Why We Need a New Vision to Rebuild Our Forestry Industry Anew

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), September 14, 2004 | Go to article overview

Why We Need a New Vision to Rebuild Our Forestry Industry Anew


Byline: By Paddy Rooney

A dozen years ago, the then Forestry Industry Committee forecast employment in forestry activities - 41,000 in the late 1980s - would grow at prevailing levels of productivity to more than 66,000 today.

Annual timber production was forecast to grow from seven million cubic metres to 13 million, reaching a peak of more than 19 million in the early 2020s.

And in Wales it reported six substantial sawmills capable of handling over 30,000 cubic metres of timber, two wood-based panel mills and two pulp and paper mills using home-produced timber.

The forecast suggested an industry in robust health - and it was badly wrong. According to the most recent Forestry Commission report, employment has fallen well below 30,000, less than half the forecast level.

Timber production has only grown by half as much as forecast. And the number of sawmills in Britain has roughly halved, with only four large operations left in Wales.

So what has happened? Some of the employment shortfall can be attributed to productivity improvements, but the fundamental problems are economic. While demand for timber and timber products remains steady, other countries are providing them more cheaply. Imports have increased by a third since the mid-1990s and we are now the fourth largest net importer in the world.

Rather than allowing woodland to go to waste, British producers have had to follow raw material prices down. The price of standing conifer is now barely a quarter what it was 10 years ago, and the fall has been getting steeper - prices in March 2003 were 25% lower than a year earlier. …

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