Oak Forestry & Sustainability

As a supplier or consumer of oak timber, it is likely that your knowledge of oak forestry and sustainability will be limited. While the value of the product itself is undeniable, its origins and route from source to end user can be shrouded in mystery. We live in an age where the evidence of man’s impact on the natural environment is all around us. It is not only our moral duty to use sustainable resources, not doing so can damage business and discourage customers. As with all natural resources, the amount of oak available is limited and must be managed carefully.

This doesn’t just mean avoiding excessive logging, what is used must be replaced and cultivated carefully to ensure future availability. Whereas in the past large scale deforestation was carried out with no care for the future, its long term impact is now well documented. Thankfully, European laws regarding sustainable forestry management are now far stricter and as a result European oak is the safest choice. However, there are still areas where this is only paid lip service at best and correct certification is the only way to be sure.

Effects of deforestation

1. Loss of biodiversity

A forest is much more than just a large stand of trees, hundreds of lifeforms coexist within it. A single oak tree can support over a hundred different species, from birds to fungi, insects and mosses. Large scale deforestation can deprive many species of their home and food source, with catastrophic results.

Oak Tree - Hardwoods Group

2. Damage to the water cycle

In a forested area, much of the local water is retained within the plants themselves. Once these are felled, the cycle is disrupted and water lost from the local cycle. The diminished water flow through the soil can lead to desertification and the death of other species.

3. Soil erosion

The drop in the local water table and a lack of cover from the missing forest canopy can lead to soil drying out and becoming loose. Nutrients will break down and not be replaced by decaying vegetation, preventing new plant growth. Subsequent rainfall can wash away the loose soil, which will not be replaced, preventing regeneration.

4. Climate change

Trees absorb Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen during photosynthesis. When they are gone, Carbon Dioxide remains in the air and destroyed vegetation will add to this as it decays. This can alter the temperature of the surrounding area, making further growth difficult, if not impossible. Large scale deforestation around the world can be a serious contributor to global climate change if left unchecked.

While it easy to offer assurances that a company only offers sustainable wood products from reputable sources, many customers want proof. There are two main bodies providing certification for European oak timber that guarantee its environmental sustainability.

FSC – the Forest Stewardship Council

Anyone working with wood on a commercial scale will probably recognise the FSC ‘tick tree’ logo. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro an agreement on methods to stop deforestation could not be reached. As a result, in 1993 the first FSC General Assembly was held in Toronto to find a practical solution. A voluntary system of certification to improve forestry standards worldwide was proposed and the FSC was born. The FSC is an independent, non profit organisation that acts as a monitoring body, outside of government, all over the world. This is done in two ways, forest certification and chain of custody certification.

FSC Certified - Hardwoods Group

Forest certification

This is based on the FSC’s 10 Principles Of Forest Management. These not only encompass replanting and harvesting in an environmentally responsible manner, but also address social and economic factors. The rights and fair treatment of workers must be upheld and impact on the economic wellbeing of local communities is assessed. Land rights and ownership rights of indigenous peoples must not be compromised. Negative environmental impact on the surrounding area must be avoided and all practices must comply with local and national laws and standards. Any international treaties and conventions that apply must also be obeyed.

These inspections are carried out to strict guidelines by independent organisations accredited by the FSC. This avoids any bias or personal interest affecting the outcome to give a truly independent assessment. Once these criteria are all satisfied FSC certification can be granted to the forest and any timber produced allowed to carry the FSC label and logo.

Chain of custody

To be sure that timber reaching the end user is genuinely FSC certified, chain of custody certification is also granted. To achieve this, any stage where the timber from an FSC forest is processed (e.g. cutting, packaging or manufacturing) must be audited separately. FSC accredited inspectors will assess the working practices of the company involved and issue certification if this complies with FSC standards. If each stage of processing complies, chain of custody certification will be granted. This not only guarantees that the timber comes from a certified source but that is has been treated in an environmentally sound manner at each stage.

PEFC – the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification

The PEFC was established as Pan European Forest Certification in 1999 as an independent umbrella organisation. Their aim was to provide assessment and endorsement to small and family owned forests and guidance in improving standards. In 2002 they produce the first PEFC Chain of Custody guidelines that were quickly endorsed in Europe. In 2003, Australia and Chile further endorsed these standards and the organisation gained global recognition. This resulted in a name change to reflect the programmes new global identity and aims. There are now forty countries around the world with PEFC endorsed national forest certification systems.

PEFC Certified - Hardwoods Groups

PEFC operates a ‘bottom-up’ approach to sustainable forest management, working with local organisations to create and improve national forest certification systems. Obviously, tropical forests and their ecosystems differ greatly from those in Europe and require different management systems. PEFC works to implement appropriate local systems whilst also complying with international standards. To do this, the stakeholders of the forests themselves are involved in the development of national standards. Once these are developed, they are rigorously assessed by third party assessors and if successful become PEFC endorsed. This means PEFC certified materials from anywhere in the world meet the same standards of sustainability and ethical production.

At Hardwoods group we care about the timber we supply. We are committed to sourcing our products from sustainable and responsibly managed hardwood forests. If you have any queries regarding the sources or certification of our product, get in touch.


Helpful Links

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Oak Behaviour In Structural Use

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