Although there are now a multitude of different fuel sources available, the traditional skill of charcoal making is still truly alive in many woodlands across the UK. There are a variety of methods used to produce this fuel stuff ranging from small scale enterprises to larger, industrial processes.
The Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales has a good history of producing charcoal from its reserves on the Gower, where there is a dedicated woodland team managing woodland sites in this part of Wales. These sites are primarily managed for the habitats and species they support yet with timber felled through activities such as coppicing, a saleable resource such as charcoal can be produced to help generate income for further management prescriptions.
One of Pembrokeshire’s best woodland reserves is Pengelli Forest, located just north of Newport. This 65ha site is part of the largest block of ancient coppiced oak woodland in Wales and supports key species such as the dormouse and barbastelle bat. Recent management projects implemented through the Better Woodlands for Wales scheme has enabled the Wildlife Trust to create a number of clear-fell coups roughly 0.2ha in size to encourage new growth and provide a variety of structure within the woodland canopy.
Much of the larger felled timber has been extracted and sold locally whilst the smaller lengths are a resource now being utilised by David Hunter, a local charcoal maker. David has a type of charcoal burner called a retort of which there are only a few in the UK. This burner is fixed to a trailer and so can therefore be transported from site to site with ease. He is based in Pembrokeshire and runs a business called ‘The Coppice Plot’, helping to manage a number of woodlands within the county.
The Wildlife Trust is always keen to support traditional skills and trades, especially where they benefit the conservation and management of its sites and the wider environment. Nathan Walton, Wildlife Trust Officer for Pembrokeshire said, “it is great to see a traditional skill such as charcoal making returning to Pengelli where remains of old charcoal kilns can be found dotted all over the reserve.
Even though the technology has changed in its production, the sight of a small steady stream of smoke emerging from the woods is somewhat enchanting, especially when you know it’s nothing to worry about!” He adds, “I am pleased to be able to support David’s livelihood whilst at the same time utilising his skills for the conservation and sustainable management of the woodland.”
If you would like to know more of David and his business, please visit www.thecoppiceplot.com for further information.