[EXP] Coed Cymru, helping Welsh landowners to manage native woodlands sustainably, for environmental and economic gain
Type: Success story
Date of writing: July 1, 2011
Author(s) of this page: Delia Sambeteanu, Michael Dower
Organization(s): Coed Cymru (Welsh Woodlands)
Coed Cymru (= Welsh Woodlands) was created in 1985, by Government agencies, local authorities, industry and the voluntary sector, in order to heighten awareness of native woodlands, particularly among woodland owners, community groups and hardwood users, and to promote sustainable management of these woodlands for environmental, social and economic gain.
Before the arrival of cheap imported hardwood into Wales in the 19th Century, the wood industry was locally self-reliant and part of an ancient tradition of craftsmanship. From that time onwards, neglect and plunder caused a decline in native broadleaved woodlands. Studies in the early 1980s showed that only 3% of the original post-glacial forest area was covered by broadleaf woodland; and 85% of that remnant was threatened by neglect and overgrazing, which thus prevented the regeneration of young trees. In response to this crisis, Government agencies, local authorities, industry and the voluntary sector came together in 1985, under the name Coed Cymru (= Welsh Woodlands), in order to heighten awareness of native woodlands, particularly among woodland owners, community groups and hardwood users, and to promote sustainable management of these woodlands for environmental, social and economic gain.
Coed Cymru is a partnership of organisations dedicated to bringing Welsh broadleaf woodland into sustainable development. It is a non-profit company limited by guarantee. Its board contains nominees of the Welsh Government, the Forestry Commission, Environment Agency, Countryside Council for Wales, County Councils and National Park Authorities, plus independent trustees. It is funded by the public agencies within this partnership. The charitable functions of research and education are managed by the board of Coed Cymru Cyf, a charity set up in 1989 to provide legal and financial framework for the partnership.
Coed Cymru’s vision is to attain a closer integration of forestry, farming and use of wood in Wales, founded upon sustainable management of woodlands and woodland products. This is seen as having multiple benefits, including enriched habitats and biodiversity, sustained quality of rural landscapes, greater use of woodlands for recreation, fuller use of woodland products in the local and national economy, creation of jobs and increased income for farmers, reduced dependence on imported timber products, and wider public understanding of the importance of woodlands in Wales. These benefits form significant elements of sustainable development in Wales.
In pursuit of this vision, Coed Cymru has four main lines of activity :
Provision of free and impartial help, advice and training to woodland owners, drawing on the expertise of all its partner organisations
Promotion of sustainable management of native woodlands, and co-operation between woodland owners, woodland contractors and timber users
Research and development related to hardwood timber products and markets, in order to provide a firm economic base for broadleaf woodlands
Advocacy for broadleaf woodland and woodland products in Wales.
Coed Cymru’s advisory and awareness-raising work is spearheaded by a network of 17 expert project officers based in County Council and National Park offices throughout Wales. They relate directly to farmers, other woodland owners and users of woodland products. Their advice covers the whole spectrum from growth of new trees to production and marketing of high quality Welsh hardwood products. Coed Cymru’s central office at Tregynon, near Newtown in Powys County, has a small staff of 4 people, plus 3 project officers. They provide the technical and administrative support for the field advisers, and they also run a programme of research and development focused on adding value to woodland products.
Links with other bodies.
Coed Cymru is a member of the Continuous Cover Forestry Group (CCFG), a United Kingdom network whose role is to promote the transformation of even-aged plantations to woodlands which are structurally, visually and biologically diverse. The Group aims to enhance the production of high quality timber according to the principles of continuous cover management. It is a technical and professional organisation dedicated to developing skills and disseminating knowledge; and it contributes to policy formulation and wider debates about sustainable forestry in Britain (see www.ccfg.org.uk.
In turn, CCFG is a member of ProSilva Europe, a federation of professional foresters across 24 European countries committed to advancing « close to nature » silvicultural systems. ProSilva promotes sustainable forest management strategies which optimise the maintenance, conservation and use of forest ecosystems so that they produce multiple benefits to society - production of timber and other products, protection of soil and climate, maintenance of ecosystems; recreation, amenity, and culture. (see www.prosilvaeurope.org).
Coed Cymru is well recognised around the world, and receives visitors from many countries.
