Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

Could burning bracken answer the wood burning problem

Creating a biomass fuel from a nuisance shrub provides a better environment and is great for gardeners.

When it’s cold and the days are still short, there’s nothing like an evening by the fire to lift your mood.

But as the debate continues as to whether burning wood is bad for the environment, is it possible to stay cosy with a clean conscience? 

Part of the problem arises out of burning wood that’s wet.  Wet wood makes your fire work at a lower temperature, meaning less fuel is fully burnt and more escapes as soot – a common cause of air pollution.

To help, there’s already a certification scheme in place to identify and promote dried wood, but the team at Somerset-based Brackenburn think they can do even better.

The clue’s in the name: by burning bracken.  

Country Gardener spoke to one of Brackenburn’s directors, Barry Smith to find out more.

Q: Why is burning bracken better than burning wood?

A: The moisture content of our ‘Brackettes’ is just 14 per-cent or less.  To display a ‘Ready to Burn’ certification mark from Woodsure, the UK’s woodfuel accreditation scheme, suppliers must prove that the moisture content of their product is no more than 20 per-cent.  This means that up to a fifth of what you’re paying for is water – and possibly more if the wood isn’t marked as ‘Ready to Burn’.

The process we use to dry and compress the bracken after it’s been harvested reduces the moisture content so effectively that our ‘Brackettes’ burn hotter and longer than oak, producing less soot in the process.

Q: Where did the idea come from?

A: During a conversation with Ian Reid, a farmer who was composting bracken, the senior warden of the Mendip Hills suggested it might be good for burning.  He’d known bracken to be used as animal bedding, and had a hunch it would burn well too.  After all, landowners often burnt bracken off in the autumn, but burning it on the hills is bad for wildlife.

After a  discussion with some local minds at the Plume of Feathers in Rickford, Brackenburn was born –the idea of creating a biomass fuel from a nuisance shrub became very appealing.

Thanks to backing from Centrica, the West of England Growth Fund and the team’s own investment, we’ve been able to grow our business and we now sell our ‘Brackettes’ all over the country. 

Q: What will I be left with after burning?

A: Burning bracken is great news for gardeners.  The residue from burning ‘Brackettes’ contains two and a half times as much potash as the ash from burning wood.  It’s rich in compounds of potassium that have been used for centuries as a natural fertiliser.

Q: Is burning bracken sustainable?

A: Yes.  Bracken is a nuisance shrub that covers 2.5 million acres of the UK, an area as big as London and the South East. Left unchecked, it would encroach on the landscape by as much as 3% a year. By regularly harvesting bracken, we’re increasing the biodiversity of the land, allowing all types of flora and fauna to flourish.  Once we’ve harvested it, the bracken does grow back, but in a much more managed way.

A 10kg recyclable bag contains ten ‘Brackettes’ and should be stored in a dry place.

Recommended retail price: £7.49. Typical retail price: £6.00 - £6.50.

Find your local stockist at: www.brackenburn.co.uk/stockists or call 01934 310513 to buy directbracken mendip

The debate

Most fireplaces, wood-burning stoves and other appliances that use wood as fuel create more air pollution than heaters and stoves that use other fuels. Fireplaces and wood stoves may leak unhealthy amounts of smoke into living spaces, whether it is visible to residents or not.

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