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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).

C. Conservation of Biodiversity
Chapter contributed by Steve Waldren and Peter Wyse Jackson

Biodiversity in Europe
Europe includes a range of habitats, from hot Mediterranean biomes to cold sub-polar regions; from oceanic Atlantic habitats to those in continental climates far from the sea; and from lowland plains to high mountains. Each has specialised ecosystems and plant associations. The flora of Europe changed dramatically during the Pleistocene, with large changes in the distribution of many taxa. The human population has a long history of interaction with the native flora through traditional agricultural systems, forestry and varied land-use. These factors have produced a variety of natural and semi-natural vegetation communities and a diverse flora which has provided European people with numerous resources. The varied climatic and edaphic conditions and different agricultural practices have resulted in a wide range of domesticated crops and semi-domesticated landraces. This wealth of wild and domesticated flora is now threatened by changes in climate, land management, urbanisation, increasing and unsustainable tourism, water abstraction and the spread of invasive plants.

European botanic gardens and institutions contain in their living collections, libraries, herbaria and museums a considerable body of information on diversity of tropical plants, though there is still a great deal yet to be elucidated. Several European countries have overseas territories in tropical areas of high biodiversity; where conservation is often a low priority but botanic gardens can do much to promote it. It is also high time for botanic gardens to devote more attention to monitoring and conservation of plants, ex situ and in situ, in Europe.

Current role of EU botanic gardens in biodiversity conservation

Botanic gardens in Europe offer a real opportunity for effective conservation of European plant diversity; though most are not necessarily sited in the areas of highest plant diversity. Many gardens have already adopted some conservation measures and grow threatened European plants. However, gardens could undertake much more, and this section provides some guidelines and examples. Most European countries have well-organised state conservation agencies, and botanic gardens should link with these rather than trying to do it all alone.

Biodiversity can be considered at the level of the:

a) ecosystem, involving complex interactions between plants, animals, hngi and micro-organisms and with climatic, edaphic and human factors
b) inter-taxon, involving the variety and richness of the taxa present
c) intra-taxon, involving variation within and among populations of a given taxon, including genetic variation between individuals.

Because of the difficulties in defining taxa, it may be more appropriate to consider conservation of evolutionary lineages in (b) and (c). Botanic gardens have traditionally focused on level (c), by growing a range of species in their collections; but there are also opportunities for them to contribute at the ecosystem level. Collections that ignore conservation of adequate intra-specific variation may, at best, be of some conservation interest, but are unlikely to guarantee the long-term conservation of the species concerned.

Biodiversity and EU legislation
In the past two decades there has been a dramatic increase in regional, national and international legislation on conservation and the environment, much of which affects activities of botanic gardens. The legislation provides opportunities for individual botanic gardens and networks of botanic gardens to become involved in global and national conservation issues and the sustainable use of biodiversity in natural habitats of the EU. It offers botanic gardens a chance to demonstrate the use of their skills and resources as broadly based centres for the study and conservation of plant diversity. Botanic gardens need to be familiar with national and international legislation for the protection of wild flora. Each garden should have a code of conduct to ensure that staff do not violate these laws or legally binding agreements between the garden and other organisations. Some of the most significant and relevant legislation and Conventions are outlined on the next page. (See ‘A review of International Conventions which affect the work of botanic gardens'. Botanic Gardens Conservation News, 1999,3 (2) 29-54).

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
The world community has recognised, through the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the negative effects of the loss of biodiversity on quality of life and on survival of humankind and life in general on this planet. The Convention aims to:

  • conserve the world’s biological diversity
  • promote the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity
  • provide for the equitable sharing of benefits from the use of biodiversity, including providing assess to genetic resources and the transfer of relevant technologies.
Botanic gardens should also seek to contribute to national biodiversity strategies that are formulated by governments in response to the CBD. After signing and ratifying the CBD, many European countries and the European Commission have developed national Biodiversity Action Plans, or are in the process of doing so, and have developed the necessary legislation and legal mechanisms to incorporate biodiversity conservation into state law. See Boxes 12-14.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
The aim of this Convention is to provide a mechanism to regulate and monitor the international trade in threatened plant and animal species. CITES operates through the issue and control of export and import permits for species listed in three levels, according to the degree of threat resulting from trade of the species. Botanic gardens have a central role in improving the implementation and awareness of CITES and they can serve as rescue centres for seized or confiscated plants (see Box 15).

