One area in Austria has been leading the way, not just in Austria but in Europe for pushing timber based architectural design, implementing co-operative forest service management and making use of economies of scale for timber marketing.


So successful has the Vorarlberg region in Austria been in developing their wood based sector that thousands of visitors, architects, students and planners flock to the area every year to learn how they do it and to see how they could promote similar success in their own villages and towns.

So what can we in Wales learn from the Vorarlberg region in Austria? And through the Homes-Grown Homes Project in Wales how can their model help us take a step closer to, ‘more and better timber homes from wood, more and better local manufacturing and more and better home grown timber’?

The journey to their success hasn’t been overnight and it hasn’t been all smooth but it is working. In Vorarlberg it was the carpenters who were originally identified as the key players in the supply chain that would need to be brought on board if new concepts for building with timber were to take off. At the time carpenters were very traditional and reluctant to take on new designs and methods of building with timber. Dr Matthias Ammann realised this and set about a marketing campaign to promote the use of timber in modern buildings pointing out to the carpenters that if timber buildings became more common there would be more work for them.

One key activity in the campaign to promote timber in buildings was the launch of the first wood awards in 1997. The awards asked builders and architects to submit information and pictures of timber buildings and from this a collective known as holzbau_kunst was founded. At the same time work was also done to bring the wood suppliers and processors on board as well as working with the collective landowners.

Collective landownership is not something that we are very familiar with in Wales but we could learn a lot from the Austrian example. The Vorarlberg region features a network of very small forest lots, often privately owned and often just one or two hectares in size, along with a few larger forest enterprises. Thanks to collective management however forest management in the region is both sustainable and economically viable.

The key features of this collective forest management system are:
• Owners of land over one hectare are obliged to be members of the Chamber of Agriculture
• The Chamber of Agriculture runs a not-for profit forest management and marketing service called Walderverband.
• Cross-ownership management can be practiced by experts with relevant forestry skills
• Hands off approach for forest owners – with compliance with legislation to management and marketing of timber being taken care of. Owner receives a percentage of net profit.
• Very limited use of harvesters, mostly use skyliners due to difficult access, cutting older trees allowing younger stronger trees to regrow.
• Low visual impact of felling of ‘close to nature forests’ so public acceptance is fairly high
• Grants for low-impact felling methods
• Minimal maintenance costs as extraction used as maintenance as well.
• No replanting costs as rely on natural regeneration
• Coordinated transport logistics to save transport costs

So what can we at Woodknowledge Wales and other partners in the Home-Grown Homes Project learn from this example? Firstly identifying who are the key sectors /trades to work with and then looking at how the supply chain can be supported to make the flow of timber from forest to forest products to finished home run efficiently.

This change is not going to happen overnight, it needs a concerted effort from many different people in different sectors working together over a period of time. This Austrian example shows us that it does work and we have a model to build on and adapt to our region. The one thing that is clear is that doing nothing is not an option, decisions, compromises and mistakes will have to be made if ultimately we are going to make ‘more and better timber homes from wood, more and better local manufacturing and more and better home grown timber‘.

For more information about the Vorarlberg region in Austria and their collective approach to forest management and marketing read these two articles written by Confor.​

Creating Economies of Scale for Small Scale –Forestry Holtzbau_kunst or The Art of Working Together