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Establishment of a European Botanic Garden Programme for the Conservation of Rare and Endangered Plants of Europe - A Discussion Paper

Volume 2 Number 10 - June 1998

Peter S. Wyse Jackson


The aim of this paper is to outline a proposed concept for the development of a new coordinated programme for European botanic gardens to enhance the conservation of rare and threatened wild plants of Europe and to ensure that the genetic diversity of the European flora can be safeguarded for the future.

The proposal has been discussed and endorsed by the members of the BGCI/IABG European Botanic Gardens Consortium and at the eurogard'97 Conference held at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh in 1997.It was agreed that the proposal be more widely circulated for comment before the project is implemented and for this reason it is being included as an article in this issue of Botanic Gardens Conservation News.

The conservation of a significant proportion of the native flora of Europe is a critically urgent task. Although there have been relatively few species extinctions recorded in Europe to date, genetic erosion of a large number of taxa has undoubtedly taken place and continues rapidly as more wild habitats are damaged or lost.Botanic gardens have long been recognized as having important roles to play in the conservation of the rare and endangered plants of Europe and have been involved in cultivating such threatened plants for many years.As has been described elsewhere, a high proportion of the threatened flora of Europe is represented in cultivation.Nevertheless, there is a need for botanic gardens to develop more closely coordinated conservation programmes to safeguard the genetic diversity of the European native flora, not merely by cultivating sometimes miscellaneous representatives of particular threatened taxa.It is therefore important that more botanic gardens develop projects and programmes that seek to:

  • contribute to broadly-based recovery programmes for particular threatened taxa;
  • enhance the long term survival of plant populations in the wild;
  • focus on the conservation of the full range of genetic diversity represented in specific endangered taxa; and
  • ensure that botanic garden conservation actions are effectively coordinated so that the highest priority tasks can be determined and implemented.

The Programme proposed here will also act as a joint and coordinated action by European botanic gardens towards the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, especially Articles 8 (in situ conservation), 9 (ex situ conservation) and 18 (technical and scientific co-operation), as well as towards meeting European requirements for the conservation of species listed by international legislation and conventions - such as the European Commission's Habitats Directive, the Council of Europe's Bern Convention and national legislation seeking to conserve species such as those listed in national or local Red Data Books.

The Programme will operate through the establishment of a Europe-wide collection of germplasm held for conservation purposes in a wide variety of institutions throughout Europe, and by the use of such germplasm to contribute towards the development and implementation of recovery programmes for such taxa.

Institutions with the capacity to grow, propagate and store germplasm, throughout Europe, mainly botanic gardens and arboreta, will be encouraged to become involved and to contribute to the Programme by giving a voluntary undertaking to maintain a conservation collection of one or more European wild plant taxa to ensure its conservation for the future.

This voluntary undertaking will be:

  • to develop and maintain conservation collections of plants to support the conservation of European threatened plant species and their habitats;
  • that each collection will adhere to standards of horticultural, genetic and demographic management as agreed as part of the Programme;
  • to ensure that the participating institutions will maintain viable samples of the selected taxa in collaboration with all relevant national authorities;
  • to seek to have such material contribute to the ultimate aim of developing safe, secure and self-sustaining, genetically diverse populations of such taxa in the wild.

At present just over 30% of the European rare and endangered flora is known to be represented in cultivation in one or more botanic gardens (BGCI figures, 1996, based on threatened plants data supplied by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre - WCMC).However, much of the plant material in cultivation is currently poorly documented, not of wild origin or represents a very limited pool of the genetic material still available in the wild.An aim of this Programme will therefore be to raise general standards of maintenance of germplasm by botanic gardens throughout Europe.

