THIS newsletter - our first for several weeks - was supposed to be all about the APF exhibition. That was until Forestry Journal broke some rather devastating news yesterday about a Scottish sawmill; the best laid plans and all that. 

Boat of Garten is to close its doors by the end of the year, despite the attempts of politicians (not to mention Scotland's forestry minister) and the local community to save it. Officials have blamed the closure of the site, one of the oldest of the group’s seven sawmills in the UK, on a "global downturn across the industry", citing the war in Ukraine as one of the primary reasons for that. 

READ MORE: Boat of Garten sawmill loses fight to stay open as BSW confirms closure

It's all very bleak, but not unexpected. In August, BSW Group - which runs the mill - had confirmed the move was on the cards, subject to further review. Now, the priest has been called and the undertaker is on his way. 

Of the 40 people employed by the mill, it's unclear how many have lost their jobs. BSW only said it had honoured all redundancy agreements, but it is understood some staff will be moved to other parts of the business. Around 10 per cent will remain in situ until the end of the year to help wind down operations. 

All this raises a few important questions about the industry. Will the timber processed at Boat of Garten (56,000m³ of it, including Sitka spruce and Scots pine) be supplied from elsewhere, or is that even more lost? If it's the latter, how will this affect timber prices in the short term?

Importantly, just what is the current state of the sawmilling sector in the UK? 

Let's take it one at a time. In an announcement yesterday, Tony Hackney, CEO at BSW Group, said: "We wish to emphasise to our customers and suppliers that it is business as normal and that together we will prosper and become more resilient." No detail was given on how business will maintain as normal. 

As for prices, when Forestry Journal shared the news, several readers (including from Working Woodlands Cornwall) said something along the lines of: "How is there a global downturn with timber prices increasing and set to increase further?" That seems to be a common observation. 

Lastly, what does this all say about the current state of sawmilling? Well, in a year where many of the smaller firms have had to cope with losing their red diesel exemption, the bigger boys are also finding things tough.

At least that was the impression given to FJ by Euroforest and AW Jenkinson at the APF when we asked about that very question. 

“In general, the industry is in a really good place,” Simon Bullock, senior woodfibre manager at AW Jenkinson, said. “In this short window, we have the issues with supply and demand. The sawmills are a little bit quiet at the minute.” 

Mark Williams, director of operations at Euroforest, agreed, saying: “That’s because there’s been a downturn and there is a reduction in price, and low demand. The market, as we call it, isn’t fantastic at the moment. It will improve and high energy costs are causing a lot of those issues at the moment.” 

Forestry Journal: Simon BullockSimon Bullock (Image: FJ)

Both, however, did say they believed the issues were just short term, and sawmills would soon return to more normal levels. 

FJ will be attending (and later reporting on) tonight's South Scotland Scottish Forest & Timber Technologies Event where Neil Cowan will be giving an update on the sawmills.

It will be interesting to see what kind of picture he paints of the current situation - and whether or not Boat of Garten is just the start of things.

This piece is an extract from today’s Forestry Features newsletter, which is emailed out at 4PM every Wednesday with a round-up of the week's top stories. 

To receive our full, free newsletter straight to your email inbox, click here.