Participation at conferences and conventions, new developments, exchanges with visitor groups, research trips: things are happening here! Current information about the work of the Centre of Competence can be found here.
On 4 October 2019, Federal Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner visited Hamburg-Bergedorf to find out about the Thünen Centre of Competence on the Origin of Timber and the three Thünen institutes of Wood Research, of Forest Genetics and of International Forestry and Forest Economics. She emphasised the importance of the Centre of Competence for curbing illegal logging and effective consumer protection and acknowledged the importance of research in adapting our forests to climate change.
On the occasion of the 51st Colloquium on Forest Economics, about 25 scientists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland met at the Thünen-Institut in Hamburg-Bergedorf. Besides the scientific exchange, the thematic focus of this year's colloquium was on the implementation of the German Timber Trade Security Act (Holzhandelssicherungs-Gesetz, HolzHSiG). The scientists seized the opportunity to visit the Thünen Centre of Competence as well as a Hamburg timber trade company.
On September 4, a TV team of the German broadcasting corporation NDR visited the wood anatomy laboratory of the Thünen Centre of Competence. They filmed how the experts analyse imported firewood offered for German fireplaces. Firewood is subject to the EU Timber Regulation and must not come from illegal logging when imported into the EU. The investigation of the batches revealed some surprises. The television film will be broadcast within the framework of the NDR documentary series "45 Min" in January 2020.
In its programme of August 17, the German TV-magazine "W wie Wissen" broadcasted a report on the problem of importing charcoal from countries with a high corruption factor. It presented an alternative from Namibia, in which invasive foreign thorn bushes are used for the production of charcoal. Wood scientist Volker Haag from the Thünen Centre of Competence explained how his Institute can test charcoal samples to determine from which woods the charcoal was produced.
The Thünen Centre of Competence on the Origin of Timber was prominently represented with five presentations during the IAWA-IUFRO Symposium "Challenges and Opportunities for Updating Wood Identification" and GTTN ASIA Meeting in Beijing. The current research work and services of the Centre of Competence, in particular in the fields of fiber identification, determination of charcoal as well as genetic proof of origin of Asian commercial tree species (Siberian larch and Mongolian oak) were in great demand. Within the framework of the two events with 90 participants from 11 countries, closer cooperation between the Centre of Competence and the Chinese Academy of Forestry (Research Institute of Wood Industry) was agreed.
Are the accompanying documents correct when importing wood and wood products? Do the wood species and its origin match the information in the documents? In order to be certain in cases of doubt, the inherent wood characteristics must be examined. There are various methods (e.g. anatomy, genetics, isotopes), and depending on the question, one method will be more suitable than the other. The Global Timber Tracking Network (GTTN), scientifically coordinated by Nele Schmitz from the Thünen Institute of Forest Genetics, has developed a guide that provides an overview of the currently available wood tracking and identification systems (Timber Tracking Tool Infogram). The infogram links to a list of all experts, currently working in this field worldwide, including the scientists of the Thünen Centre of Competence.
At this year's music fair „Musikmesse“ in Frankfurt, the Thünen Centre of Competence provided information on tropical woods used in instrument making. Gerald Koch and Volker Haag from the Thünen Institute of Wood Research were available to to answer questions about the ownership or trading of musical instruments with components made of CITES-protected woods.
In April, the renowned scientific journal "nature" took up the topic of illegal trade in protected tropical timber. The article presents the international efforts to verify the species and origin of suspect timber. In this context it also reports on the possibilities of the Thünen Centre of Competence to find out which wood was used for the production of charcoal by means of innovative 3D microscopy. The Thünen experts found that a significant proportion of the charcoal used in Europe comes from tropical timber.
Gratifying results for the past year: In 2018, the Thünen Centre of Competence again processed a rising number of test orders. The division 'anatomical species determination' recorded an increase of about one third compared to the previous year, mainly due to increased inquiries from the trade, control authorities and NGOs. In the division 'genetic analysis', the number of tests remained at the same level, with increasing demands from timber trading companies.
Unprinted paper products, which are increasingly being produced in Asia, fall under the EUTR. It is difficult to check which woods were used for papermaking because the high degree of processing means that no wood structures are left. One possibility is the microscopic examination of certain plant cells, the vessels. They can yet be found in the paper and have characteristic shapes. Scientists from the Thünen Institute of Wood Research and the University of Hamburg have now created an “Atlas of Vessel Elements“, which contains references for a variety of Asian woods. With these references, testing laboratories are enabled to prove the use of Asian woods in papers.
