Britain must plant more timber

Company: Forest Garden Limited

The chief executive of Britain’s leading manufacturer of timber products for the garden has issued a stark warning that the country needs to dramatically increase its level of softwood tree planting to avoid a long-term shortage.

According to Guy Grainger, CEO of Forest Garden, the UK’s leading manufacturer of sheds, fencing panels, garden structures and outdoor storage units, harvesting is now exceeding planting. The UK is replanting about half as many trees as we did a decade ago, which is leading to a shortfall in UK softwood timber.  To make up the balance the UK is heavily reliant on imports from a number of countries, however this supply is also facing its own challenges.

“The net shortage of harvestable softwood is inevitably leading to a rise in prices which have already increased by more than 25% over the last 12-months and the trend is likely to continue,” says Guy Grainger.   “Even businesses like Forest Garden with a fully integrated supply chain from sawmilling through to manufacturing can’t stay entirely shielded from these price fluctuations”

He sights a number of other factors from both home and away that are fuelling the increase for harvestable softwood timber.  On the demand side Softwood timber is used in almost all aspects of housebuilding in the UK, from timber frames to joists and rafters - seeing the construction and manufacturing industries compete.  The changing landscape of UK power also distorts the market. The UK has seen an increasing number of biomass power stations – with two more coming on stream later this year, these are major users of waste wood but also virgin timber.

From the supply side Forestry is increasingly being seen as an investment opportunity with a growing level of private ownership of forests in the UK.  By delaying harvesting the market experiences a shortage with inevitable price increases (and profit for landowners) following.

The UK relies on imported timber to meet demand, bringing in 70% of the timber it uses, the weaker value of Sterling allied to rising transport costs has driven prices up. The UK is not the only country reliant on imported timber, emerging markets in Asia and recovering economies in Europe are key consumers and are able to pay exporters higher prices. Furthermore, a large proportion of this imported volume would conventionally come from Lativa however storms and bad weather conditions have squeezed their supply.  Other import alternatives to Lativia are priced significantly higher.

The common denominator in all of the above, apart from the weather conditions in Latvia, is that we are suffering from a shortage of home grown timber. The Government has announced dramatic tree planting schemes, including the creation of a new Northern Forest with up to 50 million trees and, whilst this is extremely exciting, we must focus immediate attention of the regular replacement of trees that are harvested plus a significant expansion of totally new planting to satisfy growing demand. Softwood trees take anything from 35 years to mature and be harvestable, so we do not have time to lose.

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