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WoodTech project for University of Lincoln and Elsoms

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Agri-TechE

New WoodTech to support the modernisation of tree nurseries will benefit from a £20m ‘Tree Production Innovation fund’ announced by the government announced to improve tree planting stocks, woodland resilience, domestic timber production and accelerate tree planting across England. Also announced is the Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund to support local authorities and rural communities increase tree planting. 

Robotic nurseries

One of the projects is aimed at creating a robotic solution for plant processing, called Intelligent Singulating and Labelling of Developing trees Using Robotics (ISILDUR) it is a collaborative project between the University of Lincoln, Elsoms and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. It aims to automate elements of the forest nursery sector and build capability into robotics

ISILDUR will work with tree nurseries to address labour shortages in the forest nursery sector by developing an intelligent robotics solution for plant processing. The project will involve the design and prototype demonstration of a novel 2-robot solution, combining flexible robotic manipulation and intelligent machine vision in a system capable of performing singulating (using an RFID reader to identify tags used to label trees), grading, counting and packaging.

Increasing germination

In addition, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, working with Elsoms Seeds and Elsoms Trees, will investigate germination and morphological traits in UK native tree seeds. The project seeks to better understand how such traits vary between wild populations and commercial seed batches, explore how this variation relates to environmental conditions, and apply this knowledge to optimise seed quality and germinability by developing innovative high-throughput seed screening techniques.

Ted Chapman, UK Conservation Partnerships Coordinator, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, explains that seed lies at the heart of the tree supply chain but, unlike most crops bred for consistency and ease of cultivation, native tree seed is inherently variable in size, shape and germination behaviour. He says: “Understanding this variation and how it impacts on seed quality and germinability will be key to designing efficient production processes, reduce waste and make a wider range of seed available.

“Our TPIF project is an exciting opportunity to link science directly to industry, combining Kew-led research into the morphology and germination ecology of tree seeds with technical development and application in high throughput screening techniques at Elsoms. We are delighted to continue our work and look forward to sharing what we learn as the project progresses.”

Other projects include the University of Cambridge’s TIMBER project, which is designing and creating prototypes for new building materials to drive home-grown, low-carbon and long-lasting construction nationwide.

Unleashing potential of forestry with WoodTech

The United Kingdom consumes 53 million tonnes of wood and wood products each year; however, 81% is imported from abroad. The major investment announced today will support projects developing new technologies and working practices to help homegrown timber production meet a greater proportion of domestic demand. This will help to improve timber security and grow the United Kingdom’s forestry and primary wood processing sectors, which support 30,000 jobs and contribute over £2 billion to our economy every year.

Sir William Worsley, Chair of the Forestry Commission, said: “These funds will unleash the potential of the forestry sector by championing nurseries, charities and businesses operating at the forefront of technological innovation. They will help more people across society get trees in the ground at an unprecedented pace and scale, whilst ensuring their resilience for future generations.

“Through the Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund, local authorities have set out a range of inspiring and ambitious plans which equate to more than 10 million trees being planted on public land across England by 2025.”

New funding streams

Tree Production Innovation Fund

The Tree Production Innovation Fund aims to support innovative projects which explore how new technologies and ways of working can enhance the quantity, quality, and diversity of tree planting stock in England. This will serve to supply young trees in the quantities required to realise ambitious tree planting goals over the coming years. £4.5 million has been made available to support 13 organisations operating across the forestry industry, including collaborations between nurseries, researchers and charities.

Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund

Staff employed or trained through the Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund can include project managers, woodland creation officers, community engagement officers, funding consultants or specialist advisors, such as landscape architects or archaeologists – with each new job created boosting the local economy. Together, the staff will focus on developing planting plans, applications for capital funding in 2023/2024 and 2024/2025, and speeding up the delivery of new woodlands, contributing to our plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050.