Jim Shannon – 2022 Speech on Burning Trees for Energy Generation

The speech made by Jim Shannon, the DUP MP for Strangford, in the House of Commons on 6 December 2022.

I thank the hon. Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) for setting the scene so well. I welcome the debate on the potential issues of burning trees. The hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) took a balanced approach to the debate, and I support what she said.

We have to look at the issues from both sides. There are some out there, including many constituents of mine, who use log burners and wood as their primary source of heat. I have an obligation as their Member of Parliament to support those people living in rural areas. On the other hand, there are those who use gas and oil for their primary form of heat but also have log burners purely for the effect. We must have that discussion, as it ultimately impacts on our future and the environment.

Today, I tabled early-day motion 668 on National Tree Week. I am sure that Members who have gathered for the debate will be eager to add their names to it. Let me pose a question. If a farmer or someone like that has a wood burner, and a tree falls over in a storm, do they let it lie? No, they do not; I would not, anyway. I would make sure that it was used, and used in the wood burners of my constituents.

I have often said before that as a farmer—I declare an interest—I am very aware of the importance of our environment and our local agriculture. Indeed, I planted some trees, probably about 20 years ago, on a rocky patch of land subject to flooding. It was not incredibly productive agriculturally, so I planted 3,500 trees. Many farmers do that, as they have been more inclined to understand the benefits it creates.

As I stated earlier, some people use log burners solely to heat their homes, and allowances must be made for that. It might not be the most sustainable way of heating one’s home, but for some elderly people and those who live in rural communities, it is simply all they have known. Who of us in this room cannot be encouraged by the warmth of a real fire, from wood or coal? Let us be honest. If someone cannot see the benefit of it, there is something seriously wrong. That is all I am going to say.

Many shops in my constituency still sell logs; there is a major demand for them. Other households will also use a log burner to heat up their main room in the evenings, as opposed to turning the heating on to heat the whole house. There is a practicality to the process that we must be very aware of.

We have seen the benefits that planting trees brings to our nation. Trees help to purify the air, lower air temperature, sustain wildlife and improve soil quality. Some would argue that going to all of the bother of planting thousands of trees just to cut them down and burn them is a waste of resources, but we have made many commitments to COP26 and COP27 and it is about doing whatever we can to ensure that energy is provided in a sustainable way.

The Woodland Trust, which I have a good working relationship with, has been in contact with me. It made me aware of the damaging effect that biomass energy—the energy that we get from plants and animals—has on our environment, which the hon. Member for North Devon mentioned in her introduction. It stated that its view on forest bioenergy is that, given its often ignored high emissions intensity, its combustion is likely to increase overall carbon emissions, despite the real policy to reduce them by 2050.

I am coming to the end, Mr Gray, but I want briefly to mention that nuclear energy has also become a greater part of the conversation around energy sustainability in recent years. When we hear about nuclear, we often think of Chernobyl and the devastations that it can cause, but we must also think of figures such as the fact that state nuclear energy provided 52% of America’s carbon-free electricity in 2020, making it the largest domestic source of clean energy. We should not write off and ignore nuclear power.

To conclude, this will very much be an ongoing conversation. I respect and understand the benefits of growing trees and using alternative sources, but we must also allow consideration to be given to those who do use logs and log burners as their primary source of heating. We cannot ignore them.