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Building the Botanic Garden Network

Peter S. Wyse Jackson
Secretary General
Botanic Gardens Conservation International

Home | Contents by Topic | Contents by Author | Introduction | Africa | Middle East | The Caribbean | Latin America | Asia | Former Soviet Union | Europe | North America | BGCI Development | CBD | A New Strategy


On behalf of BGCI I am delighted to welcome you to this the 5th International Botanic Gardens Conservation Congress. It has been a great pleasure for me and the staff of BGCI to have the opportunity of working with the National Botanical Institute in developing arrangements for the Congress. We are most grateful to all of you for travelling to this beautiful city to be here. Those of us who were lucky enough to be able to participate in a pre-Congress tour have returned refreshed and renewed in spirit - the beauty and diversity of this country and its flora remind us just why we are all conservationists and the vital work for plant conservation worldwide we must undertake.

It is three years since the Congress last met, in Perth, Western Australia in 1995, when we were hosted by the Kings Park and Botanic Garden. So many important initiatives and projects developed following that meeting that we have much to live up to.

Since the 1st Botanic Gardens Conservation Congress in 1985 in Gran Canaria, these regular meetings have given us the opportunity to review the implementation of the global Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy and to discuss future conservation priorities for the international botanic garden community. The Congress has also been a time when we have come together not only to develop our network links, but to be refreshed to return home with fresh enthusiasm and resolve to tackle our conservation work with new determination.

In 1985 so much of the conference was spent considering what are the precise roles for botanic gardens in conservation. In 1998 we are so much clearer about these roles, but often still lack the capacity, and dare I suggest it, sometimes even the will, to carry through what we know must be done for plant conservation.

The burgeoning number of new botanic gardens in so many parts of the world has been encouraging, inspiring and one of the most optimistic features of the last few years. On average, BGCI adds one new botanic garden address per week to its list of botanic gardens of the world.

During this presentation it is also my pleasure to highlight just a few of the significant developments worldwide amongst the botanic garden community and mentions a few exciting examples of the recent work of botanic gardens in different parts of the world.

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In North Africa a project to support plant conservation through the botanic gardens of Morocco and Tunisia was launched as a collaborative project between BGCI, Fauna and Flora International and botanical institutions in both countries. Despite a difficult and dangerous political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kisantu Botanic Garden has continued its work in redeveloping and securing its infrastructures and developing local community projects, such as the creation of a tropical fruit tree nursery and an edible caterpillar breeding project. In East Africa, important training programmes for staff from botanic gardens in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are being implemented, led by the National Museums of Kenya in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. This work is helping to agree on regional plant conservation priorities and foster international networking in the region. Here in Southern Africa the Southern African Botanical Diversity Network (SABONET) continues to make good progress in developing a strong core of professional botanists and horticulturists in the ten countries of the region to support biodiversity conservation. Its activities are funded by the Global Environment Facility and UNDP. SABONET's work includes capacity building of botanic gardens in the region.

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- In the Middle East, an international conference on dryland botanic gardens was held in April 1997, organized by BGCI and hosted by Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah to mark the establishment of the Sharjah Botanic Gardens. Plans have also been made to create a National Botanic Garden for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the first major botanic garden in that country. A full feasibility study is due for completion by BGCI later this year. In Israel, the Jerusalem and University Botanic Garden has opened a horticultural training school at the garden, the first such facility in the Middle East.

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Major new networking and conservation initiatives have been undertaken in the Caribbean region. With funds received by BGCI from Cable and Wireless plc. a three year programme was undertaken which included a series of three strategic planning workshops, hosted by the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in the Cayman Islands in 1996, the Andromeda Botanic Garden in Barbados in 1996 and the National Arboretum Foundation and Hope Botanic Gardens in Kingston Jamaica in 1998. Through these meetings BGCI and the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami led the development of a Conservation Action Plan for Botanic Gardens of the Caribbean Islands, published in May 1998.

Other significant developments in the region have included endangered species recovery plans initiated by the Andromeda Garden in Barbados, the establishment of a Haitian Botanical Foundation, redevelopment plans for Jamaican public gardens and a series of networking and other plant conservation initiatives involving botanic gardens in Cuba. A steering committee for the Caribbean botanic garden network was created in June of this year in Jamaica to lead in the development of plant conservation projects in the region and to oversee the implementation of the new Action Plan.

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In Latin America the Latin American and Caribbean Association of Botanic Gardens has remained very active, publishing several issues of its bulletin and organizing its 3rd conference in Caxias do Sul, Brazil in November 1996. Plans for the 4th reunion of the Association in Mexico next month are well advanced.

In Brazil, the botanic garden network has recently been reorganized and will now be based at the Rio de Janeiro botanic gardens for the coming three years.

