Outstanding attendance at live demonstration of latest equipment

(Tilhill Forestry, South Wales, October, 2016) – Tilhill Forestry was glad to invite representatives from all stakeholder groups across the forest industry to a winch assisted harvesting demonstration on 4th October 2016. The was event organised by Hamish Parkinson, Harvesting Manager, and Chris Pike, Head of Safety and Assurance at Tilhill Forestry, and included live demonstrations of two winch assist systems and a panel discussion at a local hotel.

The systems being demonstrated were the Ecoforst T-Winch and the Highlander harvester/clam bunk skidder with on-board winch. These two systems demonstrated the capabilities of the machines, but also the two generic types of winch assist, on board and additional machine. The use of the Highlander, operated by Mike Gillet of MG Harvesting Ltd, was being used on a section of windblown trees on steep ground. Without the winch assisted machine these windblown trees would have had to have been felled by motor manual techniques, placing an operator at high risk.

The panel for the discussion was made up of Markus Krenn of Ecoforst, Sean Reilly of Bioequipment UK, Jock Mckie of John Deere, Tim Cronin of Komatsu, Lyn Davies of Ponsse and Iain Sutherland. The discussion was facilitated by Chris Pike, who put a number of points to the panel. These covered the legal aspects, ground and site concerns and machinery concerns. These ensured a good debate with members of the audience joining in and airing their views and experiences.

There is no guidance existing in the UK for this type of machinery, so we were glad to have Ian Hood, the chair of FISA’s Plant and Machinery Working Group, present to take the issues raised back to the group to be discussed. We hope that some central guidance can be agreed for the benefit of the whole industry.

As with all these events many people should be thanked for allowing us to put this one on: the MOD who were very supportive in giving us permission to hold the event on their ground – in particular Major Eddie Mahoney; the staff from Landmarc, the site managing agents; Judith Peachey and Martin Leonard. Markus Krenn of Ecoforst; Sean Reilly of Bioequipment UK and Mike Gillet for supplying the demo machinery; Jock Mckie of John Deere; Tim Cronin of Komatsu; Lyn Davies of Ponsse and Iain Sutherland of the HSE for sitting on the panel of experts in the afternoon session. Tilhill Forestry staff included: Peter Whitfield, Timber Operations Director; Chris Pike, Head of Safety Assurance; Hamish Parkinson, Harvesting Manager and Tina Ambler, Safety Manager, for their help and support in organising and promoting the event.


Tilhill Forestry Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of the BSW Timber Group was established more than 65 years ago. It is a national company operating from a network of offices throughout the UK. The company provides a full range of consultancy and contracting services to the forest owner and forestry investor.

BSW is the most technologically advanced sawmill in the UK employing over 1,200 people. The Company’s roots date back to 1848, and with seven sawmills in the UK and one in Latvia, has a production capacity of more than 1.2 million m3 of sawn timber which is distributed throughout construction, fencing and landscape markets.

Together, BSW and Tilhill Forestry form a strong partnership in the forest industry that will deliver quality from beginning to end – from creating new forests through to producing timber end products.

Written by Chris Pike, Head of Safety and Assurance, Tilhill Forestry

Prince William and Kate endorse giant Sitka spruce forest

Originally published here.

Click on the photographs to link to the website.

The world’s largest temperate rainforest, it features 90 metre tall Sitka spruce trees and 1,000 year old western red cedar. Plus bears, salmon etc in what is an incredible, intact temperate ecosystem.

Sitka spruce and western red cedar grows pretty well here in Scotland and the weather for the visit was what our foresters describe as “good spruce growing weather”. In fact, the climate and topography is basically like Scotland, without the midges (and with bigger trees).



I know that some people think that Kate and little George are photogenic, but I prefer the trees. Take a look at Ian McAillister’s work.


