Donnachadh McCarthy: The Home Ecologist

'Word is starting to spread – piles of wood keep appearing outside my front door'

People with wood burners are like squirrels, in that they plan ahead, building up stores for the coming winter. I started stocking up on wood as soon as the last heating season finished in early May. With last year being my first full winter with the wood burner, I now have a better idea of how much wood I need to keep the house cosy all winter. I need to double the amount of wood I gathered last winter, to avoid heat-rationing. I only use waste wood, ideally from within walking distance of the house, and I nearly always come back with some every morning after fetching my Independent.

Whenever I spot a particularly exciting bundle of wood thrown outside a neighbour's house, I drop in a note asking if I can have it and explaining why. As a result, little piles of wood appear mysteriously outside my front door, as word spreads that I love getting untreated waste wood. It feels like a visit from a local wood-fairy and it invariably brings a smile to the start of my day.

John Merivale, who works on eco-issues for the City Bridge Trust, and his wife Jocelyn, a painter, who live in South London, have found another equally eco-friendly way of sourcing wood for their wood burner. They go to the tree station beside the park rangers' office on Wimbledon Common, called "The Wood Pile". The rangers allow tree surgeons and residents to drop off logs from local tree-pruning. They have to be less than 18 inches long and the tree station employs someone to split these logs. They are then put on sale for about £30 to £40 per boot-load or, by arrangement, for a van load, to local residents. The tree station is open from nine to five, seven days a week. This is a wonderful win-win arrangement. The tree surgeons avoid paying to dispose of the wood, the charity that runs Wimbledon Common raises funds to maintain the park and local residents get a carbon neutral source of fuel. In smoke-free zones, it is legal to burn untreated wood in high-temperature burners.

The sustainability charity Bioregional has set up another more commercially focused tree station in Croydon. Formed a few years ago, it is already diverting over 8,000 tons of waste from landfill each year. If any local council or charity wants to set one up, they should email It would be fantastic if every community in the UK had a local tree station, replacing millions of tons of fossil fuels and eliminating their CO2 emissions.

Donnachadh McCarthy works as an eco-auditor and is author of 'Easy Eco-auditing' (