FORESTRY and Land Scotland (FLS) is developing a process to maximise the recovery of wood fibre from forestry sites.  

Wood fibre can include round timber such as logs, harvest residue such as branches and treetops and even immature trees, such as those that have to be felled in order to deal with diseased forest trees.

In the past, some of this residual material has been recovered to some extent but thanks to work done by Forest Research (FR), FLS is looking to put even more of this material to use.

Mark Crowley, FLS's forest management support officer, said: “There is certainly significant potential for more fibrous material to enter the timber processing sector, where it can be used to manufacture timber products, such as boards for construction or woodfuel pellets, which are providing an increasing contribution to Scotland's economy.

“Collecting the material efficiently and sustainably, in ways that won’t adversely impact soil fertility or degrade the soil, requires a very detailed understanding of site and soil management and recent work that we have commissioned from Forest Research is helping us to model our approach.”

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Deciding which sites are suitable and can sustain fibre recovery requires a complex analysis of a range of factors, including the soil type that is present, the tree species being felled and future plans for the site.

As well as helping to support the local economy and sustain jobs, gathering material from these sites makes them easier and safer to traverse on foot and also and means that less intensive soil cultivation techniques can be used when it comes to replanting.  

However, there are other sites where removing the woody material and the needles in brash, which contain a lot of stored nutrients, could lead to infertility by not being left to break down and gradually re-enrich the soil. Other factors that will be considered before removing any material include the potential to cause ground damage, soil acidity and soil carbon loss.

Mark added: “This is a typical example of sustainable forestry through adaptive management – we’re learning and adapting as we work our way through this process.

“But by combining FR guidance and operational considerations we can refine the technique of site assessment and help meet the growing demand for usable wood fibre.”

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