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Botanic Gardens in the European Union: Heritage and Conservation - Report of a Meeting

Volume 2 Number 10 - June 1998

Julia Willison

The tenth anniversary of Córdoba Botanic Garden provided an excellent opportunity for European Union botanic gardens to meet and to develop a dialogue with the European Commission and European Members of Parliament. Botanic gardens of most European Union countries were represented at the meeting by the members of the BGCI/IABG European Botanic Gardens Consortium.

The two day meeting consisted of four lectures and two round table discussions. The following summary presents the main topics of the lectures and outcomes of the round table discussions, followed by a brief report from an ad hoc meeting of the BGCI/IABG European Botanic Garden Consortium.

The first lecture was given by Professor Fabio Garbari, Director of Pisa Botanic Garden, Italy, who put European botanic gardens into an historical context and highlighted the phenomenal influence they have had worldwide on the history of Europe and the economic world order.

The second lecture was given by Ms Ana Magramer from the European Commission, who provided an informative and comprehensive overview of how botanic gardens can fit into existing funding structures of the various DGs (Directorate Generals), but reminding botanic gardens of the fact that only a small percentage of the many projects submitted ever receive funding.

The third lecture was presented by Mr Mattheas Jurgensen from the European Commission, who talked about how the Commission saw botanic gardens in relation to the Biodiversity Strategy. He believed there was a strong role for botanic gardens in all four themes of the strategy:

  1. Conservation of natural resources
  2. Sharing of benefits
  3. Research identification and monitoring
  4. Education and training.

The fourth lecture was presented by Dr David Bramwell, Director of the Jard¡n Bot nico Canario 'Viera y Clavijo', Las Palmas, Spain, who provided a comprehensive overview of the present and future roles of botanic gardens in conservation. He pointed out the fact that plant diversity is particularly rich in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin and that European botanic gardens contain some 3,000 plant scientists researching plants.

Round Table Discussions

Main points from Members of European Parliament

  • The European Parliament is interested and commited to helping the work of botanic gardens. MEPs were very pleased that botanic gardens are developing a lobby and felt that it is important that gardens get their message out to a wide number of people, including decision makers, as many people do not know what botanic gardens do;
  • It was noted that the traditional role of botanic gardens appears to be in crisis and that there is a need to redefine this role. Given that over 80% of Europeans live in cities, it was felt that botanic gardens are important places for improving cultural identity;
  • MEPs stated that they were very happy to help channel botanic garden projects through appropriate funding avenues. They noted that it is often the case that funding for the establishment of projects is easier than for their upkeep. However, it was clear that MEPs did not believe that the European Commission should maintain botanic gardens. Gardens needed to be clear about local, national and regional responsibilities towards them;
  • It was suggested that one way in which botanic gardens could become more visible in Europe was for them to send a couple of questions to their MEPs each month for discussion.

Main Points from Botanic Garden Staff

  • Botanic gardens were presented as active, relevant and vital to society. A strong case was made about the important link between in situ and ex situ conservation and it was stressed that botanic gardens are changing. It was clear that botanic garden staff have an enormous amount of enthusiasm and commitment for the work they do. However, it was noted that botanic gardens are under-estimated in society and that this is resulting in their degradation. For example, there is a notable loss of horticultural knowledge and loss of important libraries. Delegates stressed that there was a need to see beyond the present;
  • Botanic gardens have many functions and carry out numerous activities. Their main roles were seen in research, education and conservation. However, it was noted that not all botanic gardens can do everything;
  • Many delegates stated that botanic gardens need help in understanding the structures of the European Commission in order to apply for funding. A problem is that botanic gardens have to find programmes to fit into, as established funding programmes are not specifically for botanic gardens;
  • There was a general feeling that, while ideally botanic gardens want a directive, the European Commission can stimulate enormous support for botanic gardens by offering them a small amount of money. This would demonstrate to national governments that botanic gardens are considered important by the EC;
  • A short report of this meeting would be prepared and presented to the European Commission and Members of European Parliament to ensure the voice of botanic gardens is heard;
    *Botanic garden staff were very grateful to the various MEPs and representatives of the Commission for generously having given their time to attend this meeting. Gardens were looking forward to continuing this dialogue which they believe to be vital to the development of European society.

Action Points Arising from a Brief Meeting of the European Botanic Garden Consortium

  • The Secretaries General of BGCI & IABG will write to all European Union botanic garden national networks and ask for them to nominate representatives to become members of the BGCI/IABG European Botanic Gardens Consortium, if they have not already done so;
  • BGCI & IABG will write to all speakers at last year's Eurogard'97 meeting in Edinburgh and ask them to submit their papers, if they haven't already done so, for inclusion in the European Botanic Gardens Action Plan which the European Consortium wishes to prepare. They will be sent a copy of the prepared education chapter as a possible model;
  • BGCI will subsequently collate and prepare the first draft of the European Botanic Gardens Action Plan. This will be distributed to European Botanic Gardens Consortium members as soon as possible. Representatives will bring any comments on the Action Plan to the next European Botanic Gardens Consortium meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, planned for June 1998.