Why the 21st Century will be the ‘Wood-Age’ Part 7: The World’s most AWESOME factory

Since evolving in the forest (Part 1) our use of wood technology enabled us to develop civilisation (Part 2).  Since then, we have improved our technology, so that wood now plays a vital part in construction (Part 3), clothing (Part 4), energy (Part 5) and health (Part 6).

This blog is about the timber supply chain, so in this instalment, we look at ‘the factory’ that produces the wood.  There is more than one way of producing wood, but in the UK, we have pretty much settled on a model of “multi-purpose forestry”. In this model, forests are expected to produce a range of benefits, rather than being merely timber plantations.  The idea is that this model suits our relatively small area, dense population and the rotation lengths required.

However, the priority to timber production varies according to the forest.  This is illustrated by looking at UK statistics.  For example, the forest area is evenly split between broadleaves (49%) and conifers (51%), but 95% of all UK timber production is from conifers.

Spruces account for 27% of the forest area, but around 60% of all timber production.  Thus in area terms, we are not especially reliant on spruce- it’s just that it is so productive!  By contrast, the broadleaved forest area is almost double the size of the spruce area, but just not currently achieving anything like its productive potential. So, when we talk about our ‘UK timber factory’, we are mainly talking about upland spruce forests.  Of these, the majority are now (57% timber production) private sector.

Rapid colonisation by voles is welcomed by apex predators……

but definitely NOT foresters
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Anyone who plants a new forest notes an immediate increase in wildlife, as species such as voles, deer, hares and black grouse colonise the site.

Black grouse and hares and voles often colonise woodlands shortly after planting

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Once the site is planted, the lack of disturbance and availability of prey encourages Apex predators.  Indeed, the process often starts as soon as the sheep are removed.

Most foresters choose their profession because of their love of nature.  Dr Jenny Mulgrew of Tilhill Forestry has just satellite tagged this eagle chick.  Golden eagles quickly colonised this site during its conversion from sheep farming to forestry.

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UK forests also benefit from distinctive wildlife, such as red squirrels and pine marten.

Red squirrels and pine martens are woodland specialists.  Both are making a comeback in the UK as the area of suitable forest increases.  Recent research suggests a link in abundance between the two species.

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Of course, our new, productive woodlands are also home to a range of plant species.  The most obvious of these of course (for a forester) are the trees!

Wych elm and aspen are both important native trees which have become scarce in recent years.  They can and are easily be re-introduced into new productive forests (images Graham Calow and EADHA Enterprises)

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Mention of the aspen reminds us that our creation of new forests is work in progress, with the planned (and unplanned) re-introduction of this large, aspen munching mammal.

Beavers are making a come-back in Knapdale forest (Photo www. NATURFOTO.cz)

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However, the ecological quality of the forests we create would be further enhanced if we could replicate more natural patterns of grazing.  Professional deer control is essential in our forests, as we lack natural predators.  The reintroduction of the lynx, a roe deer specialist could be the next step.

Lynx are roe deer specialists and could be the next re-introduction to the UK

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Wolves are the ultimate apex predator in the forest and have a similar social structure to humans with whom they can directly compete.  For centuries they have been the frightening symbol of the wild forest.  A controversial species, most believe that the UK is not yet ready for their reintroduction.  However, where present, they can play an important role in managing browsing intensity.

Wolves are expanding in range across Europe. They are a symbol of the hidden danger within the forest and few expect a re-introduction into the UK any time soon.

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Our productive forests produced a record 12 million tonnes of timber in the UK last year. According to government estimates, the economic value in Scotland alone was £1.0bn.  That’s a pretty good factory.

However, as every forester will tell you, it’s also the world’s most AWESOME factory!

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

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