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Saving Trees Around The World: The Global Trees Campaign

Volume 2 Number 2 - July 2005

Sara Oldfield

The immense ecological, cultural and economic importance of trees around the world should provide strong incentives for their conservation. That is the rationale behind the Global Trees Campaign developed by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in partnership with the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.  The Campaign aims to save the world’s most threatened trees and their habitats by the provision of good information, taking conservation action and promoting sustainable use. The Campaign supports key targets of the CBD Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) and is a practical mechanism contributing to the implementation of the Strategy.

The Global Trees Campaign was launched in 1998 in response to the publication of The World List of Threatened Trees. This report, resulting from a three year survey, documented the conservation status of around 8000 globally tree species, information which has subsequently been incorporated into the IUCN Red List. The survey indicated that less than 12 percent of the globally threatened trees were protected within national parks or other sites set aside for conservation and only eight percent were in cultivation. FFI decided to take action to promote the value of trees and implement conservation action. 

Now the Global Trees Campaign is working on priority projects in over 20 countries. Projects are carefully selected in consultation with local people and with advice from members of the IUCN/SSC Global Tree Specialist Group which is closely associated with the Campaign.  Some of these projects are carried out by FFI through the work of its Regional Programmes and others are supported financially by FFI through small grants. A significant source of funding has been the Flagship Species Fund managed by FFI on behalf of the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

In parallel to the conservation action, gaps in the information on the conservation status of tree species, building on the 1998 data, are being filled by field research and networking with experts worldwide. The updating of this important conservation information is coordinated by the IUCN/SSC Global Tree Specialist Group, for which FFI provides the Secretariat at its Cambridge, UK headquarters.

The Global Trees Campaign functions effectively by working through partnerships. These may be for example with local community groups, NGOs, forestry departments or other government agencies. Botanic Gardens and Arboreta are important partners in the Global Trees Campaign working in various different ways. The botanical knowledge, horticultural skills and expertise in public awareness and education provided by botanic gardens have been very valuable to the success of the Campaign.

Projects Around The World

One of the current projects of the Global Trees Campaign is undertaken by the Havana Botanic Garden in Cuba, working with the Cuba Plant Specialist Group. The Cuban Palm Project, is assessing the conservation status and threats to some of Cuba’s rarest palms, and is developing strategies to save them from extinction. Recent field work has confirmed that one of the species being studied, Coccothrinax crinita, is Critically Endangered. Only 130 individuals remain in the wild at two localities in Pinar del Río Province. Coccothrinax crinita has many uses for local people. The leaves and fibres are used to make brushes, hats and stuffing for pillows and mattresses. The trunks are used in house construction and the fruits are used as animal feed. Overexploitation is one of the threats faced by this palm together with habitat degradation through cattle grazing, burning and the impact of invasive species.

Conservation action for Coccothrinax crinita and other threatened palms of Pinar del Río was discussed at a project workshop held in November 2004. In situ conservation, propagation studies, reintroduction and public education form important components of the conservation strategy  for this species. To promote public awareness individuals are being planted in prominent places such as in the grounds of health centres and in the recreational park in the Bahía Honda municipality.  A very significant success of the Project has been the declaration earlier this year of a Flora Reserve to protect Coccothrinax crinita in its natural habitat. The Reserve will also protect other threatened trees including species of box, Buxus spp., which grow at the same forest site.

Caribbean tree conservation activities have been developed in close association with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden with which FFI has signed a Memorandum of Understanding. Fairchild is also supporting another important Global Trees Campaign in Madagascar. This focuses on four highly endangered tree species found in the Vohibola forest, one of the two remaining littoral forests in the eastern part of the country. The project, undertaken by local partners will help people who live in the area and depend on forest resources to improve forest burning controls and policing against illegal timber cutting. Recovery of the tree species will be further assisted by translocating saplings produced in an on-site nursery back into their forest habitat.

In China a new Global Trees Campaign project to conserve threatened species of Magnoliaceae was designed at a workshop held in Kunming Botanic Garden in May 2004. At this workshop, species conservation priorities were agreed on the basis of status, threat, reliability of taxonomy and use. A project proposal was subsequently prepared and funding has been provided through the Flagship Species Fund to support the conservation of five priority species: Manglietia sinica, Manglietia grandis, Magnolia sargentiana, Magnolia phanerophlebia and Michelia coriacea.

In association with FFI’s China Programme the project will:

  • Conduct a thorough literature survey of the five priority species, followed by field survey work to fill information gaps and to ground-truth the distribution data. The survey results will be used to prepare practical conservation strategies for protecting key species or areas of concern.
  • Hold a workshop involving Chinese and Vietnamese scientists and officials to develop proposals for cross-border survey and conservation work in south-east Yunnan province, China and Vietnam.  The intention is to build partnerships between scientists in the two countries and develop the basis for joint conservation work once further funding becomes available.
  • Review the impact of wild collection of Magnoliaceae in China for the horticultural trade, the impact of the international (particularly UK) trade in wild and propagated Chinese Magnoliaceae, and the ex situ conservation of Magnoliaceae in the UK.  The project will assess the ways propagation is benefiting Magnoliaceae will promote links between UK and Chinese institutions involved in ex-situ conservation activities.

In Brazil, the Global Trees Campaign is working the Rio Botanic Gardens and the Margaret Mee Foundation to carry out detailed studies of remaining populations of the endangered tree Pau Brasil, Caesalpinia echinata. Regeneration of the species is being studied, planting schemes carried out and local community education projects undertaken.

Pau Brasil is the national tree of Brazil, and gave the country its name. This Endangered species acts as a Flagship species for the threatened Atlantic Coastal Forest  - a global biodiversity hotspot. Pau Brasil was initially exploited by European settlers as a source of valuable purple dye. Felling the trees led to the clearance of vast amounts of the Atlantic Forest from the 16th to mid-19thcenturies and populations of the species continued to decline until the 1920s when synthetic dyes were made widely available. The timber is still highly sought after for the manufacture of bows for stringed musical instruments, although government legislation now prevents export of the timber.


Pau brasil is one of the species included in the SoundWood Programme of the Global Trees Campaign. This aims to conserve threatened tree species that are used in musical instrument manufacture. SoundWood works with industry to support sustainable production and procurement of the required timbers, supports international policy initiatives on sustainable trade in timber and has a strong educational component. Projects to conserve and restore species such as Pau Brasil, Mahogany Swietenia macrophylla and African Blackwood Dalbergia melanoxylon in their natural habitats are also undertaken. These in turn feed into the educational activities bringing alive the ecological and livelihood issues associated with the tree species.

SoundWood education programmes have been running for schoolchildren in the UK, US and Brazil. In the UK, projects have been undertaken in collaboration with the University Botanic Garden, Cambridge and the Eden Project. Education resources have been developed for wider use and can be accessed from the Global Trees Campaign website.

Looking Ahead

The Global Trees Campaign continues to grow and to develop new partnerships. Over the coming months BGCI will be exploring ways to work with FFI to help further the aims of the Campaign. Linking in situ and ex situ activities will be crucial, for example, to save the 900 Critically Endangered tree species that are currently recorded by IUCN. BGCI’s Plant Search facility, will be an important tool to facilitate prioritisation of tree species for further action.