Collecting free firewood in Britain

Free firewood in the UK

To start off with I’ll get the bad news out of the way, Britain is rubbish when it comes to collecting free firewood. So, if your looking for the quick answer toCan I collect this wood?’ The answer for people in the UK is likely ‘No’ 🙁

However, all is not lost! There are a few ways in which you can scavenge your free wood, and its pretty much down to common sense.

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If a tree has been felled and left, or processed into a wood pile then it is highly likely they have been put there to offer a habitat for some local wildlife.

Why I collect firewood

There’s nothing better than cooking on an open fire, the taste of the outdoors is something that just cannot be replicated in a kitchen. From baked potatoes to slow roasted chicken, the smokey flavour is irresistible. When I moved to this house, the garden had not been used for a good few years.

With a good amount of space I decided to clean it up. There were a fair few concrete bricks from old flower beds. Instead of throwing them in the skip, I decided to be resourceful & kill two birds with one stone. A fireplace, smoking chamber & re-use of the old materials!

For my outdoor fire and smoking chamber I am always on the look out for cheap fuel. Firewood is relatively expensive in Britain so any free firewood is a bonus. One of my neighbours recently had some pine tree’s felled for safety reasons. I noticed the pile of decent sized logs sitting there for a week or so.

After deciding they were likely up for grabs I had an inkling that I probably could not just take the wood as and when I liked. This prompted me to do some research & here’s what I found.

Can I collect wood in Britain? The laws

No, in the United Kingdom you must seek the land owners permission to collect firewood off their land. All firewood belongs to the landowner, and the majority of land in the UK is owned by someone. Taking wood without consent is considered theft.

Before you go out and collect wood that you see lying around there are some rules and regulations to observe in the UK. We will cover some common scenarios where you may find wood that appears to have been abandoned.

Common sense always accounts for something in situations like this. Look for the nearest property and ask who the wood belongs too. The chances are if it has been left on someones land for a week or more they will likely be happy to have someone to take the felled wood away.

Collecting and removing firewood from woodland, is it legal?

No it is not legal to remove any wood from Woodland Trust areas in Britain. All forested areas that are not privately owned are run by The Woodland Trust.

If you’ve seen a pile of wood in your local wooded area that looks like it’s free for the taking think again, wood is used for more than just fires. Fallen tree’s and stacks of wood can be a home to insects and animals that are called ‘Deadwood Habitats’ (1).

If a tree has been felled and left, or processed into a wood pile then it is highly likely they have been put there to offer a habitat for some local wildlife. Removing any of this wood could potentially damage ongoing conservation projects or an animals home.

If you find you are short of firewood, you should always find another way to source it other than taking it from a Woodland Trust area.

Can I scavenge wood from common lands?

Yes, it is OK to scavenge wood from common lands in the United Kingdom. This is legally referred to as ‘estovers’ rights (2). However, the amount of ‘Common Land’ in Britain is extremely limited. This is because the majority of land in Britain belongs to the Forestry Commission and Woodland Trust making it hard to exercise your ‘Estovers’ right.

Is it legal to collect felled wood from around your local area?

Yes, if you have permission from the land owner. If you do not have permission then taking the wood could be considered theft under British law. If your having cant physically find the land owner, you can always turn to the internet or land registry to aid in your search. For some handy tips on finding land owners check out this guide.

Can I collect wood from the road side in Britain?

No, the roadside is likely owned by either a farmer, land owner or property developer. If not these then it will be owned by a governmental body. To avoid any issues with collecting wood from the roadside, it would be better sourced from somewhere else.

Although it is expensive, buying firewood is better than risking an accusation of theft and the hassle that goes with it. Local wood merchants will be cheaper than high street shops.

How do I cut, split and stack firewood for drying?

After felling the green wood should be stored, stacking the wood in a shed or wood shelter. Make sure air can get around all areas of the logs. Fully seasoned logs will take 2 years to dry. It is after this amount of time that the moisture content drops below 20%, ideal for burning.

To help the drying process you should cut and split the logs into quarters. To do this you will need an axe, energy and technique. Swinging an axe should not be taken lightly. If you have not used an axe before try and fond someone who has to teach you.

Fully seasoned logs will take 2 years to dry. It is after this amount of time that the moisture content drops below 20%, ideal for burning

Cut the wood into lengths of equal size, 1ft to 2ft is a good size. Once cut into logs, you now need t split them. To do this put your log vertically and strike the center with your axe. You should not need to much power with this as the split usually follows the grain.

Start with less power and increase it until the wood splits. Then repeat this with the halves, turning them into quarters. It is these that you will stack.

To stack the firewood effectively it needs to be off the ground in a well ventilated & dry area. It also needs to be somewhere they can be left from 6months to 2 years for the curing process.

If you have a fire in your garden area you can always help speed up this process by stacking the wood near the fire. This will force the moisture out of the wood quickly reducing your drying time. You are aiming for a moisture level of less than 20% for the wood to burn properly.

If wood has a moisture content above this, it will smoke and spit due to sap content. Green or fresh logs also give out next to no heat so you’ll be waiting a long time for your marshmallows!

How long does it take to dry logs for firewood?

It takes a minimum of 6 months to get most logs to a moisture level that will burn OK. For fully seasoned logs your looking at 2 years. There are ways to speed this up like kiln drying or stacking next to a warm place like a fire or BBQ.

Can I dry firewood logs quickly?

Yes you can dry you logs more quickly! You will need a kiln or an equivalent for this process. You can buy a kiln. Buying and maintaining a kiln is not cheap, and therefore it becomes pointless when the purpose of acquiring free wood is to keep it as cheap as possible.

The best way to dry your wood more effectively is to stack it next to your garden fire. If you don’t have one, you could always build a temporary one to help the drying process of your logs.

How to tell your logs of firewood are ready

You can tell your wood is good and ready by touch, sound and how well it burns. It will feel warm and dry to touch, not cold and damp. If you knock on the wood it will sound hollow when its dry, like knocking on the door. If the above to are true, then there’s a good chance it will pass the final test.

Take one of your quartered logs and start a small fire using the piece of newly seasoned wood. If the wood doesn’t smoke or sizzle, your firewood is ready for burning. Keep it stored in a dry, well ventilated place and enjoy your fire!

Did you know?

To most people chickens are funny animals, cute at times but rarely are they considered ‘scary’? Tell that to someone with ‘Alektorophobia‘ which is a phobia of chickens!

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