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Action Plan for Botanic Gardens in the European Union
Edited and compiled by Judith Cheney, Joaquin Navarrete Navarro and Peter Wyse Jackson for the European Botanic Gardens Consortium. (2000).

The Action Plan sets out for botanic gardens in the European Union more than 30 objectives on science and horticulture; heritage and culture; conservation of biodiversity; education, training and awareness; networking and co-operation; capacity building; and fimding to implement the Action Plan. Ways of achieving each objective are suggested. Case studies give examples of current activities and innovative programmes being undertaken by botanic gardens in the European Union. Information is also included on the numbers and diversity of botanic gardens in the EU as well as on their network organisations.

This document has been drafted and widely considered and reviewed by staff from botanic gardens throughout the European Union. It seeks to provide a firm foundation for joint and individual actions that can be undertaken by botanic gardens in the region. It goes beyond providing just a flamework for botanic gardens’ involvement in plant and environmental resources management, research and conservation, but provides specific suggestions for programmes that can be implemented by botanic gardens in many fields.

It is designed to be accessible to anyone with an interest in plants and the environment. However, there are a number of very specific audiences we have kept in mind when preparing this Plan. These audiences are: These audiences are:

  • governing bodies, administrators and staff of botanic gardens
  • those working to create, develop or strengthen botanic gardens
  • government departments and ministries, especially those responsible for the environment and education
  • those involved in the development and implementation of national and regional conservation and environmental policies
  • environmental education policy formers
  • non-government organisations and other groups carrying out environmental and conservation work
  • funding agencies or bodies

Its goals are to:

  • provide an EU-wide regional framework and shared rationale and priorities for botanic gardens’ actions for plants and the environment
  • strengthen the capacity of EU botanic gardens
  • help gardens to develop programmes to educate the public about the importance of plants for the planet
  • provide guidance for individual botanic gardens in the formulation and implementation of programmes and to suggest priority actions for such gardens for the study of plants, for conservation and to promote the sustainable use of plant diversity
  • foster development of the EU botanic garden network, to promote even closer regional collaboration and raise greater resources for their individual and joint priority actions.

By Peter Wyse Jackson

Botanic gardens in the European Union
Area or Country
United Kingdom#
EU total
*Including botanic gardens in Macaronesia (Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores) #Including Gibraltar
There are more than 400 botanic gardens in the European Union (see Box 1), their staffs comprising some 1,500 scientists, and 5,000 other employees (technicians, gardeners, education staff, guides, office staff and guards).

These botanic gardens receive more than 50 million visitors each year and are the major way in which the people of Europe can gain access to information on the diversity and importance of the world’s plants. Many botanic gardens in the European Union are also leading institutions of world significance in botanical research, plant conservation, education and horticulture.

  • They grow more than 50,000 species of higher plant in their living collections.
  • Their herbaria hold over 40 million specimens from all over the world.
  • Amongst them are over 100 germplasm banks, conserving important collections not only of wild flora, but also of species of agricultural interest and containing tens of thousands of seed accessions - one of the most important genetic reserves in the world.
  • Their museum and library collections are some of the most important and extensive in the world - an important part of the Europe’s heritage and culture and an essential resource for botanical studies.
Botanic gardens have played a significant role in many cultures and civilisations over the ages. Their contribution to cultural development, economic progress and commercial expansion has been of very great importance. Today, their roles are many and various, as outlined in Box 2, which lists some of the major activities currently undertaken by botanic gardens in the European Union.

