Sustainably supplying native beech

Southland beech panels below the kauri cone of the Supreme Court in Wellington. Photos supplied.
Southland beech panels below the kauri cone of the Supreme Court in Wellington. Photos supplied.
A Southland maple beech (Nothofagus Menziesii) forest.
A Southland maple beech (Nothofagus Menziesii) forest.

New Zealand's largest supplier of Southland beech for the residential and commercial construction market is seeing increasing acceptance of the use of the native timber by architects.

While architects and homeowners may have been showing reluctance in using some native species, Southland beech is harvested by Lindsay and Dixon under a Ministry of Primary Industries sustainable management plan and carries independent certification from the Forestry Stewardship Council.

The fine-grained medium-density hardwood has featured recently in finishings in the Supreme Court building in Wellington, Air New Zealand's Koru lounge in Christchurch and Auckland's Novotel Hotel.

Tuatapere-based sawmiller Lindsay and Dixon, in western Southland, is a Southland beech supplier certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. It

accounts for 80% of the sawmilling output of all native timber in the country.

The company recently commissioned a survey of architects to determine if there were concerns undermining the use of Southland beech, traditionally known as silver beech and also sold as maple and cherry beech, Lindsay and Dixon's managing director, Bernie Lagan, said the architects surveyed about using indigenous timber had highlighted the need to protect native trees and also raised concerns about habitat destruction.

''We found that the opportunity to specify native timber was often muddied by a general trend to avoid native timber.

''People feared for their business reputation and wanted to be regarded as an environmentally friendly business,'' he said.

Lindsay and Dixon's permissible annual harvest volume is 23,628 cu m, of all species and log grades, which equates to a sustainable yield extraction volume of 1.8%, the international standard being 10% of a forest stock.

Timber totalling an estimated 1.32 million cu m is taken from seven blocks in the Longwood and Rowallan forests, which are second-generation regenerating forests covering 11,582ha in Southland.

Of the 23,628 cu m, Southland beech is the mainstay species of the 40-person sawmill, accounting for 90% of all its milled timber.

The company produces mouldings and furniture-grade timber, tongue and groove flooring, panels, some laminating and also wood for processing elsewhere into veneer.

Mr Lagan said up to about 20% of the beech was exported, generally to Japan, Australia or Malaysia.

The use of Southland beech was widespread during the past century for flooring, cladding and framing in many Southland and Otago houses and cottages, alongside matai, totara and rimu.

Controversially, in the mid-1990s the government placed a ban on the export of Southland beech chips, which had been destined for pulping.

Mr Lagan said in order to make the most of each log milled, any byproduct and offcut beech was chipped for domestic use, generally for dairy farm pads.

The rights to mill the Southland beech go back 107 years.

From the 1906 South Island Landless Natives Act, the Waitutu iwi were awarded land which was later gifted back to the Crown because of its virgin podocarp value, in exchange for cutting rights over the regenerating Western Southland beech forests.

''The link to the Waitutu iwi and their absolute right to derive an income from their land is a sharp contrast to what many architects thought to be the case,'' Mr Lagan said.

He understood the international environmental accreditation from the Forestry Stewardship Council was the first achieved for a managed native forest in New Zealand or Australia.


The agreement

Waitutu, the local Maori iwi, through its Waitutu Holding Company has a contractual forestry agreement with the Government for the cutting rights over the Longwood and Rowallan forests of Western Southland, in perpetuity. Sawmiller Lindsay and Dixon has a 100-year contractual forestry agreement with the Waitutu Holding Company to sustainably manage and harvest the resource.


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