Bern Convention
This European-centred Convention aims to:

  • ensure conservation and protection of all wild plants and animal species
  • increase co-operation between states in these activities
  • afford special protection to the most vulnerable or threatened species.
Many of the most threatened European wild plants are listed by the Convention and scheduled for protection. At the species level, the Bern Convention provides a target list of European taxa of high conservation priority, and this may be used by botanic gardens to prioritise their conservation objectives.

European Commission Directive on the conservation of natural and semi-natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats’ Directive)
The aim of the Directive is to conserve fauna, flora and natural habitats of importance in the EU. The fimdamental purpose is to establish a network of protected areas throughout the EU designed to maintain the distribution and abundance of threatened species and habitats, terrestrial and marine.

European Commission Directive on the conservation of wild birds (Birds’ Directive)
This Directive applies to the conservation of buds’ habitats and requires member states to take special measures to conserve the habitats of listed threatened species through the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAS).

Other international instruments relevant to botanic gardens include the Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar Convention), the World Heritage Convention, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Agenda 21. Other international efforts in conservation have been developed in recent years, such as the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources. All these not only provide a framework for biodiversity conservation by botanic gardens, but are also likely to provide increased opportunities through provision of finding and collaboration for conservation programmes. It is important for botanic gardens to take full advantage of these opportunities and to accept the responsibilities they present.

National legislation: Each country in the EU is required to have its own legislation to bring national laws in line with international Conventions to which they have acceded or to meet the requirements of European Commission directives. Botanic gardens need to be familiar with relevant national and regional legislation for the protection of wild flora. Each botanic garden should develop a policy that agrees with the national and international conventions and relevant legislation (see Box 13).

BOX 12
Key articles from the Convention on Biological Diversity relevant to botanic gardens and their primary contributions to their implementation

Article 6: General Measures for Conservation and Sustainable Use
General contributions made by botanic gardens to national biodiversity strategies and sustainable development.

Article 7: Identification and Monitoring
A wide body of work undertaken by botanic gardens in plant systematics, floristics, inventories, surveys, etc.

Article 8: In situ Conservation
Contributions made by botanic gardens through development, designation, care and management of protected areas, habitat restoration or re-creation and wild-plant population research, recovery or management.

Article 9: Ex situ Conservation
Botanic gardens are major practitioners of ex situ conservation through the development and maintenance of germplasm collections including seed banks, field genebanks, tissue collections in culture, individual species recovery programmes, databanks, etc.

Article 10: Sustainable Use of the Components of Biological Diversity
Many botanic gardens play important roles in the identification and development of economically important species, in commercial horticulture, forestry and agriculture, and in bioprospecting.

Article 12: Research and Training
Botanic gardens undertake research in many relevant fields, such as taxonomy, ecology, biochemistry, ethnobotany, education, horticulture, plant anatomy, biogeography. Many botanic gardens provide training opportunities and courses in conservation and related disciplines, often available to national and international trainees.

Article 13: Public Education and Awareness
Public education and developing environmental awareness, including programmes to promote public understanding of biodiversity, its importance and loss, are priority tasks of many botanic gardens. Many botanic gardens play important roles in school and university teaching.

Article 15: Access to Genetic Resources (and benefit sharing)
Botanic gardens worldwide currently hold more than 4 million accessions. These represent a vast conservation resource of stored and managed biodiversity for the future. Many botanic gardens already share benefits - collecting fees, research support, equipment, information, training, shared specimens - and in many other ways help to develop the capacity of partner institutions for biodiversity conservation.

Article 17: Exchange of Information
Most botanic gardens are active in making information on their collections and the results of their research widely available through published and unpublished literature and accessible databases. Many botanic gardens can share data on collections, using the International Transfer Format for Botanic Garden Plant Records (ITF).

Article 18: Technical and Scientific Co-operation
Technical and scientific co-operation is a hallmark of many major botanic gardens, often involving joint research and staff exchanges.

Ensure in situ conservation and assessment

Botanic gardens have traditionally focused mostly on ex situ collections, although several manage areas of natural or semi-natural vegetation as reserves. However, there are many ways in which gardens can play a more active role in in situ conservation, which is generally the preferred method of conservation. By combining appropriate in situ and ex sifu methodologies in a complimentary way, gardens may significantly strengthen their conservation abilities. Botanic gardens have developed taxonomy, propagation and others skills that can be combined with field survey techniques to enhance their role in conservation assessment, initiation of recovery plans for threatened taxa, and describing patterns of variation within and among plant species. (See also Objective E3.)

