Heather burning: The County Durham project harvesting energy from the moors

Heather on Barningham Moor, County Durham
Heather could be the fuel of the future Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Heather is being harvested and used as fuel, instead of being burnt on moorland, as part of a pilot project in County Durham.

The pink and purple plant grows on upland moors between July and September, and can easily become a fire risk if it is not managed properly.

Normally, controlled burning is used to stop the heather from becoming overgrown and a wildfire hazard.

But a new project is cutting the heather back and using it to make fuel that could be used in homes or biomass power stations.

Specialist machinery harvests the heather on the moor Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

The three-year project is being run by Teesdale Environmental Consulting (TEC), supported by a grant from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero.

TEC director Ewan Boyd said: “We thought ‘it's a fuel, it burns. Can we not process it into a useful fuel so people can use it in their homes instead of burning oil and coal?'

“This is a useful product. It's a crop. And rather than just wasting it, we can convert it into a viable fuel. And that really is the thinking behind the project, trying to use a locally produced material to heat homes and displace fossil fuels."

The project is being trailed on moorland on the Barningham Estate, which straddles the border between North Yorkshire and County Durham.

The heather is harvested using special machinery that is stable above the underlying peat bog, and is then dried out before being turned into briquettes.

Dane Bowden, the chef at the Millbank Arms in Barningham, has trialled using the fuel in his pizza oven.

He said that the heather fuel generates “a lot more heat, and it seems to last a lot longer. It’s brilliant to use, and it smells nicer as well.”

Heather briquettes burning in the pizza oven at the Milbank Arms Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

According to Robert Benson, from the Moorland Association, which represents landowners and is supporting the project, managing the growth of heather is vital.

“The real risk is that we're getting longer, very dry drought periods,” he said. "Heather gets extremely dry and therefore extremely flammable. So it is vital that we build in measures that will help in the case of wildfire."

However, he added that cutting the heather would only provide part of the solution because “you cannot cut everywhere.” He insisted that “we still need to carry on being able to burn” in order to manage the growth in areas where it would prove difficult to harvest.

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