The atlas is also available online.
Compact information about the European Timber Regulation (EUTR) and the Thünen Centre of Competence on the Origin of Timber can be found in the newly published guide "Trading Wood and Wood Products Legally". What due diligence do market participants have? How does the anatomical determination of wood species work? In which types of wood can the origin be genetically recognized? How does the EUTR affect timber merchants and timber markets? These and other questions are clearly explained in the 32-page brochure (in German). The guidebook in DIN A5 format can be obtained free of charge from the secretariat of the Centre of Competence (holzherkuenfte@thuenende) or as a PDF file on the Thünen website.
In March 2013, the EU Timber Regulation was enacted. At the same time, the Thünen Centre of Competence on the Origin of Timber was founded. To celebrate this anniversary, the Centre of Competence held a German/English language event “Wood trade and Forest Conservation – Five years of EUTR” in Hamburg. This symposium illuminated the experiences made to date in order to draw conclusions for the further development. The event was targeted to a German and international professional audience, especially for the affected enterprises.
Further information and the lecture sheets can be found here.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has forbidden the Polish wood charcoal manufacturer Dancoal to use the FSC Certification Label on its products. The enterprise has put wood charcoal briquettes with the sustainability label on the market, but had included some tropical wood from non-FSC certified forestry. Studies by the Thünen Centre of Competence on retail samples led, among other things, to the suspension. The German discounters Aldi South and Lidl both removed the Dancoal wood charcoal briquettes immediately. The suspension remains in effect until Dancoal can prove correct company procedures.
The Working Group for Wood Anatomy of the Thünen Centre of Competence provided information on possibilities for the determination of wood type in the context of the EUTR (Import of Wood and Wood Products from Legal Harvesting) and CITES (Protection of Endangered Species) at the BMEL Stand at the Interforst Trade Show in Munich. The public was predominantly interested in the numerous presented samples of tropical wood types. Fruitful conversations were held with interested visitors. Matthias Dieter of the Thünen Institute of International Forestry and Forest Economics held a lecture on the use of wood and climatic effects on the use of wood.
The Global Timber Tracking Network (GTTN) had its Africa regional meeting in Yaoundé, Cameroon on 27-28 June, with 25 participants coming from across the continent and bringing experience from within research institutes (amongst others Thünen Institute of Forest Genetics), authorities, ngo’s as well as private companies. On the first day presentations were given on the current development of wood identification methods in Africa and on the interests and barriers for timber tracking. On the second day the participants identified available and needed capacities for timber tracking and species to be prioritised. Finally, ways forward to strengthen regional cooperation were discussed. The meeting was closed by a visit to a local saw mill.
Further information on the GTTN website.
The German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU) is supporting the cooperative project "Identifying tropical wood in paper – chemo taxonomy and anatomy to identify mixed tropical hardwoods" together with the University of Hamburg and the Thünen Centre of Competence, beginning in August 2018. Background: Large portions of the paper products used in Germany are currently produced in Asia. The project shall help to determine the important Asian wood varieties. Only in this manner can it be proven whether wood types of uncertain origin or even protected tropical woods are processed. For this purpose, chemical methods will be developed and characteristic morphological wood cell structures identified and included in reference databases.
This year, the Thünen Institute is again joining the Frankfurt Musikmesse (Music Fair) with an exhibition by the Thünen Centre of Competence (April 11-14, 2018). The centre provides information about the problem of protected woods in the building of musical instruments and presents samples of typical woods, including palisander and African Blackwood. Many visitors, including musicians such as Darryl Jones, bassist for the Rolling Stones (photo), have visited the exhibition.
In March 2013, the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) came into force, which aims to ban imports of illegally logged timber and products made from it. At the same time, the Thünen Centre of Competence on the Origin of Timber was founded at the Thünen Institute. During this time, the Centre has successfully processed more than 3,000 test orders for the anatomical identification of wood species (equivalent to around 35,000 individual samples). In addition, nearly 1,500 wood samples were submitted for the genetic verification of the wood species and / or origin. The expertise now extends to the analyses of fibreboard, paper / products and charcoal. In addition, the Center has expertise in assessing certificates and legality. Based on these interdisciplinary work, the Centre has been established as central contact facility for government agencies, the timber trade, consumers and associations to verify the species of wood and/or wood products and their origin.
