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Defra under fire for mixed-messages over wood burning stoves

The dichotomy of Defra advocating the ‘safer’ use of wood burning stoves, while also funding campaigns warning of their dangers, has been thrown into focus this week by the revelation that they are paying social media influencers to promote the ‘Burn Better’ campaign.

An Instagram influencer with 48,000 followers called Daywithdad begins his Defra-labelled post with: Cosy nights. Loving these autumn nights with our new stove. Such a lovely time of year.

Defra funds the London Wood Burning Project which recommends people ‘avoid burning any wood, coal, or other solid fuels at home’

Dad – real name Warren – goes on to warn about the dangers of wood burning, adding:

Those who use an open fire or stove within their home should take these three key actions which will help reduce the number of harmful particles emitted. 
→ Check it regularly
→ Sweep it professionally 
→ Feed it the right fuel 

There is no link to any particular advice, only to Defra’s own Instagram page and the hashtag #BurnBetter.

Dozens of the accompanying comments read like they’ve been lifted straight from a wood stove brochure: ‘Wow this looks so cosy!’ ‘Wish I had one of these at home!’ ‘This is my dream, to have a cottage with a wood stove’ ‘I love a log burner, my in-laws have one and the smell is everything’ and so on, relentlessly.

Inevitably, as you scroll through the comments, the original message is lost. It is only at the bottom, below all the awestruck flame fans, that we come across this observation: ‘Yes it reduces the harmful particulates but Burn better/eco/DEFRA approved still emits high levels of pollution into the home and neighbourhood. Far healthier and greener not to burn at all. This ad is misleading

The author of that comment is a volunteer with Mums For Lungs.

The report in The Times identified two other Instagram influencers, with 76,000 and 202,000 followers, pushing the same, Defra-funded message.

At the same time as backing a campaign which suggests that a few simple precautions can mitigate the dangers of wood burning stoves, Defra are funding the London Wood Burning Project which declares on it homepage: ‘Domestic wood burning has a health and economic cost of about £187 million per year in London. That’s a cost of £24 for every London resident, whether you burn solid fuels or not. The most effective way of reducing pollution and protecting everyone’s health is simply to avoid burning any wood, coal, or other solid fuels at home.’

On X (Twitter) Clean Air 2 Breathe posted: ‘The Govt @DefraGovUK need to STOP promoting the Stove Industry’s ‘burn better’ marketing campaign, it gives the impression that it is still OK to burn wood when they know how bad #Woodburning is for #AirPollution #Health & the #Environment.’

Mums For Lungs themselves said: ‘This stinks. @DefraGovUK are effectively paying people to promote #WoodBurning. The ads suggest using the right fuel/sweeping/servicing are all you need to do to reduce emissions. Yet even new stoves burning dry wood emit huge amounts of #AirPollution.’

In the first half of last year sales of wood burning stoves were up 19% on the same period in 2022 – and 2022 saw a 40% increase in sales on the year before that. 

Lacking from Defra’s message to the wood burning enthusiasts of Instagram is the fact that even the ecodesign stoves that they have approved produce 450 times more air pollution than gas central heating.

 

 

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Olaf Burgermann
Olaf Burgermann
6 months ago

It’s not just stoves that stink, this entire industry and it’s dysfunctional relationship with DEFRA is odious to the core.

There needs to be a full investigation into the relationship between DEFRA and the SIA and HETAS where it is a clear case of the tail wagging the dog. This is legacy of Neil Parish in his time as head of EFRA.

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