natural forest of Britain is mostly temperate hardwood. However,
very little ancient forest survives. About 45% of the woodland that
did exist in 1945 has since gone. Although forest cover has been
increasing, until recently much of it was non-native conifer plantations.
Because of Britain’s great need for wood, the Government encouraged
this through generous tax allowances.
However, policy has changed and now grants are available to help
owners of broadleaf woodlands. Coed Cymru is an organisation which
provides training and advice to landowners on managing their woodlands
and producing timber for sale. It is funded through various local
and national government agencies, the EU and WWF.
The aim is to encourage ‘continuous forest management which
benefits the environment and the rural economy’. Since the
scheme started in 1986, management plans have been drawn up for
a total of 15,000 ha. Most of the woodlands were on farms and considered
as unproductive land. Others were degraded through over-grazing
by livestock. Coed Cymru is helping the landowners use ‘close
to nature’ forestry which preserves mixed age and mixed species
woodlands. As well as advising on improved sylviculture and felling
methods, they also help with obtaining grants and marketing. The
timber is of high quality but of smaller dimensions than usually
wanted by timber buyers (and smaller than much wood obtained from
tropical forests). This means that a specialist market is needed
where this wood will fetch a good price. Otherwise, the woodland
owners will not make enough profit to make it worth while. Coed
Cymru is now playing a central role in developing new products which
can make best use of the wood. At present, all this work is very
dependent on grants, but the timber producers themselves are beginning
to show a profit.