Eco solutions for canals, rivers and marinas

EcoChoice was born out of the civil engineering and water works world. We are specialist importers of durable FSC® timbers and recycled plastic for a range of canal and river works, which includes the following:

Timber is a particularly popular material for making canal fenders, especially for areas close to lock gates, the lock gates themselves, and of course sea defences. However, we believe there is still plenty more room for timber to be used on waterways, helping to protect banks and the surrounding land from flooding in an environmentally friendly way.

This stems from our origins. When our company was founded over 13 years ago in 2005, there was a close association with a Dutch timber importer. We then came to know and love Holland very well, and also to see how the Dutch use timber to fend water from their lowlands.

A key use for timber in Holland is in canal works. Most of Holland lies below sea level – hence the country is called the NETHERlands (literally meaning “lower countries” – in fact the highest point in Holland is only about 55 metres (180 feet) above sea level, whereas the lowest point is actually seven metres (23 feet) below sea level. They therefore need to keep pumping water back to the ocean in order to prevent flooding, and they do this using a network of canals and very large pumping stations.

Here at EcoChoice, we take a very keen interest in what happens in Holland, because it isn’t all that different to the terrain on our own doorstep. We’re based in Cambridge, so are surrounded by the Fens (or Fenlands) of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Huntingdonshire, and are not far away from the Broads of Norfolk and Suffolk. These parts of East Anglia are quite similar to Holland, with large areas being below sea level. In order to combat this, the UK imports a lot of technology from the Dutch, but the one thing we don’t do yet is to use timber on a large scale in the same way the Dutch do.

As some of our readers will know, if you have a water way such as a river or a canal water will consistently erode the bank, washing away little bits of silt and grit from the sides of the waterway so that over time the tendency will be for any water-way to widen.  

In order to combat this, the Dutch drive timber piles (or planks) into the ground, making walls that are akin to enormous fence panels in order to protect the land, ensuring that the waterway won’t widen any further. Sheet piling timber planks come in a variety of widths and thickness, but all with tongue and groove sides and a splay end which ensures water tightness as they are driven into the ground.

So why do the Dutch, who are probably (apart from the Venetians) the world’s foremost experts when it comes to canals, use timber, whereas we don’t use it as much? The answer seems to be culture – historically we haven’t done it, and so because it isn’t something we have done before, we don’t know much about it and so don’t do it now. There is also the argument that steel is stronger than timber, which is why it is used, but there are a lot of arguments in favour of timber, a phenomenal and highly versatile material, as well.

Firstly, timber is far more cost effective. It is a lot cheaper than using steel, which has to be manufactured, whereas timber is just grown naturally. In fact, you won’t find something as cheap as timber to put into the ground of water.

It is also natural and renewable, coming from a tree. In fact, it is the only truly renewable construction material available. There is only a finite amount of materials in the ground that can be used to make steel, but we can continue to plant and grow more trees, meaning that when timber is sourced from independently certified sustainable forests, its availability can be virtually infinite.  

Combine that with the fact that timber is the only construction material that is carbon negative (i.e. it removes and stores more carbon from the atmosphere than it creates) then it makes timber very much one of the most environmentally friendly construction materials available.

It is also ultra-durable, meaning it will last for many years. This surprises many people but it will, in fact, last longer in sea water than steel or concrete would. This is because tropical timber has natural, inbuilt defences called essential oils which prevents the wood from being degraded by fungi.

Timber suppliers will always have timber in stock, and it is very easy to quickly make it into the size and product that you need, unlike steel. And whilst it may not be a strong as steel, it does have excellent strength to weight ratio, meaning that is very strong and light at the same time.

Finally, and we may be biased, but we believe there isn’t a more beautiful construction material than timber. Seeing a natural product that is made from something that has evolved naturally and grown from the ground and is completely unique is quite spectacular. So, not only is it good for the wallet and good for the environment, but it is also easy on the eye as well! All of this means that, as far as we are concerned, nothing matches the natural performance of hardwoods.

As caring for the environment is at the heart of what we do, we have recently added a complete range of similar eco-friendly solutions in recycled plastic. Plastic is of course a huge waste problem while at the same time, there’s a huge demand for products that are long lasting (no rot) but that can also contribute to pressing environmental issues. Our plastic solutions are made with 100% recycled content, meaning less landfill and ocean pollution. Both by using timber and recycled plastic solutions, you can hugely benefit our natural environment.

Who are EcoChoice?
EcoChoice are specialist suppliers of certified timber and recycled plastic products for water and exterior works. We were formed in 2005 with the aim of promoting FSC certified timbers to the UK construction industry, helping customers to engage in a sustainable way instead of turning away from both the deforestation and plastic waste problems. We offer products from a wide range of different timber species, including Ekki, Ipe, Cumaru and Iroko.

Having worked with the Environmental Agency and several Councils across the UK, we are particularly well versed in delivering materials to nationwide sites quickly and within budget. We have no minimum order and can also offer carbon offsetting certificates.

We are passionate about supplying our clients with independently certified timber products while encouraging responsible and sustainable practices at the source level. To find out how we can help you and to get a quick, no-obligation quote, please call us on 0345 638 1340, email us on or for more information about our sustainable timber products, please visit our website

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