Ian McAllister


Great to see the Royals championing a conservation success story. This area will be managed as a ‘wilderness’ with some areas of ‘Ecosytem based forestry’. Overall the area is part of a giant temperate forest biome, which is largely managed for productive forestry.

Royal Visit to Canada - Day Three
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are presented with canoe paddles as a gift from the Heiltsuk First Nation community during a visit to the Great Bear Rainforest in Bella Bella, Canada, during the third day of the Royal Tour to Canada. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday September 26, 2016. See PA story ROYAL Canada. Photo credit should read: Dominic Lipinski /PA Wire

The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.

Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website

Tethered Harvesting Machinery Demonstration Day


The forestry industry globally has a significant challenge when it comes to ensuring worker safety. Whilst significant strides have been made over the last twenty years with the advent of mechanised harvesting technology the accident rate amongst chainsaw and winch operators still remains at unacceptably high levels and is amongst the highest of any industrial sector.

In order to address this issue the global industry is seeking to increase the degree of mechanisation of timber harvesting operations and significant efforts have been made overseas, principally in New Zealand and Central Europe, but also latterly in North America to utilise new technology to achieve this.

The principal limitation to increasing the amount of timber harvested by mechanised means is the current slope limitations that existing mechanised machinery is constrained by.

In order to increase the terrain capabilities of existing harvesting machinery the forestry industry has begun to develop tethered winches which provide additional traction to timber harvesting machinery and thereby increase the degree of slope on which conventional machinery can operate.

Although this technology is in its infancy in the UK a number of winch systems for use on steep terrain have been developed overseas.

In order to increase awareness of these technological innovations within the UK and also to begin developing operational protocols to cover the use of these developments Tilhill Forestry is organising a tethered harvesting demonstration day in South Wales on Tuesday October 4th.

On display at this event will be two tethered harvesting machines.

The T-Winch is a traction winch system which has been developed in Austria by Ecoforst. The T-Winch is a self-propelled traction winch which has 500m of cable incorporated within it and allows a conventional harvesting machine to be attached to the machine to increase the traction available to the tethered machine and increase the slope angle on which the tethered machine is safely able to operate.

The CEO of Ecoforst – Markus Krenn – is a timber harvesting contractor in Austria who saw the benefits that a greater degree of mechanisation offered and developed the T-Winch to enable this. The T-Winch has been in the development stage for over 5 years, but has only been in commercial production for the last 18 months, so it is a new development, but one that promises significant potential benefits to the industry, both in terms of operational safety improvements, but also additionally reduced ground damage.

Despite this being a very recent development the T-Winch is currently operating with a number of timber harvesting gangs in Central Europe and there is additionally six T-Winches operating in the forestry industry in Chile. Markus also has strong interest from North America and Markus will be across at the Maple Ridge forestry show in British Columbia demonstrating the T-Winch immediately prior to attending the event in Wales.

In addition to the T-Winch a tethered Kaiser walking excavator with a set of tree shears will be demonstrated at this event.

For further information on this event please contact Chris Pike at chris.pike@tilhill.com

Written by Harvesting Manager, Hamish Parkinson

For more information on Ecoforest, click here.



A budding exemplar of modern forestry

Menstrie Glen

 ESCom (escom.scot) events seem to be blessed with attracting some rare Scottish sun and a particularly beautiful Wednesday saw 11 members of ESCom venturing out to Menstrie Glen, near Dunblane, to explore Jerah, one of the largest new forest plantations in recent years.

Jerah is now two years old (think trees at or below knee height), and has been created with the primary purpose of being a productive conifer woodland to provide quality timber. It is home to an impressive 1.3 million trees, comprising 16 different tree species and 30% amenity woodland. Previously a sheep farm owned by two farmer brothers, grazing became an increasingly marginal activity, and the brothers chose to sell the site to a woodland investor in May 2013.


