The good news is that there is an alternative source of charcoal and it’s being produced right here in the woodlands of the south west. If you want to find out where to source it go to www.localcharcoal.co.uk and follow the links for Find My Local Charcoal, England, Dorset / Somerset.
It’s just under a month until midsummer. Plenty of time to make plans and keep our fingers crossed that the weather is going to be lovely. Hot and sunny at all the right times (weekends and Bank Holidays preferably) is what most of us want. I’ve no crystal ball so, like the next person, listen to the forecast with half a tongue in my cheek and look up at the sky each morning on stepping outside.
One of the nations favourite pastimes on a warm and pleasant evening is to have a barbeque. When our kids were younger I came home with a metal barbeque and announced we‘d be eating dinners ‘al fresco‘ for a few nights. It was after at least a week of this that my step-son put his foot down and insisted he wanted to have his grub on his lap in front of the telly. And quite right too!
If you’re considering having a barby this weekend then think about where your fuel comes from. The harsh reality is that ninety per cent of all the charcoal burnt in the UK is imported from some of the most exploited and endangered habitats in the world. Remember the Indonesian tsunami of 2004? One of the reasons why it was so devastating was that the mangrove swamps which act as a buffer between land and sea had been destroyed to such an extent that there was no natural protection. Mangrove is one of the commonest woods used for cheap charcoal imports.
I remember being shocked some years back when I read the small print on a bag of charcoal for sale in a petrol station here in Shaftesbury. It said ’Product of Sumatra’. It could have been mangrove or tropical rainforest, another endangered habitat which is absolutely vital to the long-term health and survival of life on earth.
Imported charcoal costs so little because the raw materials are dirt cheap. This includes the price of labour. Those who make charcoal in these far off places get nowhere near what could be considered a ’fair wage’. So, while the businessmen who run these companies make a hefty dollar, the environment and people who do the hard work get ripped off. I made an ethical decision not to make the purchase. As a member of the public, actively choosing not to buy in to that system is the most powerful statement I can make.
Local charcoal is better in every respect. It is sustainable and encourages a diversity of wildlife in woodlands by managing them in ways which are gentle and sympathetic to the needs of plants and animals. Think of a bluebell wood. Those flowers have evolved to bloom early, before tree leaves come out and cast dense shade. If a bluebell wood becomes so overgrown that shade is permanent then they, and other spring beauties, can’t flourish. Regular cutting of the trees every few years, known as ‘coppicing’, ensures that there are always good conditions for wildflowers, the trees live indefinitely and, happily, excellent bird nesting opportunities result as different stages of coppice re-growth create a mosaic of habitats.