To achieve Objective C1, EU botanic gardens should:

  • make available data generated from their scientific and horticultural programmes in a user friendly form by traditional publication or through electronic publication
  • develop research activities to assess the degree and type of threats to threatened plants and ecosystems, and to set up procedures to monitor changes in their status
  • develop programmes to describe the extent of variation at the different hierarchical levels of biodiversity (ecosystem, species and gene)
  • monitor and record local uses of plant diversity, and document urgently traditional uses of plant species and communities, including forestry, medicinal, agricultural, religious, horticultural and other uses
  • assess local trade in native and introduced plants, and use the information gained to implement CITES
  • make available their ex situ collections to support in situ conservation measures.
BOX 13
A checklist for botanic gardens on the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Obtain and read a copy of the text of the Convention on Biological Diversity and make it available to others in your botanic garden.
  • Ensure that staff of your garden know about the CBD and understand its provisions and implications.
  • Initiate a debate in your garden towards the formulation and agreement of an official policy on the CBD and a strategy for its implementation.
  • Prepare and follow an institutional Code of Conduct on collecting and acquiring plant material.
  • Develop Material Transfer Agreements to ensure that benefits arising from distributed plant material are fairly and equitably shared.
  • Review the current activities in your garden that are relevant or contribute to the implementation of the CBD - undertake a ‘CBD-audit’ or strategic review for your garden and its collections.
  • Consider how the mission of your garden is relevant to the CBD and to biodiversity conservation in general and consider reviewing your mission to become more involved in biodiversity conservation.
  • Make sure that all staff are aware of and follow the garden’s policies, procedures and practices relating to implementing the CBD.
  • Ensure that all the actions of your botanic garden are in line with the spirit and letter of the Convention.
  • Seek to publicise the CBD and its objectives to your garden’s visitors and supporters.
  • Become involved in the development of national biodiversity conservation strategies and offer advice on plant diversity matters to national policy-makers.
  • Ask for your government’s support and official recognition for your garden’s role in implementing the CBD.
  • Seek to be included or represented in official delegations sent by your government to the Conference of the Parties of the CBD or to SBSTTA (see Box 14, or seek accreditation and attend meetings in your own right as a non-governmental organisation.
  • Become involved in processes and working groups established by organisations such as BGCI, to develop international policies for botanic gardens.
  • Develop and strengthen partnerships with institutions in other countries, particularly those that are rich in biodiversity but poor in resources, and assist them in all ways possible to meet their challenges and obligations in implementing the Convention.
  • Remember that the CBD is relevant to the national situation, and that it is not only for gardens with international programmes.
Source: BGCI.

Develop management of ex siru collections

Botanic gardens should expand their traditional role in ex situ conservation to ensure that they are conserving sufficient genetically controlled and documented diversity for the evolutionary potential of the conserved material not to be compromised. In practice, this will require many individuals to be maintained per accession, and this might pose severe constraints on garden resources. Gardens should therefore prioritise their conservation collections, ideally by concentrating their efforts on selected, high-priority, threatened, indigenous taxa. Field surveys may help to prioritise conservation actions. Many conservation collections can be used to assist recovery programmes by providing material for reinforcement of small and vulnerable populations; however, the problems of potential disease transfer and hybridisations in cultivated stock should not be ignored. Such recovery activities must very closely linked with appropriate field survey and data acquisition.

One cost-effective method of conserving large numbers of individuals is to store them in a dormant state as a seed or tissue gene bank. However, managers of collections should be aware of some of the problems associated with gene-banked material: loss of viability over time, evolutionary stasis as compared to wild plants, lack of opportunity to store mutually dependent taxa such as pollinators and microflora; and ‘recalcitrant’ species cannot be conserved under typical seed storage conditions of low temperature and low moisture content.

