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Collecting and removing firewood: is it legal?

When you’re on a woodland walk, it’s not uncommon to spot a piece of wood or a great pile of logs on the ground that you think would be perfect for your fire. But should you bring any home? And for that matter, is it legal to chop down trees anyway?

Wood left in woodland is usually there for a reason, but you can still source woodfuel locally. (Photo: Tim Gainey/Alamy)
Wood left in woodland is usually there for a reason, but you can still source woodfuel locally. (Photo: Tim Gainey/Alamy)

Is removing firewood legal?

Everything within a wood, including fallen branches and logs, is the property of the woodland owner. This means removing logs from a wood without consent is considered theft. Make sure you have the consent of the wood owner before you remove any wood.

As well as needing consent, be mindful of what you pick up. Though bits of wood may look abandoned, they provide a valuable service to the ecosystem.

Look out for wildlife thriving on fallen logs. (Photo: Brian Aldrich/WTML)
Look out for wildlife thriving on fallen logs. (Photo: Brian Aldrich/WTML)

Deadwood habitats

At the Woodland Trust, we leave logs in our woods to provide deadwood for life. Decaying wood is an essential part of the woodland habitat. It provides a home for lots of species that cannot otherwise survive, as well as recycling nutrients back into the soil.

Next time you’re on a walk, get close to some deadwood and see what you can spot. You might see holes drilled by insects, lots of mosses, tiny fungi, or even a stag beetle, the larvae of which feed on dead and decaying wood. Each log is valuable; even different species of tree produce unique habitats.

Life thrives in decaying wood and trees

Find out more about valuable deadwood habitats

Sustainable wood fuel

Instead of picking up firewood on a walk, you can buy some locally. Sensitively and sustainably managed woods produce wood for the timber industry and a thriving wood fuel market.

Chances are there will be businesses local to you where you can source wood, rather than collecting from the wood itself. Look out for the ‘Woodsure Ready to Burn’ quality assured fuel logo which shows the source is sustainable.

Be aware when buying your firewood that a huge amount now comes from Eastern Europe. Importing logs carries a biosecurity risk  as pests and diseases can come along for the ride. This could have a direct  effect on British woods.

Look out for log piles on your next woodland walk. (Photo: Colin VArndell/WTML)
Look out for log piles on your next woodland walk. (Photo: Colin VArndell/WTML)

Carry your sustainably sourced firewood with ease

Buy our handy log carrier

Should we cut down trees?

You might wonder why we cut down trees at all. We do this because cutting down trees can help keep a woodland thriving.

When woodland is created, trees are planted close together at just two metres apart, with about 2,500 trees per hectare. However, after about 10-15 years they start to compete for light and so the woodland has to be thinned to allow the stronger trees to develop and bring light to plants on the woodland floor.

It is the wood that is thinned out from these trees that heads for firewood production, as it is too small for timber and furniture. Once thinning starts, the process is repeated every 7-10 years, each time taking out the weaker trees – allowing the woodland as a whole to flourish.

Help us protect nature

If you ever see something suspicious in one of our woods, please contact us with details. If you believe a crime is being committed please ring the police.

Woodland Trust staff, contractors and volunteers have signs out if they’re working and are usually in branded clothes, uniforms or high visibility vests - so we are very  easy to spot!