Superwood CONFOR Conference November 2018

Superwood CONFOR Conference November 2018 by Forest Manager Andy Baker

I was recently fortunate enough to attend a conference in Newcastle hosted by CONFOR promoting the use of timber products to help drive a low-carbon economy. Representatives from Ryder Architecture, Egger Forestry, the Woodland Trust and many more were in attendance, with quality presentations throughout the day.

The day began with presentations about the current policy in the North East towards forestry and the use of timber products, and then expanded to a nationwide view. Opinions and predictions on the effect Brexit will likely have were debated. The unanimous consensus was that we are now faced with a tremendous opportunity to promote the use of home grown timber in construction and that policies will hopefully change to encourage new planting.

We then heard from representatives from the Woodland Trust, CONFOR and EGGER Forestry, focussing on the links of planting new woodlands to climate change. There was general agreement that there still seems to be a tendency for a bias away from planting, where the presumption should instead be for planting. It should be justified as to why trees should not be planted there, rather than the other way around. One earlier speaker mentioned how “no single tree should be planted in an area in which it is unsuitable”, which I think highlights the point quite succinctly.

The carbon store house

The afternoon session moved on to the use of timber in construction, with presentations from representatives from CITU homes, Edinburgh Napier University and Makar homes. What was astounding was the potential for stored carbon in some of these houses, with Rob Allen from CITU homes insisting on upwards of 23 tonnes of carbon stored per home! This comes from the amount of timber used in the house construction, and is even more impressive when considering an average home in the UK emits 65 tonnes of carbon in its construction, when accounting for materials and manufacture. Interestingly, the houses themselves are also incredibly energy efficient, and so their lifetime carbon emissions are also significantly reduced. We also heard from Adam James of Ryder Architecture in Canada, the Company who’ve built the tallest hybrid wood building in the World! He explained the differences between the construction application processes in British Columbia to the UK.  The most interesting fact being that all new buildings had to justify why they couldn’t use wood in their construction before they could continue with a different material.

This presumption towards timber is very similar to the issues we face with new planting in this Country, and is a wonderful example of how simply the process can improve. Compound this with the fact that cement production globally accounts for over 5% of greenhouse gas emissions, whereas all flights represent only 2.5%, and the push for the use of timber as a construction material couldn’t be clearer.

Wood Use Inventions

Dan Ridley-Ellis talked us through advancements in new timber processing technology, and the new uses that we are now inventing for timber products on a regular basis. I say we, I personally am doing very little/nothing to invent new uses for timber products! He explained, however, how he believed that the best way to use timber is to use it as it is. He believes that people have a base attraction to all things new and technological and that trees are the simplest lowest tech and best option available to us.

We need to get a move on!

In conclusion, the conference was incredibly interesting and this topic is very important to me personally. The use of timber to create a carbon negative, durable, and sustainable resource was why I got into forestry in the first place. We should all endeavour to get the most out of our woodlands and make sure carbon sequestration remains at the forefront of our minds when creating new planting/harvesting schemes.

All sustainability objectives are of course important. But to me, carbon sequestration is by far the most important of them all. The most recent IPCC report on climate change is harrowing, stating that we have a mere 12 years to limit a climate catastrophe. As forest managers, we stand in a unique position to transform the environment around us for the better, and have the tools to make a far greater impact than the majority of the population. Let’s use them.