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GYO Firewood
(in a nutshell)
plantation Willows are the fastest growing & highest yielding tree or shrub in Britain. When grown as Short Rotation Coppice (SRC) they can produce as much as 10 to 15 tonnes of dry wood per hectare per year and often more on the better sites. Starting from scratch in a bare field, growing willow as SRC is the quickest, most efficient and productive method of producing wood for energy from the land.

Farmers are now growing willow to supply power stations with a natural, renewable and carbon neutral source of energy. It is usually harvested on a 3 year rotation then chipped, dried and loaded into giant hoppers to be fed automatically into the boilers to produce electricity and/or heat.

For a householder though, logs are more useful than woodchips and so a modified SRC system is used.
Known as the 5 year Coppice Rotation, a site is divided into 5 beds and 1 bed is harvested each year, providing a regular supply of firewood year on year.

Using this system, 500 plants on 750 sq m (less than a fifth of an Acre) can produce 1 Tonne of dry firewood every year.

  Willows in a flood
Willow firewood growing on pollard      
5 Year Coppice Rotation

A coppice rotation is simply harvesting a part of your crop at the optimum size every few years. For example, a traditional hazel coppice rotation is usually 7/8 years to provide hazel poles for making hurdles. Willow, however, is much faster growing than hazel (or indeed any other tree or shrub)
A 4 year rotation is not quite long enough to grow your willow thick enough for decent size logs. A 6 year rotation is unnecessarily long and requires more space. The best system to optimise your willow log production for domestic use is a 5 Year Coppice Rotation.


• Divide your area into 5 roughly equal size beds
• Plant all the beds during the dormant season. (i.e. December to March)
• Control weeds thoroughly in the first growing season (i.e. April to November)
• In the 1st winter after planting, cut down the new shoots on all the willow in all 5 beds. (This may seem counter intuitive but will in fact encourage more shoots in subsequent seasons and maximise yields in the medium & long term.)
• From the 2nd winter after planting, cut 1 bed each year to establish a 5 year rotation.
• You are now up and running and can continue harvesting firewood each winter for the next 20 to 40 years.



What is pollarding?


Pollarding is more or less the same as coppicing, the only difference being that a pollard is harvested above ground level in order to raise the tasty young shoots above any grazing animals.
A rabbit proof pollard would need to be 18 inches or more above the ground whereas a cattle proof pollard obviously needs to be much higher.
Another reason to pollard may be to raise the harvesting height for the convenience of the harvester.
Plant longer cuttings to establish a pollard.


Firewood pollard  

Plant Spacing

  Willow is grown at different spacings for different purposes. It is important that you plant your willow at the appropiate spacings to get the best results for your requirements.
Often willow is grown at very close spacings, sometimes as close as 25cm between plants and 50cm between rows. This will produce long thin rods which are ideal for basket making or other craft work.

SRC plantations for large scale biomass production are typically planted at wider spacings such as 60cm between plants and rows. They are harvested every 3 or 4 years and turned into woodchips.

To produce logs for the home you will need even wider spacing so that the willows have more room to put on girth rather than length.

The recommended spacing is 1m between plants and 1.5m between rows. (That is equivalent to 1.5 sq m per plant or 150 sq m per 100 plants)

It may be tempting to plant at closer spacing, to get more in, but rather than getting more wood for more logs you will simply get the same amount of wood in weight but in the form of more, but thinner, stems. This is because at closer spacing there is not enough room for the individual willow stems to thicken up into a decent log size, so they are forced to grow longer and thinner.

Weed Control

The most important factor for successful establishment and fast growth of your willow cuttings is good weed control. Whatever size cutting you plant, a plant that is free from weed competition will establish better and grow faster than one in weedy conditions. Grass should also be considered a weed!

The simplest way to control weeds is either by treating with a glyphosphate based herbicide or by planting the willow through a 1m wide mulch mat. Once the willow plants are established they can aid weed control by shading the plants beneath their canopy.
Better weed control = better establishment & growth.


Where to plant willow

Like most other plants, willow will grow better in better conditions.
The more nutrients, water, sunshine and warmth that your willow has, the higher will be your yield of firewood.
However, many varieties of willow will grow in a very wide range of soil types. They are also very tough and will grow in such unfavourable conditions as poor soil, high altitudes, periodic drought, coastal winds and water logging.
Full sun or partial shade is suitable but heavy shade, such as directly under the canopy of larger trees, should be avoided.
You will also need to exclude any grazing animals from your willow beds. (see pollarding)

Please ring or email if you need advice on the suitability of your site for growing willow.

01594 861782


Email The Willow Bank


How much wood do I need?


This is a typical 'how long is a piece of string' question!
But, as a general and approximate guide, a small wood burning stove, heating a living room in the evenings in winter may use 1 to 2 tonnes of dry wood per year.
A larger room in a badly insulated house in an exposed site in the far north may use more wood, particularly if it is a long cold winter and the occupants like it hot!
A range heating the whole of a large draughty old house through radiators and providing hot water and cooking all year may use as much as 10 or more tonnes of dry wood per year. To get a more accurate idea of your particular needs, it is best to speak with your stove supplier or a local heating engineer.


Good for the environment!

It takes millions of years to produce oil, gas and coal. Therefore when fossil fuels are burned millions of year’s worth of stored carbon is released into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
When you harvest and burn a 5 year old willow tree you only release the carbon that the tree has taken and stored from the atmosphere in the last 5 years.
Therefore burning willow from a 5 year coppice system is carbon neutral and does not contribute to global warming.
Indeed growing your own willow fuel is good for the environment as the willow also provides valuable habitat for insects, birds and other animals in addition to building the soil through shedding large amounts of leaf litter and binding the soil with its root systems.

Summary of figures.


Plant at 1m between plants x 1.5m between rows. This is 1.5sq m per plant.
Each plant will grow approx 10 k of dry wood in 5 years.
That is equal to 7.5 k of dry wood per sq m per 5 years.

• 100 plants on 150sq m of land can produce 1 tonne of dry wood every 5 years.
(Or one fifth of a tonne every year using a 5 year coppice rotation)
• 500 plants on 750 sq m of land can produce 5 tonnes of dry wood every 5 years
(Or 1 tonne every year using a 5 year coppice rotation)

1 acre is approx 4,000sq m
1 hectare is 10,000sq m

Want to know more ?


Based on our experience of growing and using our own firewood here at Ragmans Lane Farm, we run a Day Course to show you our plantations and systems and discuss how they can be transposed into your situation

Click the button below for more information

  learn to grow willow for firewood  

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