THE growing take-up of woodfuel in the North East has prompted forest chiefs to stage a first Woodfuel Week in the region.

Held from October 16 to 23, workshops will be staged on the Barningham Estate, near Barnard Castle, and in Northumberland to encourage landowners to join the green revolution and produce more timber.

A Firewood Fair and auction will also be held for the first time on the Meldon estate, near Morpeth, on Sunday, October 16.

The Forestry Commission and Northwoods want to see more timber used as an energy source and Ed Millbank, from the Barningham Estate, is a keen advocate and is supporting the latest moves.

He said: “We installed a woodfuel boiler last year and also obtained a Bioenergy grant to build woodchip storage sheds. That means we can supply our heating needs from the 120 hectares (300 acres) of estate woodland we have. These woods have been under-used for a generation but now, with oil prices so high, they have become a big asset for us. This winter we are planning to plant another 28 hectares (70 acres) of woodland.”

Demand for timber is soaring as woodfuel boilers are installed in schools, hotels and offices with oil and gas prices rising – but a brake could be put on it if timber supplies cannot be secured to meet the demand.

Ian Everard, from the Forestry Commission, said: “It’s great news that more people are going down the woodfuel route, but a bottleneck could be a lack of locally-supplied timber. We need to get more felling and planting into our neglected woods in the North East.”

The capacity to boost supplies is in the private sector’s 50,000 hectares (125,000 acres) of woodland in the region – but as much as half of this could be under managed.

To put woods back to work a new grant scheme is to be rolled out by the Forestry Commission helping owners pay for woodland roads and tracks to be built so timber can be extracted from often difficult-to-work woods.

Ben Tansey, from Northwoods, said: “Some private woods are not managed because they were planted on inaccessible terrain making harvesting tough and previously uneconomic. But with firewood prices rising 20 per cent over the past year and with this new grant coming it becomes a much more viable proposition.”

To explain the scheme, free workshops are being held at Kirkharle Courtyard, near Newcastle, on October 19, and on the Barningham Park on October 21. There will also be details of Northwood’s Bioenergy Programme that provides grants for equipment and machinery, along with tours of both estates.

To find out more, call the Forestry Commission on 01388-488721 or go to England.