Almost 150,000 people in the UK work in the timber industry. It is worth £18 billion every year – over three per cent of all construction and manufacturing output – and contributes around £5.6 billion to the economy.
The majority of the wood that is used in the UK comes from European countries and British timber is now at around 30%. Approximately 3% of what is used in the UK comes from tropical countries. The European Union has banned illegal timber being imported into the EU and placed environmental due diligence obligations on importers and traders as part of its Timber Regulations.
Over 83% of the wood used in the UK is certified as being from sustainable sources. Of the remaining 17% much of that comes from countries where sustainable forestry is practiced but they don’t use certification schemes, such as the USA.
The UK’s public forest estates are valued to be worth around £400 million a year to the UK – a staggering six times more than the £72 million per year they cost to manage. The UK currently only harvests around 40% of its available wood, and yet it has the potential to offer numerous benefits to the UK green economy in various sectors. For instance, using wood as a building material instead of steel, could save saves 0.9 tonnes of CO2 per cubic metre. It also has the advantage of being 24 times more efficient as a building material than steel.
The primary wood used in the UK is softwood. Modern construction methods allow wood to be used with great flexibility and convenience, pre-engineered off site and delivered ready to slot into or form a structure. There is a strong economic argument for its increased use in construction.
Whilst some may argue that there is a greater fire hazard associated with timber buildings and timber used in construction, government statistics actually show that in a finished building the incidences of fire in timber frame structures are no greater than other materials.
Wood is a material that can prove its history – there are medieval buildings in the UK that are built mainly from wood and are still standing, which is a great indicator of timbers suitability for lasting construction. Used and treated properly, wood is a fantastic, durable natural product.