Making the most of it

25 September 2018
Grown in Britain’s chief executive, Dougal Driver, explains why more should be made of British timber

As the second biggest timber importer in the world, Britain has good reason to want to make more of what we grow here at home.

Grown in Britain (GiB) connects people to the provenance of great British forestry products and it manages a unique licensing system for home-grown forest products.

However, it has also developed a research and development programme that is starting to have an impact throughout the supply chain.

Product development is vital if the UK sector is to grow, which is why GiB has invested in research that has led to the first commercial production of thermally modified British-grown timber. As part of the programme, GiB is testing home-grown thermally modified cladding, a field trial that is showing excellent durability and performance results. The trial is also a great showcase for clients and architects, several of whom have subsequently sourced this added value UK product.

GiB is also investing in home-grown fencing preservation trials with the Wood Protection Association, with promising results after the first three years. Raw fencing material needs treatment to ensure a decent lifespan but getting the balance between a chemical that works and one that is environmentally acceptable or ‘friendly’ is a real challenge under today’s regulations. GiB is determined to help find a solution – pun intended!

We fit very naturally into research and development, tackling issues that hold back UK timber, particularly in added value scenarios, and so the time has come to launch a formal Grown in Britain research and development programme. We recognise that this is where opportunity really lies. You can’t simply plant another 3% of our country overnight and have it ready for production, so we need to make much more use of what we have got available now and that is about adding value.

We have a long list of target products from engineered products to substituting tropical hardwoods in marine and aquatic scenarios.

We are now raising the necessary funds, seeking sponsors and building the right partnerships to deliver an exciting and sustainable programme.

Imports not only impact on our economy but they also threaten the health of forests.

Threats in the form of numerous diseases. Ash trees are, today, dying in their millions following the introduction of Chalara or ash dieback and a wide range of plant groups will be wiped out if the notifiable disease Xylella fastidiosa arrives here. This bacterial disease is ravaging other parts of the world and so Grown in Britain is developing a comprehensive biosecurity assurance system with an associated ‘kitemark’, which can be awarded to any business within the supply chain who has passed the necessary audit procedure.

Brand Awareness

As with a kitemark on plants to increase biosecurity, the visible branding of timber is also essential if the UK’s forests are to thrive and grow in value.

BAM, Willmott-Dixon and other construction companies all have preference statements for Grown in Britain and major restaurant chains such as Nando’s are all keen to boost their stock of GiB branded timber, but only about 12% of the UK production is licensed.

“We continue to sell a significant amount of home-grown timber and we want to see many more of our suppliers licensed with Grown in Britain so that we can supply the demand for assured home-grown timber with the GiB certification mark attached,” said Patrick Guest, group commercial director at Arnold Laver. “This is not only the best way to support our great British forests but it is also giving many of our customers exactly what they want.”

The UK’s impending exit from the EU presents some massive opportunities for the British timber industry, with Defra looking at new ways of incentivising forestry in a whole land management approach and a real appetite from government to push homegrown timber.

Last year’s Clean Growth Strategy, focused on UK timber and this policy was backed up this year in the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which stated it would work with Grown in Britain to use more home-grown timber in construction.

It is essential that businesses and government continue to get behind Grown in Britain certification, but the game will only change when the sawmillers and processors in the supply chain obtain GiB Chain of Custody licences so that the brand sticks from forest to fit out.  

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