A 2 year old Douglas Fir

Tilhill Forestry are in charge of implementing the project for the investor, and we met Andrew Vaughan and colleagues Darrell and Bruce at the site of the new bridge Tilhill acquired planning permission for in order to facilitate access to and from the site. As well as this bridge, 11km of new forest tracks have enhanced off-road access from Menstrie to Dunblane, and are already in use by mountain bikers and walkers. After brief introductions, Andrew took us through the process Tilhill have been through to get to this point.

Jerah was carefully planned, following guidelines set by the UK Forestry Standard, the Water Framework Directive, and Forestry Commission guidelines on Forests and Water, Forests and Soil, Forests and Climate Change and Forests and Biodiversity. Andrew highlighted the particularly useful role of the Forestry Commission’s Ecological Site Classification (ESC) tool in guiding appropriate species choices. In practice, Jerah has exceeded the expectations of many of the guidelines, providing 19.1% native species (well over the 5% minimum required), and increasing the width of buffers surrounding watercourses well beyond the required 10 metres for channels less than 2 metres wide.

Despite the careful planning, Tilhill’s experience of getting Jerah planted highlights the lengthy and complicated consultation process currently required for woodland creation schemes. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) identified landscape, archaeology, flood management, diffuse pollution, public access and timber transport as main considerations, and the whole process of approval took two years and a word count equivalent to three bibles!

EIA is of course a necessary and valuable process, yet given the anticipated benefits that will be provided by the scheme, it seems greater attention should be paid to reducing the length and difficulty of this process. It is anticipated that forest growth at Jerah will sequester an estimated 183,000 tonnes of CO2 within its first rotation, and that it will provide 5 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs, as well as creating new native woodland habitat networks that will allow native fauna and flora to move along the watercourses within the glen. Research has also suggested that forest cover can have a role in intercepting and slowing rainfall (Nisbet and Thomas, 2002; Woodland Trust, 2012), thus regulating flood events, and a PhD research project has been set up to monitor river flows in the catchment in order to see what effect the new woodland is having. Given previous damaging flood events in Menstrie, it is hoped that Jerah could have a beneficial effect in reducing the likelihood of these happening again. In addition to the hydrology study, another PhD is being set up to monitor carbon fluxes on the site, and another university has expressed interest in examining the archaeological features of the glen. As well as generating considerable research interest, a well-planned area of community woodland aims to enhance public access and enjoyment of the site, and has maintained flightpaths for local paragliders.

Of course, a project as large and complicated as Jerah can’t be perfect, and Roy Sexton, a local ecologist, highlighted the loss of rare orchids and existing native trees as unintended downsides of the scheme. Although a difficult choice to make, the loss of open ground specialist species is an inherent trade-off generated by woodland creation. The point about loss of existing native woodland remnants is a well-made one, as adapting grant schemes for woodland planting to allow for use of existing native seed sources for natural regeneration would both save money and retain local native trees.

Despite this, overall Jerah presents itself as an exemplar of modern forestry. Tilhill’s open approach to promoting site visits, discussions and encouraging better understanding of forestry is commendable and highlights the important role of individuals in driving difficult projects like this through. 21st Century challenges present society with tough choices to make for sustainability, and with the Scottish Government aspiring to plant 10,000 ha of new woodland each year, large scale modern forestry projects such as Jerah offer the potential for sustainable and efficient building materials, renewable energy, carbon storage and flood management – a great deal more benefits than many other land use options.

There need to be many more plantations like Jerah to be anywhere near meeting both the Scottish government targets for woodland expansion and UK timber demand, and as a result more needs to be done to advertise the benefits of such plantations, and to reduce the difficulty of the consultation process required to get such schemes into the ground. Of course, plantations are not a panacea, but they have their place among a variety of other woodland types and land uses. Any forester you speak to will be painfully aware of the ‘wrongs of the past’ (i.e. the blanket conifer plantations of the 1970s) and will be quick to explain how much forestry has changed. With more varied plantations like Jerah and open and transparent approaches from organisations like Tilhill, modern forestry has a major role to play in sustainable land use in Scotland and beyond.