They perform such diverse roles and functions that it is not easy to define what is a botanic garden. However, a convenient definition to use is that they are:

‘institutions holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education’(Botanic Gardens Conservation International 1999).
Some current roles and activities for botanic gardens in the European Union
  • Wild plant species research, conservation and management ex situ and in situ
  • Plant reintroductions and habitat restoration research
  • Arboriculture and dendrology
  • Library services and information centres
  • Environmental education programmes for children and adults
  • Teacher training
  • Tourism
  • Public recreation
  • Horticultural research
  • Ornamental horticulture and floriculture
  • Horticultural training
  • Remedial training and therapy
  • Introduction and assessment of new crop genetic resources
  • Cultivar conservation and maintenance
  • Seed and tissue banking
  • Field genebanks
  • Herbarium studies
  • Laboratory research, including in vitro (tissue culture) plant CL... !ation
  • Ethnobiological research
  • City and town planning, resource allocation and land use
Within this definition, there may be included a great diversity of institutions ranging for large gardens with several hundred staff and a diverse range of activities to small institutions with limited resources and activities. Nevertheless, as suggested by this Action Plan, all can play a role in botanical resource management, in botany, horticulture, conservation or education.

Botanic gardens are managed by a wide range of organisations and administrations. Many are state administered or managed by regional or local authorities and receive public funding. More than 30% of the world’s botanic gardens belong to universities and other research institutes for higher education. A relatively small proportion are private. In recent years the trend has been for botanic gardens to gain greater financial and administrative independence, often becoming Trust-administered and operating with funds gained increasingly through independent fund-raising efforts.

The major types of botanic garden in the European Union are outlined in Box 3, although many have multipurpose roles and so do not fit neatly into any well-defined category.

The plant groups best represented in living collections in botanic garden in the European Union include many important groups, including carnivorous plants, orchids, palms, cacti and other succulents, ferns, tropical ornamentals, cycads, bulbous plants, bromeliads and conifers. Many botanic gardens place particular emphasis on growing and maintaining thematic collections of such groups as medicinal and aromatic plants, economic plants, particularly fruit trees and their wild relatives, ornamentals, plants of ethnobotanical or historical interest, alpines and temperate trees.

Stimulated by increasing awareness of the need for plant conservation, many botanic gardens have given particular emphasis to replacing plant accessions whose origins are unknown with newer material of known wild origin and giving higher priority to maintaining genetically diverse collections of priority rare or endangered plant taxa. Furthermore, there is an increasing trend for botanic gardens to focus on and give priority to the cultivation of the native flora of their own region, particularly those that are threatened. It is hoped that this Action Plan will stimulate this work amongst many more gardens.

Types of botanic garden in the European Union
  • ‘Classic’ multipurpose gardens
    These are often the largest with a broad range of activities in horticulture and horticultural training; research, particularly in taxonomy with associated herbaria and laboratories; public education; and amenity. They are generally State supported.
  • Ornamental gardens
    These often very beautiful establishments with diverse plant collections, but currently with little or no research, education or conservation role. Their plants are often not labelled. Some are privately owned. Many municipal gardens fall into this category.
  • Historical gardens
    These include many of the earliest botanic gardens established as physic gardens for the teaching of medicine. Some were developed for religious reasons and many were laid out in elaborate geometric patterns. Some of these are still active in medicinal plant conservation and research and are still today primarily concerned with collection and cultivation of medicinal plants and spreading of information about them to the public. Some have associated laboratory and research facilities.
  • Conservation gardens
    Most of these are recently developed in response to local needs for plant conservation and some contain or have associated areas of natural vegetation in addition to their cultivated collections. Included in this category are native plant gardens, which only cultivate plants from their surrounding region or national flora. Most play roles in public education.
  • University gardens
    Universities have traditionally maintained botanic gardens. Most have a multipurpose function in teaching and research. Many are open to the public.
  • Combined botanical and zoological gardens
    Often the botanical element is secondary to the zoological collection, but the importance of botanical collections in many zoos is currently being reassessed.
  • Agro-botanical and germplasm collection gardens
    These gardens function as an ex situ collection of plants of economic value or potential for conservation, research, plant breeding and agriculture, Several are experimental stations associated with agricultural or forestry institutes. Many are not open to the public. Many contain associated laboratory, plant breeding and seed testing facilities.
  • Alpine or mountain gardens
    These gardens, most frequently in mountain regions of Europe, are specifically designed for the cultivation of mountain and alpine flora. Some are satellite gardens of larger lowland botanic gardens.
  • Natural or wild gardens
    These gardens contain an area of natural or semi-natural vegetation, which is protected and managed. Most are established to play conservation and public education roles and include areas where native plants are grown.
  • Horticultural gardens
    These gardens, often owned and maintained by horticultural societies, exist primarily to foster the development of horticulture through the training of professional gardeners, breeding, registration and conservation of garden plant varieties and to act as gardens for the use, pleasure and service of members. Most are also open to the general public. Several have broader aims in plant species conservation.
  • Thematic gardens
    These specialise in growing a limited range of related or morphologically similar plants or plants grown to illustrate a particular theme. These include orchid, rose, rhododendron, bamboo and succulent gardens or gardens established on such themes as ethnobotany, medicine, bonsai, topiary, butterfly gardens, carnivorous plants, aquatics.

