Timber Improvement


This project aims to provide scientific evidence to support the sustainable use of UK timber. Research is focused on assessing and quantifying the effects of genetics, silviculture, site factors and climate on the wood properties and product performance of tree species grown in the UK.

Research objectives

  • Provide forest managers and policy makers with the information required to evaluate alternative management and species selection options in terms of timber quality and value.

  • Provide improved information to the wood using industries about the quality characteristics of future timber supplies, to support strategic processing and investment decisions.


This research programme was initiated in 1997. Current activities include the following projects:

Merchantability of Noble fir, Norway spruce, western red cedar and western hemlock
Quantification of volume and wood properties affecting timber production in four minor species in GB.

Multi-Scale MRI/X-ray CT characterisation and Lattice Boltzmann modelling study of moisture movement in woodthis EngD study (with the University of Surrey) is building a multi-scale computer model of moisture movement in wood, with additional characterisation using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and X-ray computed tomograph (CT).  This project is funded by the Forestry Commission and EPSRC.

Furthering the use of wood products in a range of markets – this Defra-funded project aims to develop an evidence base for understanding the behavioural, cultural, physical and economic barriers which may be limiting the use of wood products (focusing on English production) in a range of markets.

Timber Quality Decision Support System – models predicting key wood properties of British timber species have been developed over the last 10 years. This project will integrate these models in a revised Decision Support System, linked to GIS applications, to provide users with improved information about the effects of site factors and management decisions on tree and wood properties.

Improving the mechanical properties of Sitka spruce through breeding - the aim of this project is contribute to improvements in the mechanical properties (stiffness and strength) and in-service performance of Sitka spruce timber grown in the UK, by assessing opportunities for additional screening and selection in the breeding programme.

Advanced assessment of minor GB conifer species – this PhD study (with Edinburgh Napier University) is evaluating the wood properties of noble fir (Abies procera), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), Norway spruce (Picea abies) and western red cedar (Thuja plicata) grown in Great Britain. This project is funded by the Scottish Forestry Trust, Forestry Commission Scotland and Natural Resources Wales.

Shake defects in timber – this project has reviewed known and suspected factors affecting the development of shake defects in native oaks. Guidance is being produced for growers and policy-makers to enable an understanding of why the defect occurs, how to minimise risks in current stands, and how to avoid higher risk sites for new planting where higher quality timber production is an objective.


Forest Research staff working on this project are:

Funders and partners

This research is funded by the Forestry Commission as part of theWood & Timber Properties programme and by Forestry Commission Scotland through the Timber Development Programme. Research is guided by input from the Improving Conifer Timber Quality Steering Group.

Research is conducted in partnership with other research groups including:

Forestry Commission policy  

The sustainable production and utilisation of British timber is a key component of the forestry strategies of England, Scotland and Wales: research in this project will produce information and tools in support of these policy objectives.

In England the Government Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement highlighted ‘The scope for developing new markets based around a better understanding of the value and potential of our trees, woods and forests’ and the need to “increase the amount of woodland management driven by economic activity through the sustainable harvesting of wood products”.

In Scotland the Scottish Forestry Strategy seeks to “Maximise the economic potential of Scotland’s timber resources”. Forestry Commission Scotland’s Timber Development Programme focuses on four objectives:

  • Promote a predictable and stable timber supply.
  • Encourage more use of timber and timber products
  • Enable improvements to timber supply chain efficiency
  • Encourage and enable improvements to the quality of the growing stock.

In Wales, the Woodlands for Wales strategy has “A competitive and integrated forest sector” as a key outcome, with planned actions including “More Welsh-grown timber is used in Wales” and “Increased use of timber as a key renewable resource”.

What's of interest

Furthering the use of English wood products in a range of markets
Defra-funded contract aimed at developing an evidence base for understanding the behavioural, cultural, physical and economic barriers which may be limiting the use of wood products.

Unlocking the potential of home-grown softwoods: Timber research workshop
Workshop held on 26th February 2013

Improved conifer timber quality through plant selection and silviculture
Presentations given at the seminar are now available online.

Wood For Good
Includes building with wood: information for architects, engineers, builders etc.

Scots pine market development report (PDF-823K)

Evaluating potential new market opportunities for Scots pine timber.

Benefits of improved Sitka spruce: volume and quality of timber (PDF-534K)

Forestry Commission Research Note 3.

Related pages

Related documents

Useful sites