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Professor Richard Harris
Professor Richard Harris is leading the project at the University of Bath
Douglas Fir in South West forest
Douglas Fir is abundant in South West forests and is suitable for use as a structural timber

Press Release - 09 October 2008

How good is South West wood? Researchers investigate timber as a sustainable building material

Researchers from the South West are investigating whether wood grown in the region can be used more widely as a building material. Their results will enable the sustainable management of forests in the South West and make better use of this currently under-utilised resource.

Researchers from the University of Bath’s BRE Centre for Innovative Construction Materials are looking into the properties of local timber to assess its suitability as a sustainable building material.

South West woodland contains substantial amounts of Larch, Douglas Fir, Spruce and Western Red Cedar, all of which are species that can be used for structural timber. Their work will create vital information needed by businesses deciding to invest in regional timber industries.

The researchers will be analysing the wood structure by measuring its strength, density and microstructure to determine the extent to which it can be used for structural timber for floor joists, beams and columns. They will also assess possible future use in composites such as glue-laminated timber or Glulam, which is made using strips of timber bonded in layers to make beams and columns.

The quality of structural timber depends on the species of the trees, the local growing conditions and on how well the forest is managed. Professor Richard Harris at the University of Bath and Professor Nigel Curry of the University of the West of England (UWE) plan to draw together these data on forests across the South West into a database that can be used to predict the quality of the wood for structural use.

Professor Harris, of the University of Bath’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering is leading the project. He said: “Around 12% of the South West region is wooded and it currently provides an important resource for ecology, recreation and the economy.

“But for this resource to continue to benefit future generations, forestry must be economically viable within a framework of sustainable management.

“This project will identify how the properties of the wood relate to how and where it is grown, taking into account local growing conditions like altitude and distance from the sea. This will allow us to predict the quality of the wood, reducing wastage and making local timber a real economic benefit to the region.

“Timber can be used in the place of steel for beams and columns - it’s light-weight and more attractive. With the price of steel increasing, timber is an appealing sustainable alternative.”

Professor Curry, Director of the Countryside and Community Research Institute, added: “As well as allowing us to gain a fuller understanding of the potential of local timber in sustainable construction, we will be able to place a clearer value on timber production as an economic land use particularly in its multiple use context.

“We will be able to add construction potential to biodiversity, amenity and carbon sequestration values, which are already quite well understood”.

The three year project is being funded by Great Western Research, a research funding initiative set up by the South West Regional Development Agency to promote collaborations between research groups and businesses in the region.

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