I’m just back from my week visiting Christiane in Austria. She lives in a small town in one of the national parks, a beautiful place ringed by majestic snow-capped mountains. As a woodworker, I’m always looking around me at trees and timber which in Austria make a wonderful sight. Almost all the houses are heated by a large tiled woodburner, no village is complete without a firewood merchant and everywhere are neatly stacked lengths of split hardwood. Equally impressive are the sawmills; on my first visit I could hardly believe the size of the timber yards with piles of logs 30ft or more high which took 10, 15 or even 20 seconds to pass by on the train.
All this comes from the well-managed forests, some of which we walked through during my stay. Beech, ash, birch and spruce dominate, all gun barrel straight and enough to make this green wood worker drool: cast your eye to any stand or firewood pile and there’s beautiful material for chairs, bowl carving, rakes, polelathe turning and anything else you can name.
Some of the reason for this is obviously the excellent management of this valuable resource but some is also probably in the numbers; the UK is two and a half times more densely populated than Austria which has a whopping 47% compared with the UK’s 12%.
Wonderful as it all sounds, I did feel there was something a little too managed and orderly about the woodland I saw – there was very little diversity of age or species in the stands and hardly any layer structure with smaller, scrub-like cover under the standards or ground flora. In short, not as messy as woodland in the UK; a reflection of our national characters?