For those interested in taking part in the PlantNetwork Target 8 project, this document gives some background to the project and outlines what we would like you to do. This text can also be downloaded as a pdf document.
Target 8 is one of 16 targets that comprise the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC, 2001). The Strategy aims to halt the current and continuing loss of plant biodiversity, by 2010. The target aims for:
‘60 per cent of threatened plant species in accessible ex situ collections, preferably in the country of origin, and 10 per cent of them included in recovery and restoration programmes’.
Plant Diversity Challenge: the UK’s response to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (2004) calls for linking ex situ and in situ conservation efforts. The Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain (2005) revealed that 1 in 5 species in the British flora faces extinction or is in major decline. It lists 349 species of which 4 are extinct in the wild, and 35 are critically endangered. In Ireland, 190 species are on the red list, of which 9 are critically endangered.
The aim of the Target 8 project is to develop ways in which horticulture, in particular through ex situ cultivation, can support conservation of our native flora. We want to develop co-operative programmes with those working on in situ conservation of plants in Britain and Ireland. The idea is for PlantNetwork’s member gardens to cultivate one or more threatened species in the flora of Britain and Ireland, and in so doing to develop scientific and horticultural expertise in ex situ conservation of vascular plants in order to assist and support in situ conservation work.
We aim to grow all threatened species in Britain and Ireland in ex situ collections and for the knowledge gained from growing them in cultivation to assist conservation in the wild. The idea is that developing knowledge for cultivating threatened plants assist those involved at the front lines of in situ conservation.
From the outset it is important to understand what we anticipate the outcome of the project to be. Ex situ is one aspect of an overall conservation strategy; it is not usually an end in itself. Success will not be measured by how many species of plant we have in cultivation by 2010, instead it will be judged on how many conservation projects, initiatives and action plans PlantNetwork gardens are involved with. There is little challenge to growing a threatened plant in a pot of John Innes compost. The threats facing our flora in these islands are varied, and are not an inability to grow them artificially, but the loss or degradation of habitats. Our job, as horticulturists, is to provide the skills and facilities to assist conservation work as a whole. We will be growing these plants for a number of reasons:
- The knowledge of how to germinate, grow, flower & fruit a species is an important spin-off from the project. Assembling a complete set of protocols to cultivating the British and Irish flora will be a significant compliment to seed banks. The type of data required is given below under record keeping.
- Cultivation may allow for a better understanding of factors involved in promoting flowering or pollination. Genetic and ecological studies are often dependent upon studying cultivated plants. Very few plant collections in Britain or Ireland have the facilities or equipment for such studies, and co-operative work is vital in this area.
- Bulking up material for re-introduction or augmentation of wild populations may be a chosen course of action, for which large-scale propagation work will be required.
- Lastly, we must not overlook the opportunities to raise public awareness and educate visitors to our gardens.
Once you have identified what species you are planning to grow, step one is to contact all those people and organisations already working on that species, as well as researching other gardens with expertise in the genus. The majority of these plants, or their close relatives may already be in cultivation. The project is being set up initially at 10 gardens. In 2006, the project will be rolled out to other PlantNetwork gardens in Britain and Ireland. Co-ordination of who is working on what species is very important so as to avoid duplication, especially if we are to maximise the four growing seasons left to us until 2010.
What the project is NOT about!
- The project is not about making a ‘stamp collection’. We are asking people to grow these plants to make sure we understand how they germinate, grow, flower and fruit and how to propagate these plants. The aim is to develop a complete recipe book to growing these plants.
- It is not about growing exhibition quality plants. Many of these plants will grow very happily in captivity, with no competition and abundant nutrients. This may be useful when bulking up large quantities of plants and trying to prepare exhibit-quality plants, but it is not the aim of the project. Such plants will look very different from those in the wild. It is more important to experiment with different growing media and different conditions, in order to find out what the plants require and tolerate than to grow a big healthy, but atypical, plant in a John Innes mix.
- Do not work alone. This project is not an end in itself. There is no purpose in growing a plant by yourself unless you are assisting in a bigger picture. You must try to get in touch with others working on the plant and find out what has already been done and what needs to be done. It may be that rather than ex situ work in your garden, horticultural assistance may be needed elsewhere.
- Do not collect seeds or material from the wild until you are well informed about protocols and legal issues. Great care must be exercised in collecting or interfering with threatened plants in the wild. A great deal of harm can be done by thoughtless collecting of seed, gathering of cuttings or removal of plants, not to mention that such activities are illegal in many cases. Since many of these plants have a very low reproductive capacity, collecting even modest numbers of seeds from the wild can seriously impact the recruitment of natural populations. In order to conserve the maximum genetic diversity in the collections and create the least damage to the wild populations, any collecting needs to be carried out carefully and in a fully informed manner.
