Our sawmilling industry is a global winner

Picture: Jane Barlow
Picture: Jane Barlow
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This week, Edinburgh hosts the International Softwood Conference, a gathering of global sawmillers and timber traders. In the past it would have been unthinkable that Scotland would host such an event. Now it seems entirely natural.

In recent decades, the domestic sawmilling industry has seen rapid growth. Scotland has much to show the world as it works with an expanding forestry resource and wood-processing sector to meet carbon reduction targets. For many years, the UK has imported more than 80 per cent of the wood it consumes. However, Scotland’s sawmillers have been doing their bit to rebalance trade, while creating rural employment and pumping tens of millions of pounds into responsible forest management.

Since the 1980s, Scottish sawmills have more than trebled production and now account for more than half of the UK’s output, helping us significantly reduce imported timber. Recent figures from the Forestry Commission show domestic softwood sawmills, which use Scotland’s conifers, have captured 42 per cent of the construction market – a key, high-value market, bringing tens of millions into Scotland. This is also vital in the battle to meet carbon reduction targets; if we cannot improve the carbon profile of construction, we will not meet them.

If we take a life-cycle approach to construction materials, wood stands far above all other mainstream products. As well as locking up carbon, sawn wood has the lowest energy consumption in its production and incredible natural insulation qualities. These benefits have been recognised by the Scottish Government, which recently incorporated a “Wood First” commitment in its carbon action programme – to increase the amount of Scottish timber used in buildings, displacing higher-carbon material.

Overseas participants at the conference might wince at the message that our sawnwood success is displacing imports valued at over £1 billion a year. However, they will surely be impressed by the way the industry has grown from modest beginnings and is now delivering for the environment and the economy.

• Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood. The International Softwood Conference takes place in The Sheraton, Edinburgh 17-18 October www.isc2013.co.uk

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