To view the article on Vanessa’s blog, click here.

Vanessa Burton is a PhD student at Edinburgh University, joint funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Forest Research and the Scottish Forestry Trust.


Thomas, H. and Nisbet, T.R (2007) An assessment of the impact of floodplain woodland on flood flows, Water and Environment Journal, 21, 2, 114-126

Woodland Trust (2014) Holding back the waters: woodland creation and flood mitigation, Policy Paper, woodlandtrust.org.uk/wales


Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 6: Choose Life. Choose the Forest.

So far, we have considered how we owe our very existence- both in terms of biology (part 1) and culture and civilisation (part 2).  We have then considered how we need our forests to provide us with the physical materials to live (parts 3 to 5).

In this instalment, we consider our current need for forests in terms of biology and well-being.

The leading cause of death in the UK is Heart disease, accounting for around 14% of all deaths.  A complex lifestyle disease, death rates can be reduced by improved exercise, reduced stress and medicines.

According to UK statistics, the average person visits woodlands around 10 times per annum, typically (65%) to walk.  This is ideal physical activity for reducing heart disease.

Going for a walk in woodland is an effective way of reducing your risk of heart disease.

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It is important to develop healthy lifestyles when young and forests are often used to teach activities such as cycling.

Cycling is a particularly effective way of maintaining a healthy heart.  It is important to introduce people to the sport young, and forests are often used for this due to the lack of vehicle traffic

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“A major barrier to woodland recreation is accessibility.  Planting more woodlands near to where people live, together with improved access routes could transform people’s health.”

Recent scientific research has shown that the proximity of trees brings specific health benefits, reducing stress, mental illness and even improving the creativity of children.

“safe, green spaces may be as effective as prescription drugs in treating some forms of mental illnesses.”

This is very important.  For example, amongst males 5-49 years and females 20-34 years, suicide is the largest cause of death.

Hugging a tree could save your life!

Blog 6.3The effect of a forest environment on other major killers is also profound.  For example, diesel-particulates are now considered a major killer, contributing to deaths from respiratory diseases and lung cancer, which are the 4th and 5th largest killers in the UK.  Indeed, the UK government estimates are now that diesel particulates cause 6% of all deaths in the UK.

Recent research has shown that planting a few trees in your front garden can reduce the concentration of deadly particulates by 60%, such as in a replicated trial involving pot-grown birch trees.

“Electron microscope images of the leaves of silver birch trees show why they are so good – they are covered in tiny hairs and ridges which help trap the pollution particles. Their sparse structure also helps keep the air circulating and flowing past the leaves to filter it effectively (rather than trapping pollution near the ground as bigger and denser trees do). Each time it rains, the PM pollution is washed off the leaves, allowing them to start trapping more.”

Trees are astonishingly effective at absorbing diesel particulates due to structures on the surface of the leaves.

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If you want to avoid medical treatment, it seems that the answer is to go for a walk in a forest.

But, what if you do need medical treatment????

Well, if you are suffering from or at risk of cardio-vascular disease, the UK’s largest killer then you are likely to be prescribed aspirin, plant stanols or perhaps a specialist drug such as digitalis- all of which are from forest plants.

If you are suffering from breast cancer, which is the largest killer of females in the 35-49 year group, then Taxol, made from the Pacific yew is the drug of choice.

Essential medicines such as aspirin (willow bark), plant stanols (pine), digitalis (foxglove) and taxol (Pacific yew) are made from forest plants.  It takes 2.5 tonnes of pine to make 1kg of stanols.

 So however you look at it, forests are probably going to save your life.

The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.

Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website


Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 5: Wood is HOT!

In parts 3 and 4 we have seen how wood can be used to provide us with shelter and clothing.  In this instalment, we consider how wood can be used to supply us with energy.

