Importing tropical hardwoods is unsustainable so alternatives need to be found, writes Diana East, of Sidmouth Arboretum.

Sidmouth Herald: Bob with Ben Porter and Arboretum Chair, Jon Ball. Picture: Diana EastBob with Ben Porter and Arboretum Chair, Jon Ball. Picture: Diana East (Image: All rights reserved)

Members of Sidmouth Arboretum were welcomed to an experimental woodland recently, a great day out which offered a new perspective on our planting plans for the Sid Valley.

Bob Chard is a frequent visitor to Sidmouth Science Festival and museum, though his home is a five-acre woodland on a south facing slope in the Blackdown Hills.

Bob describes his land as derelict when he bought it, and he explained how the planting of trees has enabled the restoration of the soil, created an unusual woodland habitat, and ameliorated the flood risk to the Parrett valley.

In the past, the Forestry Commission woodland grant scheme has concentrated on the use of native species; oak, beech, hazel, etc.

Sidmouth Herald: Logging Having a go!Logging Having a go! (Image: Archant)

Over recent years, as the demands of climate change have become clearer, then it has been possible to include a wider range of species such as sweet chestnut, Norway maple, hickory and walnut in the grant applications.

Bob’s wood is now home to this rich variety of trees which have the potential to flourish in the warm, well drained, hillside and, when mature, to provide income as hardwood crops.

Bob is passionate about growing hardwoods.

He said: “This is a low risk, long term, investment with multiple benefits.

“At present, Britain imports more than 80 per cent of timber requirements.

“Our importation of tropical hardwoods is unsustainable in the UK for economic cost, conservation, and carbon emissions reasons.

“We need to grow our own, to offer new crops, new products for the 21st century.

“The trees we need to grow in the UK can be called Tropical Hardwood Importation Substitution trees (THIS trees for short).

Some THIS trees are already claimed to be profitable to grow, including for example wild cherry and hybrid walnuts, said to yield seven per cent return on investment; but they cannot be grown everywhere.”

The Arboretum team were joined by Ben Porter, a leading member of the Somerset branch of the Royal Forestry Society, whose commercial interest in forestry is the growing of hardwood timber for Classic Canes.

The adage ‘the wood that pays is the wood that stays’ has been true for generations.

Trees can be selectively bred to produce higher timber yields, making them more economically viable and therefore more attractive to anyone planting trees for timber.

The government have declared their intention to increase the woodland cover – tree planting grants are available.

Indeed, East Devon District Council is working with Devon Wildlife Trust to apply for Trees Outside Woodland funding.

This project follows on from The National Forest survey and a report from University of Oxford Department of Plant Sciences noting “Many trees do not grow in woodland, but are found singly, in hedgerows and in parks and gardens, or as small groves in an agricultural landscape.

“These trees are no less valuable than larger woodland.”

This is music to the ears of Sidmouth Arboretum who do not own land but actively encourage tree planting.

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