Description of activities
Coed Cymru’s activities are described in more detail below, by reference to
a. sustainable woodland management
b. development of value-added products
Sustainable woodland management
Coed Cymru gives free help and advice on the sustainable management of woodlands and the use of woodland products. The aim is to help farmers and other woodland owners to manage the land effectively; to improve habitats for plants and animals; to provide shelter for livestock and game, while avoiding over-grazing; to provide recreation for local people and visitors; to gain timber for use on the farm; to gain income from Government grants and timber sales; to create jobs for rural people; and to create added value in the rural economy and in Wales as a whole. In this way, the woodlands can bring environmental, social and economic benefits.
Since it was set up in 1985, Coed Cymru has given support to more than 6,919 woodland management and tree planting projects in over 31,426 hectares, 24% of the total broadleaf woodland in Wales. Most of the woodlands are on farms and were previously seen by the farmers as unproductive land, while others were degraded through over-grazing by livestock. Also included are many community-based projects, and some large projects on public land.
Although Coed Cymru’s advice has only directly affected about one-quarter of the area of broadleaf woodland in Wales, its influence has been wider than this. The remaining three-quarters is not (in Coed Cymru’s view) significantly threatened by the neglect, over-grazing or unsustainable management that was so damaging thirty years ago. This change reflects raised awareness among landowners, partly thanks to Coed Cymru’s work; an increase in woodland ownership by people who gain their main income outside farming; and also the effect of cross-compliance provisions attached to farm payments and to the agri-environment schemes part-funded by the European Union.
Continuous cover forestry.
Coed Cymru was among the first bodies in the UK to adopt the continental forest system called ‘continuous cover forestry’. This approach is suited to multi-purpose forestry, and has been successfully used to convert conifer plantation into restored broadleaf woodland on ancient woodland sites. This process of gradual conversion encourages diversity of plants, retention of the litter layer, continuous production of timber, and greater ability to withstand pests and storm damage.
Coed Cymru’s role in maintaining the mosaic of woodland and grassland habitats in Wales is a significant contribution to the campaign to sustain biodiversity in Wales. This campaign is focused within the Biodiversity Action Plan, which embodies the UK government’s commitment to the Biodiversity Convention signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Some of Coed Cymru’s work extends beyond the woodlands to benefit other habitats. For example, the Pontbren Farmers’ Group in North Powys, assisted by scientists, has used trees in a pioneering project to prevent erosion and sedimentation in streams where trout and salmon spawn.
Recreation and heritage.
Many of the woodland management plans drawn up by Coed Cymru provide for recreation and public access to woodlands. All such plans also specify the protection of archaeological features within the woodlands.
The timber market increasingly demands assurance about the quality and environmental impact of forest management, and the sustainability of forest products. This is provided by certification systems, which depend upon independent verification against published standards of sustainable management. Coed Cymru helps timber producers in Wales to obtain Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for their timber. In 2001, it set up the first Group Forest Management FSC certification scheme in Wales. Coed Cymru Officers offer free support to woodland owners in the process of seeking the certification.
Development of value-added products
Historically, the woodlands of Wales would have yielded firewood, stakes and other timber for use on the farm, and material for furniture-makers, builders and other craftsmen. But timber imports, centralised wood processing and social change killed off much of this activity. Coed Cymru has done much to bring back this tradition of added value to woodland products, in modern form.
This adding of value starts at the farm level. Coed Cymru’s advisers encourage farmers to use the timber from felled, thinned or pollarded trees as firewood, fencing material or other purposes on the farm, or to sell it into the market. As a result, many farmers have bought their own circular saws, plankers or double-slabbing saws to make planks, beams etc. Some have set up a side business selling firewood, or acted as sub-contractors to furniture makers. Alongside them has developed a network of small timber-harvesting contractors, and rural sawmills, many with kiln-drying facilities : Coed Cymru estimates that the number of such sawmills in Wales has grown from 3 in 1985 to about 100 now. Thus a small industrial sector has effectively been re-created, yielding (by Coed Cymru’s estimate) the equivalent of at least 400 jobs in rural Wales.
The wider market.
