It was the First World War that emphasised the strategic importance of timber in the technology of the time, with naval uses still of some importance but a burgeoning demand for pit props as coal production took off.
The saplings that grew into today’s cluster of forest industries in and around the Cairngorms were planted long before the establishment of the National Park. The Park, containing significant land not readily suited to agriculture, had many plantations intended for timber production, frequently sitka spruce. Coverage was up to about 17 per cent of the land by 1988. The intensity and style of planting was not always found aesthetically pleasing as the dense forests were designed for wood production and not recreation. There are still examples of this type of planting visible today.
The plantations did, however, provide a burgeoning supply for forest-based industry, which expanded significantly from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s. Forest planting in more recent years has included more deciduous species (at national level, up from 2 per cent of planting in 1971 to 42 per cent in 2007), and in general the pattern of planting has provided better access so that the forests contribute substantially to the recreational offering of the Park.
In terms of economic importance by far the largest parts of the forest sector in the Park are sawmills and joinery manufacture. The largest employer in this sector, BSW Timber employs around 70 people at its sawmill in Boat of Garten. Annual timber input at the 5 ha site is 80,000 cubic metres of roundwood and the mill produces 50,000 cubic metres of sawn timber. Russwood of Newtonmore focuses on larch products and a proprietary heat treatment for architectural spruce. These have been included in striking designs for the the new visitor centre at Culloden, and the headquarters of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority In Balloch.