Over the last year or so, British, European and International regulations on endangered species have been in the spotlight. During the last General Election, following Prince William’s public statements on elephant conservation and ivory artefacts in the Royal Collections, the UK Conservative Party made the abolition of the trade in ivory one of their manifesto pledges, meaning that they have had to organise a Parliamentary Select Committee to look at the issue.
With the sheer volume of antique ivory artefacts in circulation, compromise has been necessary and over the months ahead we are likely to have a permanent clarification on how legislation on the trade of ivory objects impacts the UK. However, the combination of overseas regulations and international obligations means that it is still difficult to provide clear and definitive information. Peter Beare has been working very hard behind the scenes on behalf of the Entente International des Luthiers et Archetiers (EILA), attending CITES meetings in Geneva in order to help advocate the position held by musicians, instrument makers and the instrument trade. EILA have contracted the help of John Bennett, a consultant who is able to navigate the processes and who understands how to put forward our views to CITES in the best way to achieve an equitable solution. There are cost implications of his work, which is important with CITES exploring the consequences of unsustainable forestry of rosewood, ebony, and even maple and spruce, and there may be a time when we need to be more active in protecting our sustainable interests within the context of larger industries endangering the materials that we depend on.
At the end of last year, as chairman of the BVMA, I contributed to the survey by the Directorate General for Environment of the European Commission on Ivory Trade in the EU; and separately to the UK Government’s ivory consultation for the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) advising the All Party Parliamentary Group on the ivory trade. On 22 March I will be attending a DEFRA meeting in Bristol designed to give clarity to existing regulations, and will report on the outcome in the following newsletter.
It is important to state that the violin trade is unequivocally opposed to the continued hunting of elephants for ivory and the illegal trade, but we are in the unenviable situation that many bows and other small instrument components (nuts, endpins, decorative elements) were made long before there was any perceived risk to elephants becoming endangered and, as a result, the existence of minimal pieces of ivory on many of the older instruments and bows that we depend upon means that restrictions on the transportation of musical instruments is an unintended consequence of a legitimate and much-supported desire to conserve elephant species. Moreover it can be fairly well demonstrated that the inclusion of ivory within a violin bow does not significantly contribute to its value and, even with the finest bows by old master makers, value has been dictated in the main by craftsmanship. Hence modern bows made after 1981 are not worth less because of an absence of ivory and, in the extreme, a silver-faced Tourte is not viewed differently from an ivory-faced one in terms of commercial value, or relative prestige.
Accurate information is difficult to come by because of the changing situation. However, the International Federation of Musicians (FIM) and the PEARLE (Performing Arts Employers’ Associations League Europe) has produced a handbook, with support from the European Commission, which provides reliable information given the circumstances as they presently stand. Watch this space. We intend to keep you informed as things progress over the coming months.
We also have some clarification on Rosewood, thanks to Peter Beare and John Bennett. At the CITES SC69 Meeting in Geneva in 2017 they worked with the authorities to amend and clarify the annotation for rosewoods so that it is possible for musicians to travel with rosewood (under 10kg per instrument, so not some marimbas or some pianos) without the need for documentation. The subsequently released CITES guidance document can be downloaded below.
only applies at present to non-commercial travel, so there are implications when you are buying and selling instruments abroad. However, concerned travellers should print a copy of the document to bring with them in case of any hassles at customs. The next step for Peter and John is to work on a similar annotation for the commercial sale of rosewood in instruments abroad. The decision on this will be taken in 2019. Peter reports that CITES does seem to believe that the current regulations are excessive in their scope and there is a willingness to untangle the issues. With some common sense, they seem to have worked on a policy of imposing a blanket ban in the first place with an interest in allowing legitimate exceptions to state their case. Until a decision is made, any sales across borders will require permits. CITES licenses are available in the UK from the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency https://www.gov.uk/guidance/cites-imports-and-exports
It cannot be restated strongly enough, that the violin community worldwide, as makers, dealers and musicians unequivocally supports measures that will protect endangered plants and animals.