We have been using wood as a source of energy for the last 800,000 years, but 1/3rd of the world population still rely it on as their primary source of fuel and consumption is increasing fast in the developed world.

According to the FAO, globally around half of all wood is used for energy production.

The three main uses discussed here are for heat, electricity and the production of liquid biofuels.

Wood is a highly effective method of space heating and a range of products, such as briquettes and pellets, as well as firewood are available.



The use of wood for energy is increasing rapidly.  For example, in Europe between 2009 and 2020, per capita consumption of biomass use is expected to triple.

Wood is also used to generate electricity, such as in Combined Heat and Power plants and dedicated electricity power stations.  A wide range of facilities are used, demonstrating the versatility of wood as a fuel.

The largest, Drax power station is expected to use 7.5 million tonnes of pellets, equivalent to 15 million green tonnes of wood per annum by 2018.  This makes it the world’s largest single point user of wood in the world, consuming more than the entire UK timber harvest.  Because of this, Drax imports pellets, mainly from North America.

Drax is the largest power-station in Western Europe, generating 7% of the UK’s electricity.  Half of its generating units have been converted to burn wood.


On a more regional level, a number of industrial energy users now use locally sourced woody biomass to provide combined heat and power.  As the ‘surplus’ heat is used, as well as locally available fuel, this can be particularly efficient.

UPM Caledonian used to be the largest point user of electricity in Scotland until it commissioned its CHP biomass plant using locally available woody biomass.  The heat is used in the manufacture of magazine grade paper.


At the Diageo distillery at Cameronbridge, the largest in Scotland, 95% of the energy is provided from biomass, with the heat used for distillation.


Even more radically, wood is now being used to manufacture liquid bio-fuels, such as diesel.  This can be manufactured using a range of technologies, such as the utilisation of pulp by-products, pyrolysis or biochemical fermentation.

The UPM bio-refinery at Lappenranta is the world’s first commercial scale process producing wood-based bio-diesel. It can produce 120 million litres annually.


So why, in the 21st century is global wood-fuel use increasingly so rapidly?

Firstly, wood is a great store of energy.  Indeed, dry wood has a similar energy content to coal.  However, unlike fossil fuels, timber does not release ‘fossil carbon’.  The real carbon benefits however are through the ‘smart’ use of timber- for example using ‘waste’ wood (e.g. recycled wood) which otherwise would not be used, but would eventually decay.

Wood is also available locally, and the best solutions are specifically designed to use what is available- normally low value sources of woody biomass.  By contrast, fossil fuel production is highly concentrated. For example, Drax Power station now sources its coal from Australia, Colombia, Poland, Russia and South Africa.

The flexibility of wood means that it can be used by an astonishing range of technologies.  For example, the cost of a BioLite stove is around £35, whilst the Lapeenranta wood bio-refinery cost £140 million.

The best energy solutions use appropriate technology and locally abundant fuel sources.  This BioLite stove has been developed to improve fuel efficiency and burn cleanly and is being supplied to a number of developing countries


“Around 3 billion people rely on open fires or traditional stoves as their primary form of cooking and heating”

The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.

Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website



Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 4: The Sexiest Material in the World……

In part 3, we looked at how wood can be used to provide our fundamental need for shelter.  In this article, we look at how, in the 21st Century wood and trees can meet our fundamental needs for clothing and sex and how our use of wood-products reflects changes in society.

As Desmond Morris points out, in his seminal book, we are ‘The Naked Ape’.  Humans developed clothing as part of their technology to colonise the world.  Animal skins may be okay for cavemen, but in the 21st Century, we could do something, well a bit sexier.

In the 21st Century, safe sex and distinctly ‘risque’ sex are both intimately associated with tree products.  As well as condoms and clinging clothing, latex is also used for other intimate accessories. Latex production remains a major global industry.



Trees and timber, of course provided the answer.