In the year 2017, the Centre of Competence received more than 1000 requests to anatomically determine wood types. The 1000th test assignment was completed in mid-December 2017. At its launching in 2013, the Centre of Competence received only one third as many requests. Now, as in the past, the majority of the testing assignments come form private business (wood dealers, dicounter, home repair markets, furniture companies, etc.) But monitoring agencies and NGOs regularly request help from the Centre of erCompetence . Requests from other European countries are also increasing steadily.
The German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU) supports a new project on the genetic identification of tree species in processed wood products at the Thünen Institute of Forest Genetics in Großhansdorf Wood composite products such as particle boards are often composed of wood from several tree species. The DNA of the contained wood can be highly degraded, and the DNA quantity from single species can be low. For these reasons, the detection of illegally logged wood using existing methods is very difficult in such products. In the next three years the Thünen Institute of Forest Genetics in collaboration with the German Timber Trade Federation (GD Holz) will develop new genetic markers and robust analytical methods that allow the detection of several genera and related species of deciduous trees and conifers especially in such wood composite products. The focus is on the differentiation of frequently used genera, such as pines, Douglas fir, and bangkirai, among others.
The significance of the Centre of Competence is increasingly recognized in an international context. On September 27, a delegation of 15 persons of the Malaysian Timber Council (MTC) visited the Centre for an exchance of experience. On September 22, Dr. Mitsuaki Yamagata (Forest Economic Research Institut, Tokyo) and Mr. Yuichi Ikuta (Japan Woody Bioenergy Association) visited the Centre to discuss the implications of the new Japanese law against illegally logged timber. On September 19, scientists of the Centre of Competence informed a delegation of the Chinese State Forestry Administration about their activities within the framework of the China-Germany Working Group for Forestry.
Just in time for the summer barbecue season, two German television stations took a look at wood charcoal. The Thünen Competence Center for Wood Origin studied various barbecue charcoal a brands available in Germany on behalf of the WWF, various consumer protection organizations and commercial enterprises The background: the wood charcoal available for purchase in Germany is to a large extent imported. The main export countries are Poland, Nigeria and Paraguay. Deviant from the declaration, the Thünen experts found tropical woods in various samples. The results of the study were reported almost simultaneously by NDR aktuell, the NDR magazine Panorama3 and the ZDF magazine frontal 21 on August 22, 2017.
Three days of intensive information on the consequences of the new CITES listings were provided at the Thünen Centre of Competence in Hamburg. The protections, linked to inclusion the CITES list for all varieties of palisander and of Bubinga, present challenges for dealers and manufacturers of musical instruments and high value furniture, but also for the entire wood trade. On June 7, more than 120 dealers, manufacturers and representatives from agencies, associations and NGOs came to an information event and an intensive exchange of information and opinions. Subsequently scientists and agency representatives from 26 countries took part in an international workshop during which the emphasis was on the determination and differentiation possibilities for CITES protected wood. Please find more information here (in German).
In an effort to understand how different types of wood were used in the production of historical musical instruments, Volker Haag of the Thünen Institute of Wood Research and Valentina Zemke of the University of Hamburg visited the famous Barcelona Music Museum (Museu de la Música de Barcelona) as part of a COST Action. Background: The early instrument builders knew the different tone effects of various woods, based on their structural characteristics. That is why there is great interest today on which types of wood the old masters like Stradivari or Torres used. Since for obvious reasons, the examinations had to be done non-destructive. Thus, the scientists used a new 3D-reflected-light microscopy method. In 11 guitars, built between 1650 and 1953, they were able to successfully identify the wood species of 120 individual parts. The results will be presented at a conference in Brussels in October 2017.
Since January 2017, all species of rosewood (more than 250), which are frequently used as components for musical instruments, are listed in Annex B of the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The trade of items with rosewood requires now the presentation of CITES export and import documents as well as the legal obligation to keep records. Now, the compliance with these CITES regulations has been checked on request of the main customs office at the Frankfurt Music Fair.
Before beginning of the fair, Dr. Gerald Koch checked about 700 instruments with support of Dr. H. G. Richter. According to the main customs office, no CITES documents were available for 130 instruments with components of rosewood so that their presentation on the fair was not allowed. In order to inform traders and visitors of the fair about the new important regulations, Gerald Koch gave a lecture at a meeting of the Society of Music Merchants and participated in a panel discussion on the topic ‘Trade of CITES-protected woods in musical instruments’.
In order to find methods to uncover and fight the illegal logging of timber, an expert workshop of the Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt DBU (German Federal Environmental Foundation) was held on March 1, 2017 in Osnabrück with numerous specialists from the Thünen Centre of Competence.
