From left, Danny Horne, Geoff Hughes and Simon Clarke with some of the kindling they produce at Wood End Enterprises. Picture by Peter Boam.
WIGHT LIVINGTHERE’S no doubt Islanders are becoming more environmentally aware.
You can’t open the County Press these days without reading about wind turbines and tidal generators, sustainable housing and transport schemes, green energy roadshows or eco-loos.
One company doing its bit for the Island’s environment is Wood End Enterprises, a wood chip supply business, jointly founded by actor Geoff Hughes and his wife, Sue, woodland conservationist Danny Horne and tree surgeon Nigel Earley.
Based at Geoff and Sue’s home, near Newport, the aim of the project is to regenerate their 23 acres of woodland and harvest the otherwise useless timber as fuel for eco-friendly biomass boilers.
As reported in last week’s County Press, Wood End Enterprises has, along with the Forestry Commission, started supplying woodchips to HMP IW, after the prison installed what is believed to be the Island’s first woodchip boiler to heat to the prison cluster’s kitchen building.
"Until now, you had a classic chicken-and-egg situation on the Island where no-one would invest in one of these boilers without a guaranteed supply chain of biomass fuel and no-one would invest in producing the fuel without a way of getting rid of it," said Geoff, who is hopeful the biomass market will grow as more woodland owners get involved.
As well as producing woodchips for biomass boilers, Wood End Enterprises also sells kindling and mulch and offers services including tree surgery, stump removal and wood milling.
Geoff and Sue first decided to take action around four years ago and turned to Danny on the recommendation of Paul Abbott, who owns the lavender farm, near Newport. Danny, who won an NFU conservation award with his father for his efforts to restore the ancient Fatting Park Copse, Wootton, is passionate about woodland management.
"This is not about cutting down trees to generate fuel. The conservation element is just as important," he said.
"It’s only in the past 50 years or so that woodland hasn’t been managed properly, because there was no real financial incentive for landowners to do it, after oil became so widely used for fuel instead of wood.
"It has always been difficult on the Island to get rid of the poorer quality timber but Geoff and Sue have had the vision to do just that. This will hopefully enable other woodland owners to salvage their poorer quality material, to make it an investment for people to regenerate their woodland.
"If we don’t protect the Island’s biodiversity, we will end up losing very important flora and fauna."
Wood End Enterprises is a project that has not come cheap for Geoff and Sue, who have ploughed their own money into the business with little hope of returning a profit. They have bought equipment, including a snazzy £40,000 woodchipper, and built a new wood storage barn with financial help from the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA).
|Danny Horne with wood-chipping machine.
"When we first came to look at how we could regenerate the woodland, we were told there was no value in the timber and the best thing we could do was to just bulldoze the whole thing. But that was not an option for us," said Geoff, who is a vocal supporter of green energy and even built his eco-house, using timber from his woodland.
"We knew it would cost us money but we wanted to do it anyway because of the environmental benefits.
"When we cut it all back the results were amazing. It was like a miracle the following spring, when all this stuff that had been sitting there for years just came to life. It’s a great example of the benefits of managing woodland."
Simon Clarke, director of Cowes-based Clarke’s Mechanical, has been brought on board to install and maintain biomass boilers.
"The prison boiler is working extremely well and they are very pleased with it but this is something which needs to be expanded.
"Anyone can have a biomass boiler and there are grants available to help people pay for them but the cost is an issue.
"What we really want is for the IW Council to keep to their word on Eco-Island and start looking at commercial installation."
And therein lies the issue. The IW Economic Partnership has approached Island landowners who may be interested in regenerating their woodland with a view to producing biomass fuel but the team at Wood End Enterprises wants to see more commitment on the part of the IW Council.
"The planning department in general is not very well up on alternative energy and I think a lot of people still look at it as some hippie idea. But there will be nothing like the rising price of oil and gas to make people change their minds," said Geoff.
"We really need the council to be aware of biomass and implement it. The obvious thing would be the big community projects like schools, housing developments and care homes — and, of course, County Hall itself, which is probably the most unenvironmentally friendly building around.
"It’s those sorts of things that would really kick off the biomass fuel market on the Island.
"The council talks about Eco-Island a lot but what is it doing with the alternative energy that’s available now?"
Danny added: "It’s just common sense, this is the way forward. And it’s not just about Wood End Enterprises, it’s about creating a hub for other woodland owners to feed into, to benefit everyone.
"The Forestry Commission has said we produce 20,000 tons of sustainable timber a year and, although I think that’s a bit on the exaggerated side, we should still be questioning why we give our money to Russia and Saudi Arabia when we could use the energy sources in our own country.
"Biomass is sustainable and it’s from the Island. It’s a no-brainer."