INDUSTRY leaders have broadly welcomed a new report into the UK's future softwood availability - but warned it shows more productive forests need to be planted now. 

Forest Research's National Forest Inventory (NFI) found the amount of softwood available on the UK forest estate is likely to increase in the next 20 years, before dropping back to near-current levels.

Around 15.1 million m3 of softwood will be available per annum between in 2022–26, which will then rise to 18.2m m3 per annum in 2037–41. This will then revert to 15.5m m3 from 2042 to 2046. 

Released last month, the report also detailed there is more standing volume than there was five years ago – 409m m3, up from 367m m3 in 2016 - and two thirds of the UK's current softwood availability can be found in Scotland (10.7m m3). England (3.5m m3), Wales (1.7m m3) and Northern Ireland (0.6m m3) made up the numbers. 

READ MORE: National Forest Inventory: Softwood availability likely to rise in the UK before dropping again

Noting the "positives" in the report, chiefs at trade body Confor have said the long-term outlook was further evidence the UK had to do more to reach its tree-planting targets. As of the latest annual figures, fewer than 14,000 hectares of new woodland were created across the country, well short of the annual 30,000 ha goal. 

Andy Leitch, deputy chief executive of Confor, said: "Overall, it [the NFI report] can be considered a positive picture, but it is a forecast and actual annual production will differ in relation to market conditions, owners' objectives and other factors.

"It is positive that there is more standing volume than there was five years ago – 409 million cubic metres, up from 367 million cubic metres in 2016.

Forestry Journal: Andy Leitch broadly welcomed the report Andy Leitch broadly welcomed the report

"This is likely to mainly be a result of predicted higher yields from improved spruce.

"However, the UK stocked area of standing conifers is slightly down, most likely as a result of restructuring and implementing the UK Forestry Standard in restocking plans. 

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"This reflects our expectations that softwood availability will dip in around 20 years and that we need to be planting productive forests now to make sure there is enough softwood available in future - especially as global timber demand is forecast to rise significantly at a time when wood is increasingly in demand for buildings, to decarbonise the construction industry."

Confor plans to co-host a webinar with Forest Research during September to explain more about the assumptions and outputs of the forecast.