The importance of maintaining conservation collections of European threatened flora and their uses have been widely demonstrated.For example:

  • Stored or cultivated plants form a back-stop against genetic loss, erosion or complete extinction in the wild;
  • Conservation or recovery of threatened species or populations of such species can be assisted through the use of stored or cultivated germplasm, used for reintroduction, habitat restoration, population augmentation and other forms of translocation of specimens of such taxa into the wild;
  • Cultivated plants are a valuable source of material for scientific, conservation and horticultural research, often providing the means for study of large numbers of individuals of threatened taxa without having to deplete wild stocks;
  • Educational use of cultivated plants of conservation concern can be very effective in raising public awareness of the plight of particular endangered taxa or of threatened plants in general.

How Will the Programme Operate?

The Programme will operate jointly under the auspices of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and the International Association of Botanic Gardens (IABG).It will be administered on a day to day basis by a joint working group supported by a small Secretariat created by IABG and BGCI for such a purpose.

In the interim and until such time as adequate financial and other resources are available and secured for the establishment and maintenance of this Secretariat, the Programme will be promoted, monitored and administered by the steering group formed by and reporting regularly to the IABG/BGCI European Botanic Garden Consortium.This steering group will also be charged with seeking resources for the establishment of the proposed Secretariat.The steering group will also act as the scientific and advisory body to the Programme to regularly review and consider the operation of the Programme and to recommend the inclusion (registration) of additional taxa and institutions into the Programme, or any de-registration proposals.

How Will Institutions Become Involved in the Programme?

It is proposed that each national botanic garden network organization in Europe be invited to become closely involved in the operation of this Programme.This involvement should include:

  • the development of national sets of objectives and priority lists of taxa for inclusion in the Programme;
  • the identification of relevant non-garden partner organizations and bodies active in plant conservation who can be consulted about priorities and to be involved in the resulting conservation projects;
  • collaboration with the steering group to agree on the selection of taxa for inclusion in the Programme.

A series of national workshops could be held to discuss and consider the operation of this Programme and to determine and agree on the top national priorities.

An institution wishing to become a participant in this initiative will subsequently apply to the steering group to be included in the Programme outlining:

i) the taxa they currently maintain that they consider worthy of inclusion in the Programme

and/orii) the taxa with which they wish to begin new conservation work


iii) a request for guidance of which taxa from their own country/region that requires conservation, from which they may choose taxa on which to work.

The Secretariat (or in the interim, the steering group) will respond by sending a pack of information on the Programme and forms required with which the institution can make a formal application to be a part of the Programme.Institutions will then be invited to submit completed proposals to the steering group administering the Programme.The proposals will include:

  • information of the plant taxon/taxa that are proposed for inclusion in the Programme;
  • details of the current holdings of that taxon/taxa in the institution;
  • information on other institutions who will be involved in the maintenance of the conservation collection of the taxon/taxa (in which documentation from the other institutions indicating their willingness to be involved in this way should be supplied);
  • a background plan on how the collection will be maintained, developed and details of what will be the conservation targets for work on the taxon/taxa over a designated period of time;
  • a description of the institution - its facilities, staff and activities;
  • a signed Declaration that the institution accepts the terms of a Code of Conduct for the maintenance of this material;
  • a willingness to promote research on and study of the taxon to foster its conservation and to collaborate as appropriate with other agencies, organizations or individuals in the development of conservation projects relating to the taxon/taxa, for example, in the implementation of a reintroduction project or a species recovery plan;
  • a willingness to work to implement a set of guidelines defining the minimum standards necessary for the maintenance and conservation of this material;
  • the name of a project coordinator within the institution designated with responsibility to be the contact person relating to the taxon/taxa;
  • an agreement to provide regular (but brief) reports on the status of accessions of the taxon/taxa in cultivation to IABG/BGCI and progress reports on the implementation of its Plan on how the conservation of the taxon/taxa can be conserved;
  • a willingness to allow BGCI/IABG to hold relevant data on the accessions in cultivation in their databases.

