We were extremely heartened to have received a letter on the 11th November from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which states: On reviewing the available information about pernambuco, much of which has been gratefully received from the music sector, we share your concerns, and we can confirm that the United Kingdom (UK) will not support the uplisting of Paubrasilia echinata on Appendix I.Read the full Ministerial response here.
Dr. Anna Ashmole and Martin Swan Last updated 14 Oct 2022
The Brazilian government has proposed that pau-brasil (Paubrasilia echinata) be moved from Appendix II to Appendix I of CITES, and that trade in finished bows for string instruments be included in that listing.
Pau-brasil is Brazil’s national tree – indeed the country is named after the tree. Its historic and cultural importance to Brazil can’t be underestimated, and it’s no surprise that discussions about its conservation are emotionally loaded.
Appendix I is the highest CITES classification, reserved for species on the brink of extinction. A country proposing an Appendix I listing must demonstrate that a) the species is heavily endangered and that b) an Appendix I listing would offer increased protection.
As already noted by the CITES secretariat, the Brazilian proposal fails to make either case – it offers no inventory of current pau-brasil stocks or up-to-date evidence of habitat loss, and it fails to mention the some 2.5 million trees that have been planted in national parks, urban environments and private farmland by various conservation bodies over the last half century. This omission is highly significant – it suggests a clear intention to mislead or misdirect CITES.
Pau-brasil only grows in Brazil and is listed as endangered. All felling of pau-brasil or sale of the wood is already illegal under Brazilian law, and under current CITES legislation all export of logs or rough sawn wood is also illegal. Furthermore, since May this year Brazil has stopped all export of finished bows made in Brazil from pau-brasil wood.
Given that all export of pau-brasil from Brazil has ceased, it’s hard to see Brazil’s motivation for seeking an Appendix I classification as anything other than a nationalistic attempt to claim exclusive moral rights over its national tree.
We are concerned that CITES is being exploited for political gain, and that Brazil’s agenda has more to do with colonial reparations or social justice than environmental protection. Although full of buzz words, the Brazilian proposal cannot be taken seriously – it relies on misinformation and the deliberate omission of relevant facts. Its underlying thesis – that bowmaking is a prime cause of pau-brasil loss – is completely false, and its presentation with regard to smuggling is tendentious to say the least.
All the world’s bow-makers combined use about 200 semi-mature trees per year, an absolute drop in the ocean compared to the habitat loss caused by clear-felling sanctioned by the Bolsonaro regime for urbanization and arable farming.
By listing all pau-brasil wood and its products on Appendix I, the Brazilian government will criminalise the use of propagated trees and sustainably managed wood, thereby invalidating the many conservation efforts carried out by bowmakers and other national organizations. This is contrary to the spirit of CITES, and is clearly counter-productive with regard to the future of pau-brasil.
We do not believe that trade has a negative effect on the sustainability of pau-brasil, in fact the reality is the opposite. We would call on our CITES representatives to reject the Brazilian proposal, and to consider instead how we might help Brazil to implement a workable certification scheme for plantation-grown and sustainably managed pau-brasil. This would relieve any real or perceived pressure from bowmakers on the wild population, and would ensure that bowmakers in Brazil and across the globe remain active partners in the preservation of pau-brasil.
The decision will be taken by the parties to CITES. Please lobby the CITES representative in your country – the full list of parties to CITES is here. Click your country name to get contact details, and look for the contacts for the management and scientific authorities rather than enforcement. You can write a letter or email them – it doesn’t have to be long or detailed, just let them know of your concern and what impact the proposed changes could have for you.
In the UK, contact Kristopher Blake, UK CITES Management Authority, email@example.com
Secretariat’s assessment of the proposals to amend Appendices I and II UPDATE 13 Oct 2022: CITES secretariat have recommended that proposal 49, on Paubrasilia echinata, should be rejected. Follow the link above and look at page 125. This is a huge step in the right direction for the musical community but we are unclear to what extent the voting parties will be guided by the secretariat’s recommendation. Particularly of note is the comment that: The species was last assessed at the global level under the the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in 1998 and categorized as ‘Endangered’, with deforestation identified as its main threat at the time, but this assessment needs updating.
The Secretariat notes that the annotation proposed for the transfer of P. echinata from Appendix II to I is a substantive one and, as it contains a combination of inclusionary and exclusionary language, it meets the description in paragraph 5 c) of Resolution Conf. 11.21 (Rev. CoP18). Further, Paragraph 7 of the same Resolution urges Parties submitting proposals that contain substantive annotations to “consult with the Secretariat, the Standing Committee and, as appropriate, the Animals Committee or Plants Committee, to ensure that the annotation is appropriate and can be readily implemented”. To the best of the Secretariat’s knowledge, these consultations have not taken place. The implementation of the annotation proposed appears to present a number of significant challenges and requires further consideration. The Secretariat will make further proposals in this regard after hearing the views of Parties and inter-governmental bodies consulted under paragraph 1 b) of Resolution Conf. 10.13 (Rev. CoP18) on Implementation of the Convention for tree species.
