Wood is a central plank of efforts to fight coronavirus – Stuart Goodall

Over the last few weeks, we have all had to reassess what normal looks like – and that includes the way we work. Those at the front line of medical and social care, or helping to keep crucial supplies flowing, find ­themselves busier than ever – sometimes in unimaginably stressful situations. Many others now cannot work and worry about what the long-term future might hold.

Confor member Bowland Bioenergy, Lancashire (Photo: S.Kaiser/Confor)

At Confor, which represents around 1,600 forestry and wood-using businesses across the UK, we have tried to step up and do our best to support those in our sector. That has been ­given added significance following recognition by the Scottish and UK governments that wood is a key ­material supporting a number of important goods and services.

These include the supply of wood for pallets to keep food and medicines moving, as well as packaging needed for those vital supplies. It also includes wood for the energy sector as wood pellets and wood chips heat important buildings, including some hospitals and care homes, as well as people’s own homes – and many of these rely on biomass as their only heat source.

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This means that some sawmills are still operating, supplying these vital wood products and we are working with our members to ensure that any continued operations can be carried out in full accordance with the latest Government guidance on social ­distancing and, of course, in line with all existing health and safety ­standards.

Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood

I would also highlight Confor ­member Norbord, which is supplying oriented strand board for the ­construction of the Nightingale ­temporary hospital, being built at London’s Excel Centre.

Of course, the wood processing plants making these products need to be supplied with wood and that means forestry workers are harvesting and transporting trees, as well as delivering key products to facilities around Scotland and the UK.

We continue to encourage any members of the sector who can work from home to do so, and the Confor team has done that, and adapted quickly and effectively to new remote working.

However, many forestry and mill workers simply cannot work from home – including those growing young trees in nurseries and planting new forests and woods. In the longer-term, those young trees will be needed to help many businesses get back on their feet and, lest we forget, make a major contribution to supporting our climate change objectives.

Many of these people already work in socially-distanced locations and (again, of course, subject to all official guidance) will be able to continue working safely and responsibly.

Naturally, we are mindful that the advice and guidance is subject to ­constant review in these unprecedented times and we will react to communicate with the industry accordingly. We already work very closely with governments across the UK, and as the crisis began to take hold, we agreed with the public ­forestry bodies that Confor would act as a hub to keep the forestry and wood industry informed of all new developments.

To that end, we have created a Covid-19 microsite, www.confor.org.uk/covid-19, to share all the information relevant to the sector in one place, and I’d encourage everyone to read it, especially if they have questions around why people are continuing to work away from home if they are not part of the emergency services or a health or care worker.

The site includes a series of videos from people still working across the industry – from tree planters to ­harvesting contractors and others using wood to make essential ­products, like pallets, packaging and biomass. In one video, Alex Murray of ­Glennon Brothers, which has sawmills in Troon, Ayrshire, and Humbie, East Lothian, explains that the business has shifted the focus of its business to pallet-wood and residue for wood chips because that is what is needed right now.

This is all very much a work in progress. However, we will continue to do everything we can so that the forestry and wood sector can play its part in keeping key goods flowing at this time of national and international emergency and to ensure that those who can work safely are able to do so.

Stuart Goodall is chief executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood