Firewood funding

A Northumberland businessman has received funding to build a large-scale processing yard for biomass and firewood markets.

Rowland Webster received £17,200 for his Unthank Estate in Haltwhistle from One North East’s Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) bioeNErgy Assessment Panel.

Webster plans to use the funding to transform his business into a large-scale firewood processing yard that will be able to eventually supply up to 538 tonnes into firewood markets by the end of 2012, by which time he hopes to explore the wholesale market.

Ben Hoskyns-Abrahall of Smiths Gore, agent to the Unthank Estate, said: ‘We have run a satellite business for two years that has proved the market, but this funding will buy state-of-the-art equipment that will increase production and handling facilities. Firewood quality will improve with a good drying system and stock carrying capacity.

‘This business will provide an outlet for thinnings from our 600 acres of woods, which urgently need attention. Thinning has been uneconomical for some years because there has been no market for small roundwood,’ he added.

The biomass project is being run by Rural Development Initiatives through Northwoods, a north-east woodland initiative supporting forestry businesses in the area.

Jennifer Hewitson, project officer, said that the high level of interest for this latest round of funding is evidence of the growth in the biomass sector in north-east England.

‘This project will contribute to improving supply chains, which will allow the industry to continue picking up momentum, making sure that current and future demand for biomass products can be met by local businesses,’ she said.

One North East claims that north-east England has the potential to contribute more than £75m a year to the regional economy through biomass by 2015. However, farms and forestry businesses in the region wanting to expand into biomass are often small or micro enterprises. The funding from One North East is designed to provide training and the equipment to businesses that need these resources to grow.

The RDPE is jointly funded by the European Union and Defra and is managed in the region by One North East, Natural England and the Forestry Commission.