What we WOULD like you to do
- Find out the local conservation agencies or organisations responsible for the threatened plants that occur in your area. The collaboration between gardens and in situ agencies is the sine qua non of a sustainable regional plant conservation. This project should not happen in isolation from conservation bodies.
- Establish face-to-face relationship with the conservation officer(s) responsible for the management or recovery of species to discuss issues of conservation theory and practice related to the species of mutual concern.
- Review the status of each threatened species and identify candidate taxa for ex situ conservation according to criteria such as, threat level, possibility of collecting plant material, likelihood of successful re-introduction, cost-effectiveness, appropriateness and feasibility of captive propagation.
- Report to PlantNetwork on the plant species you have chosen to take into cultivation. This will enable us to ascertain which garden will be custodian for which plant and ensure that there is no unnecessary duplication of collection and horticultural research efforts in the gardens across the UK and Ireland. See the list of suggested taxa for your garden, or a garden near you, on this page. (The benefits of a number of gardens growing the same species would include the possibility of keeping different populations as pure genetic lineages, as well as minimizing the inherent risk of pathogen transfer.)
- Collate and keep accurate plant records for each threatened plant you have chosen to grow. The records should include the provenance of the plant material (this is important for potential re-introduction programmes) as well as its germination, propagation and cultivation details. These data will then be entered into the Cultivation and Propagation database developed with Botanic Garden Conservation International.
Work in partnership
For each of your chosen species, find out as much as you can about what’s being done to conserve it, why it is endangered or has declined, and who is working on it. Is there a species recovery plan or species action plan for it? If not, why not. Contact all those who are working on the species, tell them about your part in the PlantNetwork project and offer your help (horticultural and botanical expertise and facilities). This is an important part of our project. We are aiming not simply to grow these species in cultivation, but to assist their recovery in the wild. Plant Diversity Challenge calls for in situ and ex situ to work together. Not all ex situ collections can be used for reintroduction, most won’t be suitable; but cultivation knowledge may prove vital for conservation work. Discovering the limiting factors for a species is the most important base line information for others to work on. Make sure that your participation in this project is mentioned in LBAP, regional BAPs, SAPs and UK BAP, however small a part it seems to you. Tell them what the PlantNetwork Target 8 Project is.
Keep careful records
We would like you to record details of germination trials, growth and flowering and fruiting of your chosen species, recording what worked and what didn’t. The data will be recorded in the Cultivation and Propagation Database developed with Botanic Gardens Conservation International (see Appendix II). A separate record should be kept for each propagation method as well as dates of propagation. If cuttings are more successful at different times of year, this is vital information. Be especially careful to record all the failures – these are the most valuable lessons. This data should then be submitted to us through the downloadable Cultivation Database.
How and when to report back to us
It is vital to co-ordinate the work. The aim of the project is to spread the load of work throughout the network of gardens. Try to refer to the website regularly to see who else is becoming involved.
Publicise and display the work to the public
A central part of the project is to promote the work that plant collections can undertake in support of conservation activities. PlantNetwork will develop a generic poster about the project, which can be downloaded from the website, printed and displayed in your garden. Please try to take as many photographs as possible, not just of the plants, but the horticultural activities surrounding them. Please try to send us some of these photos so that we can use them to promote and demonstrate the project.
Timetable of reporting to us and to JNCC
The project is being set up initially at 10 gardens. In 2006, the project is being rolled out to other PlantNetwork gardens. In order to achieve an integrated approach it is vital that the website is kept fully up-to-date with who is growing what, and in collaboration with whom. This will enable any interested parties to see the gaps and potential opportunities.
- Global Strategy for Plant Conservation: available from Botanic Gardens Conservation International at http://www.bgci.org
- Plant Diversity Challenge: available from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee at http://www.jncc.gov.uk/pdf/PlantDiversityChallenge.pdf
- See DOWNLOADS for:
- See PAST MEETINGS for:
- the talk by David Rae and Natacha Frachon on the Target 8 Project at the conference on Practical Plant Conservation at Glasnevin in April 2005
- PlantNetwork Newsletters
- Newsletter 24, pp.16–22
- Newsletter25, pp.26–28
- Newsletter 27, pp.14–18
- Newsletter28, pp.12–14.
Natacha Frachon, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (N.Frachon@rbge.org.uk)
David Rae, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (D.Rae@rbge.org.uk)
Matthew Jebb, National Botanic Gardens of Ireland, Glasnevin (Matthew.Jebb@opw.ie)