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Confederation of Forest Industries warns more tree planting is urgently needed to avoid UK facing crisis in wood supply

Confor –Confederation of Forest Industries | Wood for Good

4 min read Partner content
  • 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

Edinburgh, UK, February 15, 2022 – 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.

“Not only are we facing a carbon crisis now, but we will also be facing a future construction crisis because of a failure to plant trees to produce wood”, said Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive, Confor. "For decades we have not taken responsibility for investing in our domestic wood supply, leaving us exposed to fluctuating prices and fighting for future supplies of wood as global demand rises and our own supplies fall."

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. 

"While food production and biodiversity health are clearly of critical importance, we need our land to also provide secure supplies of wood for construction, manufacturing and to contribute to net zero," said Goodall. “While the UK government has stated its ambition for more tree planting, there has been little action on the ground. Confor is now calling for much greater impetus behind those aspirations to ensure we have enough wood to meet increasing demand.” 

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.