Good with wood: An interview with Bruce Saunders, Managing Director of Saunders Seasonings

93% of all hardwood used in the UK is imported, yet over 5,000 mature trees are felled in London every year – oak, London plane, sycamore and ash, to name a few. Shockingly, most of these trees are chipped and burned.

This led Bruce Saunders to set up Saunders seasonings, an award-winning low carbon hardwood timber business, who supply us with beautiful furniture-grade timber with local provenance.   

Bruce Saunders in the timber yard.

In the lead up to Earth Day, we caught up with Bruce to find out more about the incredible work he is doing to save London’s felled trees from being destroyed.

What inspired you to start Saunders Seasonings?

I was looking for some timber for a furniture project but found that I couldn’t buy UK hardwood in London. Everything was imported.

It made me wonder if it might be possible to mill and reuse trees that had been felled (cut down) in the city. Almost all of these majestic trees were being chipped and burned, which seemed insane. I then discovered a tree which was being felled at a building development in Camden where I live and I was able to take the trunk, mill it and – 12 months of drying later – I had some beautiful timber to use!

What are the environmental benefits of recycling urban trees?

During their lives, trees absorb huge amounts of CO2 which-  by the magic of photosynthesis - they turn into wood. The problem is that if they are burned at the end of their lives, all this CO2 is released straight back into the atmosphere. But if the tree is turned into timber – which means milling it and drying it for up to a year – that carbon remains trapped in the wood. We estimate that saving a single mature tree is the equivalent of keeping a family car off the road for a whole year. 

Milling the trees into planks.

What are the biggest challenges you face? 

Saving urban trees is not always straightforward! 

Large trees need huge lorries to take them away and it’s not always easy getting them in and out of central London. Sometimes the trees aren’t in great condition – they may be rotten inside for example, or be full of nails or even bomb shrapnel! Despite this, the timber most trees yield is excellent quality and often more characterful than timber which has been grown for commercial purposes.

London Plane planks from N16 drying in the yard.

If you could communicate one message to the British population about trees and timber, what would it be?

That we should stop burning felled trees when we can give them a second life as furniture timber. It’s a crime that so many beautiful old trees are chipped and burned without a second thought, particularly when you consider that over 90% of the hardwood used in the UK is imported.

What do you enjoy most about working with urban timber?

The story behind individual trees, and how urban timber looks so different to rural timber- the rainbow colours and swirly character which result from trees growing to their full maturity in different soils.

We are excited that Bruce will be joining us for a panel discussion at Goldfinger 'From Tree to Table' for London Craft Week on 11th May, as we launch our new low-carbon furniture line. 

Find out more and book your spot here.