Why is the timber used for UK construction deemed carbon neutral when it’s usually imported all the way from Scandinavia, Siberia or North America and converted into usable timber by non-renewable energy sources?
On a recent trip to Poland, I came across a truly zero carbon operation: locally felled trees that are cut into planks at a water-powered sawmill and consumed by the community.
Open on 2 sides, the sawmill serves a rural community in which some buildings are still made of spruce or hardwood and local timber is widely used for roof structures, doors, windows and internal details.
The sawmill is between Bialka and Bukowina Tatrzanska in the foothills of the Tatra mountains. Although the small undershot wheel doesn’t generate a great deal of power, it’s enough to drive a band saw which can plank a whole tree within minutes.
It struck me that it’s not only the Poles who like to save money, energy and the environment. As we move towards zero carbon housing in the UK, we could build new scaled-up water mills and restore derelict mills to produce sustainable timber for local consumption, using small-scale renewable energy. So the technology already exists to slash emissions in timber production to zero without having to buy carbon credits.
We have used water as a renewable energy source for thousands of years, mainly for milling corn. Did you know there are a handful of historic water-powered sawmills here in the UK? Indeed, the restored Gayle Mill in Wensleydale has 3 working water turbines. Some others are at Simonsbath on Exmoor and Gunton Sawmill in Norfolk. The only water-powered sawmill in Scotland is at Kirkdale near Dumphries.
Generating power from river flow for local sawmills could play its own small part in changing the landscape of timber production. It helps to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero, saves money and enhances the overall sustainability of wood. I am interested to learn of other examples of sustainable production technology.