It is common knowledge that planting trees brings environmental benefits. Trees provide homes for a diverse range of flora and fauna, they capture carbon and improve air quality. They also create beautiful spaces for us to walk and relax in. Felling trees is, therefore, viewed as a destructive process, however, growing and harvesting trees for wood is essential. This article explores the importance of productive planting to secure and enhance the British timber trade.
Wood Producing Forests
According to Forest Research statistics* 13% of the UK’s total land area is forest, 10% in England. Some are maintained for environmental and leisure purposes, yet it is productive planting that encourages many landowners to preserve and grow trees. In sustainably managed forests, growing trees for wood delivers the positive environmental benefits of carbon capture and biodiverse habitats. As mature trees are harvested, saplings are planted to retain the growth cycle.
The demand for timber for furniture making, packaging and the construction industry can not be met by British timber alone, in fact, there is quite a shortfall. As a country, we currently import around 80% of the wood we use in production.
This reliance on imports leaves us vulnerable to political and economic events. As an example, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®) withdrew forest management certificates in Russia** on 1 May. This means timber grown in Russia can no longer be evidenced as sustainably sourced. Another risk is the growing demand for timber which pushes global prices up.
UK organisations including Confor and Friends of the Earth are calling on the Government, timber industries, farmers and environmental groups to collaborate. The Timber Sector Deal proposes ways to secure and increase the future supplies of British timber.
The British Timber Sector Deal
The Timber Sector Deal is based on the National Wood Strategy, a 40-year plan, starting now. It highlights the importance of protecting existing forests and greatly increasing the volume of new planting across the UK.
The aim is for forests to cover 17% of the UK’s total land area by 2050, a goal that requires at least 400 million new trees to be planted. Of this, 50% would need to be designated as wood producing forests. The Deal outlines how this might be achieved and the first step is collaboration between all relevant parties.
A major step forward is the recent endorsement given by the UK’s Forestry Minister, Trudy Harrison (no relation to our MD Lana Harrison!). She has backed the proposal and has expressed her commitment to removing barriers and actively encouraging planting in appropriate areas.
Factors that can hinder new planting include:
- Motivating land owners to convert to woodland – conversion could be incentivised by grant payments, tax benefits and promotion of future markets for wood products
- Defined land use for agriculture or forest – the Deal calls for an integrated landscape approach to open up opportunities for mixed use
- Negative attitudes towards felling trees for wood – campaigns to promote the benefits and enhance the image of Grown in Britain wood products could change perceptions
More Love for Conifers
Another issue that needs to be addressed is the bias against conifer trees. In England, we have a deep-rooted love of Oak and other broad leaf species, with conifers often considered less favourably. It’s time to rethink this. We need to embrace all tree species that are suited to our climate.
The traditional timber used in Japanese Yakisugi charred timber was cedar, however, our charred larch cladding range is the most popular option. Both cedar and larch are coniferous trees, with similar colouration. They grow relatively quickly and are straight, durable and resilient. As such they are suited to a wide variety of timber products and provide more cost-effective options for consumers.
Promoting British Timber
Timber is a natural, renewable and reusable material. When sourced from responsibly-managed forests, it is also sustainable. It has an important role to play in helping many industries, including construction, to achieve Net Zero targets. For these reasons, demand for timber is growing.
With a national strategy to actively increase wood producing forests, there is an opportunity for the UK to gain economic advantages. Greater land coverage will increase the viability of sawmills, manufacturers and retailers offering grown in Britain products. This work is already underway through the Grown in Britain certification scheme.
Traceability has been a priority for timber manufacturers, like us, for years. Knowing where our raw materials are sourced from is important to us. It also influences the purchasing decisions of the building developers, architects, garden landscapers and self-builders that we supply to. The shorter the supply chain, the easier it is to trace products back to source and that is another advantage of British grown wood.
Britain has a favourable climate for growing trees and with a collaborative approach, it is possible to significantly increase forest land cover. This brings environmental advantages and, with the right strategies could also enhance economic advantages. By embracing wood production and promoting the use of British timber, we can reduce our reliance on imports.
As a charred timber cladding manufacturer, we will be following and supporting developments of the Timber Sector Deal.
Read more about the Timber Sector Deal: https://www.confor.org.uk/news/latest-news/minister-backs-timber-sector-deal/