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.