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CITES-Listed Timbers

A suite of initiatives aimed at ensuring accurate timber identification for enforcement and policy purposes and the use of this expertise when advising on CITES timber policy and enforcement.
Guy Clarke (UK Border Agency) and Peter Gasson (Kew) being filmed by the BBC (for "A Year at Kew"; series 2) examining a wooden blind suspected of being partly made of ramin wood (Gonystylus sp.).


This project consists of a suite of initiatives aimed at supporting the implementation of CITES for the 25 genera of trees regulated under the convention. This is achieved through the development of identification tools and tests and the use of Kew’s expertise when advising on existing and future timber listings and associated policy and enforcement initiatives. The output is used by Kew in its advisory role as the UK CITES Scientific Authority for plants, and by enforcement and policy partners in the UK, EU and internationally. There is also cross over with the CITES Capacity Building Project in that many of the timber identification tools developed are used extensively in the training of enforcement officers on CITES timbers, are included in capacity building publications and follow a template form for easy conversion by our EU and international partners.

As a basis for the development of these tools and tests Kew has built up its collection of authenticated CITES timber samples (515 slides on CITES taxa). It also continues to develop and apply its expertise in timber identification through both traditional methods, such as the use of anatomical characteristics to identify samples (20% of timber enquiries were for CITES cases) while also developing new tests using DNA or chemical markers in species confirmation. Two of the major outputs of this project have used these techniques. Firstly, with the Defra funded project ‘The Development of Genetic Techniques For the Forensic Identification of CITES-Listed Timber and Wood Products - Ramin (Gonystylus spp.)’ Kew and its partner TRACE Wildlife Forensic Network worked on a proof of concept for the development of DNA-based timber identification techniques for ramin in reaction to identification problems with this genus. The second major output was the project ‘Dalnigrin, a neoflavonoid marker for the identification of Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) in CITES enforcement’. The latter test, which identified a key marker for D.nigra and a compound new to science (albeit a variation of a previously known compound), was developed by Kew in response to implementation problems faced by UK enforcement officers with this species – originally larger samples were needed for anatomical identification whereby the new chemical test requires minimal samples which do not damage the high value products in trade.

Kew continues to seek, obtain and study wood samples of species that are of conservation concern, tracking potential new CITES timber listings to ensure we are aware of the identification and trade issues and the types of products in trade (e.g. shift in trade from timber to oils, powders, extracts from timbers) and ensuring this knowledge is fed back into CITES fora, and enforcement or policy development for CITES timbers. This is demonstrated by the recent work carried out by Kew (e.g. desktop study into use of isotope identification) for the latest timber listings on CITES Appendix III for Madagascan rosewoods (Dalbergia species) and Ebonies (Diospyros species).

Other outputs of this project include the publication of this information to as wide a scientific and non-scientific audience as possible through a number of key papers and publication of the book Mahogany, timber posters and guides for front-line enforcement officers at ports of entry for mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), Afrormosia (Pericopsis elata) and ramin (Gonystylus spp.).


Key papers published since 2006

  • Gasson, P., Baas, P. & Wheeler, E. (2011). Wood anatomy of CITES-listed tree species. IAWA Journal 32(2): 155-197.
  • Gasson, P., Miller, R., Stekel, D., Whinder, F. & Zieminska, K. (2010). Wood identification of Dalbergia nigra (CITES Appendix I) using quantitative wood anatomy, Principal Components Analysis and Naïve Bayes Classification. Annals of Botany 105: 45-56. doi:10.1093/aob/mcp270 at
  • Kite, G.C., Green, P.W.C., Veitch, N.C., Groves, M.C., Gasson, P.E. & Simmonds, M.S.J. (2010). Dalnigrin, a neoflavonoid marker for the identification of Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) in CITES enforcement. Phytochemistry 71: 1122-1131. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2010.04.011
  • MacLachlan, I. & Gasson, P. (2010). Quantitative wood anatomy using multivariate principal components analysis for identification of the CITES listed Pterocarpus santalinus (Dalbergioideae, Papilionoideae, Leguminosae). IAWA Journal 31(2): 121-138.
  • Ogden, R., McGough, H. N., Cowan, R. S., Chua, L., Groves, M. & McEwing, R. (2008). SNP-based method for the genetic identification of ramin Gonystylus spp. timber and products: applied research meeting CITES enforcement needs. Endang. Species Res. 9:255-261.


Project partners and collaborators


CITES Scientific Authority of Germany
Dr Gerald Koch, Institute of Wood Technology & Wood Biology, Hamburg


Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), Jakarta 


Forestry Research Institute in Malaysia (FRIM), Kuala Lumpa


Prof. Pieter Baas, NCB Naturalis, National Herbarium Nederland, Leiden


Drs. Regis Miller, Alex Wiedenhoeft, Mike Wiemann, Forest Products Lab, Madison Wisconsin
Prof. Elisabeth Wheeler, Dept. of Wood & Paper Science, North Carolina State University


TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network, Scotland
UK Police Forces, including the Metropolitan Police Wildlife Crime Unit, London
UK Border Agency (UKBA – policy), London & UK-wide
CITES Team, UKBA (enforcement), Heathrow Airport, London
Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
Animal Health & Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA)
National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), Edinburgh, Scotland

Project funders


The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)  


CITES Scientific Authority

Annex material

Kew News - Chemistry aids conservation (Dalbergia nigra wood identification)