THE UK TIMBER trade should be more vigilant in ensuring that supplies of Eastern Europe hardwood have come from legal and sustainable sources, an environmental pressure group has claimed.
Duncan Pollard, head of World Wide Fund for Nature's European forest programme, said: 'Between 20 per cent and 25 per cent of timber harvested in the region near St Petersburg is being felled illegally and it is an area that has strong trade links with the UK.
'North-west Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Latvia are the most common sources of European hardwood.
'In Latvia up to 60 per cent of all timber harvested is taken from privately owned forests and of that we estimate 40 per cent is illegal.'
Mr Pollard claimed firms were flouting forest protection laws and failing to pay tax on the timber they harvested.
He said: 'We want firms to have a sustainable procurement programme and check where their timber is coming from, all the way through the chain.'
But timber Trade Federation director general Paul Martin said he believed hardwood was a small part of the industry.
He said: 'This is a very tiny problem.
Only 6 per cent of UK imports are hardwood. Last year only 0.12 per cent of imports came from Romania and 0.2 per cent from Slovakia and only a tiny part of that is illegal.
'But it is an important issue that we have to tackle so consumers can feel they are buying wood from a legal source.
'We work very hard with the Baltic states and other countries to tackle illegality. We are already working with the Government and World Wide Fund for Nature. It is a far bigger problem in the rest of Europe.'
World Wide Fund for Nature is set to carry out a review of imports into the UK from Russia within the next year after investigating products found across Western Europe, particularly in Italy.