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The Tresor-project of the Newly Established Regional Office of BGCI in The Netherlands

Volume 2 Number 5 - August 1995

Bert J.W. van den Wollenberg

Over the years, Utrecht University Botanic Gardens has been a facility for scientific research involving plants. Only in the last decade, interpretation of (scientific) knowledge for visitors became an important second goal. Last year, the third goal, care, developed from an issue to an integral part of the three-way strategy of Utrecht University Botanic Gardens. In 1994, a Dutch Regional Office of BGCI was established in The Netherlands, based at Utrecht University Botanic Gardens. The Dutch Regional Office invites Dutch companies to support conservation projects. The first conservation project run by this regional office is the Tresor Project. 

Adding Conservation to the Mission of Utrecht University Botanic Gardens

In the 1980s, it became apparent that conservation was becoming a social issue, and that botanic gardens possess a unique opportunity to address this issue. At Utrecht University Botanic Gardens, it was questioned whether the garden should limit itself to raising public awareness, or should start concrete action. At the same time, international cooperation and sustainable development became high-priority issues at Utrecht University. After it was decided by the garden management that active support for conservation should be an integral part of the garden policy, discussions turned to how to put conservation into an international perspective. To this end, a meeting took place with Dr Peter Wyse Jackson, at BGCI, in 1992. From this meeting gradually came forth a strategy, in which both international cooperation and corporate involvement could be integrated. This led to the establishment of a conservation-unit in the form of a Regional Office. 

The Dutch Regional Office of BGCI

On 20 May, 1994, Dr Peter S. Wyse Jackson, Secretary General of BGCI, and Drs J.G.F. Veldhuis, Chairman of the Board of Utrecht University, signed an agreement which resulted in the formal establishment of a BGCI Regional Office in The Netherlands. This Dutch Regional Office is based at Utrecht University Botanic Gardens. The aims are to:

  • develop programmes that further the cause of plant conservation, botanical science, botanic gardens network management, environmental education and horticulture
  • develop international programmes on biodiversity, involving botanic gardens
  • provide a means for BGCI to work more closely and effectively with botanic gardens and the business community in The Netherlands.

In order to meet these aims, activities have been pursued along two major lines:

  • development of a Dutch section of the (International) Plant Charter Group
  • development of a concrete conservation project, the Tresor ProjectT

The Dutch Plant Charter Group

The Plant Charter Group was launched by BGCI to provide a forum for businesses and industry worldwide, enabling them to express their concern and support for the conservation of our most important resource, the Plant Kingdom, which forms the basis for all ecosystems.

By becoming member of the Plant Charter Group, these companies financially support the programmes of BGCI. Through the Dutch Regional Office, BGCI is now able to address the Dutch business community more effectively. Through memberships, Dutch companies contribute directly to the activities of BGCI. In May 1995, the Plant Charter Group counted 37 companies, of which 10 were Dutch. The latter form the Dutch section of the Plant Charter Group, abbreviated as Dutch Plant Charter Group.

Companies communicate their involvement in projects in various ways. This communication can be directed towards the public, customers, retailers, or business relations. Some examples are given in the paragraph on the Tresor Project. In addition to meetings of the (International) Plant Charter Group, organized by BGCI, the Dutch Regional Office also hosts meetings for the Dutch Plant Charter Group. At these meetings, project proposals can be presented, and the current activities of the Dutch Regional Office as well as of BGCI as a whole can be demonstrated. One of the projects proposed during the first meeting of the Dutch Plant Charter Group was the Tresor Project. 

The Tresor Project

The Tresor Project concerns the purchase of 2,400 ha. of rainforest and wet savanna in French Guiana. Acquisition of the Tresor area is the first step in safeguarding this valuable area. An application for the legal status of nature reserve for the Tresor area will be submitted to the French Government as soon as the necessary data are available. The purpose is not only to conserve the biodiversity in this area, but also to use the project as a means of increasing awareness, care, and active participation of governmental organizations, companies, and the public.

French Guiana is an overseas province of France, in the northern part of South America, east of Suriname. The capital is Cayenne. French Guiana has about 100,000 inhabitants, and covers approximately 90,000 kmý.

The Tresor area of 2,400 ha. is located about 40 km. south of the capital Cayenne, in a region where the annual rainfall is extremely high; ranging from 4,000-4,500 mm. per annum.