To achieve Objective C2, EU botanic gardens should:

  • integrate their ex situ conservation activities with in situ conservation programmes and conservation priorities
  • ensure that collections of threatened taxa are used for detailed study of genetic variation, breeding biology, ecological requirements, etc.
  • build up conservation collections in which priority is given to indigenous species, including crop varieties and their relatives and other economically important taxa
  • ensure that their conservation collections are used as sources of material for species recovery programmes, and, subject to the provisions of the CBD and CITES, provide material for trade in order to alleviate or remove threats due to exploitation of wild plants
  • develop herbaria, or at least actively contribute to national herbaria, by collecting voucher material, especially of local natural resources
  • develop long-term seed and tissue storage capacity to augment and support their other ex situ conservation efforts
  • ensure that the collections meet the needs of biodiversity education, especially through provision of appropriate displays (see Case Studies 3 & 4)
  • ensure that collection policies are compatible with national and international legislation and agreements, and develop a code of conduct for field collectors and for the exchange of plant material between institutions and for other uses
  • ensure that adequate high quality data is held to support ex situ collections.
Develop management and analysis of data and information

Many gardens have developed sophisticated data storage systems, which take advantage of the tremendous developments in computer software and hardware, and use these systems to store and retrieve information on ex situ collections. The activities described in C2 above will also generate a great deal of valuable conservation data. Gardens should take advantage of their existing data storage activities and develop broader roles as holders and providers of conservation information, by collecting, maintaining and exchanging data on a variety of plant diversity and conservation issues. Botanic gardens should aim to become collectors and distributors of biodiversity and conservation information by collating relevant information and making this available to a variety of users. This will greatly add to their collaborative conservation efforts.

To achieve Objective C3, EU botanic gardens should:

  • develop appropriate information systems to manage data storage and retrieval for a variety of users
  • assemble and collect data relevant to biodiversity and conservation for wild and cultivated plants and other plant genetic resources, including data on their status, ecology, use, propagation of rare and threatened species
  • assemble and collect floristic, vegetation and conservation data on local habitats
  • ensure that the data collected can be adequately and appropriately disseminated to a wide variety of users, including national and international conservation agencies, policy makers, planners and developers, and the general public
  • provide information in a variety of formats, including electronic contributions to co-ordinating and monitoring databases, printed guidebooks and newsletters, reports on plant genetic resources for agriculture and commerce; take advantage of the opportunities offered for information dissemination via the internet
  • ensure that the information gained is used to support practical plant conservation and sustainable development programmes
  • seek to contribute to and support electronic networking of data used for conservation purposes.
Ensure garden management that promotes biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of plant resources

Application of the recommendations outlined in this section may require changes in institutional activities and policy. Garden administrators and managers should ensure that policies are adopted within their institutions that promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of plant resources. To achieve Objective C4, EU botanic gardens should:
  • ensure that the mission statement and strategic planning for the institution incorporates the principles of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development
  • implement a conservation policy that focuses on native species
  • become involved in international efforts to conserve rare plant species and plant genetic resources
  • establish long-term programmes for the cultivation, propagation and distribution of plants threatened by trade, to reduce or remove the market in unsustainably harvested, wild-collected plants
  • develop a checklist and audit of activities relating to the CBD implemented by botanic gardens (Box 13).
BOX 14
Notes on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Contracting Parties
States that have ratified the Convention.

Plant Species Diversity
Should be interpreted to include the conservation of diversity of species at all taxonomic levels, including subspecies, varieties, forms (including cultivated forms - cultivars).

Conference of the Parties (COP)
Regular meetings are held by those who have ratified the CBD, to review its implementation, including its financing and administrative arrangements.

Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA)
Article 25 of the CBD established this body, which meets regularly to provide the Conference of the Parties with expert advice on the implementation of the CBD and the conservation of biodiversity.

CBD Secretariat
The address is CBD Secretariat, World Trade Centre, 393 rue Saint Jacques, Suite 300, Montrkal (Quebec), Canada H2Y 1N9. Tel: (514) 288 2220, Fax: (514) 288 6588, E-mail:

Implement and influence national and international biodiversity policies

As already indicated, various national and international policies are relevant to plant diversity, its conservation and the sustainable utilisation of the resources this diversity provides. Gardens should not only seek to implement the recommendations and any relevant legislation lting from these policies, but should also seek to influence national and international policy. For example, countries that are signatories to the CBD have an obligation to set up and implement a biodiversity action plan. Botanic gardens can play an important role in shaping and developing such policies by making available their expertise and information on plant diversity and its utilisation.

