Skip to content

Plant Conservation

Polygonum sino-montanum KR4587Plant 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 change.

Betula chichibuensisWhile 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.

Larix griffithiiSeveral 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.