Writing this while sat in front of a wood-fired range, watching the frost melt outside in the morning sun, I am experiencing what some might call smugness.
The Scandinavians, with their better acceptance of winter and of human pleasures, call it ‘hygge’: a self-hugging sense of security and convivial well-being.
But tradition, and a hyggish pride in the scale and order of my log pile, may not be the best environmental guides. My heating, cooking, and hot water are all wood fired, using fallen, seasoned wood from our hedges and woods.
I love the rhythm and immediacy of tending the stoves – but this is not the solution for an over-populated planet. Although theoretically carbon neutral, there can be no doubt that even with dry wood and efficient stoves, the resulting particulate pollution is a serious health issue, certainly in urban areas.
There is also an argument for leaving at least some fallen wood to decay naturally, providing habitat and food sources for birds and insects. The best wood should be used for timber, thus locking up the carbon contained within the wood for longer, and displacing steel.
An efficient heat pump is probably a greener solution in most cases – especially if we manage to decarbonise the National Grid by 2035, as many predict.
Nevertheless, when this newsletter is written, my inbox is empty and my head is ready to explode, I will push the keyboard aside and head out to Tor wood with chainsaw and axe, ready to cut and split the 20 tonnes of logs we use each winter.
Tragically, the prevalence of ash dieback (a fungal disease) means there is no shortage of fallen trees. Counting the 100 or so rings of the larger tree butts suggests that this wood was cleared for pit props and trench timbers, as so many were during World War One, when wood cover fell to five per cent in Britain.
The random spacing, even age, and prevalence of ash suggest that the wood was then left to regenerate naturally during the agricultural depression of the 1920s and 30s.
The 60-foot trees started dying five years ago. As the canopy thins, we are planting beech, sycamore, chestnut, and hazel underneath.
This was once our best wood for wild garlic, but as light levels increase below the ailing trees, garlic, primroses and bluebells are being replaced by the more light-hungry and competitive nettles and brambles.
I won’t live to see the mixed canopy we have planted grow up to replace the ash, but it makes me feel better about taking the fallen wood now.