Timber company’s campaign for more tree planting in Wales bears fruit

A Welsh Assembly report calling for Wales to become self-sufficient in timber has been welcomed by the UK’s biggest manufacturer of fence posts.

The report from the influential Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee comes after a concerted campaign launched last year by Ruthin-based Clifford Jones Timber.

They said that the Welsh timber industry’s 11,000 jobs were being put at risk as the failure to meet planting targets in the last 20 years threatened to turn Wales into a tree-free zone.

It brought visits to the company’s Ruthin headquarters by Welsh Environment Minister Lesley Griffiths and the Conservative Rural Affairs spokesman Paul Davies and to the subject being raised in the Senedd by Clwyd West AM Darren Millar.

Now the Committee’s newly-published report includes a recommendation to agree ambitious targets with the forestry sector for Wales to become increasingly self-sufficient in timber.

Richard Jones, chairman of Ruthin-based Clifford jones Timber, said: “We’re delighted at the committee’s recommendations and the fact that they seem at last to be taking the timber sector seriously.

“So they should. It employs 11,000 people in Wales and contributes over £450 million to the economy and it could contribute much more because the demand is there to double our output.

“For that reason an on-going programme of commercial timber planting is vital for the survival and future growth of our industry.

“Back in the 1970s we were planting over 7,000 acres of trees every year – in recent years it’s been less than 250 and this is a crop that takes 20 years plus to grow to maturity.

“We have lost over 40,000 acres of forestry in the last 15 years – that’s an area one and a half times the size of Liverpool – and that needs to be replaced if our timber industry is to survive.”

The other recommendations in the report include the need for greater clarity on how to use trees as a nature-based solution to flooding, ensuring a minimum of 20 percent tree cover in Wales’ towns and cities by 2030, increased access to public woodlands and a National Forest Company to help regenerate the south Wales valleys.

At the top of the list though is an urgent call to the Welsh Government to refresh its woodland strategy with the aim of significantly increasing planting rates.

The report states: “The refreshed strategy must include long term targets for woodland cover and must incorporate commercial forestry.”

It also says that the Government must address the barriers to increasing planting, in particular by aligning the regulatory and funding processes, and providing additional guidance and support to applicants with a presumption of approval for applications in areas identified as having a high suitability for woodland.

Committee Chair Mike Hedges, Labour AM for Swansea East, said the Committee had visited woodlands across Wales to learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing woodland owners and managers in Wales, and to consider how everybody in Wales can benefit from our trees and forests.

He said: “Since 2010, we have seen only one tenth of the Welsh Government’s tree planting target by 2030 met, and we know that the main barriers to meeting this are regulatory and financial, with a perception amongst investors that Wales is closed for business when it comes to woodland creation.

“Our report found that there is great potential in Wales to plant more trees and create more woodlands, and to meet demand for timber that exists in other parts of the UK.

“We know that the demand for home-grown timber is set to rise as the construction industry works to reduce its carbon footprint.

“Creating more woodland will bring a wide range of benefits to us all. Our trees, forests and woodlands have the potential to be enjoyed by many more people living in Wales, to revitalise our landscapes as well as contributing to our economy.”

Clifford Jones Timber, which employs over 80 staff, processes over 100,000 tons of timber a year at Ruthin and at its plant at Gretna, in Scotland, makes 2.5 million fence posts, also produces laminated timber for the construction and leisure industries, fuel logs, gates and garden furniture and the residue goes to make over 25,000 tons of pellets and briquettes for everything from biomass to barbecues.

They kiln-dry timber to improve preservative penetration on their treated timber, using on-site kilns powered by their own wood fuel, and sell kiln-dried logs – the offcuts from the fence posts.

Richard Jones added: “Our business is very efficient, we maximise what we can recover from the timber we purchase, we don’t produce a ‘waste’ product, everything is utilised. Because of the shortage of home grown timber we have to make the most of everything we buy.

“We are constantly looking at ways of diversifying so that we get the maximum from the timber we bring in through the gates but that is in increasingly short supply because of lack of investment since the 1990s.

“Only just over 200 acres were planted last year but we need to be planting 50,000 acres a year to meet long-term targets set by the Welsh Government.

“There’s a huge market for our timber. Every sawmill in Wales would double or treble production if the timber was there to feed that mill.”

Clifford Jones Timber was founded in 1948 and is now headed by Richard Jones and commercial director Sarah Jones-Smith, his sister, the third generation of the family.

They send shipments of their fence posts as far afield as the Falkland Islands while other clients for their timber products have included Center Parcs, a luxury treehouse builder, award-winning vineyards and a deck-chair company.

For more on Clifford Jones Timber go to http://www.cjtimber.com/