Charcoal

Charcoal

When it comes to barbecues, we in Britain have a problem. I’m not talking about our summer’s unreliable sunshine quota, but rather the charcoal we choose to buy.

Unfortunately, the bulk is imported, much of it from developing countries where sustainability is often a second thought. As well as  this, there are welfare concerns over those who make it – commonly among the poorest in their communities. When you factor in the huge carbon hoof-print which comes with shipping the charcoal here, and the whole thing doesn’t add up to the smartest choice for your barbecue.

These ethics aside, there are other good reasons for buying British. Simply put, choosing native charcoal gives a leg up to our working woods and is a welcome revenue stream for our woodsmen. It allows them to make profit from the smaller diameter material which is often a by-product of thinning programmes or other management practices they are engaged in – stuff which may have previously been left to rot.

The consequence of a viable woodland economy means our woods and hedges can be managed for the long term, with all the benefits this brings. Worked coppice woods, for example, are more bio-diverse and offer a haven for dormice and butterflies. Laid hedges provide sheltered nesting sites for small birds – wrens seem particularly enamoured.

Despite these positives, it’s important to understand such work is labour intensive and the woodsman cannot work for free – certainly, the British charcoal burner cannot survive on the same wages as his Namibian counterpart.

At the end of the day, it is a deal you strike with your own conscience: to go with a cheap bag of imported charcoal, or pay a pound or two more for the British equivalent.