THE POPULARITY of wood burners is thought to be behind a rise in timber thefts from East Lancashire nature reserves.

Wood is often left out in the open to encourage the development of wildlife.

But at one reserve, in Colne, the problem has become so frequent that signs have been put in place telling culprits that police are patrolling.

Phil Dykes, East Lancashire reserves officer for the Wildlife Trust, said: “It is a problem. At one of the East Lancashire sites, I gathered up wood before Christmas ready to move and we were going to get a donation for it, but when I returned a lot of it had been taken. We’ve also had one incident where a tree was felled and somebody has gone in with a chainsaw and cut bits of it up.

“Wood burners are popular and also people are looking to save money because of the economic situation, so if they can take wood and save on fuel they will do.”

Carol Riley, chairman of the Alkincoats Woodland Nature Reserve Group in Colne, said: “It’s a problem that comes and goes but it is an issue at the moment and we have put signs in place.

“We did wonder whether it was people who thought the wood was there to be taken, but some of the signs have already been ripped down.

“The wood is usually left from when trees are cut down. It helps with the bio-diversity and has environmental benefits, it helps new trees, insects, birds and funghi.

“We think it is probably being stolen by people for use in fires and wood burners, as they are very popular with people at the moment.”

Marcus Whitehead, who owns M Whitehead, a fireplace business in Ribchester, said over the past five years, there had been a shift towards more people having wood burners installed.

He said: “People have been looking to make the switch because they see it as a cheaper resource.

“People like having them because they give off a homely vibe.

“I would say there has definitely been a shift towards them.

“I go round all the time taking gas fires out and putting wood burners in.