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The Innovate UK funded Grown in Britain WoodStock project published its final report in September 2016 with some revealing results and identification of great opportunities for our hardwood sector.

We can provide vastly more from our own woods ! The UK currently consumes over ½ million m3 of hardwood each year, much of which are species we grow in the UK, but less than 10% of this is obtained from UK sources. Our research reveals that a 20% increase in UK production is quite possible in the short term, with a 100% plus increase possible over the medium term.

A staggering 400,000 cubic metres could be available every single year for 40 years without reducing the overall stock still standing in the woods !

Further research revealed that many of the hardwood timber species we are importing have UK alternatives available and that, in most cases, there is believed to be sufficient quality logs available in our woodlands to meet the UK demand. In our final report we have focused on five key UK species:

Ash – Our Ash is the same species as that currently imported from the continent, and UK White Ash has a similar appearance and properties to American White Ash. UK Ash also has the added advantage of coming in a slightly darker Olive Ash. It can also be used for many internal joinery applications, and when thermally modified, can be used externally. Current imports of Ash amount to approximately 25,000m3 per annum, however there is potential for the UK to supply over 70,000m3 per annum.

Beech – Our Beech is the same species as that currently imported from the continent. Current imports of Beech amount to approximately 40,000m3 per annum, and this could potentially be met by a UK supply.

Oak – Our Oak is the same species as that currently imported from the continent, and has a similar appearance and properties to American White Oak. Current imports of Oak are approximately 268,000 m3 per annum. However there are currently insufficient quantities of quality Oak logs in our woodlands to meet all of our demand.

Sweet Chestnut – We import very little Sweet Chestnut. Current UK supply is approximately 1,000m3 per annum, but this could be increased to as much as 49,000m3!

Sycamore – Again, we import very little sycamore, but many are unaware that this is a species of Maple. We currently import approximately 5,000m3 of Maple from the US, and this could easily be met from UK supplies, with the potential for 39,000m3 per annum.

As for saw milling capacity, although much has been lost over the last 50 years, there is still sufficient milling capacity to cope with an increase in production. We spoke to 29 saw mills in the UK, of which 14 were still sawing logs. It was found that the current throughput could be increased from just under 26,000m3 per annum to over 53,000m3 per annum without any significant investment in machinery, a 100% increase. However, there would be a need to increase the skills base in this area to cope with this increase in demand.

As for kilning capacity, 14 of the 29 saw mills were still kiln drying timber, and again this was not at capacity for most. It was found that the current throughput could be increased from around 15,000m3 per annum to around 24,000m3 per annum without any investment in new kilns, a 60% increase. This capacity could be increased further quite quickly with investment in new kilns.

So we clearly have sufficient timber stocks and infrastructure capacity to supply greater quantities of hardwood timber, so why is this not happening? Talking to some of the major timber merchants, they do not want to deal with the many individual saw mills able to supply this timber; it is far easier for them to deal with one consolidation yard in the USA for example. Therefore there is a need for a single point of contact for the merchants where timber stocks from the saw mills around the UK can be purchased. The Grown in Britain WoodStock project is proposing just this, in the form of an online virtual Buying Platform that can pool the available stocks in saw mills around the country and offer this for purchase

So to conclude, it is clear that there is a demand for the hardwood timber species we grow in the UK, and that much of this could be supplied from a home grown supply instead of being imported. We just need to work together to get this hardwood into the supply chain. A full copy of the final report can be downloaded from here.