To achieve objective C5, EU botanic gardens should:

  • seek government recognition and support for biodiversity work in the garden
  • set up the infrastructures needed to become effective in implementing biodiversity policy
  • become actively involved in the implementation and promotion of relevant national and international policies, agreements and legislation
  • seek to influence national and local government and other policy makers in drafting and implementing policies relevant to biodiversity, possibly by direct involvement in official delegations to meetings of relevant international conservation conventions, including the CBD and CITES.
BOX 15
A code of practice on plant trade for botanic gardens
  • Judge whether any plant trade operations that you influence or in which you participate are detrimental to the survival of plant species or vulnerable populations.
  • Be aware of, and try to obtain and read copies of, all relevant legislation relating to the protection of wild plants and regulation of the trade in wild plants at local, national and international levels.
  • Never break any of these laws intentionally, and take all measures possible to ensure that you do not break them unintentionally.
  • Include in your institution’s curation or accessions’ policies guidelines to be followed on plant trade issues.
  • Always check sources, provenance and documentation of new accessions and the credentials of those with whom you exchange plants.
  • Do not purchase, collect, accept as unauthorised gifts, or otherwise receive plants that are known to be in breach of national or international regulations or that have inadequate, incorrect or incomplete legal documentation.
  • Designate a member of staff whose duties will include the checking of legislation on plant trade and ensuring that the institution’s activities and policies comply filly with such legislation. Ensure that this person is in regular contact with the CITES Management and Scientific Authorities of your country.
  • Lobby for the conservation of your country’s flora and the protection of its most vulnerable species from illegal or unsustainable trade.
  • Make available, where possible and appropriate, any spare seed or propagated material of threatened plants from the collections of your institution, if the distribution of such material can have the effect of reducing trade pressure on threatened wild populations.

Conservation programme at Córdoba Botanic Garden

Córdoba Botanic Garden was established in 1981 as an initiative of a research team with an established conservation programme for endangered Iberian plants (germplasm banks and reintroduction techniques). Several projects were carried out in 1988-94, as a result of an agreement with the Andalusian Environmental Agency, leading to the setting up of the Andalusian Germ Plasm Bank, a seed-bank for the conservation of the Andalusian flora. Other programmes allowed the application of ex situ and integrated conservation strategies, including reinforcement and reintroduction techniques for the restitution of endangered species in the wild. A specific agreement also permitted a study of the possibilities of increasing the network of natural areas of Andalusia, based on their botanical value. The Garden is taking action towards the restitution of 21 of the 72 taxa at greatest risk in the Andalusian flora. It has also collaborated with other institutions in Spain and abroad to protect endangered plants. The endangered species of the Balearic flora Lysimachia minoricensis, was successfully restored on Minorca in 1990, in collaboration with the Balearic Autonomous Government and the botanic garden of Brest, in France.

Mediterranean region as a subject for research for EU botanic gardens

Several European botanists (e.g. Qutzel & Mtdail 1997) have recently drawn attention to the high biodiversity in southern Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. Smart (1998) stated that ‘The most important geographical areas for maintaining bird diversity are now well known, but the plant habitats of Europe have been far less studied, and in many cases we simply do not yet know where the concentrations of plant diversity are located’. Initiatives have been taken towards the identification of Europe’s Important Plant Areas (IPAs) by the Planta Europa Conference and EU botanic gardens should be able to generate and contribute significant data to the project. This, however, should only be the first step in an integrated conservation strategy for European and Mediterranean plant diversity, and EU botanic gardens should be prepared to take a major role in the implementation of such a strategy including providing scientific backup and research support for non-European Mediterranean botanic gardens, especially newly established ones.

Quezel estimates that about 25,000 species occur in the Mediterranean Basin, with about 50% endemism and a high proportion of very rare and threatened taxa. Little, accurate information is available on most of them and so it is not yet possible to apply IUCN Red Datu Book categories to them. In many cases, little is known about their ecology, biology or distribution. How many Red Datu Sheets on threatened species have any information on pollinator relationships, critical ecological factors and reproductive capacity or population dynamics? In these subjects there is considerable research potential for the European botanic garden community, especially as the major international conservation agencies have not been able to go beyond the basic Red Data List and take on board this next stage in plant species conservation.

Quezel, P. & Medial, F. (1997): Hot-Spots Analysis for Conservation of Plant Biodiversity in the Mediterranean Region. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 84, 112-127.
Smart, J. (1998): Finding the ‘Hot Spots’. World Conservation 2, p.21.