Young designer gives diseased trees new lease of life

Wood otherwise bound for the bin is being put to good use as furniture

Wood from diseased trees that would otherwise go to waste is being put to good use by a designer from Brighton.

It may be ash trees making the headlines in recent times with the outbreak of ash dieback across the UK in 2012, but Dutch elm disease, which killed 25 million mature trees in Britain during the 1970s and 80s, is still having an impact today.

Recent 3D design graduate Sheldon Stansfield has been working with diseased elm wood for the past year, making unique pieces of furniture. She lives and works in Brighton, home to the national elm collection, the largest collection of elms in the UK, which currently stands at over 17,000 trees.

“The arboricultural service of Brighton & Hove City Council monitor trees very carefully to ensure that diseases don’t spread,” says Stansfield. “They do what they can to keep the disease at bay, like selectively pruning the trees when they spot signs of infection, but unfortunately they also have to be regularly felled.”

Once felled, the trees are sent to be burned or chipped. “It’s a huge waste of wood,” said Stansfield. “But it’s important that they do fell them – if it didn’t happen, the disease would spread and be more rife.

“Through researching this area I learned how the elm is going to waste and thought ‘Why not put it to good use?’. The UK imports a lot of wood and I’m trying to make people more aware that there’s an abundance of resources right on our doorstep.

“I’ve always been interested in native materials and industries and these are often really important in shaping the physical and cultural make-up of our land. However, lots of them are overlooked and because of that, they end up lacking value. My work is about the importance of being resourceful, using what is locally available and about appreciating and celebrating the natural resources that we have.”

Stansfield’s collection of diseased wood furniture, called Native Provenance, features a bench carved from a single trunk of an elm tree and a chair that has been scorched to represent the practice of burning diseased elms.

Her work will be on display at Grand Parade Campus at the University of Brighton from 31 May until 12 June, and at New Designers 2013 from 3-6 July at the Business Design Centre in London.