U.K. is Europe's third biggest importer of illegally-sourced timber products after Germany and Italy, WWF report finds; more than half of local authorities have no sustainable timber procurement policy

Wendy Lisney

Wendy Lisney

Apr 3, 2012 – WWF

GODALMING, U.K. , March 29, 2012 (press release) – Despite the upcoming introduction of legislation to halt the import of illegally sourced wood products, more than half of local authorities still don't have a legal and sustainable timber procurement policy and only 16 are implementing the policy effectively, a report by WWF-UK has found.

Currently, the UK is the third highest importer of products made from illegal timber in Europe after Germany and Italy. This is the equivalent of filling just over 15 Royal Albert Halls. The public sector, which includes local authorities, is thought to account for as much as 40% of all wood products entering the UK market and it is estimated that up to 10% of wood products entering the UK from outside Europe comes from illegal sources. But from 3rd March next year, the EU Timber Regulation will ban illegally harvested timber and timber products from the UK.

For the report, ‘Barking up the right tree?’, WWF contacted all 433 UK authorities to find out their policies and actions on the environmentally responsible purchasing of timber and paper products. Based on their responses, a five-tier system rated them from red to green. In total, 336 red ratings were given to authorities that did not have a policy, did not know if they had a policy, or did not respond.

Local authorities in Durham, Newcastle and Brighton were amongst those that took steps to improve their rating and scored towards the higher end of the ratings system. In total 16 were given the highest green rating. Key barriers to having a legal and sustainable timber product procurement policy included not enough time, a lack of resources, the issue not being a priority, and a lack of information. Only two local authorities claimed not to purchase any timber products.

Local authorities buy a wide range of wood products from building materials, flooring and hardwood fire doors to printing paper and bathroom tissue. Wood products entering the UK could still be undermining social infrastructure and devastating natural habitats in places like Indonesia and the Congo Basin. Illegal and unsustainable logging impacts on communities and species, such as the orang-utan and gorilla, whilst also making a significant contribution to climate change.

Beatrix Richards, head of Forest Policy and Trade at WWF UK, said: “Overall the study shows that the majority of local authorities still have a huge amount of work to do to comply with both the new law coming into force in 2013 and the government’s own procurement policy guidance to ensure they’re not buying illegal and unsustainable timber products.

“With support from central government, each local authority must put in place a legal and sustainable timber procurement policy and make it a mandatory requirement. Existing research has shown that such policies do not have to cost more.”

A total of 124 local authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland completed the online survey – a response rate of nearly 30%. But this varied across devolved countries with Wales and Scotland strongest and England and Northern Ireland weakest. In England, as few as 16% of authorities have a policy in place, while in Northern Ireland it is just 8 %. This compares with 25% in Scotland and 32% in Wales.

Beatrix Richards added: “Legislation to ensure legality will only do so much. Local authorities, central government departments and consumers in general need to continue to drive demand for sustainable forest management by buying timber products certified through credible certifications schemes such as the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) to ensure both legality and responsible management. This will help to ensure that what they are buying is not destroying people’s livelihoods and biodiversity.”

Choosing FSC certified wood products, from garden furniture to toilet paper, is the best way for the public to ensure that timber has been harvested legally and with respect for forests, people and wildlife.

The report forms part of WWF’s ‘What Wood You Choose?’ campaign. The two-year, EU-funded initiative raises awareness of the impacts of wood and paper consumption in the UK on communities in timber-producing developing countries.

For more information about the campaign and a copy of the report visit:


In December 2011, we sent a letter to all 433 local authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, asking them to take part in our nationwide survey on timber product procurement. We followed this up with reminder emails and telephone calls. We made clear in the letter that local authorities which failed to respond would be considered as having no timber and wood product procurement policy.

The online survey covered the application and approval of policy; effective implementation such as whether the council includes sustainability criteria in tender specification; and whether it carries out checks that the suppliers are fulfilling the requirements. It also covered questions on the awareness of forest certification and UK government timber product procurement policy and the level of awareness and applicability of forthcoming legislation to exclude illegal timber products from UK supply chains.

A five-tier rating system, ranging from red to green, was used to demonstrate the level of implementation of public procurement policies on timber products. A ‘red’ rating was automatically assigned to authorities that did not have such a policy, or did not know. Those that reported they were in the process of developing a policy were given an ‘orange’ rating. No scores were given to those councils that gave these responses. The ‘orange’ rating also applied to councils that stated they have policies but provided no details, or those that have a general sustainable policy in place. Actual scores were only calculated for those councils that have timber product procurement policies in place and provided details. Those that were scored fell into the orange to green rating, with the following baselines: less than 19 = orange; 20-49 = yellow; 50-79 = green/yellow; 80-100 = green.

WWF is one of the world's largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries. We're working to create solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature can thrive. Through our engagement with the public, businesses and government, we focus on safeguarding the natural world, tacking climate change and changing the way we live. www.wwf.org.uk

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