The Confederation of Forest Industries (Confor) has warned in a press release that the UK is facing a timber supply crisis due to insufficient tree planting in recent years. The ambitious government drive to plant 30,000 hectares of trees annually is falling alarmingly short, and with a focus on planting to help achieve net-zero goals, productive forestry has been overlooked. The UK currently imports 80% of its wood requirements from countries such as the US, Sweden, and Norway, making it the second highest importer of wood in the world.
At a time when a number of global trends are coalescing, Confor believes the requirement for increased productive forestry within the UK needs to be urgently addressed. Security of supply of natural resources is under greater threat from geopolitical upheavals, as witnessed by soaring energy prices, labour shortages and the supply of some key UK resources dependent on foreign ownership (e.g. CO2). Confor is now highlighting the declining supply of UK domestic wood supply and the potential risk this poses to major industries including construction and manufacturing.
“Not only are we facing a carbon crisis now, but we will also be facing a future construction crisis because of a failure to plant trees to produce wood”, said Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive, Confor. "For decades we have not taken responsibility for investing in our domestic wood supply, leaving us exposed to fluctuating prices and fighting for future supplies of wood as global demand rises and our own supplies fall."
The UK has ideal conditions for growing wood to build low-carbon homes and is a global leader in certifying that its forests are sustainably managed. With innovations in mass timber production, homegrown timber could provide a significant contribution to the construction industry and act as a substantial carbon sink. The carbon stored in timber can remain locked up in buildings for years, and sustainable harvesting ensures that new trees continue to sequester carbon.
The causes of the UK’s current position whereby it needs to import the vast majority of its wood is complex and ranges from outdated perceptions of productive forestry to the decimation of trees from grey squirrels. It also encompasses significant hesitation on behalf of farmers and other land owners to invest in longer term planting projects.
"While food production and biodiversity health are clearly of critical importance, we need our land to also provide secure supplies of wood for construction, manufacturing and to contribute to net zero," said Goodall. “While the UK government has stated its ambition for more tree planting, there has been little action on the ground. Confor is now calling for much greater impetus behind those aspirations to ensure we have enough wood to meet increasing demand.”
Photo credit: Tomorrow's Forests
Productive forestry can play a significant role in achieving our net-zero carbon sequestration targets, with a recent study finding that forest growth rates are the greatest determinant of sequestration rates, regardless of harvesting. Commercial plantations of non-native conifers can also have surprising benefits for biodiversity, as some of our native animal species have adapted to use them in preference to broadleaved woodland. With the UK Forestry Standard ensuring that the diversity of commercial plantations is maintained, and that stands of native broadleaves are included, commercial planting can provide a mosaic of new habitats.
With a multitude of benefits arising from increasing tree cover in the UK, public support for planting more trees, and an obvious need for more homegrown timber, investing in commercial forestry does seem like a sensible strategy.