For hundreds of years, a roaring fire has been the heart of a pub. But as the government consults on the environmental impact of wood burning, could this be the end of the road?
The good news is the announcement last week by the environment secretary Michael Gove was light on detail. But the concern is that the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has suggested it is willing to legislate.
It also follows London mayor Sadiq Khan’s claim that he will be empowering the city's local authorities to look at the matter – and is also considering banning them across the capital.
The problem has arisen from the UK government’s desire for some quick wins on air pollution in its 25-year improvement plan.
So, what could happen – and how could it impact pubs?
What are you throwing on that fire?
Although a total ban is probably some time from happening, the biggest impact in the near future could be on wet or unseasoned wood.
Seasoned wood – which is recommended for stoves and fires – has a moisture content of less than 20 per cent. But there is no guaranteed quality mark for burning wood.
Wet or unseasoned wood – often sold on forecourts and DIY stores – is considerably worse for the environment than seasoned wood, as the moisture creates smoke which produces harmful particulates when burned.
One suggestion is creating a standard – such as the ‘Woodsure approved’ – which would force wood providers to have logs of a high quality that are seasoned.
This would inevitably create higher costs for pubs to burn wood – potentially into the hundreds of pounds – and mean big changes to the supply chain.
There will inevitably be more demand for firms that already produce low moisture content logs, and price rises or stock shortages could result.
Defra has acknowledged the industry guidance that open fires are ‘worst offenders’ when it comes to damaging the environment – not good news for pubs, and something definitely to have in your mind.
Closed stoves with seasoned wood produce considerably less particulate than open fires with large chunks of wet wood.
It will be worth keeping a close eye on this, as compliance with any legislative changes could mean shifting from an open fire to a stove, and the associated cost should be considered by pubs, as it may run into thousands of pounds.
The government currently plans to make the enforcement of any wood burning activity a local authority issue.
It may be worth looking at what your current local authority members think of air pollution – and what their likely response would be to the government’s legislation.
Although councillors would not be able to override environmental rules, how they enforce it and interpret any legislative changes could radically impact your pub.
If you are looking to future proof, or just to show off your environmentally-friendly credentials, there are already Defra-approved stoves than can be used in domestic settings which could be installed.
However, any legislative changes could make even these models redundant, so there is still an element of risk in installation.
Such models are also more efficient at generating heat - although without the obvious advantages of the open flame aesthetic.
Also, ask your neighbours and your customers. Increasingly, burning of wood is being viewed as an antisocial activity. What are the views of those you care about most – the community and your punters?
If they are fed up with the smelly fire, then maybe it is time to consider blowing out the flame.