The softwood processing sector in Great Britain has been built around the use of a very small number of timber-producing species – predominantly Sitka spruce. The recent increase in outbreaks of host-specific tree pests and diseases has led to an interest in diversification, through planting a wider range of tree species, to mitigate any risk to the softwood resource. However, there is a lack of evidence about how this diversification will impact on the future merchantability of timber. This Research Note investigates the structural timber properties of noble fir, Norway spruce, western red cedar and western hemlock grown in Great Britain and compares the results with published values for British-grown Sitka spruce. The study was carried out using timber from even-aged plantations growing in a range of latitudes representative of productive conifer forests. Twenty-seven trees per species were felled, processed into structural-sized battens, kiln dried and destructively tested in a laboratory according to current European standards. Characteristic values of mechanical properties and density were determined and indicative yields for different strength classes were calculated. The results showed that all of the species investigated can produce structural timber, but that western red cedar has the least desirable properties for this purpose. Some further work is under way in order to investigate the effect of rotation length on the timber properties of these species.

FCRN026 research note