Project

This project is about exploring the impacts of forest management on timber quality in the context of intensification of forest management and climate change.

Context

The demands placed on forests to provide renewable raw material are increasing and are expected to increase further as population levels increase, while such forests are expected to sequester atmospheric carbon. The demand for land to feed and accommodate an expanding population will restrict the potential for an expansion of the forest estate to address these demands. Therefore, alternative approaches including the intensification of forest management are required. European conifer forests provide rural employment, a steady supply of raw material for forest industries and act as an important carbon sink. The majority of these forests are currently grown as even-aged plantations, as this represents the most economically viable means of production, though there is currently a widespread public perception that this management style is not ecologically sound. In addition to this, the perception among end-users in construction is that the quality of timber from these forests is not fit-for-purpose.

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Management of these forests is focused on achieving maximum growth over the shortest period of time possible to supply the processing industries and feed the increasing demand for renewable materials, both for construction, other wood-based products (e.g. packaging) and fuel wood. In recent years there has been a trend in many countries towards a more holistic multi-functional approach to forest management reflecting society’s view of what forests should deliver. This has influenced the species mix, the form of management and the volume and quality of timber produced. For example, transformation of conifer forests to mixed stands with hardwoods has occurred. To a lesser extent continuous cover forestry systems have replaced clearfell systems. These initiatives have, to some extent, been undertaken as part of the process of reassuring society of the sustainability of forestry. Yet society’s demand for timber is increasing. Consequently a shortage of timber is expected due to the highly competitive demands between the processing sectors and woody biomass for bioenergy and biorefinery. A further complicating factor is climate change which is already having consequences for species choice and hence growth and timber production. One approach to addressing this shortage will be a revision of management as opportunities to expand the forest area are limited. To achieve greater levels of growth and timber production from the existing forest area an intensification of its forest sector is needed. This will involve changing management practices and provenance choice. In considering the latter, the impacts of climate change will be a major consideration. Two key conifer species, Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis (Bong.) Carr.) in Ireland and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii Franco.) in France and Germany, the timber from which fulfils a significant proportion of the raw material demand in these countries and elsewhere, have already been the focus of research programmes. Yet the consequences of faster growth rates on forest stands comprised of these species to produce fit-for-purpose raw material for processing needs investigation.

Sustainable intensification has been defined as a form of production wherein “yields are increased without adverse environmental impact and without the cultivation of more land” (The Royal Society, 2009). In this proposal, we use the term “intensively managed forests” to refer to the replacement of (slow) natural processes by human interventions to speed up the development stages of the trees/stands and to extract the maximum amount of produce in the shortest possible time, including the recovery of material (i.e. thinnings) that would have been lost to natural mortality.

The project has a number of specific objectives:

  1. Examine standing volume in the forests of the partner countries with respect to future demands of the processing industry
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    a. Evaluate the current and projected quantity of wood required for sawn timber, co-products and energy at the national and international level within the partner states. Assess the existing forest resource in partner-countries with respect to the projected requirements in the context of climate change. Identify the future demand on forests to fulfil demand for raw material for wood-based products with a long-term application which ensures long-lasting carbon storage (such as in construction or other long-life wood products).
  2. b. Determine the potential impact of climate change on yield and range of wood properties produced.
  3. Improving the resource efficiency by addressing current and potential future growth conditions.
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    a. Identify the best-suited provenances of Sitka spruce and Douglas fir over various site conditions and in the context of climate change.
    b. Determine the impact of faster tree growth on wood properties. The effects of management for greater volume growth, hence shorter rotation length, on the raw material properties specific to end-product requirements will be assessed.
  4. Process optimisation of the forestry wood chain.
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    a. Add value to the forestry wood chain by improving raw material allocation, optimised for end product purpose, according to the characteristics of forests, trees, logs and woody biomass.
    b. Develop methodologies based on integrated modelling and simulation approaches to merge information flow between forest and industry and identify the interfaces in the forest-wood chain for this information for the economic benefit of both stakeholders.
  5. Investigate the social acceptance of intensive forest cultivation and of wood as a renewable resource for construction and energy grown under such conditions.
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    a. Investigate the public perception of intensive forest management.
    b. Investigate public attitudes to wood derived from such forests as a renewable material and form of energy, with special emphasis on sustainability.
    c. Improve the image of wood in construction by determining and challenging societal barriers to its wider acceptance and utilisation.