This adding of value at local level has a traditional feel to it, though often using modern machinery. But Coed Cymru has also focused on how Welsh woodland products can be aimed at a wider market, in order to produce higher added value for the whole timber chain, from the farmer to the wider Welsh economy. Since 1990, it has worked with partners in industry and universities to develop a range of products and processes which can meet modern market needs. The initial focus was on the use of timber of small diameter (15 to 30 cm), which was a by-product of the early stages of bringing neglected woodlands into effective management. More recently, as the woodlands have matured, the emerging timber is of larger calibre on average.
In cooperation with over 100 Welsh manufacturing companies, Coed Cymru has successfully developed many products, such as furniture, windows, flooring, woodchips for animal bedding, wood pellets for renewable energy, and building components. These aspects of the developmental work are briefly described below. Coed Cymru’s role in this has been to act as catalyst, bringing people together; as researcher, to clarify opportunities; as development expert, with a well-equipped workshop to explore materials, techniques etc; and as a promoter of the ideas that seem to work. It has done this in a flexible, resourceful and open way, without secrecy or patents, so that all in the wood-based industries can share the benefits.
Outdoor furniture, such as benches or picnic tables made of unseasoned oak and sweet chestnut, has been promoted by Coed Cymru for 20 years. Such furniture offers multiple benefits – minimising waste through use of all sizes of timber; reduction in the use of tropical hardwoods; income for local businesses; and safe waste at the end of the product’s life.
Working with furniture manufacturers, Coed Cymru developed the ‘Welsh Angle’. This is a system of furniture construction using interlocking components, which are simple to manufacture using low-cost machinery. This means that they can be made by established manufacturers, or by farmers who wish to diversify, or by the handicapped employees of sheltered workshops. At present, the domestic demand forWelsh-made furniture is low, and Welsh Angle furniture is mainly being used in shopfitting, particularly in garden centres.
Timber flooring is a significant market, in which Coed Cymru saw early potential for use of Welsh hardwoods. At first, the focus was on short-length strip flooring. But Coed Cymru has done much work on developing end-grain tiles : these are made by slicing a tree across the grain, revealing the growth rings and grain patterns. Timber of low diameter or very short length can be used, from parts of the tree which would otherwise go to low-value firewood or be wasted. But this is a very competitive field, in which Welsh products face the challenge of imports from China and elsewhere. It is essential to raise the quality, and reduce the per-unit production cost, of Welsh end-grain flooring.
Woodchip for animal bedding.
Coed Cymru has helped Pontbren Farmer’s Group with an initiative which links woodland products to livestock farming. The Group now uses a ‘Farmi’ chipper to turn hardwood offcuts into woodchips, for use in bedding of animals. Woodchips are found to be better than straw, because they are less labour-intensive; the livestock remain clean, with low incidence of foot problems; and the resulting manure composts rapidly and at high temperatures. The compost has been used as mulch and as a growing medium for tree seedlings in the Pontbren tree nursery.
There is growing interest in Wales and elsewhere in wood as a renewable fuel in modern heating systems. Coed Cymru has been carrying out trials with a small mill that will convert woodland by-products into fuel pellets for such use : the aim is to develop a machine that would suit small woodworking companies, so that pellets can be made close to the origin of the raw materials.
Coed Cymru’s most ambitious project for added value is a system for building prefabricated houses. This was prompted by the widespread need, in rural Wales, for affordable houses for people on lower incomes; the desire of government to meet that need; and the opportunity that this presented to use Welsh timber. Coed Cymru, the Welsh School of Architecture and University of Wales Bangor are working together, with funding from Countryside Council for Wales and Wood Knowledge Wales, to develop a system of high performance affordable housing based on the properties of home-grown timber.
The system, called ‘Ty Unnos’, is an adaptable modular system that can create a range of house types and sizes. It uses various grades and species of locally sourced, sustainable Welsh timber, from the network of local sawmills. The manufacturing process is suited to semi-skilled workers or small enterprises as well as larger companies, without great capital investment. It is based on a 600mm structural grid and a standardised kit of parts, usable by contractors or by people who are building their own houses. This kit includes a structural frame of prefabricated box beams and pillars in Sitka spruce, and fully pre-insulated panels for walls, floors and roofs. These create a series of modular rooms varying in size from 1.2m x 3m to 4.8m x 3m, with highly efficient thermal properties. This enables a variety of house types to be built on different sites, with potential to add modules as the needs of the household evolve. External cladding in stone, brick, timber etc can be chosen to suit the building tradition in each part of Wales (timber cladding is another product that Coed Cymru has helped to develop). The cost of such a house is relatively low : for example, a one-bedroom apartment may cost no more than £68,000 (c.80,000 euros) including all development costs as well as land.
