Tree Planting is Urgently Needed to Avoid UK Facing Crisis in Wood Supply

  • UK imports around 80% of its wood requirement, making it the world’s second largest importer of wood
  • UK has offshored its wood supply and is vulnerable to security of supply to meet construction and manufacturing needs
  • Government needs to provide greater support to productive planting industry to produce more wood
  • There are multiple benefits for climate, environment, jobs and industry through more productive planting
  • Recent research demonstrates public support for greater domestic timber production and re-forestation

Forestry and wood trade body, Confor (Confederation of Forest Industries), is warning that the UK faces declining supplies of home grown wood in the near future due to lack of productive tree planting. Currently the UK only grows around 20% of its wood requirement, leaving it exposed to a very significant balance (~80%) needing to be imported from the US, Sweden, Norway and other countries. The UK is the world’s second largest importer of wood, importing £7.5 billion annually.

At a time when a number of global trends are coalescing, Confor believes the requirement for increased productive forestry within the UK needs to be urgently addressed. Security of supply of natural resources is under greater threat from geo-political upheavals, as witnessed by soaring energy prices, labour shortages and the supply of some key UK resources dependent on foreign ownership (e.g. CO2). Confor is now highlighting the declining supply of UK domestic wood supply and the potential risk this poses to major industries including construction and manufacturing.

Additionally, the UK’s commitment to become net zero by 2050 is, in part, dependent on the greater sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2) for which productive tree planting can make a significant contribution.

The UK has ideal conditions for growing wood to build low-carbon homes and is a global leader in certifying that its forests are sustainably managed. While around three quarters of Scottish homes are built from Scottish timber, the use of home-grown wood in England is only around 25%.

The causes of the UK’s current position whereby it needs to import the vast majority of its wood is complex and ranges from outdated perceptions of productive forestry to the decimation of trees  from grey squirrels. It also encompasses significant hesitation on behalf of farmers and other land owners to invest in longer term planting projects. While productive tree planting can deliver real financial benefits to rural economies and contribute to the UK’s net zero strategy, the focus of government support continues to be on food production and the re-wilding and planting of native woodland solely for biodiversity.

Last year Confor undertook a survey to establish the level of public support for producing more home-grown wood. In summary, over 90% of respondents were unaware that the UK imported 80% of its wood resources. 50% of respondents saw domestic wood production as being important (just behind food) with a similar number agreeing that growing more domestic timber is beneficial for the environment. A further two-thirds said that there should be forest expansion.