The scent of wood smoke on a frosty day is one of the joys of winter.

 It is what makes Tuscan hill towns so charming, the spirits lifting at the thought of a log fire crackling inside a farmhouse, its smoke scribbling on the cold blue sky.

For many of us who have a wood burner, it was probably its romantic association with a rustic idyll that persuaded us to buy it, even more than the heat it produces or its mesmerising flames.

After all, what could be more welcoming to come home to in the depths of January than a stack of fragrant logs by the hearth and a roaring blaze that banishes the chill?

According to a growing body of research, however, wood burners are not all they appear.

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Real fires, it seems, are the largest source of harmful small particulate matter air pollution in the UK, and recent publicity by the Clean Air Campaign seeks to highlight the health problems they can cause.

Even the most eco-friendly stoves, apparently, create three times as much pollution within the home as is found in a house without one.

Worst of all, the toxins they produce are especially harmful to children, who breathe faster and absorb more, relative to their size. Since youngsters’ organs are still developing, the danger to them from air pollution is that much greater.

When I think back to childhood, our house was heated entirely by coal fires. After we got central heating we kept a log fire, which my father tended as attentively as if it was another child.

The smoke in cities and towns in those days, and the dust from open hearths that clung to every surface, makes you wonder what pernicious effect it had on us all.

I am ambivalent on the subject of wood burners, and not just because manufacturers of the highest-spec modern stoves refute some of the campaigners’ claims about their emissions.

Where I live in the Borders, everyone has either an open fire or, as in our case, a wood burner (in fact, we have two). When it comes to heating the house, we could not do without them.

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The village is off-grid, so has no gas supply, and we are powered by electricity and oil. A nearby friend whose house is heated entirely by electricity effectively lives in an igloo, since she is too scared to put on the central heating because of exorbitant bills.

Our oil tank sits in the garden like a green rhino. If we put the central heating on for three hours, its level drops as if it were being siphoned off.

If we relied purely on oil for warmth, it would cost a fortune. When I called to order a refill a few weeks after the war in Ukraine started, I nearly fell off my chair. The price is normally high, but this time it was jaw-dropping.

Not only does the price of oil fluctuate alarmingly, it is also exceptionally environmentally unfriendly.

Needless to say, before the wood burner is lit in the late afternoon I am so swaddled in thermals and woollens it is hard to get close enough to the keyboard to type.

Campaigners for Clean Air are keen to point out that wood burners are more costly to run than gas boilers or heat pumps.

Since gas isn’t an option for us we could, in theory, convert to a heat pump. But, for a house that was built within a few years of the Battle of Culloden, the expense of insulating it to the required standard and installing larger radiators is unconscionable and impractical.

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Our stoves are state of the art, and as efficient as possible. We religiously use kiln dried wood, never burn anything other than logs, and have the chimneys swept twice a year.

We have also learned how to create maximum warmth from minimum fuel. Once the fire is going, it takes only one log per hour to heat a good-sized room.

Whenever a crate of logs is delivered – one is due as I write – it is dropped from a miniature crane outside the house.

After the logs have been stacked in the woodstore, my husband dismembers the crate, picking it apart as if it were the carcass of a roasted chicken. Instead of soup, he turns it into kindling.

Yet despite our efforts to be efficient and economical, I foresee a day when I will open the door to find a posse of bailiffs armed with crowbars, intent on ripping out our stoves.

In time, I suspect, wood-burning householders everywhere will be viewed as environmental outlaws. Therein lie the roots of revolution!

However, Glasgow-based consultant paediatrician Dr Lucy Renolds, who is gravely concerned about the impact of real fires on children’s health, is clear about where the main issue lies: “This is not criticising the person on a croft who doesn’t have an alternative or people for whom it is the cheapest option,” she says. “What’s increased is the fashionable side.”

How true that is. The growth in sales of wood-burning stoves in recent years has been exponential.

No middle-class house - or flat - is complete without one, or so we are led to believe by interior designers and TV property shows.

In Edinburgh’s New Town, when at dusk you can peek into people’s homes as you pass, almost every basement flat has a huge basket or wall of logs beside a wood burner. Attractive? Undoubtedly. Necessary? Absolutely not.

In cities and towns they make no sense. Wood smoke, no matter how delicious it smells, adds to over-polluted air. In an age of Low Emission Zones and smokeless fuels, owning a wood burner is going against the tide.

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Unlike in open countryside, where smoke disperses more quickly, in built-up areas it compounds an already serious problem.

Re-introducing real fires into an urban setting is effectively turning back the clock to a time when smoke clouded the skies and blackened the stonework as well as our lungs.

For those of us in the sticks, however, they are the way we get through winter. That they are in vogue at the moment is irrelevant.

I’m looking forward to the day when they are seen as old-fashioned and quaint; when they’re the sort of thing that’s only found in rural houses, like septic tanks and long johns.