The WWF, formerly known as theWorld Wildlife Fund, says Britain is “the biggest importer of illegal timber in Europe” and is responsible for the loss of 600,000 hectares of forest each year in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
That is an area more than twice the size of Luxembourg.
The Swiss-based group said the illegal logging that feeds the trade was depriving local communities of their livelihoods and could lead to the loss of major forests in Africa and Indonesia over the next 10 years.
WWF forest experts produced their report after studying the trade between EU nations and countries in the Amazon Basin, the Congo Basin, East Africa, Indonesia and Russia.
They also surveyed Baltic states which are now EU members.
“The EU is probably importing a substantial and increasing quantity of illegal timber from all regions … indirectly via China,” the WWF said in the report timed for a meeting of EU ministers on the issue on Tuesday in Brussels.
Illegal logging involves cutting down trees, often by rogue companies, in violation of national conservation measures and outside the control of governments.
The wood is then smuggled out to another country before going on the world market. Britain was followed by Finland, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands on the EU list of importers.
The WWF report said it was vital for the EU to introduce a mandatory ban on the import of illegal timber instead of current policy favouring voluntary agreements between its 25 members and producer countries.
“The EU must take much tougher action if it wants to make a difference in both conserving the world’s most important forests and in helping alleviate poverty,” said Duncan Pollard, head of WWF’s European Forest Program.
Andrew Lee, campaign director for WWF’s national organisation in Britain, noted that Britain had made the fight against poverty the central part of its presidency of the EU.
He said Britain’s huge consumption of timber was robbing Indonesia and countries in Africa of income while international companies behind the trade reaped the profits.