Freshwater and marine construction work typically involves the use of a small number of tried and tested timbers such as Greenheart, Ekki and Opepe.
But this reliance on a select few types of wood puts pressure on supplies and a strain on the environment.
By providing information on the properties of less regularly used but promising hardwoods, The Environment Agency, working with HR Wallingford and Trada Technology, hopes to encourage the use of a wider range of timber in construction such as Basralocus, Dahoma and Cloeziana.
Mark Yeomans, head of procurement at the Environment Agency, said: ‘Together with our project partners we are thoroughly testing a range of lesser known hardwoods that may be suitable alternatives to more popular species which could become scarce if over-exploited. This means looking at the wide ranging factors that affect performance, such as engineering properties and abrasion resistance – for example, the effects of pebble and tide action on the timber.’
He added: ‘The findings of this work will influence our own structures such as flood defences, helping us find better ways of working and do more for the environment.’
The research is being undertaken in three distinct phases.
In phase one, researchers will identify a list of candidate timber species. These will then undergo laboratory screening to determine their resistance to abrasion and the timber-eating crustacean commonly referred to as gribble. Trials in a Portuguese lagoon will test exposure to the timber-boring mollusc shipworm.
In phase two of the project, the five best performing timbers from phase one will undergo testing in accordance with the relevant British Standard so that their properties can be determined.
Finally, in phase three, several live projects will assess and evaluate the performance of the timbers in structures such as lock gates, fenders, landing stages and beach groins.
Phase one is expected to be completed by November 2008 and data resulting from phase two will be widely published in autumn 2009.
The project is funded by the Environment Agency, Trada Technology, British Waterways, the Crown Estate and Volker Stevin. Timber samples have been given by Ecochoice and Aitken & Howard, with Ecochoice providing expert knowledge on lesser known species, their commercial availability and performance.