NRW’s Timber Sales & Marketing Plan (2021-2026) can offer opportunities for the small timber processing community in Wales. The purpose of this paper is to interpret the Plan and its implications for small sawmillers. This will create a solid foundation for exploring the means by which small processors may be able access timber grown on the Welsh Government Woodland Estate in the future as well as highlight opportunities for future activities and interventions.
Unprecedented price volatility of timber is constraining the development of the timber frame manufacturing sector. This threatens the delivery of Welsh Government’s affordable housing, MMC and zero carbon strategies. The purpose of this paper is to highlight issues of concern and offer first ideas to develop potential solutions.
Despite wide recognition of their value, plantation forests are critically misunderstood and undervalued in Wales. Plantation forests comprise around 7% of the planet’s forest area whilst sustainably supplying over 50% of industrial roundwood. This report looks at myths and tropes around home-grown timber and considers research results from wood science and socio-economic aspects across planting, forest management, timber grading and processing.
Modern British sustainable forest management techniques were established 150 years ago and are still appropriate for efficiently growing construction grade softwoods. Exemplar stands of high grade Douglas fir in north Wales grow some of the largest conifer trees existing in Europe. Older conifer stands across Wales have great potential to produce high grade joinery softwood. Sitka spruce forests are routinely denigrated, nevertheless over 95% of Welsh spruce sawlogs can be graded to strength class from C16 to C27 because of Sitka spruce’s high strength to weight ratio. Yet, quality is regularly used as a weasel word in order to reinforce negative views about Welsh homegrown softwoods.
The FAO reported in 2013 that current trends in European forest management could result in an over-supply of wood from broadleaved species, as well as a shortfall of coniferous timber. Planted forests are exposed to socio-economic risks due to governance failures. These risks comprise a weak or inadequate forest policy framework including insecure investment conditions.
What might a business plan for the supply of home-grown timber to the Welsh housing sector look like, if it is to be closely integrated with the ownership and management of the timber resource in Wales?
Additional capacity in the sector has been identified in three key areas: secondary processing capacity; in undermanaged forestry and woodland; and a vast potential for greater tree planting in Wales, for a range of drivers.
This outline of a proposed business plan builds upon a previous analysis, which identified low integration between the supply and processing of Welsh timber, against the increasing demands of the construction sector. In order to deliver a reliable supply of timber, consolidation is required at a point in the supply chain. This could be achieved at two basic levels, either/or by stock of sawn timber collected from a number of small or medium mills, or consolidation of roundwood at a saw log level feeding predominantly one larger mill. The options for investment in both are discussed in this document. The authors seek not to decide at this stage which is better or worse, but to outline the conditions under which each would be viable.
From the TV presenters of Countryfile to the ever-escalating claims of political parties in the last UK elections, it seems everyone wants to plant more trees. Reasons vary from carbon capture, amenity, and biodiversity to production of usable timber, as do levels of ambition.
Amongst the most widely quoted targets, The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) say that UK needs 30K Ha of new woodland a year to 2050 as part of a suite of land use changes to meet the UKs commitment to become Zero Carbon. This afforestation is predicted to account for the largest share of the forecast £39 Bn cost, the majority of that being spent on land acquisition. This presumes that either we expand the public estate or encourage land acquisition by external investors.
Experience from solar and wind farms suggests that this will be expensive, slow, and unpopular with some existing landowners, particularly farmers. Nonetheless there is considerable pressure on farmers from Brexit and existing financial challenges particularly of upland farming are severe in Wales.
Based upon the above, our approach is to solve two problems together. Woodland creation for a range of benefits, providing the means for farm transformation, while avoiding the expense and social disruption of land acquisition.
Promising lower costs of delivered woodland and a wide range of associated benefits, the approach has much to recommend it, subject to its financial viability.
This report reviews opportunities and challenges through the lens of financial viability.
The purpose of the Home-Grown Homes project has been to identify and test out interventions that could have a transformative impact on the Welsh timber construction supply chain and on the delivery of low carbon social housing in Wales.
Housing, timber manufacturing and forestry are distinct areas of activity. This project is an exploration of how these three overlapping areas of our economy and society can be drawn into more purposeful alignment.
The project partners have worked closely with a network of organisations across the supply chain and house builders, including 12 Welsh housing associations. Specific actions to improve the business case for tree planting and management on farmland in Wales aimed to create options for re-deployment of farmland to improve productivity and to cope with inevitable reductions to farm incomes post Brexit.
This report identifies which supply chain interventions may be most effective and how they might be applied through regulation or other means.
In addition to the project report, other important outputs have been created that capture the learning from the project activities and support ongoing market driven development of the housing, timber manufacturing and forestry sectors in Wales.
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In addition to the project report, ▸▸ practical tools and guidance have been developed for social housing developers, architects and engineers, timber frame manufacturers and wood processors, forestry managers and land owners. A full list of project outputs can be accessed on the ▸▸ project background page.
