Why burn wood? 

Wood - a renewable and sustainable source of energy. As trees grow they convert the sun's energy into organic molecules that form wood and when burned the energy captured is released as heat. Unlike fossil fuels, burning firewood releases no more carbon dioxide than would be produced if it were left to rot on the forest floor. 

Wood is the only 100% renewable material grown by solar power, it needs little or no irrigation, pesticides or herbicides to grow and creates a valuable ecosystem while it does.  The vast majority of wood from UK woodlands is from sustainable sources: trees cut are replaced by planting, natural regeneration or coppice re-growth.

Logs cut locally have not been transported long distances further reducing the carbon footprint and those extracted by horses have an even lower impact on the environment.

Burning technology 

While attractive, an open fire is estimated to be only about 20-25% efficient but a modern wood-burning stove can run at over 80% efficiency. So if you put your logs in a stove instead of on a fire you will benefit from at least three times the amount of heat.

In addition, you may be able to use the top of the stove to boil a kettle or roast chestnuts.

Wood-burning stoves are cheaper to run that conventional gas, electric or oil heated systems and, with the ever-rising cost of fuel, wood becomes a highly viable alternative.

Wood-burning stoves are normally used for background heating, however, models are available that are fitted with a back boiler to heat hot water and/or radiators.

Even in daily use the stove should not need cleaning out more than every few weeks. In fact, a bed of ashes helps the wood to burn.

As for the emissions, many stoves are now clean enough to be legally used in urban smoke-free zones.

Which wood burns the best? 

The simple answer is seasoned wood: wood that has dried for a year or so.

All wood contains water and freshly-cut "green" wood can contain up to 45% water; seasoning reduces this to around 20-25% moisture content.  If you burn green wood, much of the heat produced is used to dry the wood before it burns.  Seasoned wood is easy to light, produces more heat, and burns cleanly.

Seasoning firewood involves cutting it into shorter lengths, usually to fit your fire or wood-burning stove, splitting those that are more than around 15 cm/6 inch diameter and then storing the wood in a sheltered place where it can dry naturally.  Cutting and splitting can be done by hand, using a saw and a maul (a type of axe), or mechanically.

Which species burns the best?  

Provided it is seasoned most wood will burn well.  Ash is generally reckoned to be the best with oak, beech, hornbeam, maple and sycamore also making really good firewood.  Alder, lime, sweet chestnut, elm, poplar and conifers are not so favoured. 

Sweet chestnut, pine, larch, horse chestnut and cypress tend to spit so are less suitable for open fires and your carpet!  Poplar produces little heat however its close relative, willow makes good firewood if well seasoned.