CITES list of species included in the Appendices Valid from 2015. Paubrasilia echinata is included under Appendix II with the following annotation: “Designates logs, sawn wood and veneer sheets, including unfinished wood articles used for the fabrication of bows for stringed musical instruments”.
CITES tree species program The CITES Tree Species Programme seeks to foster economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development. Pau-brasil is not included on this program – but it perhaps offers a way forward?
CITES Scientific Authority for the UK is the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. They provide independent and impartial scientific advice to Defra and APHA to help develop Government policy and advise on CITES licence applications.
Pernambuco conservation and plantation initiatives
The following conservation and plantation initiatives are not acknowledged by the Brazilian proposal.
FUNBRASIL FUNBRASIL is a highly respected national foundation dedicated to Pau-Brasil conservation and reforestation – they have been active in replanting since the early 1980s, they are an entirely Brazilian organization, and their voice is perhaps the most legitimate and well-informed. Its founder Sr. Roldão de Siqueira Fontes (1909-1996) was responsible for the planting of 2,700,000 pernambuco trees during his lifetime. This fact is not countered in the Brazilian proposal, nor is it even mentioned and yet schoolchildren are taught about him – see the account of a school trip here and schools poster here. Sr. Roldão de Siqueira was promoted to “Grand Officer of the Order of Rio Branco” by the Brazilian government for his work in reforesting pernambuco. For an introduction to his work see the Wikipedia page or this article in the Brazilian Times (2007).
Dona Ana Cristina de Siqueira Lima of FUNBRASIL has written an important open letter to CITES calling for rejection of the Brazilian proposal to list Pau-Brasil on Appendix I. Original Portuguese text here and English translation here.
FunBrasil archive documents. We have retrieved these from the São Paulo City Council website. They were originally lodged with the council in 1996.
IPCI The IPCI or International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative is an association founded in 2000 in order to finance the planting of Pernambuco for bow making. It gives annual reports on its website. In its press releases, IPCI states that it has so far financed the planting of 250,000 pernambuco trees and that it plans to continue this financing in order to plant a total of 500,000 pernambuco trees.
VerdeBrasil From 2002 to date, 419,368 pernambuco seedlings and 1,067,000 of various native species have been produced and distributed by the VerdeBrasil Foundation. A list provided by the President of the VerdeBrasil Foundation, Marco Raposo, confirms the quantities per year and the names of the beneficiaries. We estimate that at least 300,000 pernambuco trees planted by VerdeBrasil are currently growing in the state of Espirito Santo. On 30 April 2022, the state government launched a survey process (to establish an inventory and to confirm the quantity remaining and the locations where these trees were planted. We await their findings. Trees of Music website here. and related RAIN website here.
Private plantations One well documented example of a private plantation has 1700 trees currently reaching maturity. 8 other private plantations managed by bow-makers are known. View map here.
Saplings of Pau-Brasil are available from tree nurseries and seeds are advertised online for Brazilians to buy if they want one of these symbolic trees in their own garden. A few suppliers are listed here:
Brazilwood: The Colour and the Sound by Ricardo Maranhão. This book ‘tells this story and presents the present situation of the red wood’. Available in Portuguese or English as a Google ebook.
References and resources
UK Guidance on Musical Instrument Certificates (MIC) and crossing borders
Webinar March 2021 (half an hour long). Guidance is currently only relevant to materials such as tortoiseshell; Pernambuco does not yet (2022) require these certificates, but this is the system which will be used if finished bows are put onto CITES Appendix I or II. The form to apply is designed primarily for the import/export of live animals (eg pandas moving between zoos) and asks for the gender and date of birth of live specimens. For bows, you have to tick the ‘other’ box and note that you are applying for a MIC. You need a certificate for every bow, they can take a month to be issued, are only valid for three years and you have to travel via designated ports (because you need to find people to stamp the documentation in each direction). Eurostar is not a designated port, so to export you would have to get paperwork stamped 33 miles away in Gravesend. Government guidance is unclear about the procedure for importing in your country of arrival if you travel by Eurostar but Gare du Nord, Lille, Brussels Gare du Zuid, Rotterdam and Amsterdam Central are currently not designated ports of entry for CITES specimens. On your return journey you would face equivalent problems at each end. We hear that the UK system is actually regarded as more straightforward than the system in other countries.