The steering group will decide on whether the taxon/taxa and institution can be accepted for inclusion.In the event of a dispute or disagreement either within the committee itself or with the proposing institution, the Secretaries General of BGCI and IABG will have the right to make the ultimate decision after consultation and advice received from other relevant bodies.Once an institution and taxon has been accepted for inclusion in the Programme, that institution should work to create a Conservation Plan for its work with that taxon, including:

  • a brief review of the currently remaining plant populations in the wild and their status;
  • a review of the facilities required to cultivate, propagate or store the germplasm;
  • a designated staff member to manage work on the taxon in the institution and coordinate conservation activities;
  • a review of the horticultural techniques necessary for cultivation, propagation and maintenance of the taxon;
  • a documentation system to ensure that information obtained on the taxon can be managed and safeguarded;
  • possibilities for developing long-term seed/propagule storage for the collection.

Who Can Participate?

It is anticipated that botanic gardens will form the main participating institutions in this Programme but other bodies (eg. seed banks, university departments, research institutions etc) will be eligible and encouraged to hold conservation collections (or part thereof) of taxa listed in the collection.It is not expected that private individuals or commercial growers will be eligible to become such conservation collection holders, except in very exceptional circumstances.

How Should New Plant Material be Obtained for Conservation Collections?

Material obtained should be of wild source.Only when unique genetic material is available from cultivation sources should that be used instead of or in addition to wild material.Propagation materials should be obtained from the wild, in accordance with the guidelines for collection provided to participants as part of this Programme and in accordance with local, national or international legislation and regulations.Propagation material should never be collected in such a way that it damages the chances of the survival of its source material in the wild.

What Guidance will be Available to Participants on the Maintenance of Conservation Collections?

Guidelines will be available and sent to any botanic garden or other institution that wishes to submit a proposal for a taxon to be included within the Programme.These guidelines will include information on:

  • priorities for the choice of taxa for developing plant conservation projects;
  • plant collection procedures, including sampling in the wild and the legal aspects of acquiring and managing plant collections;
  • managing living plant collections: policy, staffing and institutional development aspects;
  • facilities required for living collections management;
  • horticultural aspects of plant conservation;
  • documentation requirements of conservation collections;
  • the importance of reproductive biology studies and associated research;
  • methodologies and procedures for maintaining genetic diversity and its integrity;
  • sharing the load: how to develop collaborative, regional or national programmes for the conservation of priority species or groups;
  • international transfers (how to successfully repatriate plant material and develop trans-national linkages for collaboration in species conservation projects);
  • practical checklists to guide individual institutions;
  • case studies illustrating examples of the best practices.

Guidelines for botanic gardens of relevance to the Programme on the following subjects are/will be also available:

  • germplasm conservation;
  • genetic sampling guidelines;
  • reintroductions;
  • management of orthodox seeds;
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES);
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD);
  • environmental education;
  • collections policies;
  • data recording standards.

What Plants will be Eligible for Inclusion in the Programme?

Any taxon listed by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) as of conservation concern (ie. a taxon that has had an agreed IUCN Red Data Book category of endangerment assigned) or is listed as threatened in European legislation or international Conventions (eg. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of relevance to the conservation of threatened flora will be eligible for inclusion in the European Collection.

Taxa listed as of conservation concern by national authorities will also be eligible for inclusion in the Programme.However, the Programme will seek to give priority to the inclusion of taxa that are threatened globally, rather than those that are threatened only on a national or regional scale.The scope of the Programme will be to include all vascular plants occurring as natives within the territory of Europe (as defined by Flora Europaea).Territories situated outside Europe (eg. R‚union Island and the Canary Islands) but politically part of the countries of Europe may also be included with the agreement of the relevant national or regional botanic garden network.

No provision of non-vascular plants to be included in the Programme has yet been considered.However, this may become a priority in the future, especially for the conservation of particular algae and bryophyta.

Can More Than One Institution Hold a Collection of the Same Taxon for the European Collection?

Yes. However, different institutions maintaining material of the same taxon will be urged strongly to work together so that they can undertake complimentary or collaborative work.In addition, different institutions may accept responsibilities for the conservation of particular populations of a threatened taxon, perhaps from their own region, or from different parts of the taxon's natural range.The development of replicated collections will be encouraged to spread the risk of loss of genetic diversity held in one or only a few institutions.