One early technology, the production of natural rubber provided mankind with a material with highly unusual properties.  Latex is a milky fluid present in some trees and is commercially harvested from Hevea Brasiliensis.  From the late 19th Century, rubber fuelled an economic boom in Brazil as new uses were developed for rubber during the industrial revolution.

In the 21st Century, however, latex is used to manufacture condoms.  As such it plays a vitally important role in birth control and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS. By giving women choices, this effective form of contraception has played an important role in facilitating gender equality globally, especially in areas where other forms of contraception are not reliably available.  It is essential for ‘safe’ sex.

By contrast, in its use for clothing, latex is generally associated with explicit sexuality.  Whether being used to portray a particular stereotype of women in a music video, or celebrating a more diverse sexuality, amongst a huge variety of  ‘niche’ sexualities, it is associated with ‘dangerous’ or ‘risque’ sex.

In the 20th Century, semi-synthetic fibres, such as Rayon were developed.  Made from wood cellulose, these fibres were soft, smooth, durable, strong, cheap and easily dyed.  As such they helped the development of colourful fashion for the masses.  A very democratic fibre!

21st Century wood products enable modern living.  High performance fibres such as Tencel are ideally suited for modern lifestyle.




Fibre technology has improved in stages, so that current fibres, such as Tencel have dramatically improved performance.  More absorbent than cotton, softer than silk, cooler than linen, this is the current state of the art for wood-based clothing fibres.  It’s excellent wicking and natural anti-bacterial effect mean that it is also ideal for sportswear.

Once again, wood-products help to facilitate our modern way of living.

Globally, there are now three main sources of fibres are available.

‘Natural’ fibres, such as cotton can have very significant environmental impacts.  For example, the production of cotton needs up to 20,000 litres of water per kg.  Large quantities of pesticides are also required and cotton farming accounts for 24% of insecticide sales.  Indeed, cotton production has been associated with large scale environmental destruction.

‘Synthetic’ fibres, such as nylon are made from fossil fuels.  These processes are energy intensive and can release harmful products, such as Nitrous oxides.  Even more seriously, such synthetic fibres do not readily break-down in the environment, causing log-term pollution issues.

‘Semi-synthetic’ fibres, such as rayon or tencel are made from wood, a renewable material and naturally break-down in the environment.  Indeed, it can even be eaten by termites and silverfish!  Because of this, only semi-synthetic fibres can be considered as truly sustainable.

Synthetic fibres such as nylon do not readily break-down in the environment making ‘semi-synthetic’ fibres the most environmentally responsible optionBlog4.3

The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.

Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website

Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 3: Building our future out of wood…..

Shelter is one of mankind’s most fundamental needs.  In Part 1, we found that the construction of wooden shelters was one of the key technologies allowing mankind to colonise the world and in Part 2, we realised what a crucial role it played in building civilisations.

In this article, we look at the future of timber in construction.

In construction terms, we are in the ‘Late Concrete Age’.  Concrete is the single most widely used construction material in the world and recent demand is such that China used as much concrete in three years (2011 to 2013) as the USA did in the entire 20th Century.   As a result, 5% of global man- made carbon-emissions are from concrete manufacture.

The ‘concrete jungle’ can be a hostile environment for mere humans and such structures can be a by-word for brutal architecture and uncompromising urban decay.



“Amid concrete and clay and general decay, nature must still find a way………” (The Smiths, Louder than Bombs).

‘The Smiths’ eloquently described the hopelessness of living amongst a high rise estate, but, if we are to find a better, more human way to build our cities, then how can we achieve it?

The answer, quite simply is to use our 21st Century wood technology.

Current technology, such as the use of cross-laminated lumber has been used to build nine-storey buildings, but 30 storeys are already possible.  Buildings of this size make effective use of limited space, whilst remaining at a human scale.

The Stadhaus apartment building in Hoxton, London is built from engineered wood

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The Stadhaus was built more quickly than conventional construction, with zero defects.  It has excellent thermal and acoustic insulation and is cost effective.