In Argentina, the period saw the establishment of a new Argentine Botanic Garden Association, established during a meeting held in Cordoba in 1997. A series of conservation and education workshops for botanic gardens were also held in 1996 and 1997 at the newly established botanic garden in Parana, Entre Rios.

In Colombia the National Botanic Garden Network has continued to develop strongly. In March 1996 a national meeting of Colombian botanic gardens was held in the town of Villa da Leiva where a national botanic gardens conservation strategy was created. Subsequently, legislation was guided through the national parliament recognizing the role of Colombian botanic gardens in biodiversity conservation - probably the first such botanic garden law in the world. An recent development in Colombia is also the launch of a collaborative project between the Colombian botanic gardens, the national biodiversity von Humboldt Institute and BGCI to implement a computer based information system for every Colombian botanic garden over the next three years and so make botanic gardens' biodiversity data more available to support the implementation of the National Biodiversity Action Plan. BGCI has also been pleased to be able to open a new Regional Office at the Bogota Botanic Garden linked to the Colombian Network, to support Colombian gardens and the implementation of this new project.

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In China BGCI was very pleased to be able to establish a Regional Office at the Nanjing Botanical Garden Mem. sun Yat-sen. Some of the associated activities developed in Nanjing are Chinese language version of BGCI's Education Guidelines and an education newsletter. A Course for educators from Chinese botanic gardens was also held in (Nanjing?) in April 1996, funded by the Darwin Initiative and in 1997 a travelling exhibition on botanic gardens, conservation and environmental education was prepared which will visit gardens throughout China over the coming years.

Of major significance for botanic gardens was a conference organized by the Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health Traditions in Bangalore, held in February 1998 on Medicinal Plants for Survival. One of the outcomes of this meeting has been an initiative to establish an electronic network of institutions and individuals involved in medicinal plant conservation and sustainable utilization, to which botanic gardens are expected to contribute very significantly.

FRLHT has also pioneered the development of a series of local community based in situ and ex situ initiatives for the conservation of medicinal plant resources, a model that deserves to be emulated in other parts of the world. At the Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute work has continue in the development and implementation of model species recovery programmes for the endangered plants of the Western Ghats, where the garden has created important and extensive genebank collections of native species in secondary forest as an interesting and innovative solution to the long-term maintenance of a living genepools of tropical plant diversity.

In Thailand facilities for the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden near Chaing Mai continued to be constructed. This garden represents one of the most major new botanic garden developments in the world and can be expected to play a leading role in conservation and botanical science in that region. In Vietnam, botanic gardens continued to explore new directions and to redefine their priorities and purposes. With funds from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust a redevelopment of the Medicinal Plant Botanic Garden of the Hanoi College of Pharmacy was initiated in 1997 and at a new national park at Tam Dao work began in 1997 on a major collaborative project on the conservation and sustainable use of plant resources between the National Park authorities, a Vietnam ngo, the Centre for Research an Development of Ethnomedicinal Plants and BGCI. This project involved surveys and assessments of the economic plants of the Park, the creation of a new botanic garden to serve the region and through that garden, the creation of village gardens surrounding the Park, to take pressure of wild stocks through collecting of medicinals and other plants important in the local economy.

In Indonesia, the four botanic gardens that make up Kebun Raya Indonesia have recently completed a three year project on data management to support biodiversity conservation. The project, supported by BGCI and the Darwin Initiative, has included staff training in plant conservation techniques, publication of a series of technical manuals in Bahasa Indonesia, including the Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy, new computer-based collections databases in each one of the four botanic gardens and training workshops in the botanic gardens in Bali, Bogor, Cibodas and Purwodadi. In July 1997, Kebun Raya Bogor also organized an international conference on plant conservation.

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The last three years have probably been more difficult for the botanic gardens of the former Soviet Union than any other time in their history. The changing economic circumstances have drastically reduced the resources available to every garden in the region and as a consequence their work and collections are severely threatened, with many staff leaving to see employment in the developing and more lucrative private sector. Despite this situation some remarkable achievements can be recorded.

The 50th anniversary of the Moscow Main Botanical Garden was celebrated at a special conference in 1995. The Moscow Division of BGCI, led by Dr Igor Smirnov, developed well and now includes almost 50 botanic gardens as subscribing members. Together with the Council of Botanical Gardens of Russia it issues a regular magazine and has published a series of important technical publications for the network, including Russian language versions of the Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy and the International Transfer Format for Botanic Garden Plant Records. In 1996, with support from the British Council BGCI organized a course on botanic garden management, hosted by the Central Siberian Botanical Garden in Novosibirsk

. A new three year project on building data management capacity for botanic gardens in the region was also launched by BGCI in 1996 and has included training workshops in Petrozavodsk, Russia; Kiev, Ukraine and Almaty, Kazakhstan in 1997 and 1998. These workshops have provided the opportunity for training to be given on the use of a Russian language version of BGCI's computer software BG-RECORDER and to help create an electronic network of botanic gardens in the region linked via the internet.

