Ian Parsons spent twenty years working as a Ranger with the Forestry Commission, where he not only worked with birds of prey and dormice, but where he developed his passion for trees. Now a freelance writer, Ian runs his own specialist bird tour company leading tours to Extremadura. For more details see www.griffonholidays.com
Ian’s latest book, A Tree Miscellany, was reviewed here.
What is sustainable forestry? What does it mean for a country’s forestry to be sustainable? Is British forestry sustainable? The answer to that last question is perhaps yes. The Forestry Commission (FC) has the required certificate from the FSC (Forestry Standards Council) to say that it’s woods are sustainably managed. That is a good thing. The problem is that the FC doesn’t own all the woodland in the country. The bad thing, is that overall in the UK, only 43% of our woodland meets the requirements of the FSC when it comes to sustainability. Perhaps therefore, the answer to the question ‘Is British forestry sustainable?’ should be no, as the majority of British woodland, 57% of it, isn’t certified as being sustainable by the FSC.
The problem with the word sustainable is that it can be defined in many, many ways. The FSC doesn’t define it by how much timber is grown in a country compared to how much is used. If that was the case, Britain would never be certified as sustainable.
Britain is one of the largest consumers of wood products per capita (timber, paper etc) in the world, yet the percentage of British land covered by woodland is one of the lowest in the world (excluding countries like Iceland etc). Only 13% of our land is wooded. To give you an idea of how low that is, most of our European neighbours have between 30 and 40% woodland cover, whilst Finland and Sweden have 73 and 68% respectively. Obviously, therefore, we import a lot of our timber requirements. In fact, we import the majority of the timber we require and we spend big on it too. In 2015, we spent £7,500,000,000 on timber imports. That’s a lot of wood.
Britain is the third biggest importer of timber by volume in the world. Only China and Japan import more than we do, we don’t grow anywhere near the amount of timber we use. To me, that doesn’t sound very sustainable at all.
Our largest timber import is that of sawn timber, primarily softwood (the name for timber from conifers), we imported over 6.3 million cubic metres of it (roughly speaking 6.3 million tonnes) in 2015, the vast, vast majority of this timber is used in the building industry – all the new homes that you see being built around you use this timber. The building industry also uses particle board and fibre board in large quantities. (Most non timber people tend to call these products names like chipboard and MDF etc, I apologise for using jargon!)
Last year, the government estimated that we need to build 5.3 million new houses in the next 25 years, these will require a lot of timber and the majority of this timber will have to be imported. So where does the timber we need to build our houses come from? According to the latest figures, the European Union provide 92% of our imported sawn softwood timber, 93% of our fibre board and 100% of our particle board. In other words, we are pretty much reliant on the EU for our house building timber requirements. Good job we are a member of the EU then and don’t need to pay tariffs on it.
Wanting to build 5.3 million homes and wanting to exit the free trade agreement that provides the timber for these houses doesn’t seem very sustainable to me.
- Posted in: Guest blog