Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Forestry U-turn on wood foraging

Mike Kamp by his fire
Mike Kamp has collected wood for his stove for many years.

Forestry officials have changed their minds and decided to allow people to collect firewood from woods in Wales this winter.

However, it may be the last year it is allowed however as Forestry Commission Wales wants to set up a network of local merchants to do the work.

It manages woodlands owned by the Welsh Assembly Government and said the new system would benefit more people.

But foragers say they will campaign to carry on the ancient tradition.

The commission said it needed to clarify its position following "a furore" when it was reported last week that members of the public had been told they could no longer receive individual licences to collect wood from forests.

Mike Kamp
We go into the forest collect the wood and dry it to burn, we are carbon neutral, and proud of it
Mike Kamp, forager

Head of estate management Peter Garson said: "We have heard the arguments put forward on this issue over the past week and have listened to those people who are affected by the work we do in sustainably managing our woodlands."

He said the commission was happy to let people know that individual request for licences to collect firewood would now be considered.

However he said there may sometimes be sound practical reasons not to issue a licence, such as the importance of dead and decaying timber as part of the woodland ecosystem.

It was also an important habitat for insects and fungi, and there had to be a reasonable assessment of the potential risks involved, he added.

The new system will allow more people to access wood as a fuel source, he added.

Health and safety

"We understand that more and more people are turning to wood to heat their homes and we want to ensure that everybody, including the elderly and infirm, is able to have access to this wonderful fuel source," he said.

The current system of issuing lots of individual collecting permits took a heavy toll on time and resources, he said.

The new system would also create employment, he added.

One of those involved, Mike Kamp, said he welcomed the news of the U-turn but "the battle is not won yet".

Mr Kamp, of the Conwy Valley, said he disagreed with the commission's reasons for wanting the change as using contractors to collect wood to sell was not an environmentally friendly way to work.

"We go into the forest collect the wood and dry it to burn, we are carbon neutral, and proud of it," he said.

"This will not be true of companies who use large plant to collect it.

"A campaign has now built up and we intend to continue to fight until we are allowed to keep gathering firewood," he added.

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