Two reports published by the Forestry Commission today 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 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, and Peter Weston, Head of Inventory and Forecasting for the Forestry Commission, 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, welcomed the reports, adding,
“These reports are a critical pieces 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 National Forest Inventory 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.
- The National Forest Inventory reports ‘25-year Forecast of Softwood Availability’ and ‘25-year Forecast of Standing Coniferous Volume and Increment’ are available to download from the NFI pages of the Forestry Commission website at www.forestry.gov.uk/inventory.
Notes to Editor:
- The ‘25-year Forecast of Standing Coniferous Volume and Increment’ does not include data for Northern Ireland.
- Coniferous timber, or ‘softwood’, is timber from conifer trees, i.e., trees which have cones and needles. Conifer species widely occurring in British forests include: Sitka and Norway spruce; Scots, Corsican and lodgepole pine; Japanese, European and hybrid larch; Douglas fir; and western hemlock. Trees which have leaves and nuts or fruits are known as broadleaves and produce ‘hardwood’ timber. Broadleaved species grown in Britain include oak, ash, beech, birch, alder, sycamore, poplar, willow and chestnut. Separate forecasts of hardwood/broadleaved timber availability and standing volume will be published in 2013.
- Today’s reports contain detailed and accurate data on coniferous timber availability and standing volume. They were compiled using high-resolution aerial photography and cutting-edge satellite technology as well as in-depth, UK-wide forest research on the ground. Growth and yield predictions were used in combination with computer modeling technology to forecast future outcomes. To help gauge the impact of different presumptions on the rate of harvesting used for forecasting, these forecasts have been developed through extensive consultation with private-sector forest owners and timber processors. The development involved the preparation and assessment of a range of future harvesting scenarios. Out of these scenarios, the ‘biological potential’ was chosen for the main forecast. It presumes that areas not subject to wind-throw will be thinned regularly and then clear-felled when they reach a certain age commonly equated with commercial maturity. Other management scenarios are available for comparison.
- The National Forest Inventory (NFI) is a five-year project launched by the Forestry Commission in 2009 to gather and compile accurate information about Britain’s trees, woods and forests, including woodland area, species composition, timber availablility and volume, age and condition, biodiversity, carbon, biomass and other factors. NFI products published to date include woodland area maps and statistics published in May 2011, standing coniferous timber volume published in April 2012, and today’s reports. Previous editions of the inventory were known as the National Inventory of Woodland and Trees (NIWT).
- UK, Great Britain and England - Charlton Clark, 0131 314 6500
- Scotland – Paul Munro, 0131 314 6507
- Wales - Laura Morris, 0300 068 0088
- Northern Ireland - Forest Service press office, 02890 524619