Cajus Ceasar, member of the German Federal Parliament and DBU curatorium member, stressed the need for practically viable and legally sound methods available to identify illegally imported timber and paper products. This does not only affect tropical forests but also forests in moderate climate zones. For genetic procedures for the monitoring of origin, reference samples are needed from the countries of origin. These are not always easy to obtain, according to the Thünen expert Bernd Degen. Among other things, the DBU has funded a project on the setting of a reference data bank for white oak. Other methods concerning the identification of wood in paper and fiber boards were also presented at the workshop.
The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Bonn hosted the kick-off meeting of the Global Timber Tracking Network (GTTN) starting its second phase. The GTTN project was initiated in 2012, financed by the BMEL and coordinated by Bioversity International. The following three years will be further supported by the BMEL while the coordination is taken over by the European Forest Institute (EFI). The Thünen-Institute is part of the GTTN secretary and is responsible for the scientific support of the project co-ordination.
The meeting invited internationally renowned experts in the different timber tracking methods (based on genetic, chemical or structural wood properties) to give an update on recent scientific developments. But especially diverse user organisations were present to inform us about the actual and potential applications of the tools. These introductions led to fruitful brainstorming during workshops on the second day about the future tasks of the GTTN in standardising the methods, building a global reference database and promoting the use of the tools to curb illegal logging and related timber trade.
On this year's International Green Week (food and agriculture fair) in Berlin the Thünen-Institut exhibited several topics in the scope of forests and timber. Experts of the Centre of Competence presented various exotic wood samples, and informed about their research and their activities on identification of wood species and geographic origin. The Green Week attracts several tens of thousands of visitors every year.
On December 15, 2016 the Bavarian Radio Network broadcasted a half-hour feature on environmental crimes: "Billion dollar trade in poaching and illegal hunting". An important topic in addition to the trade in reptiles and other animals as well as illegal fishing was the illegal trade of wood, one of the most financially profitable sectors of environmental criminality. Thünen scientist Matthias Dieter described the environmental consequences, particularly for tropical forests, and spoke about the difficulties in monitoring local logging areas and introduced the activities of the Thünen Centre of Competence. In the mean time, many German wood trading enterprises use the expertise available there to remain in accordance with their legal obligations and to protect themselves against fraud.
BR2, IQ – Wissenschaft und Forschung (in German): Umweltkriminalität: Milliardengeschäfte mit Wilderei und Raubbau
Prominent visitors on St. Nicholas’ Day: On Dec. 6, Steffi Lemke, the Parliamentary Secretary of the German Parliament's BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN fraction, Katrin Blaufuss, specialist for nature conservation and David Hoffmann were guests of the Centre of Competence in Hamburg. In addition to insights into the practical work of the centre (the microscopic determination of wood products, wood charcoal and paper) the visitors were informed extensively about the significance of global market analysis and certification systems for wood. In the discussion with the Thünen scientists, Gerald Koch, Matthias Dieter and Ulrich Bick, criticism was also voiced with regard to the implementation of the EUTR – above all the exceptions of certain product groups and the slow implementation of the EUTR in other EU States. Steffi Lemke praised the "excellent work" of the Centre of Competence on Twitter.
In the period 28.11.16 to 02.12.2016 scientists from the Thünen-Institute of Forest genetics attended a meeting of the LargeScale project at the Forest Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG) in Kumasi. During the stay the scientists of the Thünen-Institute further supported FORIG with the setup of a genetic laboratory. The support includes equipment, lab consumables and training of technical and scientific staff.
From 2017 the lab at FORIG should work as a regional reference lab for West Africa and should be able to apply DNA-tests on species and origin for important African timber species such as Khaya, Sapelli, Iroko or Sipo.During the meeting the Thünen-scientists discussed with representatives of five West African countries concrete steps of sampling and genetic testing in order to ensure the trade of timber from legal harvests.
At an international wood charcoal forum of the BIAG (Barbecue Industry Association Grill e.V.) on November 14-15 in Berlin, Ulrich Bick, Gerald Koch and Sergej Kasuro of the Thünen Centre of Competence informed about the certification of wood charcoal and about possibilities to anatomically determine wood charcoal components. The topic has been of high interest to the public and media since the summer months. Even though wood charcoal and briquettes are not yet covered under the European Timber Regulation (EUTR), leading manufacturers and trade organizations at the symposium spoke out for a certification system (chain of custody) for wood charcoal which would also make information on the wood origin available.
