Within the farmed landscape woodland offers one of the few undisturbed habitats and is a haven for many species not found elsewhere on the farm.
Like all semi-natural habitats it needs to be managed if it is to flourish and provide a suitable environment for a wide range of wildlife and game species. Unfortunately this management comes at a cost that can only be covered where the timber from thinnings can be sold. Currently there is no market for this material and even where small quantities can be sold it is only likely that this will make about £20 a tonne.
To over-come this problem we began to look at alternative uses for our thinnings. The obvious way is try to increase the value of the wood and we found a way to do this, by using wood instead of oil to heat the the Allerton Project's offices and headquarters. This required the installation of new boiler and plant, but this was going to be necessary in the very near future since the existing boiler was estimated to be up to 40 years old!
After a trip to South West England to look at a number of different wood-burning installations we opted for an automated feed burner using wood chipped directly into a hopper using the power take off shaft on the back of one of our farm tractors. The chips are then fed into the boiler using a screw auger and therefore the system requires little attention.
The technology for burning wood is not new, it is a widely used system in Scandinavian countries and consequently most of the problems have been over-come. However, such a fundamental change in equipment is costly, so we approached the Government’s Clear Skies renewable energy initiative and secured a 50% grant towards the capital cost of the installation. This still left us looking for over £10,000 but Leicestershire Rural Partnership offered 25% and the final 25% was granted by the Welland Partnership. This was the green light for us to proceed and a new boiler was dispatched from the factory in Denmark.
Now that the plant is up and running, we incorporate aspects of woodland management and timber use into our training and visitor programmes.