantities of our urban trees are felled every year, with the vast majority of this timber finding its way into the firewood market. So why don’t we notice this denuding of our green spaces? Well, it seems we plant an awful lot too, its hard to find figures but its pretty safe to say that we must be planting trees at pretty high rates too. Garden centres sell huge quantities of trees, shrubs and hedging every year, and these are the potential problem trees of the future, ready and waiting to be recycled as sustainable firewood….. While Mrs MacDonald at no 57 was having her overgrown tree removed Mrs Jones at No.28 has been to the garden centre and bought 3 poplar trees… The public sector plant a lot of trees too, we have planted around 500 amenity trees in parks and on streets in the last year for local authorities, and thats just a drop in the ocean overall. With the benefits of green infrastructure being well recognised planners are keen to ensure that any new projects incorporate an element of green space, and trees are usually involved. Most large infrastructure projects have a significant element of tree planting involved, and in some cases new urban forests are being created. Its easy to see a bright future for our urban green spaces.

 

So just how green are our cities? Take a look at satellite imagery of Edinburgh, there’s definitely more green than grey,or if you live in the city just climb one of the city’s many hills, heres a view looking north from Blackford hill:

 

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Looks pretty green doesn’t it?

 

So what about cutting them down and burning them? well clearly it wouldn’t be good if we cut them all down, but if managed sustainably surely our urban forests are a resource not to be overlooked in our push away from fossil fuel energy? Which begs the question; are we managing our urban forests sustainably? I would say that in my experience of Scottish towns and cities that we are. In 15 years of working in arboriculture I have not seen any noticeable change in the numbers of trees or the levels of green space in Central Scotland, The Lothians, The Borders, or any other areas that we cover, also I suspect this trend can be seen across Britain as a whole. Let me know if you think otherwise.  

 

So how much biomass fuel are our urban forests producing? And what does that equate to in terms of energy? Well again figures are hard to come by,  TD Tree & land Services have removed around 500 tons of useable biomass from the Edinburgh area over the last 12 months. If we use that as a starting point and  imagine that averaged out each of the 30 or so professional tree surgery companies operating in the Edinburgh area had removed 200 tons of useable biomass then we have 6000 tons in total. If this was broken down into 2000 tons of logs and 4000 tons of chip the monetary value would be around £500,000 once processed, not bad! That would yield around 22.2 Gigawatts of heat energy, which is a lot when you consider that Doc Brown’s DeLorean only needed 1.21GW to send it back to the future…. Actually it would probably only heat the entire city for a couple of weeks but then a couple of weeks is better than nothing an would still be a 4-5% saving on total energy used. If every city did the same then we would have gone a significant distance towards our carbon reduction targets.

 

The only question remaining is are we putting all that green energy to use? I’m not sure that we are, while most tree surgeons sell their timber as firewood most wood chip goes to composting, ending up being used as mulch on paths and allotments. In environmental terms this is a waste. It would be good to see more of this being used as a fuel source, it has its problems as such though, it tends to be of differing quality, in terms of size and consistency, as well as moisture content. None of these problems are insurmountable though, chip can either be screened or burned in boilers that can handle the uneven particle size, and chip can also be dried to a moisture content that allows more efficient burning. Until we tackle these problems though we will still end up wasting a large amount of the green energy that our urban forests produce, boiler manufacturers need to come up with boilers that can handle stringy leafy chip  Furthermore if someone built one that used spare heat to dry the chip in its chip store as it made its way through to the burner then they would undoubtedly be a top seller, in most cities tree surgeons will dump chip for free as they are keen to get rid of it, someone with a boiler that was capable of taking fresh chip and drying it before burning would likely have a free source of fuel….

 

Tom D

Arborist? Whats in a name?

Writing the text for this site has caused me to ponder, are we Arborists? Tree Surgeons? or perhaps Arboriculturalists? We are all of these things, and probably a few others as well; forester, wood cutter, lumberjack, the list goes on.  In the internet age what we call ourselves is important since people will search the net for specific terms, and we don’t want to miss out by calling ourselves tree surgeons when our customers are searching for Arborists. Analysing popular search terms has raised more questions than answers.

 

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An Arborist at work?

 

Unlike other professions we don’t have a registered name, you can’t just call yourself a chartered surveyor without being a chartered member of RICS for example, but anyone can call themselves an arborist or tree surgeon so I suppose its down to us to choose the term that best fits what we are.

 

To me an Arboriculturalist isn’t someone who chops trees down, he’s more of a boffin, a scientist who takes an academic approach to tree work, surveying trees and writing reports, analysing samples and identifying tree diseases and Fungi.  Its not a popular search term on the net so we perhaps don’t need to worry about this one.

 

I consider the Arborist as being perhaps one step down from the Arboriculturalist, academically speaking at least, he gets his hands dirty but he still knows his stuff, the O.E.D says “a scientific student or cultivator of trees” so not really the grubby chainsaw wielding type then. Although many now call themselves arborists in preference to tree surgeons, “tree surgeon” is still the most popular search on Google, with arborist coming a poor second, so while we may wish to associate ourselves with the more professional sounding “arborist” title our customers still see us primarily as tree surgeons. At least the term “wood cutter” is seldom found in the search box, although much more common in Scotland than in England and Wales apparently.

 

So whats wrong with being a tree surgeon? well there are a lot of less than professional types out there who use that term, so perhaps thats the reason we are seeing more and more arborists as companies wish to disassociate themselves from the guys who will tar your drive, fix your roof and of course cut your trees. I have always called myself a tree surgeon if anyone asks, I suspect if I said arborist I would get a lot of “so whats that then” questions, to which the reply would likely be “you know, a tree surgeon”, Perhaps “a tree surgeon with brains” would be better.  Surgeons have brains, though, especially brain surgeons, who in conjunction with rocket scientists are the bench mark by which all other professions are judged. So whats wrong with being a tree surgeon? Are there really that many cowboys out there using the term? Its hard to tell.

 

Lumberjack is still quite a popular search term on the net, more popular than arborist in fact, to me this has always conjured up an image of a bearded man mountain in a red plaid shirt walking through groves of giant trees in the pacific north west, I’m surprised it scores so highly. Up till now I hadn’t mentioned it anywhere on the site at all. Might need to change that!

 

I have lost count of the times people have said “I thought there’d be three of you… you know tree fellers Geddit!” Thankfully its only a few comedians who look for the phrase, it hardly registers as a search term.

 

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A lumberjack?

So what are we?

Our problem is some of what we do is boffinery, and some is brutish tree killing. We do carry outtree surveys and write reports, and three of our staff are degree educated, with qualifications in arboriculture, but they all climb trees and use chainsaws, some have been seen in red plaid shirts, two have beards, and one is a man mountain, none of then thankfully are cowboys. It just gets more confusing! Perhaps “Arborist” is the best catch all term for us although its clear that I will have to try and optimise the website for most of the terms mentioned above, and I’m not sure I want to tell people “I’m an arborist” I still feel like a tree surgeon.  Still this article will have hopefully increased our internet search rankings for all the terms mentioned above so perhaps thats all that matters.

 

Tom Dixon.

 

http://www.tdtrees.co.uk/

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

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