At the Thünen Institute of Forest Genetics scientists developed together with colleagues from the USA and Russia a new set of gene markers for determining species and origin of white oaks. With these gene markers a proof of the continental origin (Asia, Europe or America) of wood from white oaks is possible using the differences in the DNA fragment patterns. Recently, in the international wood trading market an increase of false declarations of the origin of white oak timber has been observed. The most spectacular case is the conviction of the company "Lumber Liquidators" in the USA carrying a penalty of more than 13 million US$.
The new gene markers have been recently published in the journal PLoS One: Schroeder H, Cronn R, Yanbaev YA, Jennings T, Mader M, Degen B, Kersten B (2016) Development of molecular markers for determining continental origin of wood from White Oaks (Quercus L. sect. Quercus). PLoS One 11 (6): e0158221, DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0158221
On October 6, about 40 members of the northern state group of the GD Holz (Greater Association of German Wood Dealers) visited the Thünen Centre of Competence for information on current questions about the application of the Wood Trade Regulation EUTR and about the public acquisition of wood products in Germany. Among other things, Gerald Koch presented an update on methodical progress in the identification of woods in wood materials, paper and wood charcoal. A subsequent lecture by Ulrich Bick provided insight to the currently controversial public acquisition guidelines for wood products and requirements for certification.
The knowledge about identification and utilization of commercial timbers is of prime importance not only for wood experts and control authorities, but also for the timber trade and wood processing companies. The database macroHOLZdata has been established as an important instrument for computer-assisted wood identification which is now available as App version for iPads. The database offers:
The database is also well suited for education and advanced training in the timber industry as well as self-study for all wood-interested persons. Further details about the App are available at https://appsto.re/de/xS-Zcb.i
The September edition of the magazine forschungsfelder deals exclusively with forests. One contribution is dedicated to the Thünen Centre of Competence on the Origin of Timber. The article narrates how the centre exposed the illegal import of a container load of of Wengé, a rare tropical wood, in the port of Antwerp with the help of Thünen experts. It describes the characteristic smell of Brazilian Rosewood, a strongly endangered wood that was previously used for the neck of electric guitars. In this context, the article reports that the experts even were given a guitar from Ex-Beatle John Lennon to examine. The article for downloading: The secret of the plywood (in German)
An international group of experts on wood identification has prepared a guidebook with standards for forensic timber identification for the UN Organization “United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime” (UNDOOC). The handbook is planned to help control agencies find suitable methods to deal with illegal timber trading and to document reliable data for the courts. Here the entire process is considered, starting with the inspection of timber imports through to the taking of samples and on-site examinations as well as laboratory analysis. The Thünen Centre of Competence participated in the drafting of the handbook with the participation of Dr. Gerald Koch und Dr. Bernd Degen.
Together with colleagues from the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) the Thünen Centre of Competence on the Origin of Timber took part in the large environmental festival hosted in Berlin by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment from September 10-11, 2016 to celebrate the ministry’s thirtieth anniversary (Festival of the Future: Environmental Policy 3.0). The presentation of BfN and Centre of Competence drew particular interest on the topic CITES woods – endangered and protected woods, mostly from the tropics and subtropics. The trade of these woods is controlled by the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The colleagues brought wood samples to the event and explained how they can determine wood species and even genetically test the origin of some species.
On behalf of an Austrian consumer agency (Konsumentenschutz der Arbeiterkammer Oberösterreich) the Centre of Competence evaluated various wood charcoal samples to identify the woods used. In the anatomical study, a new microscopy technique was used for the first time (reflected-light microscopy with a polarized light, digital composition of images of various deep levels with a special software), made possible through a comparison of structures of the wood charcoal with the microscopic reference images. In some samples it could be proven that the wood did not comply with the declaration on the packaging. More information: Press release from July 18,2016 (in German).
On the occasion of the full meeting of the German Section of the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) in Hamburg, a group of FSC representatives visited the Thünen Institute of Forest Genetics in Großhansdorf in order to gain insight into the work of the Centre of Competence on the Origin of Timber. After a short introduction on current topics, visitors could personally view the practical work in the laboratories. One of the excursion participants expressed her impression: “You have managed to bring light into the ‘black box’ of the possibilities of genetic analysis for me.”
Dr. Gerald Koch of the Thünen Institute of Wood Research was the German representative at a EUTR Workshop in Sopron, Hungary and presented the work of the Centre of Competence. In discussions he found that some EU member states were not adequately familiar with the requirements for the implementation of the EUTR, particularly the wide variety of timber products, which are regulated by the EUTR. Workshop participants also estimated the significance of illegal wood harvesting and the resulting problems quite differently.