Can Non-European Institutions Hold Part of the European Collection?

Non-European institutions will be encouraged to cooperate and collaborate, where relevant, with institutions in Europe maintaining Conservation Collections, however, only European institutions will be expected to receive official designation as European Collection holders.

Who May Propose the Listing of a Taxon in the European Collection?

New taxa may be proposed for listing and conservation in the European Collection by any institution accepted by the steering group established for the Programme by BGCI/IABG.Additionally, taxa may be proposed by BGCI or IABG provided institutions can be located that are willing to become the conservation collection coordinators for that taxon.

Who will Own the Germplasm?

No implications for the ownership of any germplasm will be implied through the participation by any institution or the inclusion of any taxon in this Programme.The ownership of the germplasm will be subject to local or national considerations of legislation.Transfer, exchange or sale of plant material of taxa contained within the European Collection will not be controlled but will be subject to individual national or European legislation and the terms of international conventions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and CITES.

While no restrictions on the use of germplasm from the European Collection can be demanded by membership of this voluntary Programme, it will be expected that institutions will sign up to and adhere with a voluntary code of conduct not to dispose of any plant material that may deliberately cause the loss of genetic diversity of germplasm holdings of a taxon, or of the integrity of information relating to that taxon, or threaten the ultimate survival of that plant material in the wild or in cultivation.

Will Seed/Germplasm Storage be of Major Importance to the Programme?

Yes.The development of partnerships between existing or newly developing seed/germplasm banks will be of vital importance to the Programme.One aim of the Programme will be to ensure that adequate genetically diverse stocks of each taxon in the European Collection is ultimately maintained in one or more germplasm storage facilities.BGCI and IABG will seek to develop partnerships and agreements with such major facilities throughout Europe so that space for long-term storage of germplasm can become available by negotiation.

It is anticipated that the ownership of stored germplasm will be retained by the provider of the germplasm, not by the storage facility/institution.However, it is expected and accepted that decisions concerning ownership of stored germplasm should be a matter for and decided by agreement between the provider and storage facility on an individual basis.

The ownership, transfer, exchange and use of any genetic material included in the Programme will be expected to be fully in line with the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity and CITES.

BGCI and IABG will also continue to assist where possible the development and strengthening of genebanks for wild species in botanic gardens.

Data Management

Participants in the Programme will be encouraged to develop appropriate electronic data management systems for their collections and for taxa held as part of the Programme.Advice and technical assistance will be given by BGCI, as available and requested, to these institutions.The software package BG-RECORDER will be available for institutions to use to manage data if required.Institutions will be encouraged to ensure that their computer databases are fully compatible with the International Transfer Format for Botanic Garden Plant Records (ITF) (versions 1.0 and 2.0) which will be the standards used for the electronic exchange of information on holdings of rare and endangered taxa included in the Programme.

It is hoped that information on the Programme can be included on the internet, as well as using this means to promote the development of a forum for the exchange of information, ideas and news on work and progress with the Programme and on the institutions involved.

How Can a Plant be De-registered from the Programme?

The ultimate aim of the collection will be to ensure that all taxa can be de-registered.This can be achieved when the taxon is recognized by appropriate European or national bodies as no longer endangered.This may be the result of successful species recovery actions ensuring that fully sustainable and self-supporting populations of the taxon are present in the wild and in no danger of significant damage or loss.Alternatively, it may be because exploration or research has determined that the taxon is better represented in the wild in Europe (or elsewhere) than was previously known.

It is not considered likely that any taxa will be eligible for de-registration because of a taxonomic change in its status, unless (molecular and other) research determines that its genetic constitution is close to, very similar or identical to another related taxon.

In the unlikely event that an institution wishes to cease to maintain holdings of a taxon that it has been designated as the holder of the European collection of that taxon, or of part of that taxon, another alternative institution must be sought that will be willing to take over responsibility for the maintenance of the germplasm in question.In these cases, the institution ceasing to hold the collection should surrender ownership of the germplasm to the institution accepting new responsibility for its conservation.

