Celebrating Australia Day with charcoal making

Did you know, Australia Day was on Saturday 26th January? It’s a special day that will saw many Aussies across the Pacific Ocean light up the barbie as they celebrated their history and heritage.  But closer to home, volunteers in the Land of Oak & Iron have been learning heritage skills in managing woodlands, producing charcoal that will be used to light BBQs across our region come the warmer weather.

Volunteers learning hot ot make charcoal in the Land of Oak & IronLed by our very own Peter Downes, Access & Woodland Officer and Bill Oakes from Greenwood Training, 14 volunteers were taken through the process of making charcoal, from coppicing to burning, at Priestfield Wood near Burnopfield in early December 2018.

Of course, the weather may be cold and snowy here and our thoughts are far from digging out the BBQ to dine al fresco. However, what most people don’t realise is that preparations for the summer season here in the UK actually begin in the middle of winter, to ensure you have all the charcoal you need once the sunnier skies arrive. After all, there’s nothing quite like the taste of a burger and bangers from the BBQ, washed down with a nice cold beer!

During their time at Priestfield Wood, the volunteers learned that coppicing is a traditional method of managing woodlands, where trees are felled at the base or stool, allowing them to regrow multiple stems and provide a sustainable supply of timber. From the coppicing activity, sycamore, birch and hazel were collected to produce the raw materials needed for the burn, carbonising the wood by burning it in a low-oxygen environment in a process which takes several days.

Sausage sizzle on Land of oak & Iron charcoalAs a result of the burn in December, 41 bags of charcoal weighing a total of 80kg were produced. This charcoal is now on sale in the Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre at Winlaton Mill and the Tyne Riverside Café in Tyne Riverside Country Park at Prudhoe. The proceeds from the sale of the charcoal will be reinvested in Priestfield Wood through tree planting and woodland management work. So, what are you waiting for? Get on down there and stock up on your supplies of charcoal ready for the summer season!

All joking aside, Australia Day might be a great excuse for us to talk about charcoal now here in the UK, but the fact is our team of volunteers have been learning some brilliant skills, that belong to the heritage of the region. In keeping these skills alive under the watchful eye of experts like Peter and the team, we’re working to make sure they aren’t lost to history and are put to good use. We couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than with a good old BBQ – it’s just a shame the weather’s not quite up to scratch yet!

If you would like to learn how to make charcoal to burn on your very own BBQ, we’re planning another two training sessions – the first is scheduled for March and the second in autumn. For more information and to register your place, email Peter or give him a call on 07484 093411.