£100k grant fund launched to increase value of woodlands and trees

logoAn exciting £100k package of business support opportunities that could increase the value of the South West forestry and timber industry is being offered to businesses through the SW Timber Business Development Programme.

The launch of the fund was announced by the Heart of the South West (HotSW) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) today.  The LEP is working with the Woodland Renaissance Partnership and the Forestry Commission to help businesses make better use of the region’s large area of underutilised and under managed woodlands.

According to the National Forest Inventory, which was carried out and published by the Forestry Commission earlier this year, the South West Region has nearly 60,000 hectares of conifer woodlands. With over 18 million cubic metres of standing conifer timber, this is more than any other region of England.

Tim Jones, Chair of HotSW, said: “South West forests are capable of sustainably producing 600,000 cubic metres of conifer timber every year for the next 25 years, and beyond. To support this, the region desperately needs to see an increase in its local sawmilling and timber processing capacity. If fully utilised, this timber could support a big increase in both large and small scale sawmilling, with the potential for over 1000 new jobs in timber processing and forestry management.

“At present most harvested timber is being transported long distance for processing, to locations such as north England, Wales and Germany. Whilst these markets have allowed many South West forest owners to sell their timber, the prices have been around 25% less than in the rest of the UK because of the high costs of transportation. This has held back the forestry sector, particularly in Devon and Cornwall.

“Now that we have good information about the availability of timber from the region’s forests, we are working with the forest industry and the Forestry Commission to help encourage investments from both existing and new businesses.”

The fund will help businesses wishing to make better use of wood as a renewable resource.  It will provide funds for specialist technical services as well as advice and training for entrepreneurial businesses that want to match a sustainable raw material with cutting edge technologies, new markets or more sustainable manufacturing.

Businesses will be assisted in identifying and sourcing the support of their choice.  Between 80 and 90% of the cost of the support will be paid for directly by the SW Timber Business Development Programme.

Nick Hoare, owner of Stourhead Estate in Wiltshire and Chairman of the South West Woodland Renaissance partnership said: “Despite producing some of the best quality timber in the UK, woodland owners in the South West have struggled for years to get good prices for their crops. As a result many of them have stopped harvesting or do the minimum necessary, leaving most of the timber standing beyond normal rotation lengths.

“Growing local demand for timber by encouraging saw millers to invest and expand in the south west is the key to developing the forestry sector in the region.  I’m delighted we’ve been able to secure the funding for this programme.”

Brendan Callaghan, South West Director of the Forestry Commission said: “This fund will help increase the value of our timber.  It will help owners generate a better return from their woodlands, which in turn, will mean the woodlands are managed in a more sustainable way for the environment, biodiversity and for future generations.”

David Sulman, Executive Director of the UK Forest Products Association, said: “We welcome this valuable initiative. South West England has a rich and varied timber resource and there is undoubtedly scope to add value to the commercial timber harvest. The opportunity for businesses to obtain advice and support from various professionals via this scheme could provide a catalyst for new developments.”

Businesses can apply for support through a simple, competitive, application process. Guidelines and the short application form are available to download from the Silvanus Trust website or contact jez.ralph@silvanus.or.uk 01752 846 400 for further details.

The closing date for applications is 5pm on December 3rd.

The SW Timber Business Development Programme is being offered by the SW Woodland Renaissance Partnership, working with HotSW and the Devon and Somerset Rural Growth Network. The programme builds on the recommendations from the ‘Opportunities to add value to SW home grown timber’ study (2012).