Around 40 people were at Defra’s offices in London for the launch of the consultation phase on the implementation of changes to the government’s timber procurement policy. During the consultation period, which ends on September 27, interested parties will be able to comment and provide suggestions on how to ensure the best possible methods of implementation; the main method of communication will be via CPET’s website cpet/review-comments-1

In essence, the changes are: from April 1, 2009 only timber and timber products from independently verified legal and sustainable sources or from a licensed Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) partner will be specified for the government estate. From April 1, 2015, only legal and sustainable timber will be purchased.

Defra procurement adviser Bob Andrew confirmed that, during the recent Cabinet reshuffle, the minister who notified the new policy, Barry Gardiner, was replaced by Phil Woolas, with Joan Ruddock looking after domestic forestry. Barry Gardiner is now the prime minister’s special representative on forestry. The policy, he said, was brought about by frustration from ministers and others at the pace of change which needed “pushing on”. A lack of reporting and anecdotal evidence of a lack of demand added further fuel to this argument. Even when contractors were given clear specifications “it doesn’t happen”, he said.

Trade response

However, he emphasised that “the trade has responded very well” with more than 60% of imported timber now accredited as legal and sustainable. The new policy should be accepted as a given and it was unlikely to be changed and because of this, he added, it was important for all interested parties to discuss how best to implement the policy.

Dr Ruth Nussbaum of CPET made it clear that “we’re looking for solutions as well as hearing about problems” for the policy to allow timber procurement through certified, FLEGT or Category B evidence and she explained how CPET had looked at these issues through pilot projects. The high cost of preparing Category B evidence and the risk of small producers being excluded was a concern. At present many countries can show their timber as legal but their forestry would not necessarily be seen as sustainable.

Dr Nussbaum advised that with two years until implementation there was time to be prepared and that a pragmatic approach was needed.

During an open discussion a wide range of concerns were raised. One of the key issues was that even now, before the use of FLEGT/ Category B evidence, the trade is struggling to manage chain of custody on certified products because of the huge complexity on the ground, particularly in separating different schemes. A method of describing all certified timber as “CPET Approved” or something similar was mooted as a method of easing the bureaucracy.

The ongoing issue of government departments and local councils tending to specify only one scheme (usually FSC) and the lack of demand for certified products from these bodies was also clearly stressed.

It was said that UK forestry has similar problems regarding timber from small areas of woodland, and even hedgerows, where the burden of proving legality and sustainability is unacceptably high.

Timber Trade Federation chief executive John White said that the way the policy was introduced so far was “incorrect” but that “we are where we are” and the government needed to concentrate on implementing what was already in place.

Tropical forestry

Concerns were raised about foreign and, in particular, tropical forestry as many small countries and areas are trying to meet the UK’s requirements, only to find that the goalposts have moved again. American Hardwood Export Council European director David Venables said that, while hardwoods may not be big in volume terms, they were in “emotion and perception” because of their high visibility in furniture and finishings.

The meeting closed with the strong impression that there are many issues of difficulty and concern, but that all interested parties need to try to create solutions and give suggestions.