Growing Local Timber Supply Chains

Tom Barnes, managing director of Vastern Timber explains why choosing local alternatives to imports, and nurturing shorter supply chains will help to meet the high demand for timber.

The perfect storm of Covid, Brexit, and climate change have really focused attention on the resilience and impact of global supply chains. Anyone trying to buy timber for their building project will have experienced shortages, long lead-times and dramatic price increases. As a processor of homegrown timber, we at Vastern Timber have experienced unprecedented demand over the last 18 months as imports have dried up.

The increase in demand for timber is partly driven by a growing recognition of the real risks of climate change leading to a surge of interest in biomaterials, and low carbon construction. I’ve spoken to building firms and building owners who are looking at every single aspect of construction supply chains, to understand the impact of specifying and sourcing materials. In many cases they’re surprised at how far some of our most commonly used building materials have travelled. The carbon costs of that transportation can be substantial.  It’s well known that we import 80% of the timber we use and it is now well understood that shipping materials around the world is one of the biggest sources of the green-house gases that are responsible for climate change. What’s not so widely understood is how unsustainable this situation will become in future.

The good news is that the timber grown in Britain can perform as well as many of the popular imports. We just need to invest in both forestry and manufacturing to meet future demands. Right now there is locally grown timber available that is affordable and suitable for many projects. We think that using locally grown timber is just plain common sense. Why import something from halfway around the world when it can be sourced from just down the road? There are however pressing scientific and economic reasons for sourcing local timber.

  • Less transport means less pollution. (shipping accounts for approximately 2.5% of all
  • global C02 emissions)
  • Local supply chains are more resilient. Covid and Brexit have demonstrated how
  • fragile our supply chains are
  • Without investment now, we will not have the trees or the ability to process them in
  • the future. Trees take at least 40 years to grow
  • Buying local wood puts money directly into the management and planting of local
  • Growing trees costs money!

With strong demand for local timber, we can nurture local supply chains, making more use of timber we have closer to home. There are lots of good reasons to use the timber we have around us before importing from further afield. Recent events demonstrate that supply chains can be fragile. If we don’t nurture local timber supply chains how can we expect to rely on them in the future? Ensuring a reliable timber supply for the future that will allow us to create low carbon buildings requires a national timber strategy that urgently starts the work to lay down timber trees for the future. Personally, I’m quite optimistic about the future for British wood, despite the very significant problems ahead. I know that this country has the potential to produce much more of the timber we consume but it starts with each individual purchase and a simple question ‘Where is this wood from?’

For the complete feature read the Autumn 2021 Issue of Timber Construction

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