Built using sustainable timber, very little carbon emissions are used in construction.  However, the structure itself acts as a store of carbon, fixing 186 tonnes for the lifetime of the building.

At the end of its life, the wooden structure can readily be recycled into panel products, such as chipboard by a range of UK manufacturers.  In turn, chipboard can be used as a source of combined heat and power, such as at the UPM Shotton boiler.

One tree, four lives….. a spruce tree spends one lifetime growing in the forest, and another in construction. It can then be recycled into kitchen units, before being burnt in a Combined Heat and Power Station.  In the UK, the total lifespan could be over 125 years.



Combined with other factors, such as well-planned transport systems and urban trees and green-space, such construction techniques have the potential to make cities better places to live and raise our children.

So it seems, that the answer to the 21st Century is to build our new wooden structures amongst the trees……..sound familiar anyone?

The clever use of trees can help to ‘humanise’ our cities.



The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.

Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website


Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 2: How forests and timber civilised us….

In part 1, we discovered how our brains and bodies were shaped by forests and trees and how this relationship enabled us to colonise the planet.

In this article, we look at how forests and trees civilised us….

These days, pretty much everyone has heard of the mysterious civilisation which farmed trees in the Amazon rain-forest, or how the Mayan civilisation collapsed due to deforestation.

However, the most influential civilisation of all was the Roman Civilisation, which lasted over 1,200 years.

The Roman Empire under Trajan has now been broken into 53 different countries


To achieve this vast empire, the Romans needed what we would call today “a cluster of technologies”.  My contention is that without wood, the empire, and civilisation as we know it would not be possible.

Military technologies

The Romans relied heavily on ‘shock’ infantry for their land conquests.  These soldiers were equipped with throwing spears (a pilum), a shield (scutum), sword (gladius) and armour.

The shaft of the pilum was made of wood, with an iron tip and normally thrown like a javelin.  The curved shield was made of three-layer plywood, covered with canvas and leather, with an iron boss. This wood-based composite structure meant that the shield was light-weight, tough and provided excellent protection.  The gladius was a short, iron sword designed primarily for stabbing.

Used by well-trained and organised infantry, these weapons formed a fearsome combination, allowing for impressive land victories.

However, to supply armies with enough iron, the Romans needed to organise mineral extraction on a scale which was not surpassed until the industrial age.

The Romans developed water-wheels for mineral extraction, processing and for sawmills.  This timber-based technology was not surpassed until the industrial age.

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Making iron required a lot of wood as a fuel and as a source of carbon and research has shown that the Romans developed woodland management techniques to achieve this.  Indeed, it is estimated that they needed to cut 165,000 acres of coppice annually just to produce the iron they needed.

The Romans developed coppice management in areas such as the Forest of Dean to make charcoal as a source of fuel and carbon for iron manufacture.

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To conquer fortified cities, the Romans developed siege warfare.  This, together with good logistics enabled them to further expand their range.

To cross the Danube, Trajan built a 1,100m wooden arch bridge in just two years.  Apparently this over-awed the natives so much that many allied themselves with the Romans, allowing them to add the province of Dacia.

Trajan’s bridge over the Danube was around the same length as the modern Erskine bridge

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The Romans developed a range of wooden siege engines to enable them to conquer walled cities


The Roman empire was centred around the Mediterranean and its conquest required a formidable navy.  These sophisticated vessels were built using fir, pine, cedar and oak connected using mortice and tenon joints, and manned by a crew of around 200.

Millions of trees were felled to build and maintain an effective navy, establishing the Mediterranean as a ‘Roman Pond’. Millions more were used to build a merchant fleet

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Once the Romans controlled the Mediterranean, their wooden merchant fleet allowed trade on an unprecedented scale- a forerunner of our global trade.  Indeed regions became increasingly specialised.  For example, grain came from Egypt, olives from Tunisia, wine from Spain with tin and lead from Britain and spices from India.  Hence individual provinces became dependent on each other for key items- in an increasingly ‘globalised’ trading pattern.

