In terms of prices paid for wood, sawmilling is the high value sector within the British forestry industry and it is to this end that most commercial woodlands are managed. The growth of this sector will parallel the increasing supply of British timber as increasing volumes of timber reach maturity. Current projections indicate that sawn softwood self-sufficiency is expected to peak at 50% by 2025, assuming sustained production of 15 million m roundwood per year.

Recent investment has made the latest British mills the technological equal of any in Scandinavia, Europe and North America.

The sawmilling sector in Great Britain is diverse in its size, organisation and ownership and serves a variety of markets - for example: construction material, timber frame construction, roofing, furniture, joinery, fencing, pallets, packaging and a wide range of components and assembled products.

Sawnwood for construction
© Forestry Commission

The sector competes against imported timber, which establishes price and quality levels. Current UK consumption of round and sawn timber stands at 19.6 million m3 with imports comprising 15.6 million m3 (without the bark).

All sawmill products are produced to exacting specifications; all are in demand from industry and all are essential for the economic success of the forest industry.

Economics and conservation considerations dictate that every part of the log is used. When a softwood sawlog enters a sawmill, only 50-55% emerges as sawn timber: some 7% is bark, 10% sawdust and 25-30% are wood chips. Similarly the processing of small roundwood for the manufacture of medium density fibreboard (MDF) and oriented strand board (OSB) also produces substantial quantities of bark.

The conversion of roundwood (logs) to sawn timber produces sawmill co-products, including wood chips, sawdust and bark. These valuable materials provide the raw materials for wood based sheet materials, including particleboard (wood chipboard) and paper and board products. Wood chips and sawdust are produced in accordance with specifications provided by the manufacturers of panel products and paper and board products.

Approximately 1 million cubic metres of bark is produced, processed and sold into the horticultural industry each year, much used for decorative mulching. Mulches suppress weeds and retain soil moisture.

Other uses of bark are many and varied, such as for play areas, equestrian surfaces and also for specialised applications for example, orchid cultivation. Increasingly fine bark is being composted and nutrients added to produce peat free growing media for grow-bags and potting composts.


  • FC Misc. Pub. Designing with timber. Anon (2001).
  • FC Misc. Pub. Life cycle assessment for construction products. Jo Mundy (2004).