A fine Internet web site has been created by the BGCI Moscow Division which is also assisting in the conversion of BGCI's international directory of botanical gardens into an on-line searchable list of botanic gardens of the world.

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The last three years have been a period when major advances have been achieved for botanic gardens in Western Europe, particularly concerning the strengthening of national networks and in the development of a joint BGCI-IABG European Botanic Gardens Consortium in the European Union. The Consortium was originally developed to link botanic gardens throughout the European Union and raise their profile within European Union structures.

Work has continued in the development of an Action Plan for botanic gardens in the region, regular meetings of the consortium have been held, in Utrecht, Pisa, Cordoba and Copenhagen and the 1st European Botanic Gardens conference, Eurogard'97, was held in Edinburgh in April 1997 which was attended by about 200 delegates. In Cordoba, Spain, an important meeting was held to mark the 10th anniversary of that Garden when members of the European Consortium met over two days to discuss with European Parliamentarians future priorities for botanic gardens in Europe and the possibilities of support from the European Union. In 1997, a resolution was passed in the European Parliament recognizing the importance of botanic gardens within Europe and meetings held with EU Environment and Culture Ministers.

The Consortium has also approved a plan to develop a European-wide initiative to promote the development of species recovery programmes for European threatened species through botanic gardens which I hope can be formally launched over the coming months. At the national level, significant events include a new project coordinated by the Bonn Botanic Garden and the Verband Botanischer Garden (the German botanic garden network) to review the role of German botanic gardens in implementing the Biodiversity Convention.

In the U.K. and Ireland a new plant collections network, PlantNet was launched at meetings held in Oxford and Edinburgh. PlantNet continues to grow and now includes all of the major U.K. and Irish botanic gardens amongst its membership and is preparing a wide-ranging Strategic Development Plan to take it into the next century. Also to be mentioned in the U.K. are two new major botanic garden development projects, the creation of a National Botanic Garden of Wales and the Eden Project in the south-west of England, both of which secured major funding from the National Lottery as part of celebrations to mark the new Millenium. The 4th (?) conference of the Ibero-Macaronesian Association of Botanic Gardens was held in Madeira, Portugal in May 1998.

Other important events in 1998 included a computer training workshop for Irish botanic gardens, an education workshop for Italian Gardens in Trento and a training workshop on education for Polish botanic gardens.

In the Netherlands a new Dutch Botanic Gardens Association was created and in Austria the botanic gardens came together to form a national working group, representing a first network initiate for that country. In Italy, conferences were held to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the Padua Botanic Garden and the 250th of the Palermo Garden.

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In North America, the Canadian Botanical Conservation Network is now well established, based at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Hamilton. Under the leadership of its Director, David Galbraith, its activities have included workshops, policy development and a regular newsletter. In the United States, the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta completed its Strategic Plan, Agenda 2000 and moved to new headquarters in Longwood, Pennsylvania, under its new Executive Director, Nancy Morin. Successful annual conferences were held in Montreal (1996?), New York (1997) and Philadelphia (1998). Plans were also made to hold BGCI's 6th International Botanic Gardens Conservation Congress at the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville, when we will join with the Center for Plant Conservation, the AABGA and other botanic garden organizations worldwide to hold what I hope can become a 1st World Congress of Botanic Gardens.

New York was also the venue for BGCI's 3rd International Congress on Education in Botanic Gardens, hosted by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It boasted 221 delegates from 43 countries and represented the largest botanic garden education meeting yet held. Brooklyn Botanic Garden was also the venue for one of the most extraordinary events ever held by BGCI when a fund-raising dinner for 200 guests was arranged there in May earlier this year. The Botanic Garden Conservation Committee brought together by BGCI Trustee Beth Rothschild to organize the event included such figures as Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, the designers Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren and Georgio Armani and others well know figures including David Rockefeller, James Wolfensohn and Katharine Graham.

Funds raised through this event have enabled BGCI to establish a non-profit foundation in the U.S. whose Trustees include Judy Zuk, President of the Brooklyn Garden and Beth Rothschild. It is planned to hire a full-time Executive Director for the Foundation later in 1998 and so enable BGCI to work even closer with its U.S. members and partner organizations in that country, AABGA and CPC.

