TreeStation is Greater Manchester’s only cooperatively-run tree work and wood fuels business. A not-for-profit social enterprise aiming to make the best use of local timber resources, they are pioneers in the area of urban woodland management, providing green solutions to wood waste and ‘up-cycling’ as much as possible.

Based in Gorton, they launched a community share offer earlier this year and have recently extended the deadline in order to raise a minimum of £150,000 to secure their long-term sustainability.

Northern Soul met with director, Patrick Morrello, who elaborated on TreeStation’s plans.

“The major part of the money raised will be used to buy an 180Kw biomass boiler and a wood-drying kiln,” says Morello. “With a kiln on site and a boiler fuelled by our own woodchip, we can lower our carbon footprint even more, improve our capacity for drying and selling sawn wood for local heating and become a more efficient and sustainable business. We want to make best use of local timber produce.”

TreeStationIt’s stunning to learn that leaving woodchip to simply rot down produces methane, a greenhouse gas and so can actually be harmful to the environment. What wood is normally chipped?

“We make biomass wood chip for boilers from species unsuitable for firewood,” Morrello explains. “Poplar is a good example. Unbelievably, most wood from trees in this country is chipped and normally sent to power stations. But this is a colossal waste of local resources – not just the process itself, as there are massive losses in energy conversion, but also the transporting of the fuel. Our aim is to greatly increase the availability of low-carbon wood fuels in Manchester and to be able to dry sawn timber without burning fossil fuels. By enabling the wood to be turned into furniture, for example, we lock up the carbon for generations and keep it in the region – that’s what gets me excited.”

Having run wood-burners in my own house for the past six years or so, it breaks my heart when I see beautiful trees being chipped on the roadside. I’ve often thought that there must be a more ecological (and economical) way of doing it.  

Morello says: “We get emails every week asking if we want to buy logs from Latvia and other Eastern European countries – which often actually come from Russia.”

This seems like an absurd situation when so much British wood is going to waste. But it looks like the Government is taking steps to address this. TreeStation will benefit from the Renewable Heat Incentive, a government grant scheme to support biomass heating systems (as well as solar and air/ground and water source heat pumps), guaranteed for 20 years.

“As more and more businesses take advantage of the RHI scheme, we’ll start to feel the benefit as wood chip will be more in demand. Farms are taking advantage of this already, as well as some social housing, schools and colleges. We have a great relationship with Stockport Council who supply us with a lot of our wood, but obviously the more local suppliers, tree-work contractors, the better.”

As part of Community Energy Fortnight, TreeStation will be opening up their yard to the public on September 27, 2014. There’ll be demonstrations of firewood processing, a bodging and woodturning workshop (you really can’t beat a good bodge, can you?) and chainsaw carving.

By Chris Payne