In the last 20-30 years there has been a renaissance in botanic gardens worldwide, largely as a result of the developing concern for the loss of biodiversity and the need for many more institutions to become active in plant resource conservation. There has also been a corresponding rise in botanic garden involvement in research and conservation of the floras of the regions or countries in which they are situated. Their traditional and widely accepted role in ex situ conservation has also been broadened considerably by many botanic gardens. Many botanic gardens are now taking a more integrated approach to biodiversity conservation, linking their work on the cultivation and conservation of plants in the garden and maintained in their seed banks with an enhanced role in in situ plant conservation. Such integrated conservation activities take many forms, including work in areas of conservation biology, including plant reintroductions, habitat and wild population management and restoration, the control of invasive plants, genetic and molecular studies, environmental advocacy, taxonomic research and exploration and environmental education.

An important feature of the botanic garden scene in Europe over the last decade has been the extent to which networks of closely co-operating botanic gardens have been developed. Since its establishment in 1987, Botanic Gardens Conservation International itself has developed to become a major networking organisation for botanic gardens in Europe and worldwide and includes most of the major European botanic gardens as members. Although all these networks have arisen from a great diversity of origins, there are now effective operational links and close co-operation amongst them. The development of this Action Plan is a tangible outcome of this close co-operation.

Need for an Action Plan for botanic gardens

We depend totally on plants for every aspect of our existence - food, clothing, housing, health and pleasure. Plants (all plants, not just the few thousand we use directly) are the basis of all life on earth; and, to survive, we need to treat plants as important partners in our lives. Nevertheless, throughout the world we are threatening this rich part of our natural heritage. Natural habitats are coming under increasing pressure and the erosion of the diversity of our native plants continues, despite growing awareness of the importance of biodiversity in Europe and our urgent need to protect and manage it for the hture.

Botanic gardens in the European Union have become increasingly aware of their considerable responsibilities, not only for plant resource management, conservation and research, but also to safeguard the heritage collections of buildings, plants, landscapes and artefacts that are within their stewardship. In this new world climate of awareness about the environment, it has therefore become urgent for EU botanic gardens to unite their efforts and work together.

The aim of this Action Plan is therefore to:

  • define the role that botanic gardens can play in measures that the world community has formulated to safeguard plants and the environment, including how botanic gardens relate to international and national instruments, legislation and conventions that focus on plants and the environment
  • help to define botanic garden responsibilities and obligations in plant resource management and conservation;
  • define a shared mission and work programme
  • agree targets that define how EU botanic gardens can contribute to biodiversity conservation and environmental sustainability
  • develop efficient systems to document plant diversity within and beyond the European Union
  • ensure that EU botanic gardens are linked, co-ordinated, monitored and supported by network organisations
  • promote greater co-operation between botanic gardens within Europe and elsewhere in the world
  • ensure that the botanic garden community co-operates closely with non-garden institutions and organisations, including governments, NGOs, other bodies and individuals who are working to achieve similar aims
  • strengthen efforts made by so many institutions to gain new resources for their work; to turn their plans into actions.
How to use the Action Plan

This Action Plan will be most effectively implemented at the level of the individual botanic garden. It may be valuable for individual gardens to undertake the preparation of an institutional response to the Plan, reviewing its current policies, management, practices, procedures, resources and facilities. The following findamental questions might be addressed as part of such a review.

