Responding to the overall decline in availability of the commercially most popular tropical species, particularly if certified, and the objective of improving returns to sustainable tropical forest operations, tropical wood marketing activities in Europe led by the STTC and the ATIBT Fair & Precious campaigns are focusing heavily on promoting lesser used species (LUS).

Europe is testing and promoting lesser-used tree species in timber. Credit: EUobserver

Europe is testing and promoting lesser-used tree species in timber. Credit: EUobserver

These activities combine testing of the technical properties of LUS with close monitoring of market developments to identify emerging niche applications for which these species are well adapted and to allow targeted communication campaigns.

This approach is well illustrated by a civil engineering application testing programme of a range of tropical certified LUS at a marina facility in the Netherlands, on-going now for 10 years which will soon come to fruition with publication of a full set results on the STTC website in the coming weeks (

Funding for the testing programme is from FSC Netherlands and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water, with financial contributions from Van Swaay Harlingen BV, GWW Houtimport BV and Precious Woods Europe BV who also provided part of the timber in 2009. The assessment was undertaken by the Stichting Hout Research (SHR, a testing and knowledge institute for o.a. timber) at the Houtexpo duurzame waterbouw site (Sustainable wood for waterways expo) in Akkrum.

The latter was established in 2009 and forms part of a working marina, so the material is effectively tested in real life situations. Some of the timber has been evaluated in water contact, with a view to use in such applications as pile planking, with other types tested in different forms, such as decking and beams. A particular focus was to test the various hardwoods in applications where they are currently not generally used. Among the more than 20 species involved in the project, which also included some temperate varieties, are Muiracatiara, Sapupira, Angelim da Campina, Fava Amargoza, Acariquar, Gindya udu (Tanimbuca) and Manbarklak.

SHR undertook field evaluation of the timber in situ at the Houtexpo, comprising visual inspection and strength and resistance testing, followed by testing of samples at its laboratory. At the recent STTC webinar, it was highlighted that additional new opportunities for tropical LUS in the European market may arise from a forthcoming EU ban on creosote for wood treatment.

John Williams, a principal consultant at the structural engineering group, RSK, noted that it is highly likely that the EU will ban creosote in 2021. He also mentioned that the UK alone uses 10,000 cu.m of creosoted softwood each year. In response to the anticipated ban, end users are now looking at cast concrete, steel or plastics as alternatives. According to Mr Williams “there may also be an opportunity for tropical hardwood, but it will need investment, determination and momentum”.