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British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

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British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

Postby oldclaypaws » Mon Nov 24, 2014 11:31 am

I recently read some surprising information in an article which confirmed my own suspicions and a discusssion I recently had with Smojo.

According to the FC, 10 years ago 183,000 tons of English Hardwoods were milled into timber, 150,000 tons went to woodfuel, 200,000 tons were pulped. In 2011, only 48,000 tons were milled, but the amount going to woodfuel had increase threefold to 400,000 tons.

There are now only about 10 specialist hardwood sawmills left in the UK, but demand for sawn hardwoods is high, in 2011 we imported 470,000 tons of the stuff. In other words, we are in the crazy situation of burning a valuable resource, then importing the higher value sawn hardwood timber we need from abroad rather than having the infrastructure in place to convert our own. Smojo recently saw a load of large beech logs being loaded on a lorry which in previous times would have been turned into British furniture, but were going as fuel. So we burn our hardwoods, close our furniture factories and buy Chinese made furniture using French Oak. :? :?

I investigated selling some of my oak to one of the UK's biggest sawn oak suppliers. They weren't interested, even though they are a few miles away and I said I could get it milled to the size they wanted. They are too busy selling French Oak, which they import in huge quantities- their warehouse is the size of an Asda.

How did we ever get in this situation? Its quite crazy. I see planked French Oak everywhere, but if you want to find ways to convert and sell English Oak, its not so easy- plenty of people happy to burn it though ! The French must be laughing at us. "Zose crazee Hinglish, Zey pay shru ze noze fer our Urk planxs, zen zey burn all zer own!"

Its a ridiculous economic shot in the foot by the UK and waste of a wonderful resource.
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Re: British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

Postby ballibeg » Mon Nov 24, 2014 4:34 pm

Wonder if diameter/length of French oak better for them to process.

Not every tree makes good planks where as every tree makes good logs.
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Re: British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

Postby SitkaSpruce » Mon Nov 24, 2014 5:23 pm

Does seem crazy and sad. Lot factors at work I guess- not profitable to buy small parcels local oak and limited sawmills to take it. Financial incentives to send timber to Drax to burn. Uk forestry especially in the north and Scotland is often all about gigantic forests of sitka spruce- all felled mechanically on an industrial scale and the industry reflects that. Kielder isn't so far away- it's vast. I've got a small wood of larch- that was probably destined to prop up a coal mine- all that need has gone. Foresters have always faced the problems of predicting what the industry will want in a given time to maturity. The French seem to have retained their traditional oak forests. We stopped growing these when ships became iron. Looking around at what local estates are planting it's lots of sitka spruce- presumably for pulp or biomass or there are broadleaf woods which appear to be in response to grants rather than what the market might need.
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Re: British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

Postby oldclaypaws » Mon Nov 24, 2014 6:22 pm

France is bigger and more forested, so they will have certain economies of scale, but its not that we can't produce it, we've just switched from milling to burning the same timber, then importing extra to mill. :(

Its true not all Oak is suitable to plank, particularly if grown on sandy light soil, it'll have more chance of shake. If you're not familiar with shake its a series of vertical splits in the centre of the wood (like a star shape), sometimes in rings too, which render the wood useless for timber. If you cross cut into a tree with shake to fell it, it exudes a foamy brown frothy sap from the interior void. Certain timbers are more susceptible, such as Sweet Chestnut. Certain ground conditions reduce the probability of shake, the best soil for shake-free oak is heavy clay, which I'm fortunate to have. - probably why they planted my heavy clay wood with oak 130 years ago -they knew it would produce good timber. You can't see shake until the tree is felled, which is why giving a value for a standing tree is difficult, although visible vertical wounds in the side of the trunk are a clue to possible shake.

Ring shake on oak;

ringshake.jpg
ringshake.jpg (6.98 KiB) Viewed 11788 times


Star shake;

brisbaneranges05.jpg
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Re: British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

Postby Wendelspanswick » Mon Nov 24, 2014 10:25 pm

Where did you get the figure for only 10 hardwood mills left, that does seem bizarrely low, especially as I know of 3 locally!
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Re: British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

Postby oldclaypaws » Mon Nov 24, 2014 11:43 pm

The breakdown of hardwood production & uses and the number of hardwood mills are from official 2011 FC statistics, quoted in the following interesting article by Dainis Duaksta. (pdf page 3, forestry journal page 19). His words, not mine, but I've no reason to doubt them. He's Welsh and writes quite extensively on Forestry, Timber and the economics and logistics of it, he seems to know what he's talking about.

http://www.forestryjournal.co.uk/newsitefiles/2012/0112Web/OakandStihl.pdf

His figures would appear to be verified on the official FC annual statistic bulletin here;

http://www.forestry.gov.uk/pdf/FCFS214.pdf/$FILE/FCFS214.pdf
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Re: British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

Postby Meadowcopse » Tue Nov 25, 2014 12:24 am

I used to buy hardwood boards and good quality 'firewood' off-cut blocks for turning, from Isherwoods in Wem, Shropshire.

Sadly the site became a housing estate several years ago, as have a few small estate woodland saw-mills...
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Re: British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

Postby oldclaypaws » Tue Nov 25, 2014 12:52 am

The number of sawmills processing UK grown roundwood (predominantly softwood) has dropped from 224 in 2004 to 177 in 2013. the figure doesn't include mobile mills, which have perhaps (?) increased, although they'll be processing smaller volumes with one man operators rather than big highly mechanised automated systems.

The point is, only ten years ago we grew over a third of the hardwoods we use, thats dropped within a decade to less than 10%, instead we're burning it and there are very few remaining facilities or infrastructure left to assist in converting it, we've almost lost an industry. A familiar story with British Industry, don't support the home grown, go for the cheapest option and import. No wonder we have a massive balance of trade deficit, we even import milk and electricity from the French because somehow its cheaper to make it there and export it than produce it here. :cry: :x
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Re: British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

Postby ballibeg » Tue Nov 25, 2014 7:44 am

The UK does have an aversion to cutting trees down. A plantation of oak to harvest can become a protected wood and no profit.
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Re: British Hardwoods and Woodfuel

Postby smojo » Tue Nov 25, 2014 9:12 am

The large mature beech I saw was at a Woodland Trust event day where they are thinning their wood and also removing larch. It was Mr Earnshaw (the owner of a large Yorkshire timber merchant) who told us about rising prices of fuel logs. He stated that in the last few years fuel logwood prices have at least tripled (largely due to energy prices rising) whilst milling timber has more or less remained static. Ironically the lovely large beech was going off to be cut into fuel logs whilst the plentiful and (now) unwanted larch was going to be planked. Seems crazy but he must know his market.
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