THE BEAUTY OF BRI­TISH WOOD

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Front Page -

Many of us now ap­pre­ci­ate lo­cally grown veg­eta­bles, fruits and flow­ers. Hope­fully more of us will soon ap­pre­ci­ate Bri­tish grown tim­ber. There is a strong move­ment afoot to pro­mote the use of home-grown tim­ber, which in re­cent years has de­clined. This will help us grow, man­age and en­joy our wood­lands. In Bri­tain, we grow three durable na­tive hard­wood tim­bers, oak, sweet ch­est­nut and yew, all of which can be su­perb for gar­den use. Fenc­ing, build­ings, bridges, deck­ing made par­tic­u­larly from oak or sweet ch­est­nut are ex­cel­lent for cre­at­ing a very dif­fer­ent look and feel to the miles of im­ported larch­lap panel fenc­ing that is thrown up every­where. This mass-pro­duced fenc­ing does not be­long and of­ten does not last. An­other home-grown wood­land prod­uct hazel, though not durable, is sus­tain­able and one that we of­ten use to fur­nish our gar­dens. Un­til the Fifties, there was much man­aged and pro­duc­tive cop­pice wood­land in Bri­tain (mostly sweet ch­est­nut and hazel), but since then much has been ne­glected. The same is true of much of our wood­lands which have be­come rel­a­tively un­eco­nomic due to com­pe­ti­tion from im­ported tim­ber. Grown in Bri­tain is an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is work­ing to high­light the im­por­tance of man­ag­ing our wood­lands, be it a patch at the bot­tom of your gar­den or a square mile of for­est, so that they can be used for recre­ation and for pro­duc­tiv­ity. It is try­ing to change the fact that cor­po­ra­tions can in­vest in for­eign wood­lands to off­set their car­bon foot­print but not in­vest in wood­lands here, which seems non­sen­si­cal. Grown in Bri­tain aims to make us aware of the many prod­ucts from the wood­land as well as the won­der­ful po­ten­tial of wood­lands for bio­di­ver­sity and for their amenity value. Ed Sut­tie is a mem­ber of its de­liv­ery team and is ex­cited about the launch of the National Cop­pice Fed­er­a­tion this Oc­to­ber. This is a new body that will make lo­cally pro­duced, cop­piced wood more avail­able for end users such as gar­den­ers and de­vel­op­ers. A fab­u­lous cop­piced prod­uct for gar­dens is cleft ch­est­nut pales. Cleft tim­ber is split along the grain as op­posed to be­ing sawn. It’s usu­ally longer last­ing than sawn and does not split or warp as the cells are not sliced through but pulled apart. One of my favourite de­tails for screen fenc­ing is one which I first saw used at the Palace of Ver­sailles to screen a work­ing area from an in­for­mal wood­land path. It con­sists of small, par­al­lel ver­ti­cal tri­an­gu­lar sweet ch­est­nut pal­ings which are cleaved from the cir­cu­lar trunk so you end up with wedges of wood. They had al­ter­nately stag­gered the height of the tops and added finials to the posts. It was all stained dark green and looked chic not rus­tic. Talk­ing to Toby Allen from Say It With Wood, which spe­cialises in sweet ch­est­nut and oak fenc­ing, he ex­plained that the French have a more ex­ten­sive, or­gan­ised sweet ch­est­nut in­dus­try and they of­ten ma­chine fin­ish it to give it a less rus­tic feel. He also sur­prised me by say­ing that a high, non-see-through ch­est­nut fence can work out at a sim­i­lar price to an im­ported larch­lap panel. The other huge ben­e­fits are that it lasts longer and has a far bet­ter look. Toby also sup­plies oak laths, just 5mm thick by 130mm wide (20p per lin­ear foot). Four­teen years ago, I made a wo­ven fence from th­ese by weav­ing the ver­ti­cal laths be­tween the hor­i­zon­tal laths to make an al­most solid fence. It is still in fine fet­tle now. Most as­sume it is eas­ier and cheaper in the short term to throw up mass-pro­duced, im­ported fences and build­ings rather than tak­ing a bit more thought and sourc­ing some lo­cal ma­te­ri­als. The char­ac­ter and longevity that a tra­di­tional, home-grown fence adds to the Bri­tish coun­try­side scene is part of our her­itage. Or as Richard Bow­ers of The World of Cleft puts it, “they are part of the Ar­ca­dian frame­work of the bu­colic coun­try­side”. Richard started his com­pany, Win­ter­borne Zel­ston Fenc­ing Ltd, which spe­cialises in tra­di­tional home­grown fenc­ing and build­ings, about 25 years ago. He is pas­sion­ate about Bri­tish wood­lands and the tim­ber from them. “Sweet ch­est­nut is the Rolls-Royce of tim­ber for fenc­ing,” he says. His mother-in-law has a ch­est­nut pale fence which has been there since 1930 and it still looks good. He has cre­ated beau­ti­ful bridges, many dif­fer­ent tra­di­tional gates in­clud­ing my favourite “Dorset Rod” gates, duck and hen houses and much, much more. Richard knows canny ways to sort prob­lems, such as bang­ing in rose head nails at reg­u­lar cen­tres to make deck­ing or bridge walk­ways less slip­pery, rather more at­trac­tive than chicken wire. Richard uses much home-grown green oak, (oak that is un­sea­soned with a higher mois­ture con­tent than kiln or air dried oak). This is about 40 per cent more ex­pen­sive than soft­wood but lasts far longer. My first port of call with any tim­ber re­lated query is the Tim­ber Re­search and De­vel­op­ment As­so­ci­a­tion (Trada). Ap­par­ently yew, al­though durable, is not of­ten used as it has a strange grain pat­tern due to all the knots (where branches join the trunk) which can re­sult in it bend­ing as it slowly dries out. Oak and sweet ch­est­nut, though, are ex­tremely durable and they do not need treat­ing. In any case th­ese woods are so dense that pre­serv­ing chem­i­cals can­not

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