Timber Farming in the UK
The producers of timber in the UK are reaping the rewards of the government’s investments from the ‘60’s and early ‘70’s.
Tax breaks and other incentives were offered to struggling smaller farmers throughout the country who were finding it difficult to make traditional agriculture pay its way.
Tree planting numbers peaked in the late ‘60’s, at over 60 million trees per year, almost all of which were softwood conifers for future harvesting.
That future is around now, and the UK timber industry currently employs tens of thousands of people, and has an annual value of approaching £2billion per year.
Much of this timber is supplying the boom in timber-frame house building. The timber frame system lends itself to very speedy construction times, once on site, although design and factory pre-production can take a couple of months.
The use of timber frame house structures is seen as a move into “green production”, provided trees are planted at the same rate as they are cropped, it becomes a renewable resource.
This is in contrast to bricks, blocks and cement, which are derived from raw materials which have a finite supply in the earth.
Living trees absorb carbon dioxide, which stays within the timber, removing it from the atmosphere. Timber as a construction element produces less CO2 as a by-product in its manufacturing process than brick and mortar products.
The majority of these have to be mined and manufactured using high levels of energy that produce carbon dioxide and spoil.
Timber frame manufacture uses almost all of the product, even the sawdust is utilised in chipboard or paper producing.
The softwood conifer trees are suited to the UK climate, and grow well on the sparser soils of the West of the country. South-west England, Wales, North-west England and south and mid-Scotland.
The bounty being reaped now looks as if it will become thin on the ground by the 2030’s unless planting levels can be substantially increased from their current levels of between eight to ten million trees per year.
The brake on planting came in the wake of the Low country scandal. This was a virtual “rape of the land”, by wealthy investors looking to gain grants and tax relief offered erroneously as a government incentive to increase employment in the area.
The draining and subsequent planting of inappropriate conifer forests dried out the fragile wetlands and peat bogs until the government took notice and halted the incentives, and the projects.
Timber construction still requires earth works, foundations and footing, drainage and road provision, carried out by heavy plant machinery available from Hanlon Case amongst others.
Current planting numbers need to be increased, or within twenty years, our booming timber manufacturing processors will be looking to import even more than the current figure of around 75% of the annual requirement.