The EU has some 177 MHa of forest and other wooded land. Wood is by far the most important forest product but not all forests are focused on wood production and only two thirds of annual wood growth is used for building, furniture, other life-style products, or energy. Non-wood forest products such as resin or cork are also important. Some other raw materials that don’t come from forests, are also needed in the production of wood and paper products. Latex, starch, and formaldehyde are the most significant ones.
- EU forests - most EU forests are boreal (northern) forests with a few mainly coniferous tree species, or temperate forests with a variety of mainly broadleaved tree species in the lowlands with more coniferous trees in the uplands.
- Wood - broadly speaking, wood is classified as being coniferous or non-coniferous, as well as boreal, temperate, or tropical. Tropical trees do not grow in the EU, except in the French overseas Departments.
- Timber volume - the estimated standing timber volume of EU forests in 2010 was 24 484 Mm³ and annual wood growth or net annual increment (NAI) is 775 Mm³. Of this amount, only about 433 Mm³ or 56% was harvested in 2010, of which 340 Mm³ was industrial round wood and 93 Mm³ was fuel wood (source: Eurostat).
- Harvest - the gap between annual wood growth and the amount harvested explains why EU forests are accumulating growing stock and also ageing. is the EU has the potential to harvest more wood from its forests and various estimates have been made as to how much more wood could be removed on a sustainable basis.
- Limitations to harvesting - several constraints apply which make these calculations difficult, including legal restrictions, technical and economic limitations for harvesting, and the awareness and motivation of forest owners. One example is the Natura 2000 system, with limitations but by no means a blanket prohibition on wood harvesting. This system covers 21 % of all EU forests.
- Availability - in 2015, the Commission’s Joint Research Centre will launch an overall study to estimate the sustainable availability of wood and other types of biomass. This study will take account of the above-mentioned limitations – see the Raw material initiative.
Non-wood forest products and services (NWFP)
In many regions of the EU, non-wood forest products and services can be important for the local economy.
- Cork is produced from cork oak trees. Cork trees are concentrated in Portugal, the world's biggest producer of cork material, and Spain. Some production is also based in France, Italy, and Greece. Cork material, which consists of the outer bark of the tree, is usually stripped from the age of about 22 years and thereafter every nine years, depending on local conditions. For more information:
- Resin is another non-wood product. It is harvested as the sap of coniferous trees, usually pines. It is collected by making cuts in the bark and placing a receptacle below the cuts, in the same way that natural rubber is collected. The collection of resin used to be much more widespread as it was used in chemicals, varnishes, and solvents. Nowadays it is limited to some Mediterranean areas. Resin collection reduces tree growth but also the risk of fire.
- Tall Oil is a viscous yellow-black odorous liquid obtained while pulping coniferous trees. This specific residue from chemical pulping processes is a rich source of natural chemicals for paints, varnishes, and medicinal compounds. The demand for tall oil as a raw material has been increasing.
- Taxol is a natural medicine from the bark of yew trees that has cancer-fighting properties. As it can be artificially synthesised, yew trees are rarely illegal cut down anymore. More information:
Other raw materials used by the forest based industries
The forest based industries also use materials other than wood in their manufacturing. The principal ones are:
- Resins and adhesives – these are used in making wood-based panels, for example to bind together the alternating lamellae of plywood. Many widely used adhesives are based on various combinations of urea-formaldehyde and/or polyurethane. Formaldehyde has recently been listed under REACH as a carcinogen and its use may be restricted and replaced with less toxic adhesives.
- Surfacing and coating - many wood-based materials are covered with other materials for a more pleasing aesthetic effect. They may also be coated to enhance their protection against wear or moisture. The latter is most often achieved by using paints and varnishes. Some wood-based panels, such as particleboard, can be rendered water-resistant by applying a surface layer of polyurethane.
- Latex - liquid natural rubber can be added to the surface of paper to improve its strength and printability.
- Starch and kaolin – these are used in the body of paper to improve strength, printability, smoothness, and water-resistance.
- Solvents - solvents are used in the manufacturing processes of EU forest based industries, especially in the printing industry. While printing inks are increasingly water-based to improve the recyclability of printed paper, organic solvents are still needed for lubrication and cleaning.