In the UK, we still import more wood than we produce. This is despite increasing investment leading to a rapid growth in production in our busy timber industry in recent years. A key reason for us having to source wood from abroad is that tree growing (for wood products) here is so climate-dependent.
Consumers like wood that’s easy to handle and looks good. That doesn’t just happen with ease. Techniques and special practices at saw mills must be used to ensure that wood is expertly cut and stored, in readiness for distribution. Wood transportation and load discharge rules must also be strictly adhered to.
Increasing mill capacity means higher production, and therefore boosted profits, of course, which is great for mill owners and means rising demand for wood can be met, up to a point. Still, due to our climate, and our lack of adequate forest land cover, we simply can’t meet total annual demand for wood from buyers alone. Incredibly, the UK imports 80 per cent of the wood it needs.
Conifers can take 40 years to grow
Although we grow thousands of conifer trees in this country (for the timber industry, not solely for environmental reasons), we need to be growing more. Unfortunately, the new northern forest – ‘a ribbon of woodland from Liverpool to Hull’ – won’t help swell the numbers, the trees being planted there not really being for harvest later on.
Our rainy climate and mild temperatures countrywide are ideal for conifer growing (conifer is a soft wood that can take up to four decades to grow, before being ready for use), but not for certain other types of trees that could be used for making wood products. We need more wood for house building and garden development; for the construction of commercial premises; for furniture; for buildings essential to rural communities, such as farms and grain stores; and for bridge repairs and fencing replacement.
In addition, storage materials and packaging manufacturers are always reliant upon a healthy wood source, as is our printed publishing industry. And what about wooden pallets? Did you know that total annual production of pallets can run into the millions, with thousands of jobs being directly or indirectly affected whenever a lack of softwood sees pallet production take a downturn?
The UK timber industry reports that after 2036 the shortfall in softwood will have an immense negative impact upon the industry as whole. So, it seems that wood imports will continue to be a huge part of the solution to our wood supply problem for many years to come. Unless someone can come up with a way to change our notoriously tree-unfriendly climate, that is!