Charcoal the way forward for eco company helping save the planet

A Northamptonshire eco-company has featured on BBC Radio 4 programme “39 Ways to Save The Planet”. The Whittlewood Concept was founded by Bohumil Masnicak of Whittlebury, Adam Bacon and Matt Griffiths, both of Brackley, and brothers Dave Faulkner of Whittlebury and Jon Faulkner from Silverstone. The local group of forestry workers concentrate primarily on restoring hazel coppice but they now also create more sustainable charcoal using a custom made kiln.

: Country park 45 minutes from Northampton named among top five UK picnic spots Hazel coppice is commonly found under Oak trees within the fragmented woodlands that would have made up the medieval green space known as “Whittlewood Forest.” Traditionally, Hazel was used for many products, but in today’s world there are “limited niche markets” according to co-founder Jon.

He said: “We work our coppice on a seven-year rotation, to harvest material for stakes and binders used in Hedgelaying and other products.

“Although a small market it is very much in demand. The act of coppicing increases biodiversity in the woodland creating a ‘healthy habitat for all manner of flora and fauna.’ “This combined with sustainable woodland management allows the seed bank within the floor of the woods to flourish and encourage natural regeneration.

Neglected Hazel coppice yields “only a small amount of useable products” until it is brought back into rotation. It would “leave small logs” which is damaging for the environment and not viable to extract.

The group use special kilns to make the sustainable charcoal

One very wet November day, the group sat in the truck sheltering from the elements and spoke about using this excess material. They decided to look at traditional charcoaling methods, which they believe is “labour intensive, polluting and damaging to the environment.”

Charcoal kilns damage the ground through heat transfer and moving heavy machinery throughout the woods causes compaction damage to the soil and tree roots. The gases produced contribute to the pollution of our planet, as the Whittlebury Concept looked at other sustainable methods of producing charcoal and came across retort kilns.

These special kilns release 75 per cent fewer pollutants into the air than their ring kiln equivalent. Jon said: “After much research, the main features of our kiln would need to be; light in weight, portable, minimal pollution to the atmosphere and heat transfer to the soil.

“So, we made our own. After 18months of testing and development, mainly during lockdown, we are now able to produce a clean, lightweight, charcoal product, “Our tag is ‘Local.

Sustainable. Charcoal.’ “After producing ‘easy to light, hot and virtually smokeless charcoal’ we stumbled across the use of biochar and its many uses in soil enrichment.

“Biochar is used to enhance trees, crops, vegetable allotments and amenity planting.” Tom Heap of Countryfile fame and assistant Anne-Marie Bullock came out to their woodlands the day after England’s Euro 2020 defeat to Italy. The pair “seemed enthused” and “happy to talk at length” about the whole concept.

Jon added: “The two hours flew by and then it was time for them to leave for their next project.”

It is GBP6 for a 5-litre bag of charcoal while a 10-litre bag of Biochar is GBP22.50. The podcast is now available via the BBC Sounds App, with the link here. If you would like further information on the Whittlewood Concept, visit their website here.

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