What Benefits will the Holders of Conservation Collections Gain?

  • holders will be able to gain public recognition for the part they are playing in maintaining important plant material for conservation as part of a Europe-wide programme;
  • through the Programme, it will be possible for any institution involved to play an important part in the conservation of the biodiversity of their own region by the setting of achievable targets for the conservation of one or more taxa.Their involvement, even if only to a limited extent, can be recognized as a unique contribution to conservation;
  • guidance and technical advice on the maintenance of conservation collections will be available to collection holders from BGCI, IABG and a project advisory body established for the purpose;
  • new opportunities for collaboration with other botanic gardens, research institutions and other bodies and organizations are anticipated for those involved in the Programme;
  • if necessary, BGCI can provide collection holders with appropriate computer software (BG-RECORDER) with which to maintain information on their plant collections;
  • BGCI/IABG will seek to raise specific funds to support the Programme financially and ultimately to obtain funds that may be used to further the conservation of individual taxa in individual institutions.

Preparatory Research Required

It will be important that urgent reviews continue to be undertaken on holdings on the rare and endangered plants in cultivation in botanic gardens, arboreta and other institutions in Europe in order to provide a baseline survey of existing germplasm being conserved or available for the Programme.A very valuable survey in this regard has already been undertaken by Mike Maunder and Sarah Higgens on behalf of the European Consortium on Bern Convention Plant Taxa in European Botanic Gardens, the results of which are published in this issue of Botanic Gardens Conservation News.

BGCI also holds information in its database on the representation of European endangered plants in cultivation and will seek to improve, enhance and maintain its database of this information and make it available for the project.Assistance in undertaking this survey will be sought from the members of the IABG/BGCI European Botanic Gardens Consortium as well as from the IUCN Europlant Specialist Group and the developing Planta Europa network.

Endorsements and Agreement for the Operation of the Programme

This draft concept paper was reviewed by the members of the IABG/BGCI European Botanic Garden Consortium during 1996 and subsequently revised to incorporate their comments and corrections.In addition, advice on the development of the paper was obtained from Dr Brien Meilleur, President of the Center for Plant Conservation, St Louis, USA and from Dr Mike Maunder of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, U.K.The proposal was considered and supported by participants in a workshop held during the 1st European Botanic Garden Conference in Edinburgh in April 1997.To all those who have given their advice and assistance in the development of this proposal we are most grateful.The views of each national network organization in Europe will also be sought in the development of the Programme and in agreeing specific details for its operation.

Formal endorsement and support will be sought from a wide variety of organizations, including:

  • IUCN Europlant Specialist Group;
  • Planta Europa network;
  • Organisation for the Phyto-Taxonomic Investigation of the Mediterranean Area (OPTIMA);
  • International Plant Genetics Resources Institute (IPGRI)
  • European Commission;
  • Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD);
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES);
  • IUCN Reintroduction Specialist Group.

Funding and Resources for the Programme

The aim will be to operate the Programme with a very restricted budget and limited staff resources (at least initially).For that reason, it is not intended to develop a complex bureaucracy or a wide range of regulations associated with the Programme and every attempt will be made to ensure that the Programme operates and is driven by the enthusiasm of participants and the goodwill of all those involved.

BGCI will offer (at least in the interim) whatever facilities and staff resources it can make available for the development of the Programme and its administration.It is hoped that each of the national plant collection and botanic garden networks in Europe will wish to adopt the Programme officially as part of their priorities and work plans and provide some essential resources and assistance for its implementation.It is not expected that any individuals, organizations or institutions involved in the Programme will be asked or required to provide any direct financial input to its implementation, by way of subscriptions, although approaches may be made to external sources for funds to further develop and expand the Programme.

In the event that specific funding is obtained for the operation, development or maintenance of this Programme, the decision on how this funding will be utilized will be made by the Secretaries General of IABG and BGCI, or their designated representatives, subject only to any specific conditions imposed by the donor or supporting agencies.