UK Ban on Ivory Sales

On the 20 December 2018 one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales became law as the Ivory Bill gained Royal Assent and became the Ivory Act 2018. The Government believes that tighter controls on ivory trade will help curtail the threat to elephants from poaching. However, the legislation is not expected to come into force until late in 2019 due to challenges around practical implementation.

Nobody can deny that every measure should be taken to help protect the dwindling population of elephants, one of the most majestic animals on the planet. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) figures state that since 2006 the total number of elephants in Africa has decreased by 21%, primarily due to poaching.

The ban will cover ivory items of all ages – not just those produced after a certain date however there will be exemptions including:

  • Items comprised of less than 10% ivory by volume and were made before 1947. The ivory must be integral to the item as a whole. The ivory is integral to the item if removing it would be done with difficulty or would damage the item.
  • Musical instruments that have less than 20% ivory content and were made prior to 1975 (when Asian elephants were added to CITES).
  • Portrait miniatures painted on thin slivers of ivory made before 1918, with a surface area of no more than 320cm2.
  • Rarest and most important items of their type. This category allows trade in outstanding items of artistic, cultural or historic significance made prior to 1918: "Such items will be subject to the advice of specialists at institutions such as the UK’s most prestigious museums"
  • Museums. Commercial activities to, and between, museums which are accredited by Arts Council England, the Welsh Government, Museums and Galleries Scotland or the Northern Ireland Museums Council in the UK, or the International Council of Museums for museums outside the UK.

By covering ivory items of all ages and adopting these narrow exemptions, the UK’s ban will be one of the toughest in the world. The maximum available penalty for breaching the ban will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.

On 4 July 2018 the Government announced that it will consult on extending the scope of the Ivory Bill. Items made from animals that are listed as 'vulnerable' to extinction on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, may be included in the Bill following the consultation. An amendment to the Bill has also been brought forward to include ivory from all animals and not just those protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Government has also clarified that pre-1918 portrait miniatures must have a visible surface area of less than 320 square centimetres to be exempt. 

Commenting on the Ivory Act 2018 Environment Secretary, Michael Gove MP said:

“It is an extraordinary achievement to have passed this Act of Parliament. The Ivory Act is a landmark in our fight to protect wildlife and the environment. The speed of its passage through Parliament shows the strength of feeling on all sides of the House on this critical issue.

"The UK has shown global leadership and delivered on a key commitment in the 25 Year Environment Plan. We are determined to end this insidious trade and make sure ivory is never seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol.”

The Consultation

On the 6 October 2017 Defra opened a consultation seeking views on banning UK sales of Ivory and they are looking for evidence of the effect this change might have. There were more than 70,000 responses to the consultation, with over 88 percent of responses in favour of the ban.

In our response, we argued that the Government’s focus should be on enforcing current legislation and closing any loopholes that currently allow illegal trade to continue instead of moving forward with a total ban on all ivory sales. With the proper controls in place and increased checks to improve enforcement the illicit trade of ivory would be reduced which in turn would discourage poaching, which continues to decimate elephant populations.

Mark Hayward

Mark Hayward

Chief Executive

“We welcome the publication of the consultation and look forward to engaging with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Government has stated that they will work with the antiques sector during the consultation to understand issues, set out definitions and look at exemptions.”

Border Force Amnesty Scheme

ivory submissions

We've partnered with Border Force on an initiative to remove endangered species items which lack provenance from circulation in a responsible manner.

Participation in the scheme demonstrates that you fully support the various initiatives in the UK and worldwide to preserve elephants and other endangered wildlife. The scheme is designed to remove items that are made from or include ivory or other endangered species material such as rhinoceros horn or tortoiseshell (marine turtle). With a focus on the items that cannot legally be sold.

Unscrupulous traders buy or otherwise obtain, ivory items (including broken or other unsaleable items) and illegally export them to countries where they can be reworked and sold on for profit. This scheme ensures this cannot happen and provides you with a receipt for your records just in case your client comes back later asking about the object.

Border Force is happy to accept most items including unworked elephant tusks but they would prefer that you do not send large pieces of furniture or pianos. If you have a large object where the ivory or other material can be removed easily, for example, inlays or piano key flats, they will accept the removed elements.

If you are unsure about an item (or have a question about a CITES matter) please feel free to contact the Border Force CITES Team and they’ll be happy to advise you.

How it works

Download the form, fill it in and send it together with the items you wish to dispose of to the Border Force CITES Team (the address is on the form). If you have more items than can be listed on one form, please complete another form for the extra items.

In return Border Force will send you a letter with a legal notice. Don’t panic - you do not have to do anything with it (unless for some reason you wanted any of the items to be returned to you). Then, a month later you will receive a further Notice of Seizure for your records and the matter is concluded.

Although Border Force are required to record the matter you will not be recorded as having committed any offence, in fact you will be recorded as having made a worthwhile contribution to conservation.

Download the form

Pictured - First three scheme submissions from NAVA Propertymark salerooms