To facilitate this trade, the Roman empire allowed free trade and introduced a single currency.  Weights and measures were standardised.

This secure supply of raw materials allowed Rome itself to grow to a population of around one million. Never before had so many people lived in one place and this allowed Rome to develop sophisticated culture, technology and organisation.  Most buildings were built of wood, which also provided 90% of the fuel for cooking, heating and industry.

Public planning, taxation, plumbing and public water supply, central heating, sewage and sanitation systems, civil servants, police, the fire-brigade and even same sex marriages were all the result.

However, by Pliny’s time, Italy was almost completely stripped of its woodland cover and industries such as mining, metal smelting and charcoal manufacture moved out of Italy. Timber was imported.

Pliny recognised the damage and devoted Chapters XII to XVI of his work Natural History entirely to trees.

“…the trees and forests were supposed to be the supreme gift bestowed by her on man. These first provided him with food, their foliage carpeted his cave and their bark served him for aliment.(Pliny, Natural History)

Eventually, this deforestation contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire, as described below;

In the 2011 environmental book Life Without Oil by Steve Hallett, the author argues that the collapse of the Roman Empire may have been linked to a peak wood scenario in the Mediterranean basin. He suggests that, as wood had to be hauled from ever further away, the law of diminishing returns undermined the economic performance of Roman industry, leaving Rome vulnerable to the other, well documented problems of invasion and internal division. They discuss this as cautionary tale comparing it to contemporary society’s potential fate under a post-peak oil scenario.

The Roman Empire was built on wood and this allowed them to develop civilisation as we know it. However, their failure to adequately manage their forests meant that they could not sustain this society, which eventually collapsed.

The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.


Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website

Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 1: In the beginning, there was wood…

Mankind owes his very existence to forests and to wood.

Around 85 million years ago, our ancestors, the first primates learnt to climb trees to escape from predators.  Over time we evolved distinct arms, legs and hands to allow us to climb better.

To enable us to see food amongst the forest canopy, we evolved forward facing eyes, with binocular vision and excellent perception of colour and depth. This evolution altered the entire structure of our brains.

Approximately 7.5 million years ago, we climbed down from the trees and began to make tools from wood and stone.

Our ancestors have used wooden tools for around 7.5 million yearsBlog1 1

The real break-through came 800,000 years ago when we learnt how to burn wood.  This development was quickly followed by increasing brain size, probably due to improved nutrition due to cooking.  It is believed that our long periods of childhood evolved in this period.

The construction of wooden thrusting spears and trap-pits lined with wooden spikes enabled humans to catch increasingly large prey, changing our diet forever.

Meantime, the invention of charcoal and wooden ‘crayons’ (faceted wooden sticks with pigment) allowed our ancestors to convey complex ideas leading to the development of organised religion and art.

However, it was the development of wooden structures which allowed humans to survive in new areas.  With our wooden tools, timber shelters and wood-fires, mankind was able to spread out of Africa and colonise the world….

“Art makes us human.”

Wood (charcoal) has provided an excellent medium since the stone age

Blog1 2

 Building basic wooden shelters allowed mankind to spread out of Africa…

Blog1 3

 …and cooking transformed our diet

Blog1 4

So, in summary, forests and timber has shaped our bodies, the structure of our brains, our development of technology, our increased brain size, children, art, the development of religion and abstract ideas, cooked food and facilitated our colonisation of the planet.

Indeed, without trees and wood, we wouldn’t be human at all.

Next time- Part 2: How forests and timber civilised us.


The views and comments are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organisation.

Jason Sinden is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and a Director of Tilhill Forestry Ltd.


Further information is available from:

Jason Sinden                                               Linkedin profile

Institute of Chartered Foresters                   Website

Tilhill Forestry                                                   Website