The Tresor area consists of a variety of vegetation: wet savanna, primary and some secondary rainforest, and inundated forest along the river Orapu, which forms the western edge of the reserve. The eastern edge is formed by a roughly north-south running mountain range, with names such as "Montagnes de Roura" north of Tresor and "Montagne Tresor", and "Montagne de Kaw", to the south. Over the top of the mountains, a laterite road existed, which is now being improved. Along this road, the eastern edge of the Tresor area is situated. The Tresor reserve slopes down to the Orapu River in the west. To the north, there is no natural boundary. It borders the municipality of Fourgassi‚, an area of urban and agricultural development. To the south, Tresor borders more or less undisturbed forest, owned by the French Government.

In the next phase we will investigate how the Tresor Project can contribute to nature education and interpretation, both in French Guiana and in The Netherlands. International cooperation on education and interpretation is still in an early phase of development. Once concrete aims have been established, an evaluation of the facilities required and feasibility of supporting education in French Guiana will take place.

For scientific programmes, the Regional Office seeks the active involvement of scientific institutes, which already take an interest in this geographical region. For any scientific research regarding the Tresor area, cooperation, support and advice is sought from the Herbarium Division of Utrecht University. This institute coordinates the botanical inventory which is currently being compiled for French Guiana, Suriname and Guiana, within the framework "Flora of the Guianas". In addition, the Herbarium Division has a long-standing tradition of botanical research focussed on tropical America, resulting in a herbarium which reflects this specialization. Such participation may involve studies on the biodiversity of plants, by staff members or university students. In the framework of the aforementioned Flora project, it also closely cooperates with the "Office de Recherche Scientifique et Technique Outre-Mer" (ORSTOM) in French Guiana. The Tresor Project was presented to ORSTOM in January of this year.

After the presentation of the Tresor Project during the first Dutch Plant Charter Group meeting, two companies expressed interest in becoming actively involved in starting up the Tresor Project, including substantial donations. These companies are Biohorma Beheer BV, a pharmaceutical company, well known for their homeopathic and phytotherapeutic "Dr Vogel-products", and NV Energieproduktiebedrijf UNA, a major electricity-producing company. Another company, the NV Samenwerkende Electriciteits-Produktiebedrijven (Sep) (the Dutch Electricity Generating Board) informed us that although they were unable to actively participate, they were prepared to contribute a substantial donation to the project. To get through the initial phase, Utrecht University kindly donated sufficient funds for one additional staff member to be employed for the major part of one year. Once the project is running, extra staff time involved with the Tresor Project should come out of project overheads. 

Corporate Publicity

The companies involved in the Tresor Project have communicated their involvement in different ways. Biohorma Beheer BV started a promotion in which, for every retailer who participated in all 8 product displays, an amount was donated to the Dutch Regional Office equivalent to 250 mý. With 2,000 possible participants, the maximum saving would be 500,000 mý. A cheque for the Tresor Project of 50,000 DFL was handed over to Dr Peter Wyse Jackson on 20 May 1994, who received it on behalf of the Dutch Regional Office. The goal was easily met. From among all participants, a notary drew the winner of a fully organized 7 day trip for two persons to the rainforest in French Guiana. Biohorma Beheer BV went beyond this; at a meeting of the multinational companies which form the A. Vogel Group, Biohorma Beheer BV mobilized support for the rainforest action to the total amount 500,000 DFL over a five-year period.

NV Energieproduktiebedrijf UNA made a large contribution to the project in May 1994. On September 9, 1994, UNA opened a new electricity unit, equipped with the latest technological features to minimize the impact on the environment. On this occasion, where 400 business relations of UNA were present, a video presentation was shown on the Tresor Project. The official opening of the new unit was carried out by HRH Crown Prince Willem Alexander. In return, HRH received the first Certificate of Participation in the Tresor Project. A cheque for the Tresor Project, equalling the total value of the certificates for all guests, 100,000 DFL, was handed over to the Chairman of the Board of Utrecht University, Drs J.G.F. Veldhuis. 

Tresor Foundation

In order to procure a solid basis for the project, the Tresor Foundation was founded in December 1994. In this Foundation both Utrecht University, BGCI and the companies financing the project are represented. Since the purchase alone involves a large sum of money, the purchase has been agreed to with a direct payment of about 40% on signing a contract for the purchase, and the remainder in two yearly installments. The purchase was concluded by signing the contract in Cayenne, on January 23, 1995. The Foundation is to ensure that first and foremost the remainder of the funds is raised. In addition, the Foundation will develop guidelines along which educational and scientific programmes can be developed.