All this is made worse for UK string players as many choose to travel by Eurostar in preference to flying because a violin case is longer than the standard carry-on baggage allowance for most airlines – and of course putting a violin or bow in hold-luggage is unsafe. It is sometimes possible to buy a premium airline seat with an extra allowance, or to buy an additional seat for the instrument case, but it all adds expense and hassle, and Eurostar has been a much more convenient option. If Paubrasilia is put on Appendix I, or if the wording of Appendix II is revised to cover finished bows, traveling by Eurostar will become unviable. It will add to the sense of being imprisoned in the UK and is likely to lead to widespread non-compliance and disputed confiscations of valuable antiques.
Added this, with an MIC there is no provision for movement of unaccompanied bows – eg if you wanted to send a bow abroad by courier for restoration or authentication. MICs can only be used by musicians travelling with their own bows; they are not valid if you are carrying someone else’s bow or if you have a commercial purpose (offering it for sale, letting someone have it on trial, or getting it authenticated or restored if you are a dealer). The process in such cases is much more complicated.
Internationally renowned Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma raises his voice in support of bow makers in the face of the threat to their profession.
TRAFFIC: advising and supporting the decision-making process of CITES
Analysis and briefing documents published ahead of CITES COP19. TRAFFIC is a leading non-governmental organisation working globally on trade in wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. This CITES hub on their website has very detailed documents; search for item ‘paubrasilia’. Key conclusion is: If the intention of the proponent is to subject finished products to CITES trade control, while allowing for use of musical passports in accordance with Res. Conf. 16.8 (CoP17), this could alternatively be achieved by amending the Proposal to retain the species in Appendix II with a change to annotation #10 to this effect. Brazil could also submit a zero quota for wild-sourced commercial exports to be posted on the CITES website to indicate that trade in wild harvest of the species from Brazil is not permitted.
BBC: Spike in Amazon emissions linked to law enforcement
Article here September 2022 Deforestation for agriculture and fires were the main drivers of the increase in deforestation in Brazil. The scientists say that a “collapse” in law enforcement in recent years has encouraged forest clearing.
ISM: Plans to ban illegal trade in Pernambuco will impact string players
Article here August 2022 A new proposal from Brazil could make the movement of Pernambuco wood, used to make stringed instrument bows, more difficult. If approved, it could affect string players worldwide by requiring a permit for them to travel internationally with their bows, as well as restricting the manufacture of new bows.
The Strad: The frightening future of pernambuco: what could it mean for violin and bow makers?
Wood for Sound: why violinists prefer pernambuco over other species as a bow material
Article here Ulrike G. K. Wegst American Journal of Botany Vol. 93, No. 10 (Oct., 2006)
Pau-brasil and string instrument bows telecouple nature, art, and heritage
Article here Ecology & Society Journal, Silke Lichtenberg, Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald, Juan Antonio Reyes-Agüero, Dieter Anhuf, Udo Nehren
Traditional bow-making craftsmanship, an intangible cultural heritage, depends heavily on the high-quality pau-brasil wood… In order to target the protection of this coupled natural/cultural heritage, this work frames and examines the pau-brasil/bow-making cultural-ecological system as a complex telecoupled system linked by cultural ecosystem services provided by the pau-brasil, as well as the relationships and cultural exchanges among key actors.
Long list of useful academic articles at the end of this article
International Alliance of Violin and Bow Makers for Endangered Species
CITES news page here. The Alliance works as a member of the CITES Annotations Working Group.
League of American Orchestras
Overview of CITES consideration of Pernambuco here and clear and comprehensive response to Brazil’s proposal here.
International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative USA
CITES and Timber; A guide to CITES-listed tree species, Kew publishing 2015
Link here. Includes the out-of-date statement that: There are no large-scale commercial plantations of this species. Smaller replanting and conservation initiatives, such as those being carried out by the International Pernambuco Conservation Initiative, are in place in Brazil, but as yet no wood from these sources is in international trade.
CoP19 proposal 49, Comments and supporting documentation by Vito Vissicar
Article here. Wikipedia refers to the wood as Paubrasilia, because Pernambuco is also the name of a Brazilian state.
A Arvore da Música The Music Tree 2009 documentary with Joshua Bell and David Garrett about the importance of pernambuco to classical musicians and sustainable planting initiatives. “THE MUSIC TREE”/A Arvore da Musica: Found only in the remnants of Brazil’s devastated Atlantic Rainforest, Brazilwood (pernambuco/pau brasil) is vital in the manufacture of fine violin, cello and viola bows ever since the time Mozart was composing his masterpieces. From the search for the wood in the forests of Brazil, to their use by the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, the film explores a path to saving the trees and the music that depends on it. Preview on YouTube here Available to watch in full on Mubi
President Bolsonaro plants a tree…
Photo here of Bolsonaro planting a Pau-brasil (Brazilwood) tree to symbolise the “unequivocal symbiosis between nature and nuclear energy”.