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The last three years have also been a time of growth and change for BGCI itself. 1997 marked the 10th anniversary of the organization which had been established on 1 January 1987 follow a recommendation of the 1st Botanic Gardens Conservation Congress held in Gran Canaria, Spain in 1985.

From small beginnings as the IUCN Botanic Gardens Conservation Secretariat the organization has grown to become an independent worldwide network of botanic gardens involved in conservation and education, now including over 500 institutional members in 106 countries. From its base as a registered as a U.K. charity, headed by a Board of Trustees, under the Chairmanship of Sir John Quinton, the organization is now well established. With the support on a great variety of donors and with the support of several member institutions, regional and field offices, delegations and non-profit foundations have been established in the Canary islands, Colombia, China, Haiti, Indonesia, The Netherlands, North Africa, Russia, Spain, the United States, Vietnam, and future initiatives are planned in Brazil, Canada and other countries. Although the staff and resources available to the organization is small, with your help there is much we can achieve.

BGCI publications, such as the regular Botanic Gardens Conservation News and education review Roots, provide a global vehicle for botanic gardens to exchange information, news and as a forum for the development of shared policies and priorities. Recent BGCI publications include a Technical Manual for Botanic Gardens, due to be launched later this week, an international directory of medicinal plant collections in botanic gardens, a manual of conservation in the garden due for publication later this year and a new International Transfer Format for Botanic Garden Plant Records and a Windows version of BGCI's popular computer software programme for management of data on garden collections, BG-RECORDER.

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The Convention on Biological Diversity has provided new impetus for the development of botanic garden responses to plant conservation. We believe that an important part of BGCI's role should be ensure that there is greater awareness about the importance of this Convention and its significance for botanic gardens and to work with botanic gardens to help in its implementation. We believe that it is urgent that botanic gardens policies relating to the CBD are created. In that regard I must mention the important project being led by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew to prepare a harmonised policy on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing, which involves leading botanic gardens in most parts of the world. We look forward to the results of this project and hope that its conclusions will be of value to botanic gardens throughout the world. We are also pleased to announce that BGCI has recently received confirmation of funding to prepare a Guide for Botanic Gardens to the Convention on Biological Diversity which will be prepared over the next two years.

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It is now thirteen years since the first draft of the Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy was prepared, which was subsequently published in 1989. Although the Strategy is still an extremely important and useful document, for some time I have been concerned that it needs to be re-evaluated, updatedand strengthened. So much has changed in the world during the last decade and the practice of plant conservation itself has moved forward considerably. As well as that, in the 1980s the botanic garden community was much less well organized, motivated and coordinated than it is today.

BGCI had only just been established, and there were relatively few national and regional botanic garden and plant conservation organizations operating effectively. Today, more and more botanic gardens recognize that they share a common purpose and can play a great range of diverse roles in conservation and environmental education. Such roles are now well acknowledged, and should be linked to the implementation of international instruments such as the Conventions on Biodiversity, Desertification and Climate Change Conventions, CITES and Agenda 21, as well as to national biodiversity conservation strategies and action plans that are being developed in so many parts of the world.

I began to give some thought to how the Strategy could or should be renewed. I have felt that it would be a mistake simply to rewrite and redraft the existing text, so that it would become yet another worthy document cluttering our bookshelves. I also believe that it is important to begin an initiative whereby the botanic garden community itself drives the process of renewing the Strategy to ensure that it is relevant to each one of the institutions represented here and applicable in all parts of the world.

One idea that I would like this congress to consider is for a new Strategy to become an action-based document, outlining priorities for botanic gardens in the implementation of specific tasks as well as in defining general principles. It needs to incorporate botanic garden commitments to the implementation of, for example, the new international Conventions and towards playing enhanced roles in national sustainable development and environmental sustainability. I am also keen that the document becomes one that individual botanic gardens can formally accept and ratify. In this way we will be able to measure whether we are being successful, measure what institutions are involved, active and effective and judge whether these actions are sufficient to stem the loss of biodiversity. I hope that through the ratification of such a strategy, individual botanic gardens can gain the benefit of being part of the implementation of a clearly defined international plan but also find new direction through accepting real commitments and sharing new responsibilities.

The recommendations and conclusions of your meetings and workshops this week will become an extremely important part in the formulation of the new Strategy. I invite each one of you to become an active participant in this process, not only a this meeting but afterwards. BGCI will be in contact with your networks to ask them to lead the development of regional reviews of the Strategy, over the next two years, so that we can complete this work for the 6th Congress in Asheville, North Carolina in June 2000.The next steps after this Congress will to establishment task forces to consider particular aspects of the Strategy, building on your recommendations from this meeting and the consideration of priorities for botanic garden actions especially along geographical lines.


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Copyright 1999 BGCI