Marketing of hardwood products.
The success of all these products depends upon effective marketing. More than 400 businesses now regularly use products from Welsh hardwoods : but Welsh products must compete with those from other countries, for example Scandinavia and Russia with their massive timber industries and China with its cheap labour and intense export activity.
Coed Cymru and its partners are active in addressing this challenge. All of the County Councils and National Park Authorities in Wales, and many other bodies in the public and private sector, specify Welsh hardwoods in countryside and building projects. Coed Cymru displays the merits of Welsh hardwood at all major agricultural shows in Wales. 23 Welsh wood manufacturing companies have joined Coed Cymru in producing a joint marketing brochure “Woodsource Wales : A guide to Architectural Wood Products from Wales”. Through its Supply Chain project, which is funded by the Welsh Government and the EU-supported Rural Development Programme, Coed Cymru is working with the wood products industry to improve the methods of branding and the systems of marketing.
However, it is clear that far more effort, and significant expenditure, will be needed in order to realise the full potential of the outputs from Welsh woodlands. At present, the government is not committing major funds to this purpose; the Forestry Commission is not focused on what happens to timber ‘outside the forest gate’; and Welsh companies find European Competition and trade rules unhelpful as they strive to compete for orders even in their own country.
Challenges / Perspectives
Through advice, research, development and promotion, Coed Cymru has provoked the sustainable management of one quarter of the area of broadleaf woodland in Wales; influenced the management of many other woodlands, stimulated the versatile productive use of woodland products, and contributed to the revival of a significant sector in the rural economy of Wales. It has done this at relatively low cost by acting, in partnership with many bodies, as a light-footed catalyst and adviser. The environmental, social and economic benefits are clear, and Wales could benefit greatly from an expansion of the work.
But Coed Cymru’s future activity will depend greatly upon continued financial support from Government. The level of that support has already been adversely affected by the cuts in government finance, and the closing down of some government agencies in Wales. At present, the team of 17 advisers seems to be secure : but the funding for developmental work on woodland products is not sufficient to expand that work in a way that would truly benefit the Welsh economy. The effective marketing of Welsh woodland products also presents a significant challenge.
Seen from a European perspective, Coed Cymru is a very significant initiative. Forests and woodland cover 40% of the European land mass. There are some parts of Europe – for example Brittany, with its great and continuing tradition of using native oak in buildings and furniture, or Val d’Aosta in Italy, with its millennium-old tradition of high-quality craftsmanship in wood - which achieve sustainable management of woodland and high added value within the region. But vast stretches of European Forest, with their timber periodically clear-felled by external contractors and then taken hundreds of kilometres for processing in massive pulp mills or saw mills, bring none of the environmental, social and economic benefits to their own rural regions that Coed Cymru is committed to achieving in Wales.
The Coed Cymru experience illustrates – in ways that could well be widely replicated elsewhere in Europe
– the ways in which sustainability in woodland management and in use of woodland products can be stimulated. Notable in this are :
the partnership structure, bringing together government bodies at national, regional and local level to a joint cause
provision of expert and objective advice and support to farmers and landowners at local level
close cooperation with companies in the wood-based industries
innovative research and development work, done in an expert way, with results open to anyone
the flexibility and light-footed nature of the whole effort, pursued in a determined way over a long period of time.
It is very good that Coed Cymru is in touch, through the Continuous Cover Forestry Group and Pro Silva, with others throughout the United Kingdom and Europe who are pursuing the same vision. At a time when the European Union is drafting its future policies for forestry and for regional and rural development, the experience of Coed Cymru and of these wider networks can have significant positive value.
Coed Cymru’s website www.coedcymru.org.uk
The Old Sawmill, Tregynon,
Newtown, Powys SY16 3PL,
Wales United Kingdom
Scale of intervention : Regional
Keywords: sustainable woodland, locally-based economy, woodland products, biodiversity conservation, woodland management, wood fuel, organic building material, diversification of economic activities, higher added-value products