Re-Foresting: A Strategy for Production within the Northern Forest

Simon Feather
Leeds Beckett University
United Kingdom

Project idea

Currently there are two major tree diseases within the UK. The Forestry Commission and other woodland organisations are actively seeking to plant more diverse commercial forests to remove the risks associated with diseases and monoculture forests. I think that architects and designers should have input into what we plant within our commercial forests, as they will ultimately be the ones designing with them once they are ready for harvest. A more collaborative approach, involving those throughout the supply chain would ensure that timber and trees are put to their most effective use to offset the climate crisis and promote sustainable lifestyles.

The huge land areas that will be affected by the loss of our Larch and Ash trees has ultimately caused confusion within the UK’s timber industry as they try to decide what our next tree planting crop will consist of. Timber sold into the construction industry is the highest valued product from trees; this helps provide a good economic argument for the architecture profession to drive future demand.

The benefits of managed forests and building with timber are well documented. The growing enthusiasm for timber architecture is also likely to continue. With the prospect of so much more tree-planting in the coming years from schemes like the ‘Northern Forest’, the ‘Great Green Wall of China’ and the ‘African Green Wall’: requires us to achieve a broader range of objectives from tree planting. The key focuses must include offsetting the climate crisis, improving our ecology whilst generating production.

Investigations into the current large-scale planting strategies across the world show, in most cases, we are planting quick growing softwoods and creating mono-cultural forests. Quick growing species absorb much CO2 than slower grown hardwoods and mono-cultural forests are generally bad for ecology compared to multi-species forests. We need to dispel the myth that one timber can do all applications to remove the major anxieties we associate with mono-culture forests. The project aimed to use a wide range of timbers to show the great variety of characteristics timber has.

Planting and managing woodlands with a purpose; socially, economically and environmentally, makes so much more sense, than the terrible neglect common to so many existing woodlands which will only be fit for fuel, and the release of embodied carbon. A comprehensive planting strategy, that allows landowners to see the clear benefits of planting different species could be a catalyst to revitalise the UK’s timber industry.

Project description

‘Re-Foresting’ is set of nine productive model villages located along the M62, and within the ‘Northern Forest’. Each village uses the environmental conditions associated with their unique location to grow a different selection of tree species. The harvested materials are used to manufacture the villages’ future timber buildings.’ The project aims to promote the use of locally grown timber and revitalise the UK's timber industry.

The project also tackles productivity and the UK housing shortage. The detailed analysis undertaken of the Northern Forest helped develop the comprehensive strategy to harness woodlands and their resources to increase their local economic, social and environmental value.

Technical information

The project references the ‘Scotland Forestry Strategy 2019-2020’ and the principle of ‘the right tree, in the right place, for the right purpose’. Trees grow according to particular environmental conditions and not by governing land borders. By acknowledging why trees grow better in one environment than another would give reasons for a locality to identify with the planting. By acknowledging what the timber will be used for prior to planting gives reasons for the management strategy and use of the crop occurring at different stages of the cycle. It could also give an indication of its value prior to planting if this timber was used for the purpose of building.

The UK will never be able to rival the levels of softwood tree planting found within Scandinavian countries or others further afield. The timber manufacturing processes, and products exported from Finland and Sweden are so well established - replicating those here in the UK will never compete on economics alone. The UK needs to become more self-reliant and reduce its level of imports. But it also could increase its level of exports, by planting many tree varieties within our new forests, that are native to the UK and not common across Europe.

Ship building of the 17th century would use a minimum of 10 different timber varieties within a ship’s construction. Each timber was chosen according to it’s specific use based on the characteristics it encompassed. Modern timber dwellings however are built from a very limited timber palette - 2 or 3 species at best. We need to embrace the great varieties of timber characteristics and celebrate how those can lead to the timber having different functions and applications. By moving past the common misconception British grown timber species are not suitable for use in architecture and allowing architects to design accordingly could also provide exciting new timber buildings.

Characteristics I believe are important to the strategy are maintenance and longevity, fire resistance, anti-bacterial properties, insulative and acoustic properties, colour, ability to be machined and the timbers resistance to rot and humidity. The decisions will have to factor in incremental growth, total annual yields and an effective management system to not be contentious among timber professionals.


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