DESIGNER and furniture maker, John Makepeace OBE, working with Woodland Heritage, has launched a brief via the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) aimed at harnessing broadleaved woodlands and their resources to increase their economic, social and environmental value.

One of nine challenges set within the RSA’s Student Design Awards for 2019–20, ‘Branching Out’ aims to encourage higher education students and recent graduates to explore innovative ways to utilise locally grown hardwoods, woodlands and their resources for the benefit of people, place, environment and the economy.

“We are looking for surprising and sustainable design proposals to increase the value of woodlands and/or make clever use of the materials produced,” said Guy Corbett-Marshall of Woodland Heritage.

“The successful entrant will consider how their plans benefit the woodland, the ecosystem and the local economy; they will have considered the economic viability of the idea and potential routes to market, particularly if the proposal is a product. All entrants are encouraged to consider a specific young woodland (probably one aged between 10 and 30 years old and of at least 5 acres), or a specific type of hardwood to contextualise the solution.”

The brief is set against a backdrop of over 40 per cent of UK woodlands being under- or unmanaged, with the prospect that the ‘Net-Zero’ proposal could see billions more trees being planted over just a few decades, all of which will add to the management burden, unless more economically viable products can come from this management and especially the thinnings that will result.

With most students coming from non-forestry backgrounds, getting to see a local woodland being managed and understanding how products can be used is a vital first step in preparing for the challenge. Students from Brunel University had their first introduction to woodland management last month courtesy of Oxfordshire Woodland Group, where the students were able to see small-diameter wood used as rafters in a cruck barn made entirely of timber sourced from the wood in which it stands. This is the first cruck framed structure of its kind to be raised in Oxfordshire in over 500 years.