  • What is the mission of the garden? Is it clearly defined and understood? Does it outline the garden's purpose, objectives, targets and hture activities and is the mission fully understood by all those associated with the garden - governing bodies and other authorities, staff, funders and visitors?
  • What are the garden's current and future projected roles in areas such as botanical research, conservation, education and horticulture? How do these relate to the Action Plan objectives and do they address priorities identified also by other groups, bodies and authorities?
  • Can all staff be involved in the preparation of a response to the Action Plan so that their commitment to working to implement it is assured?
Clearly, no botanic garden can be active in implementing all, or even much, of the Action Plan. Nevertheless, it provides a shared agenda from which each individual institution can select its own priority activities for implementation, those for which it is best suited. It may also be used to support efforts made by botanic gardens to obtain new resources so that they can play increasingly effective and significant future roles.

The Action Plan is also designed to be used by networking organisations and other bodies associated with botanic gardens; to help define their programmes complementing, supporting, guiding and monitoring the botanic gardens with which they work.

So how do you begin to use this Plan?

We suggest that you first turn to the case studies that are provided at the end of each chapter (see list below), to read about just some of the initiatives being undertaken in the region. They will give you a broad overview ofjust how diverse the activities are which can be undertaken by botanic gardens. Next, systematically begin reading the text from the beginning. Highlight anything that sounds as though it might be possible in your region or institution. Share the ideas with your colleagues and then begin putting together proposals for programmes, using some of the arguments from this Plan. If at all possible, make contact with one of the individuals or institutions mentioned in this Plan and discuss your thoughts, Make an estimate of what the programme might cost to start and what it will cost each year to sustain.

The next step may be a difficult one - getting support for implementing the programme you have identified. You probably know the best way to do this for your particular situation, but again there is a lot to be gained by calling others and asking how they did it. Alliances with existing organisations are a good idea and local NGO and governmental support are highly desirable if your plans necessitate the pursuit of major finding.

1 Propagation of Italian wild orchids
2 Research on bryophytes
3 ‘Raised Bog’ display at the University of Salzburg Botanic Garden: for teaching and research
4 Pannonian display at the University of Vienna Botanic Garden: for education and ex situ conservation
5 Botanic Garden of the University of Pisa: the oldest botanic garden in Europe
6 Botanic Garden of the University of Padua: World Heritage Site
7 Ethnobotany Museum of Cordoba Botanic Garden
8 Linnaeus’s Garden in Uppsala Botanic Garden
9 Conservation programme of Cordoba Botanic Garden
10 Mediterranean region as a subject for research for EU botanic gardens
11 A natural garden in Paris
12 A rare plants trail at the Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest
13 Public education at the National Botanic Garden of Belgium
14 Educational games for tourists in botanic gardens managed by the Trento Natural Science Museum
15 Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI)
16 BGCVIABG European Botanic Gardens Consortium
17 International Association of Botanical Gardens (IABG)
18 Network of Italian Botanic Gardens
19 German gardens link with NGOs in a nationwide campaign
20 Jardins Botaniques de France et des Pays Francophones (JBFPF)
21 PlantNetwork: The Plant Collections Network of Britain and Ireland
22 National Plant Collection Foundation in the Netherlands
23 A meeting for all German-speaking botanic gardens
24 Integrating conservation of endangered plants of the Galapagos: the case of Calandrinia galapagosa
25 Professional training courses at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
26 International training courses run for botanic gardens by BGCI
27 BGCI information systems in botanic gardens of the former Soviet Union
28 Commercial partnership supporting conservation: a nature reserve in French Guyana