Shipping Timber: A Journey by Sea

From the dawn of human civilisation, timber has been one of the main building materials used in construction worldwide. Timber first made an appearance in early human shelters 10,000 years ago – chosen for its versatility, abundance as a natural resource and economic viability. Throughout history, we have adapted timber for a range of imaginative uses from tools and shelters, to boats, bridges and furniture.

In recent years, the threat of climate change has helped us recognise the advantages of choosing timber sourced sustainably over modern materials that require more energy for processing. As a Trust Port, we are very keen to do all we can to promote the sustainable use of forest products. Last year, our dedicated team handled over 450,000m3 of imported timber, a huge majority of which holds the FSC and PEFC certification. We also take pride in playing an active role in each stage of the timber journey on behalf of our customers to ensure efficiency and best industry practices every step of the way.

From source to sawmill 

shipping mapSawmills are the first destination on our imported timber’s journey. They are located in the country of origin and used to cut logs into ‘lumber’ using automated sawmills. As well as cutting the logs, the timber will also be graded, dried and packed using computerised systems for speed and efficiency. The sawmill will usually use the entire log including any of its waste products, such as bark, sawdust and woodchips for paper and fuel. 

Much of the timber coming through our lock gates has been shipped to us from the Scandinavian counties of Sweden and Finland and the Baltic countries of Latvia and Russia. The forestry and timber processing industry have a long history in Latvia, with forests covering more than 50% of the land and timber being one of Latvia’s top exports. In Sweden, the industry accounts for nearly 12% of the Swedish industries total employment, with an astounding 18.3 million cubic metres of sawn timber exported from Sweden in 2016. Click below to watch this fascinating video from our Finnish sawmill Versowood about the processes they use before their timber is shipped to us.

Timber types and processing

Wood being treatedTimber requires minimal processing compared to other building materials such as concreate and aluminium. This has benefits in terms of energy usage and speed. Some of our timber will need to be water treated to make it suitable for outside use and to protect the timber against decay - this process takes place at the sawmill before it gets shipped to us in Shoreham.

The main types of timber imported at Shoreham Port are ‘carcassing’ timber for the construction industry and joinery timber, with plywood now also being imported. Carcassing timber is strong and reliable and it is usually used to create the inside structure of buildings, alongside roofing battens and floor joists. Our imported joinery timber is a high-grade timber used for ‘second fix’ joinery – graded to be aesthetically pleasing, likely to be on display in skirting boards or furniture.

A low carbon sector

crane lifts timber out of shipSustainable timber has one of the least energy intensive processes compared to other building materials in terms of its processing, production and transport from forest to end user. Therefore, when responsibly sourced and with careful forestry management, the use of sustainable timber can help reduce the environmental impact of the construction industry and preserve forests for future generations. 

Timber is also a naturally renewable material, in comparison to the raw materials used in bricks and plastics for example. It is also very durable and has insulating properties which can further reduce the burning of fossil fuels to power our homes. We are very pleased that the majority of the timber that we handle for our customers is FSC and PEFC certified. Both these organisations are committed to the same cause of providing a global certification system that enables customers to identify and purchase wood from well-managed forests.

Interestingly, there are also huge environmental benefits associated with the coastal shipping of timber. This is because coastal shipping helps take lorry traffic off the roads and goes a long way to reduce road congestion and improve air quality. The sea journey also uses less fuel and produces fewer greenhouse gases. Take a look at this exciting footage of timber being unloaded earlier this month on our quay side here.


track-a-pack femaleA unique feature of our Port is the use of a state-of-the-art stock control system called Track-A-Pack. This digital system tracks all timber movements throughout the 2.5 km length of the Port. On discharge from the ship, each pack of timber has a unique barcode label attached to it, before being checked and put into storage.

The Track-A-Pack system utilises bar code and radio frequency technology which allows customers to view ‘real time’ information about their stock, recording movements with 100% accuracy and tracking the pack of timber from the moment it lands at Shoreham to the moment it leaves on a vehicle. It also provides an easy and accurate stock take facility and ensures the right product reaches the customer at the right time. This is particularly important to our customers who must adhere to the use of sustainably certified timber.

By utilising modern technology, we enable our customers to handle cargoes quickly and efficiently with a speedy turnaround. Our Port Operatives are also extremely experienced at handling many different types of timber, providing a first-class, highly adaptable service for our customers’ requirements.


storage sheds and timber We provide 47,938 sqm of high quality, purpose-built warehouse and covered storage space for our customers to store their timber before it gets distributed. Our highly experienced and dedicated Haulage department orchestrate the distribution of over 10,000m3 of timber products a week throughout the UK. Our storage facilities are particularly popular for storing redwood and joinery timber which needs to be kept dry. We also have a vast amount of space out on the quay for storing timber that is suitable for outside storage.


Final destination - products and customers

Timber Frame House (002)The timber we import will leave storage to be transformed into a vast array of different products and it will be used for a variety of purposes by our customers, from sleepers to fencing and high-end furniture to building frames.

Samantha Woskett, Head of Customer Relations & Logistics commented “The timber industry is steeped in history which has stood the test of time and proven itself as a modern, sustainable commodity vital for the construction industry and beyond. Each individual pack of timber that lands at Shoreham has undertaken a complex journey from forest to port with multiple high-tech processes in place to enable our customers to deliver the specific product the end user requires. We are very proud of the part the Port has to play in the timber industry and dedicate ourselves to high quality service levels for all our customers delivering on all respective requirements”.