Wood pellet use by Drax Plc in Yorkshire, together with bioenergy demand from other countries in Europe, is driving intensive clearcutting in protected forests in Estonia and Latvia, a new report reveals. Hidden inside a wood pellet: intensive logging impacts in Estonian and Latvian forests, published by the Estonian Fund for Nature and the Latvian Ornithological Society, details how intensely managed forests and clearcutting characterise both countries’ forestry industries. This has grave consequences for the climate and forest wildlife, despite laws and standards designed to protect nature.
The report is published a week after 75 organisations, including environmental and public health bodies, trade unions and community groups, sent an Open Letter to the UK government, calling for renewable electricity subsidies to be redirected away from biomass to the cleanest and lowest carbon renewable options such as wind and solar power.  Redirection of over £1 billion annual biomass power subsidies is the key ask of the Cut Carbon Not Forest campaign by UK and US NGOs. 
The new report reveals that intensive logging, which includes an increasing share of logging for wood pellets, has led to Latvian forests releasing more carbon than they absorb and store. Estonian forests are also absorbing far less carbon each year than they did in the past, and so are also projected to become a net carbon source.
Estonia and Latvia’s forests are home to thousands of species of flora and fauna, such as flying squirrels and Capercaillie, to name a couple. Diverse species are crucial components of forest health, but they are severely impacted by habitat destruction. Forest birds are in decline and even species-rich old-growth forests, including in Natura 2000 sites, are being logged. The picture is one of largely unchecked destruction in the name of expanding biomass exports.
Siim Kuresoo from the Estonian Fund for Nature stated, “Demand from foreign bioenergy companies such as Oersted, RWE and Drax, driven by EU and national renewable energy subsidies, are helping fuel a dramatic surge in logging. In 2016-18 Estonia’s logging intensity was 85% higher than it was between 2004 and 2015. This logging is leading to the loss of precious habitats. We need policymakers to stop fuelling forest destruction, even if it does not happen on their own soil. Our forests have more than wood pellets to offer, but the potential is only realised if forest protection is prioritised, and exploitation discouraged.”
“The absurd idea that more intensive logging of forests and burning wood is somehow good for the climate is still widely promoted in Latvia. The hard numbers show the opposite: the increasing logging intensity in Latvia and Estonia is not only reducing the ability of forests to absorb carbon, but also destroying precious habitats and threatening forest-dwelling species”, said Dr. Viesturs Kerus from the Latvian Ornithological Society.
Almuth Ernsting from Biofuelwatch adds: “There has long been clear evidence that some of Drax’s pellets come from wood sourced from the clearcutting of highly biodiverse forests in the Southeastern USA. The new report shows how forests in the Baltic States are also being harmed by Drax’s insatiable demand for wood. Stopping and redirecting subsidies for burning wood in power stations will help protect forests in each of those regions.”
Sustainability standards based on voluntary certification are largely meaningless. Clear cutting is allowed to continue, including in areas which should be protected under EU and national law. Countries including the UK are therefore importing biomass which may be certified, yet is anything but sustainable. In the words of the report authors, policymakers in importing countries “must act to reduce the adverse environmental impacts that the demand for biomass has on exporting countries.” Forest destruction elsewhere should not be ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
Siim Kuresoo, Estonian Fund for Nature: email email@example.com, tel +372 56 469 026
Dr. Viesturs Kerus, Latvian Ornithological Society: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch email@example.com 0131 623 2600
 Link to the report: www.elfond.ee/biomassreport