From Timber to Trees

The Wood Technology Society
30 Sep 2019

Dr Martin Ansell presenting Recent Advances in Wood Science and Timber Engineering


WTS Board Member, Bronia Stefanowski, reports on her attendance at the recent and very lively "From Timber To Trees" conference hosted by Edinburgh Napier University.

There were 3 guest speakers – Annie Pollock, Mila Duncheva and Martin Ansell

1st Speaker – Dr Annie Pollock B Arch (Hons) Dip LA, MCLI
Title – How trees and shrubs can contribute to improving poor air quality

Key points – Facts about air quality, described a case study showing how trees/shrubs are good buffers against pollution but highlighted that some species are much better suited to the task than others. Speaker also pointed out some conflicting evidence but went on to describe the complexity of such studies as the urban environment vary significantly and that species selection and vegetation barriers need careful design.

Notes – This was a very interesting topic and provoked plenty of discussion from the audience. Many in the audience described their own streets and noticing differences in vegetated areas and un-vegetated areas. Discussed the need for education in better urban area design, tree silviculture and then subsequent education in tree maintenance/care. Without adequate maintenance, tree begin to pose different risks in health and safety but could be cultivated in such a way that, when cut, the wood could be of use.

2nd Speaker – Dr Mila Duncheva
Title – Timber products for retrofit in the UK – Market potential, applications analysis and next steps

Key points – Part of a research programme (The Wood Products Innovation Fund) investigating opportunities for the application of timber products in the built environment in Scotland – Four key work streams (on presentation). Speaker gave an overview of the project and the UK retrofit market, provided case studies and research on retrofit being carried out. Described that retrofit includes changing air tightness, moisture barriers and improved insulation. Discussed the strengths of such retrofits as well as its weakness including how changes in policies can affect the availability and opportunities for retrofitting buildings. Some case studies successful retrofits and other were the inappropriate materials were used, resulting in structural damage and health and safety issues. Finished talk highlighting the opportunity and many benefits of using wood based materials and need for more investigation into new timber products.

Notes – This talk gave rise to many discussing new materials available for the retrofit market and were the market is lacking. Again the need for public education was discussed as there are new materials available but the information and “word to spread” takes time. Also highlighted that architects, builders etc need to take responsibility and better care when buildings are retrofitted. This will ensure that the work will last and not result in subsequent problems such as damp build up and mould. The audience also talked about the use of other bio-based materials, not just wood, including straw and wool.

3rd  Speaker – Dr Martin Ansell
Title – Recent advances in wood science and timber engineering

Key points – Described some lesser known, scientific research areas and advancements in wood science. This included X-ray scanning, robotics, carbide composites, nano-wood based materials and 3D printing of wood fibre Biocomposites. Speaker then went on to describe how these advances have aided to timber engineering. Other examples included new technology in timber grading, hybrid structures and upcycling wood.

Notes – Some wonderful examples of just what is possible to build/create with timber! From wonderful artistic structures, unique buildings to boats and musical instruments. A good talk to finish on, emphasising that even though wood has been used by humans for thousands of years, we are still learning what is possible and how important it is for research and experimentation with wood to continue.


Conference organiser, Dan Ridley-Ellis adds a thank you to everyone who was able to come along to the seminar – and extra thanks to the speakers,
(ppts available on request -
And here are some additional links you may like to look at:
A short open access journal paper on urban forest ecosystem services
An open access journal paper about challenges for urban tree officers in the UK