Anything to declare?

Over the next few weeks, our CEO Dougal Driver, will be discussing a number of issues relating to the use of UK timber within the construction industry.

In the first of a series of blogs, he starts by considering the logistics of our current importing habits, and how an increase in UK woodland management could offer far-reaching positive outcomes.

As I prepare for a much-needed break to France, I don’t mind admitting that like a lot of people, it takes me a while to switch off from work when I initially embark on a holiday. So it comes as no great surprise, that I’m looking forward to the car journey across Normandy, because the route takes me past a large number of local sawmills – perhaps more than we have in the whole of England – each one supplying numerous local projects, builders and joiners, with highly sustainable hard and soft woods from nearby forests – and of course, using local labour.

Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? But surely this is just common sense?

In the UK, around half of our woodlands are under-managed, yet we import vast amounts (around £7.8 billion every year to be precise), from abroad. Now whilst we do of course, need imports (a lot of our sawmills rely on round wood and primarily sawn softwood and hardwood from around the world in order to thrive), the effects of unnecessary importing have a number of far-reaching consequences – some of which might not immediately spring to mind.

For example, as a result of France exporting to the UK, China and many other neighbouring countries, demand (from China in particular) has put pressure on French home-grown oak. Consequently, prices have risen, meaning local projects can’t afford the materials they need. A strange concept when you consider that the countries creating the demand, could grow a lot of what they need, much closer to home.

So as I force my brain into holiday mode, I get to thinking about transport – and how this material goes through a number of logistical processes, similar to when we go on holiday. There’s paperwork and insurance to put in place, a timber passport and buyer’s security passport to organise, transport from the forest of origin to the processor, then to the port and onto a boat – more paperwork, passporting, insurance, tariffs, declarations and taxes to sort out. And then there’s the queuing, and the waiting. It really is quite an arduous, logistical exercise.

Why then, is this the default method, when each of the local markets has the potential to service their own local needs, much more than they currently do?

When I’m abroad, I like to experience local culture; food, buying and using things made locally – and my Grown in Britain instincts are strong, so wherever I am, I support their right to the same instincts; Grown in France, Grown in Spain – using materials locally and encouraging sustainability and avoiding the huge footprint created by our consumption of imported products.

So when asked at customs if I have anything to declare, I shall resist the urge to say, “Yes, millions of pounds worth of unnecessary imports, neglected woodlands and pointless emissions, actually,” but on my return home, will use it as motivation in continuing to drive a change in attitudes toward home-grown timber. There are so many finished products coming into the UK that have a massive carbon and logistical footprint attached to them, when those products could be made here.

We have masses of amazing woodland resources that will look after us – if only we would look after them.