The Woodland Resource
Most woodland management activity is in the commercial conifer plantation sector. Some timber is used locally for fencing, sawn timber and other products. A significant amount, including timber from Welsh Government /Natural Resources Wales-managed woodlands, goes to the biomass plant near Port Talbot, and also into the local firewood market. Larger conifer plantations within the Heart of Wales Line railway corridor will probably be largely managed by forestry agents or owners, rather than Welsh Government / Natural Resources Wales. Smaller conifer areas tend to be farm woodlands or undermanaged.
Broadleaf and mixed woodlands:
Native broadleaved woodland tends to be on farms or otherwise privately owned. Much is undermanaged, often due to lack of track infrastructure for timber extraction. Firewood and biomass are growing markets for broadleaved timber.
Activity may be restricted in farm woodlands while Glastir Woodland Management grants for tracks, thinning, replanting, fencing etc. are unavailable. The Glastir Woodland Restoration grant is available for replanting larch sites.
Planting of both conifer and broadleaf is generally at a low level but it is likely that a lot of new woodland will be created by landowners to mitigate flooding and by government to increase the carbon-sink effect. Planting will also increase as the Glastir Woodland Creation grant becomes more regularly available. The rate of grant is good and worth pursuing for individual sites.
A regional forestry economy:
Crucial to increasing activity will be supporting both existing and new woodland contractors and wood-using businesses using local timber [many do not use local supplies], and the availability of grant aid for managing existing woodlands.
There are other new markets for the produce of forests, none of which is more important than the generation of renewable energy. Rediscovered technologies that improve the energy density of biomass, such as the pyrolysis of wood to make biocoal and biochar [for soil improvement], can be profitable products for landowners in forested Wales, and would help them to diversify their sources of income.
A shortage of energy will soon become the most important constraint upon our material development, not least because we must phase out the burning of fossil fuels. But if much of a country’s fuel needs are provided from local renewable resources there will be less vulnerability to sudden rises in the price of imported fuel or the depletion of an indigenous resource.
Woodfuels will be increasingly important for our basic energy needs, and for economic and social reasons they are to be preferred to imported substitutes. If forestland is managed well, surplus fuel could be made available to towns and cities, locally-based industries and possibly for export.
The developmental potential of this resource has not been fully recognised because the market underprices fossil fuels and ignores the benefits obtainable from the renewable forest resource.