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Materials UK timber

Specifying lesser-used UK/ European timber species, and modified woods Charlie Law assesses the UK’s hardwood consumption and availability, and looks at other available options.


he Grown in Britain (GiB) WoodStock project final report1 illustrates how the UK could make better use of its timber resource. One of the findings highlighted was the UK’s infatuation with one hardwood species, oak.

Hardwood consumption At the time of the report, total UK sawn hardwood consumption was stated as 526,000m3 by the Forestry Commission2, with the UK production element of this estimated at only 47,000m3. From surveys conducted with UK processors, the GiB WoodStock report estimated that oak made up almost 90% of UK production at 42,000m3. For imports of sawn hardwood, the story is much the same. The 2014 Forestry Commission figures3 stated that a total of 496,000m3 of sawn hardwood was imported in 2014, of which 253,000m3 was imported from EU countries, with 168,000m3 of this being oak. Using this data, and including imports from outside the EU (there is no breakdown of species for imports from outside the EU), the GiB WoodStock report estimates that a total of 268,000m3 of oak is likely to have been imported into the UK, which is 54% of all hardwood imports. Looking at the latest import and production data for 2017, the situation does not appear to have changed. Therefore, allowing for a small proportion that is likely to have been exported, oak consumption in the UK is likely to be sitting at around 300,000m3 per annum, which is more than 50% of all hardwood consumption.

Hardwood availability The Forestry Commission has also issued a report on the 50year forecast of hardwood timber availability in the UK.4 The report stated that there was a significant amount of standing timber available for felling, and although many in the UK timber industry believe the quantities quoted are too high, most agree that there is scope to at least double the amount of hardwood timber sourced from UK woodlands. One species likely to increase in availability over the next few years is ash; this is

because of the effects of Chalara (ash dieback). However, further action is required to ensure these quantities are made available, as evidence from sawmills suggests that only a fraction of this timber is making its way to market. This is because there is little or no management of the majority of UK woodland where hardwood species sit, and this must change if the UK is to ensure a continued supply of home-grown timber. The GiB WoodStock study looked at the availability figures and concluded that: • Based on conservative estimates, only 10% of the timber extracted is likely to be suitable for saw quality logs, with the remainder going into the biomass market. • The key species likely to be available are: – ash – beech – oak – poplar – sweet chestnut – sycamore. Based on this data, there is little scope to increase production of oak in the UK, and with one of our key alternative sources of oak being France, Europe’s largest oak producer, already reporting that it is struggling to keep up with demand from countries such as China, continuing to focus on this species is not a sustainable situation. The UK must, therefore, start to promote the use of the other sustainably sourced species to ensure it has a balanced timber market in the future.

Lesser-used species and modified woods Looking at the key species highlighted in the GiB WoodStock study, and assuming other European countries have a similar mix of species, there is significant scope to use lesser-used hardwood, and softwood, species. TRADA’s Wood Species Database contains more than 150 commercial species of timber, with details of their properties and uses.5 In addition, TRADA’s Wood Information >> Timber 2019 Industry Yearbook

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Profile for BM TRADA

Timber 2019 Industry Yearbook  

The annual publication of the Timber Research and Development Association (TRADA) includes topical and technical features on all aspects of...

Timber 2019 Industry Yearbook  

The annual publication of the Timber Research and Development Association (TRADA) includes topical and technical features on all aspects of...

Profile for trada