Concerns about the Legal Status of Pernambuco
Recently, Brazil put forward a proposal to change the legal status of brazil wood, also known as pernambuco. Their intention is to enforce much tighter controls to reduce illegal smuggling of the wood out of the country. You can find their full proposal here. The implications of further restrictions or even mandatory licensing of this wood to the bow maker, dealer and the musician are not clear but there is great anxiety about how the professions of these people will be affected.
The Convention of Parties meeting in November will bring together international governmental groups to discuss whether the current legal restrictions should be strengthened. Meanwhile, the Musicians' Union and other bodies (ISM and ABO) are collecting data to assist lobbying the UK's Animal Plant Health Agency, who will represent the UK's interests at the Convention. You can find a link to the survey here.
I want to share a story from February of this year, before I became aware of the proposal from Brazil. I thought I was a victim of a far more localised police investigation. However, in light of the current situation it may be related to the bigger picture. The following piece was published in the British Violin Makers' Association magazine of June 2022, issue 106.
Police Interest in Pernambuco
On 12th February police officers came to my home, investigating me for illegal use of pernambuco. They stated that I had been reported for working with this wood without having ‘the necessary licence.’
On asking whether I was aware that Brazil wood is an endangered species, I replied yes, I knew it had been added to Appendix II of CITES fifteen years ago. This seemed to satisfy them that they had a criminal on their hands, and they announced that they would be visiting my workshop three days later to take some wood away for testing.
They did not - indeed, it seemed they could not - explain what the tests would establish, ie species or age, nor what the method of testing was.
They said that, when it was all over, ‘I would probably just get a talking to.’ This did nothing to relieve my anxiety. I told them that, back in 2007, bow makers had lobbied the Animal and Plant Health Agency for guidance on how to proceed with recording our stock, or whether we had to register as legitimate users, but we were told that there was no requirement to do either. This, I believed, was still the case but the Metropolitan Police were not of the same opinion. Therefore I assumed that they were right, the law must have changed without my knowledge, and I was operating illegally.
Immediately, I sent off a panicky email to APHA requesting guidance on how to register my stock of wood. But, being a weekend, I knew a response would not be immediate.
Two days later I was at Ingles and Hayday, specialists in fine instruments, and asked them if they were aware of a requirement to obtain such a licence. They were astonished to hear my story, and were very helpful in contacting APHA immediately for an official response, which came back with the reassurance that there had been no change to the situation. The email I had sent off over the weekend was also replied to by Heather Disley, CITES Administration Officer at APHA, asking for clarification of my request, since there are no legal requirements for buying, selling and working with pernambuco within the UK. Evidently, the police were at cross purposes. I decided that the way forward would be to copy the police in to a further email to APHA, and then they would see the official response and close the enquiry. Therefore, when the police came to my studio the next day, I would get an email address from them.
But the police did not come to my studio the next day. The situation seemed so bizarre that at the end of the week I visited Lewisham Police Station myself to check whether this was actually a genuine police investigation. I was assured that it was an ongoing case and I would be contacted in due course.
It was a month before the police arrived at my studio, joining two of my customers at the door in an unexpected and unwelcome mix. Dealing with my customers first, I answered more police questions and then left them to make some phone calls. After some minutes they came back to tell me everything was ok, and that there was no case to investigate as they had just been in touch with ‘the one man who knows these things.’
It was now my turn to ask some questions, not least under what circumstances I had been reported to the police in the first place. They said they did not know who had reported me, but the case had been passed to them either by Trading Standards or CID. They said that probably someone had read selective parts of my website and jumped to their own conclusions.
I have receipts for all my wood purchases, although in the few minutes I was searching for them the police got cold feet and wanted to leave to get on with more important stuff. But we were finally in agreement that someone had wasted police time and tax payers’ money and given me a deal of stress.
Lewisham Police don’t have a specialist officer for endangered species. The officer in charge of my investigation was an animal welfare officer, and she had been deemed the most suitable officer for the case but admitted she had taken it on reluctantly as she had little knowledge of the subject.
Before they left, I mentioned that I would be writing an article for the BVMA magazine, and would have various questions to ask as I did so. I was given the police email address of the officer in charge.
I have had no reply to my email and it seems unlikely that I will. In the meantime, I’d just like to reassure any other bow makers that, if they find themselves the subject of a similar investigation, that the situation regarding the use of pernambuco has not altered since the CITES regulations were implemented in 2007. A useful email address to use in the case of enquiries is firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 0117 372 3700.