Forestry Commission reports suggest increased production possible

Two reports published by the Forestry Commission reveal that the United Kingdom's private-sector forests have an opportunity to increase softwood timber production over the next 25 years.

This is because extensive planting of new conifer forests between 1960 and 1990 has created a peak in the potential amount of timber available for market as the trees reach maturity.

The reports, the ‘25-Year Forecast of Softwood Availability’ for the UK and the ‘25-Year Forecast of Standing Coniferous Volume and Increment’ for Great Britain are two in a series of National Forest Inventory (NFI) reports. They reveal that most conifer trees growing in the UK’s forests today are between 21 and 60 years old and approaching the age of commercial harvesting over the next 25 years.

It is common practice in the UK to harvest conifers grown principally for timber production, such as Sitka spruce, Scots pine, larch and Douglas fir, between the ages of 35 and 60.

The Forecast of Standing Coniferous Volume and Increment forecasts that the amount of softwood timber standing in British forests could decline over 25 years as the timber harvest changes the age profile of the nation’s conifer forests. This could occur as a result of lower levels of conifer tree planting between 1990 and 2010, and as a result of the potential increase in timber production removing large trees from the forests to be replaced with small new ones.

The two reports provide the forestry sector with information on which to analyse the potential peak in timber availability and consider how it is best managed.

Forestry Commission head of inventory and forecasting Peter Weston said:

"Being able to understand and illustrate the impact of different harvesting scenarios on the current conifer resource is an essential part of planning for many different interests, including industry development, biodiversity and climate change.

"The softwood availability report should not be seen as a ‘production forecast’, because it indicates the volume of softwood available if it was all harvested; environmental and operational constraints, as well as other management objectives, are likely to impact on the amount of timber actually produced."

Steve Lavery, managing director of forest management company UPM Tillhill and a private-sector representative on the Commission’s Inventory and Forecasting Programme Board, added:

"These reports are a critical piece of work which is very important for private-sector confidence. It is essential for planning future investments, and understanding timber flows and production.

"I have been impressed by the robustness of the methodology used to ensure that what we have are statistically sound, high-quality reports.

"The result is a significant increase in available timber, which is very positive news for the industry."

These new reports build on the NFI woodland area reports and maps published on 26 May 2011, and the
Standing Timber Volume for Coniferous Trees in Britain’ report published on 12 April 2012. The latter quantified the volume of conifer timber standing in Britain in 2011.

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