Sequoia sempervirens, also known as coast redwood, coastal redwood, Californian redwood, is a species which is increasingly mentioned when considering alternative tree species to cope with a changing climate in Wales. This may come as a surprise to some given that the deep leaf litter it produces decays slowly and deters ground flora causing a lack of biodiversity. In recent years, this has often been used as evidence against its wider planting benefits. At the same time coast redwood is delivering landscape and societal benefits by storing carbon in the leaf litter substrate and standing timber. As Forest Research say “This is a species that could be grown more widely in Britain with climate warming, not least because it produces a high quality timber.”
In early February 2020, Woodknowledge Wales staff Dainis Dauksta and Ceri Loxton visited the Royal Forestry Society’s Redwood Grove at Leighton, near Welshpool, with Dominic Driver of Natural Resources Wales and Anna Dauksta of Tir Coed to see the coast redwood grove and discuss the potential for Sequoia sempervirens and other softwood species in Wales.
In its natural range, Sequoia sempervirens is confined to a narrow coastal belt, mainly in central and northern California. In the UK, coast redwood was introduced in the 1850s and has been planted on a small scale, often for silvicultural demonstration, landscape and amenity purposes by the Forestry Commission and private estates. The redwood grove at Leighton is impressive – tall straight stems, large diameter trunks covered in thick fibrous bark, towering canopies and dappled light throwing patterns on the deep leaf litter.
New Zealand is one of the countries starting to look at the species more closely and to encourage its planting and establishment. Should Wales follow this example?
Mitigating climate risks
Sequoia sempervirens has some natural advantages to reduce risks associated with climate change in our regions:
● Wind: Its root system can reduce the effects of severe wind. Trees join roots with neighbouring trees and form a strong underground link. The bonding with nearby trees enables them to withstand major weather events.
● Fire: It has the unique ability amongst conifers to re-sprout branches after a fire. Tough fibrous bark insulates the trunk from much of the heat of a fire. While existing branches may be burned the trunk remains alive and sprouts new branches. If a forest has been planted for carbon offsetting, this means that the forest will continue to grow and reduce the potential for future liabilities.
● Insects: In its native range in California there are lots of insects. No insect is known to cause economic damage and none is capable of killing a mature tree.
● Vegetative reproduction: It will sprout from old cut stumps and fallen logs. Because the stumps and roots remain alive and because the heartwood is naturally durable coastal redwood carries more carbon forward into the next rotation.
Adaptability and Carbon Storage Potential
The most interesting characteristics of coast redwood reside in its genetic makeup. Its genetic diversity is very high and the highest of all North American conifer species. Sequoia sempervirens is the only hexaploid conifer with a genome size three times that of its near relative, the giant sequoia. This polyploidy (having more than two paired sets of chromosomes) may explain its extreme survival capability and longevity. The species can clone itself from roots, burls and cuttings. The phenotypic plasticity (how of its leaves allow them to adapt to a wide range of light conditions.
New Zealand foresters are confident that they will be able to breed coast redwoods with more desirable traits than their Californian peers, so that the species can be optimised as industrial roundwood. Attractive compact groves could realise an extremely high carbon storage potential which would justify their new role within Welsh mosaic landscapes.
Suitability for Welsh geography
Forest Research (2016) advise that coast redwood is most suitable for mild, moist climates with more than 1250mm of rainfall, such as those found in Argyll, Wales and southwest England. Favourable locations in terms of climate and site quality will be lower slope and valley bottom sites.
Coast redwood is likely to be a high yielding species. Data from the limited trial sites in the UK indicate high productivity with general yield classes of between 24 and 30 being achieved in England and Wales.
Coast redwood is a species to consider where larch crops are being diversified due to Phytophthora ramorum infection and where site conditions are suitable.
Timber quality – suitable for construction and joinery?
At the site in Leighton a small cabin has been built using local timbers including coast redwood cut from the site. In its native range coast redwood is reported to be used as “veneer, construction lumber, beams, posts, decking external furniture and trim (https://www.wood-database.com/redwood/). However, there is a lack of information about wood properties grown under British conditions.
“My own experience as a sawmiller is that coast redwood cuts and dries really nicely. The heartwood is reasonably durable although there’s a lower proportion compared with western red cedar or larch. The thick fibrous bark may offer potential as an insulating material.” Dainis Dauksta.
Future uses: explore and experiment!
There is more to learn about this species, and while there is a lack of information about wood properties, we also do not know precisely what our wood requirements will be in the future and what processing advancements will have been made. Given the diverse and evolving nature of the timber processing sector it is likely that there will be many future uses.
Because of its high productivity and unusual growth characteristics this species will be of increasing interest in British forestry under predicted climate change. If the carbon sequestration potential of different species is to be considered alongside other properties and multiple landscape requirements, then surely it won’t be long before we start to see increasing groves of coast redwood planted here in Wales?
This research was undertaken by Woodknowledge Wales to identify the range of timber construction systems or techniques that are available for use in Wales and to identify the extent to which Welsh-grown softwoods could be utilised in their production.
The projects showcased here represent a snap-shot of what’s happening throughout the whole of the UK, but with an emphasis on projects in Wales – from housing to retail, simple homes and social housing to high end self-build, as well as offices and schools.
FC Scotland have released a new publication by Ivor Davies, Sustainable Construction Timber – Sourcing and Specifying Local Timber. This is an invaluable new tool that will help clients understand how to procure homegrown timber.