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NEWS RELEASE No: 1625930 APRIL 2014

Reports forecast timber availability from British forests over next 50 years

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Sawlogs stacked at roadside

Two reports published by the Forestry Commission today (30 April) provide forecasts of the availability of softwood and hardwood timber from British forests over the next 50 years.

These reports extend the 25-year forecasts published in 2011, and make specific presumptions about the extent and nature of replanting that will occur if and when existing forests are harvested.

The forecasts are important aids to the development of forestry policy and to forest, woodland and infrastructure planning and management by the forestry and timber industries, government and local authorities as well as biodiversity, wildlife and environmental interests.

They work off a baseline of the amount of timber which was standing in British forests and woodlands in 2012, as well as what species and ages the trees were.

They then present a range of different forecasts of how much timber of different types will be available, and when and where, under a variety of different harvesting and replanting scenarios over the next 50 years     

Crucially, the reports flag both opportunities and challenges for the sector, including how to realise the potential increase in timber production whilst avoiding the worst of potentially damaging peaks and troughs caused, in large part, by planting history. Peter Weston, Head of Inventory and Forecasting for the Forestry Commission, explained,

“We have produced 50-year forecasts for the first time in response to demand from the sector for a view on how current timber resources might evolve over the medium term. Previous softwood forecasts predicted rising availability over the next 20 years, followed by a decline, but the scale and duration of that potential decline was not understood.
“Being able to understand and illustrate the impact of different scenarios on resources over the medium term is an essential part of planning for many different interests, including industry development, biodiversity and climate change.

”These reports should not be seen as ‘production forecasts’: they are not a prediction. However, they are an important part of ongoing work between the Forestry Commission and the wider forest sector to look forward and develop policies and practices that will secure sustainable management of British forests over the long term.”

The reports, the ‘50-Year Forecast of Softwood Availability’ and the ‘50-Year Forecast of Hardwood Availability’ for Great Britain are two in a series of outputs for the National Forest Inventory (NFI). They are available to download from the NFI pages of the Forestry Commission website at

Notes to Editor:

  1. The forecast reports cover Great Britain (England, Scotland Wales); they do not include data for Northern Ireland.
  2. The reports build on NFI reports already published, including reports on:
    • woodland area and associated maps;
    • Standing Timber Volume for Coniferous Trees in Britain;
    • the 25-Year Forecast of Softwood Availability for the UK; and
    • the 25-Year Forecast of Standing Coniferous Volume and Increment for Great Britain.
  3. ‘Softwood’, or coniferous timber, 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. Conifer trees are typically harvested at ages between 35 and 60 years.
  4. ‘Hardwood’ is wood from broadleaved trees, i.e., trees which have leaves and nuts or fruits. Broadleaved species grown in Britain include oak, ash, beech, birch, alder, sycamore, poplar, willow and chestnut.
  5. The reports contain detailed and accurate data on timber availability. They were compiled using high-resolution aerial photography and cutting-edge satellite technology as well as in-depth, Great Britain-wide research on the ground. Growth and yield predictions were used in combination with computer modelling 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.
  6. The National Forest Inventory (NFI) exists to gather and compile accurate information about Britain’s trees, woods and forests, including woodland area, species composition, timber availability and volume, age and condition, biodiversity, carbon, biomass and other factors. Previous editions of the inventory were known as the National Inventory of Woodland and Trees (NIWT).

Media Contacts:

  • Great Britain and England - Charlton Clark, 0300 067 5049
  • Scotland – Paul Munro, 0300 067 6507
  • Wales – Natural Resources Wales: Curig Jones, 029 2046 6251