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Forest Diary, entry nine

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Michael Soffe and his father inspecting logs prior to auction

The New Forest is home to many different hardwood trees, which play a vital role in creating habitats for our local plants and animals. However, these trees also have a crucial role to play in supplying local, sustainably-grown timber.

Preparing oak and other hardwoods for the annual hardwood auction in Gloucestershire is a regular and enjoyable aspect of my winter workload and this year was no exception. We were delighted with the income we were able to generate, knowing it helps to fund our conservation and recreation work across the region. Importantly, prices for timber have remained stable in the past few years, indicating that good quality, sustainably grown timber is still in demand.

Timber sales work in exactly the same way as a traditional auction, with an auctioneer and his gavel controlling the prices in the auction room. Wood is parcelled up into lots of various sizes for timber merchants and sawmills to bid on. This year we sold three lots of oak trees harvested from across the New Forest.

The first lot was a 50 cubic metre (m3) parcel of mixed logs – felled from Frame Heath near Beaulieu - which was sold to a sawmill in the New Forest for £4,500. The second was a 40m3 oak batch, originally from Great Linford, close to Ringwood. This was purchased by a timber merchant from Odiham near Basingstoke.

However, by far the biggest of our three lots was the 325m3 of oak logs sold to Cadnam-based sawmill, Soffe & Sons. The company, which has been operating in the area for more than 60 years, employing six staff, bought enough timber to fill at least 15 lorries.

Its owner, Michael Soffe explained that the wood will be used in many ways including timber-framed buildings, porches and cladding as well as bridges in the forest. They will also be used in bog and river restoration projects where the timber has to be untreated to respect the sensitivities of the natural environment.

Offcuts of logs will be sold as fire wood to local homes and even the sawdust will be used as cattle and horse bedding. Interestingly, some of the wood is also used to produce markers and tree stakes for replanting – essentially meaning the timber has come full circle.

Timber buyers such as Soffe & Sons tell us that they choose to buy Forestry Commission wood because it is locally produced and it is guaranteed to be sustainably grown. From my perspective, it is always gratifying to see how our trees are put to good use by businesses and people in our local communities.

Wally North, Forestry Commission District Forester