Ask not what Grown in Britain can do for you…

Jul 26, 2013 | english hardwoods, Grown in Britain, round timber, woodland management


but what you can do for Grown in Britain

26 July 2013 – Sarah Farmer, English Woodlands Timber Ltd

Grown in Britain came to us in a dream and said…  no they didn’t, but they might as well have done.

Out of the blue in March this year an email came through to Tom & Andy – both CONFOR members – from Dougal Driver, introducing the Grown in Britain initiative – backed by DEFRA – to address the idea of British Forestry & Timber as an economic resource and inviting them to attend a meeting in Whitehall. Serious stuff. It made an impact.

I think the first thing that hit home for us at English Woodlands Timber was that somebody noticed us. Somebody who mattered (big important government people) actually noticed that this country has a Forestry Industry and a Timber Industry. That’s us, you and me. Somebody noticed us!

So, then the second big shock was ‘they’ wanted to talk to us. We, suddenly, not only had a voice – because let’s face it, we’ve always had a voice – but we also had somebody who wanted to listen. Huge.

English Woodlands Timber is a company based on the practice of forestry and the practice of converting timber for use. It’s pretty simple when you put it like that. It’s been our work forever. It’s all we’ve ever done. Or all we’ve done since the 1940’s when Beech was in such high demand that there wasn’t enough room for rabbits to run between timber stacks let alone people. It’s not like that now. Beech, what is Beech again? Now we have enough space to drive a procession of articulated lorries round the yard – as well as a few roaming pigs from the neighbours farmyard.

The space is there because the British logs aren’t. The lorries are there because the British timber isn’t. That’s a fact of our business. But it’s not for want of trying.

English Woodlands Timber forestry department is working harder than ever. Work keeps coming and private clients keep buying woodland for leisure purposes. Forestry for productive, economic purposes is much tougher. We hunt high and low for logs for conversion.

The ‘timber’ part of English Woodlands Timber has a thriving, strong, wide-ranging customer base whose businesses are built on wood. Wood. Without it these businesses would not exist. Their skills, their crafts, their products, their windows, their Oak frames, their dining tables, their kitchens, their boat hulls their bespoke cladding, their new wide plank floors…  none of it would exist because it is all based on forestry and the conversion of logs to useable timber.

But in economic terms, these businesses need English Woodlands Timber to provide wood so that they can survive, make a living, create jobs, and pay taxes.

Sometimes it’s a bit touch and go if I’m honest. The requirements are taxing… can you imagine that tree you’re standing next to as a part of a window frame in a £15 million apartment in Chelsea? Can you imagine the labour, the cost, the time, the waste, the knowledge, the expertise and the effort it takes to get that flawless finished product out of a tree in the woods? And if we can’t do it from homegrown logs we have to look at imported timber, because if we don’t, we don’t have a business and the customer doesn’t have a business and people don’t have jobs and the government doesn’t get their tax.

So when Grown in Britain called we just couldn’t turn the other way. They’re offering English Woodlands Timber and our industries a life-line so we’re grabbing it, with both hands.

What does that mean for us? At the moment it means about engaging with the process that Dougal and Stuart are establishing. It’s about turning up. Taking part.

So far we’ve spent a few hours in our own thoughts coming up with ideas that address an issue on the agenda for a  meeting. We’ve spent ten minutes here or there brainstorming together. We spend a few minutes a day reading what’s been going on on Twitter, making connections with other Grown in Britain partners, and talking about Grown in Britain to our customers, where we can say it on delivery notes and invoices and we’re dedicating a page on our website to news and information about Grown in Britain.

Significantly we actually took the step to incorporate Grown in Britain into our stock system by re-categorizing homegrown timber stocks as ‘Grown in Britain’. This was important because not only does the origin of the timber matter in so many technical stages of the supply but origin matters to our customers. They can browse our stock online and see the Grown in Britain name for themselves against boards of waney edge Ash or hand rived Chestnut laths or whatever they’re looking for.

We recognize that we need to promote this initiative. If Grown in Britain is to build in substance and to generate action for the future of British forestry and timber industries then people to know and care about it. This matters to us because our work matters to us.

So what’s the plan? We don’t know yet. We’re working on it. We’re working individually, in our offices, sawmills, and woodlands, we’re doing our head-scratching, putting out ideas down, bringing them to the group, putting them on the table, and talking about them. The Grown in Britain Team is making that happen. They’re staying in touch, they’re nudging us, they’re encouraging us. They’re getting us thinking and then they get us talking, as a group, at workshops, and at meetings.

Right now it’s about individuals connecting, like-minded thinking, common goals, collective optimism, and ambitious ideas about what the future of British Forests, Woodlands & Timber resources could look like…  and this is where Grown in Britain comes in…  but without the downright determination of a handful of people to reach out and get the scattered individuals together around a table, to provide the method, to galvanize the thinking, to generate the plan of action and provide a platform for it all to stand on…   optimistic ideas, ambition, and hope..  is where exactly it stays.

This article first appeared in Forestry Journal 7/13 and can also be found on 

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