An estimated 50% of the tropical timber that enters the European market is illegally harvested. To implement new European legislation intended to eliminate this illegal trade, independent tools will be needed to verify the legal status of timber. We therefore propose to develop a fast, accurate and cost-effective commercial forensic tool for tracing the claimed origin of tropical timber.

In March 2013, the European Union (EU) implemented the EU timber regulation (EUTR), which prohibits any illegally sourced timber from entering the EU market. The EUTR requires the timber industry to ascertain that all tropical timber traded in the EU originates from a legal source. It is implemented through a ‘due diligence system’ in which the legal status of imported tropical timber is based on certificates and trade documents. Such a ‘paper control system’ is however subject to fraud, so independent methods are increasingly needed to check the claimed origin of tropical timber.

We propose a novel forensic tool, Timtrace, which independently verifies the geographical origin of tropical timber. Specifically, it uses (1) ring-width measurements that can be matched with reference measurements or climate data (see figure), (2) stable isotopes (e.g. δ2H, δ18O) in the wood that can be matched with regional reference data and (3) DNA analysis, by using microsatellite markers to distinguish trees from different populations. The application of multiple methods greatly expands the number of tropical timbers whose origin can be traced. Our forensic approach is competitive, as unlike current commercial alternatives, it does not require access to the timber in the country of harvest.

Timtrace will fullfil the increasing demand for independent verification of the claimed origin of tropical timber. We have identified three groups of potential customers for Timtrace: (1) customs and inspection authorities, who will increasingly conduct independent checks of timber origin to assess compliance with the EUTR; (2) the timber-processing industry, which will use Timtrace to increase consumer trust; and (3) organisations that certify sustainable forest management, which conduct forensic checks to underpin the credibility of their certification.

We are convinced that forensic tracing of the origin of tropical timber is needed to effectively combat the trade in illegal timber. Our main objectives are to (i) develop a fast, accurate and cost-effective tool for forensic tracing of tropical timber and (ii) advance Timtrace into a marketable product.

Wood samples needed

We need wood samples of African timbers. If you can provide these wood samples, please have a look at the Timtrace sampling protocol and sample form on the right side of this page and contact us directly.

In the media

  • April 26, 2016 - Dutch news paper: "Onze planeet wordt steeds groener". Article on the ‘greening’ of the Earth, which is attributed to CO2 rise. Our Nature Geoscience paper (Van der Sleen 2014) in which we found no fertilization effect of 150 year of CO2 rise on tropical tree growth. And Mart is quoted saying that the jury is still out on CO2 fertilization effects. (NRC, Wetenschap, p.19)
  • March 12, 2015 - Dutch Radio 1: "Herkennen van illegaal hout"
    ('Criminologist on illegal timber trade' from 14:07 onwards, Timtrace from 14:13 onwards)

  • March 11, 2015 - Dutch news paper: Streepjescode herkent fout hout
    (Trouw, De verdieping pp.12-13)
    Note: due to size pdf is rotated. Choose view>rotate view before reading