Plant conservation is one of the main activities
in which Botanic Gardens around the world are involved. Species and
habitat conservation have always been key aims of the gardens, and
this has become ever more significant due to the increasing loss of
species and habitats worldwide. Ness supports international laws
and continues to contribute to international conservation
programmes that help protect species. The gardens also help
conservation through distributing rare and interesting plants to
other botanic institutions.
The global loss of species and
habitats is a matter of grave concern for all of us. Plants provide
us with many essential services such as food, fuel, building
material, medicine and even oxygen. With an increase in global
population from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 6.9 billion in 2010, the
increased strain on our natural resources has led to a startling
increase in extinction rates of species. Much of this loss has been
attributed to the destruction and degradation of natural vegetation
through land use change, the introduction of invasive alien
species, and the over-exploitation of natural resources. Many also
argue that the loss of natural habitats has led to an imbalance in
the world's ecosystem, which ultimately leads to climate
While the future prospects of many habitats and
species are bleak, there is still much hope. International laws ban
the trade on some of the most world's threatened species through
legislation such as the Convention of International Trade of
Endangered Species (CITES). The movement of species between
countries is also in part restricted by the Convention on
Biological Diversity (CBD). Fundamentally it is still up to
individual governments to protect their own wildlife. The amount of
national parks and wildlife reserves has increased in recent years,
but more can still be done to protect species and habitats.
Botanic gardens the world over are also having an increasingly
important role in helping to stem this tide. They are a resource
for growing threatened plants by providing a refuge to grow away
from pressures encountered in their natural environment. This
living resource should maintain as much genetic diversity as
possible and establish breeding populations that produce viable
seed. One of the most successful examples of this at Ness is a very
species of birch, Betula chichibuensis from Japan. In the
wild there is an estimated 12-20 individual plants of this species.
Ness acquired seed through seed exchange (see below) and now
successfully grows around 40 plants in the gardens in large groups.
Seed and plants of these have in turn been passed on to other
gardens throughout the world, thereby hopefully securing the
survival of this species.
Several international programmes also help
contribute to the survival of species. One successful programme is
the International Conifer Conservation Programme (ICCP) initiated
by the Royal Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh. Many of the world's
conifers are threatened with extinction, and thanks to this
programme, many are now grown in botanic gardens across the
world. Ness has a number of these plants, and includes some very
unusual and rarely seen species. Such unusual plants as the Chinese
Cypress, Cupressus duclouxiana or Singleleaf piñon,
Pinus monophylla are found throughout the gardens.
One of the main ways Ness continues to contribute to
conservation efforts is by exchanging rare plants with other
botanic gardens. In our view, the more gardens grow rare and
unusual species, the more likely each is to be conserved in
cultivation. Each year Ness produces its own list of plant seed
(Index Seminum) that is exchanged for free with other botanic
gardens. Seed is collected from around the gardens and sent on
request to other gardens. Much of this list contains unusual
plants, almost all of which is of known documented origin. Ness
also exchanges other plant material freely with other gardens,
although the rise in troublesome plant pests and diseases
(especially Sudden Oak Death, Phytophthora) has much
reduced this in recent years.
Although there are increasing
pressures on many habitats and species, botanic gardens are trying
their best to help conserve many of the world's rarest species.
Ness continues to help international efforts to save threatened
species and raise awareness of the plight of those species
represented in the gardens.