By Andrew Heald, technical director Confor.

2015 is set to be a crucial year for forest certification in the UK, not only is UKWAS undergoing review and revision, but so is the FSC Chain of Custody scheme, used by nearly 3000 companies in the UK.

FSC supply at critical levels.

The most fundamental issue, however, may be the ability of some UK sawmills to secure the volumes of FSC certified wood they require to label all their output as certified.

Currently, the vast majority of mills in the UK sell most of their material as ‘FSC mix’ (whether their customers specifically request it or not). This means that the mill has to secure at least 70% of its supply as FSC certified with the remainder classified as ‘Controlled Wood’. As consumption of wood raw material has increased and the share of supply coming from the (100%) certified public estate has reduced, the proportion of FSC wood has reduced for some mills, especially those in the eastern part of Scotland and northern England.

As some mills have drifted down towards the 70% threshold they have offered a premium to owners if they have their forest certified. Several forest owners have rejected this offer on the grounds that certification is “too much hassle” and they believe they can sell their wood without a certificate.

If a mill drops below 70% certified wood supply, then it will have to change its labelling. In very simple terms it can no longer label all its output as FSC mix. Instead, it can only label the proportion of its products that originate from certified sources. So, if a mill currently receives 7000t of FSC input and 3000t of UK produced controlled wood then it can label all its output as FSC Mix. However, if the mill drops to 6000t of input as FSC certified, then only 6000t of its output can be labelled as certified. In this case, the volume of certified product is instantly reduced by 40%, including the co-product that would go to panel board mills or energy markets.

While few customers explicitly state a continuing requirement for certified product, there is a real expectation on their behalf that the product they buy will have evidence of sustainability and legality, and certification is the primary means for demonstrating that. With at least a 30% drop in certified product, a mill that falls below the 70% threshold will have to check who of their customers, will or will not accept uncertified or controlled wood, and if required, what additional evidence will need to be provided to their customer to meet their requirements.

Confor lobbies for change in FSC.
This issue is just one of a number arising from certification. Confor joined FSC International two years ago and beefed up its team with the employment of Andrew Heald in response to reports of increasing problems and evidence that the industry had to be more actively engaged with FSC.

Confor hosted two major meetings in 2014 with the UK forest and timber industry, and identified a number of key issues, and proposed solutions that have been communicated directly to FSC, and to UKWAS.

Confor is also responding to the main FSC consultations mentioned at the start of this article, and is taking a key role on behalf of industry in the UKWAS drafting committee. Andrew Heald has also been appointed as a director of UKWAS, representing the Economic Chamber and the concerns of the industry.

Clearly any radical change will prompt concern amongst groups involved in UKWAS and FSC that we are trying to significantly lower standards. In order to explain what we propose and why, we will be meeting with key organisations to explain the real challenges the industry faces and to explain our proposals.

We believe it is essential that the very real and growing concerns of the industry are addressed by those running voluntary certification schemes and that the solutions really are proportionate to “scale, intensity and risk”. As a sector we have a very strong story to tell about sustainability, it would be wrong if the principal means to demonstrate that story became so costly and bureaucratic that it undermined the practice of responsible forestry.

Confor working for change.


  • April Initial forest industry certification meeting in Edinburgh.
  • September Certification debate at APF show
  • September Confor presented a Motion at the FSC General Assembly, calling on audit costs for small forest owners to be reviewed.
  • November UK Forest Certification summit, with representations from across the industry.
  • December Industry concerns and priorities presented to FSC UK.


  • January Confor responds to consultations on FSC Chain of Custody and future strategy.
  • January Confor meets with PEFC to raise highlight industry concerns.
  • February Confor meets FSC to highlight industry concerns.
  • March Confor hosts Westminster conference on certification and the future of the forest industry.

Letter to the Editor

Certification: a sense of déjà vu

Having been a director of IGO in 1997 I read Andrew Heald’s article in the October edition of FTN (Time for a fresh approach, p13) with a dispirited sense of 17 years déjà vu.

I feel a little history might set some of the talk around FSC into context.

During my year’s ‘tour of duty’ the majority of every meeting was taken up with discussing drafts of the proposed standard and wondering why on earth a scheme brought into being to try to stop illegal logging in South American and SE Asian rainforest had any applicability to British woodlands. After all these years it has not stopped the former and, in my view, still has none in the latter.

Unfortunately, B&Q, followed by many others, latched onto the scheme as a sales gimmick for its tropical hardwood furniture, no doubt egged on by the pressure groups which then pushed for it to apply to all British-grown timber too, with the results we see here now.

Even at this very beginning it was clear that the ‘green’ lobby was doing its utmost to add every single complication, almost all of which had nothing to do with ‘sustainability’, as most people understand the word, but everything to do with left liberal thinking and policy and we see from the article that their efforts towards ever increasing bureaucracy continue.

As to manufacturers being concerned where their certified supplies are going to come from, I feel they should not hold out much hope of an increase in area as I suspect that almost everyone who wishes to certify will by now have done so and those who have not will take all possible measures to avoid yet more form-filling and semi-governmental intrusion. Their only hope I suggest may be that a younger generation of owners who have been brain-washed into accepting a form filled life, will one day be happy to sign up.

I think it is fair to say that most of us thought at its inception in Great Britain that it was a complete and pointless waste of effort and I still do.

Christopher Pound

First published in The Scotsman, July 4th, 2020.