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The Installation of an Interpretation Trail about the Rescue of Endangered Plants inside Educational Greenhouses

Contributed by Loïc Ruellan, Conservatoire Botanique National du Brest, Vallon du stang-alar, 52 Allée du Bot, F-29200 Brest, France.

Created in 1975, the National Botanic Conservatory of Brest (Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest), France was the first botanic garden in the world committed to the preservation of endangered plants. Since its origin, the Conservatory has worked at regional, national and international levels, cultivating threatened plants from Brittany, France and oceanic islands throughout the world. Depending on the particular circumstances, rescues are carried out as in situ or ex situ operations.

With more than 1,300 endangered species in cultivation (filed from X to I according to the UICN classification), Brest has one of the world’s largest collection of threatened plants.

In addition to rescue operations, the Botanic Conservatory has always carried out a variety of activities to make the public aware of the importance of protecting our plant heritage. This is indispensable if we want to assure the survival of threatened species in the long-term.

Why Create a Learning Trail?

Since 1986, groups (school children, adults, students or specialists) have been able to request a guided tour with an education officer to learn about the Conservatory.

Because it is not always possible to give guided tours to individuals, we have designed a system for receiving and informing them. As a result we have created a learning trail so that they can visit our new educational greenhouses independently. In this way, we hope to considerably increase the attendance in our greenhouses, and spread the message of the necessity to conserve endangered species.

The Educational Greenhouses

The Conservatory cultivates plants from all over the world, and consequently the greenhouses are an indispensable tool for maintaining these fragile plants. With the installation of scientific and educational greenhouses in 1990, we have improved our ability to propagate rare plants and to educate people about conservation.

In 1993, we enlarged our educational greenhouses. We took advantage of this opportunity to add an interpretation trail.

Today, these greenhouses, with an area of 1,000 sq m, display four different environments: high-altitude tropical forests, temperate islands, dry tropical zones, and tropical rainforests. Of the 300 species shown, 95% are threatened in their natural environments.

Organising the Information

In order to provide good quality and well structured information, we have developed a new method: general information appears on panels, and specific information about species is included in a booklet. Thus information is found in two different places which complement each other and interact together.

The Panels

Inside each greenhouse, the visitor always finds three panels:

  • the first describes the natural environment
  • the second explains the destructive influence of humans in this area
  • the third presents a theme related to conservation.

The presentation of each conservation theme is divided into four parts:

  • the rate of disappearance
  • why should we save this species?
  • ex situ conservation
  • in situ conservation.

During their walk, visitors progressively acquire concepts and ideas to better understand the dangers that threaten biodiversity, the methods for rescuing endangered plants, and the necessity for botanic conservatories such as ours.

The panels are made of a new materal called Comoral. Framed with anodised aluminium, the panels are not effected by light or humidity. We are one of the first organisations to use this revolutionary material invented by GIAT Industrie.

The Booklet

When vistors arrive we give them a free booklet which presents 36 endangered species that are in culture inside the educational greenhouses. These plants have been selected because their individual histories illustrate the general notions described on the panels. The booklet, which the visitor keeps, is not only an informative guide but also a real tool to make people more aware of what is at stake.

The simultaneous use of the panels and booklets constitutes a very original method of education, and one which seems to suit visitors perfectly. During the summer of 1995, a survey was conducted which shows us that 87% of the public found this method useful.

The Conservatory’s Partners

The Brest Botanic Conservatory was created in 1975 by Jean Lesouëf, the first Curator, with the suppoort of the Urban Community of Brest, the SEPNB environmental association, and the national Ministry of the Environment. Since 1990, the Ministry has awarded us national status, together with five other gardens (Bailleul, Gap-Charance, Mascarin, Nancy and Porquerolles).

The Garden is managed by a group of local communities, and the Conservatory currently (1996) employs eight people. Once a year a scientific council audits our activities and scientific programmes.

The Brest municipal council (Communauté Urbaine de Brest) is our most important partner. It gives us grants, but also finances 10 gardeners, grounds, buildings and the gardening equipment. We received technical and financial support from the following organisations to equip the educational greenhouses:

  • Brest Municipal Council (Communauté Urbaine de Brest)
  • the national environment ministry (Ministère de l’Environnement)
  • the Brittany regional council (Conseil Régional de Bretagne)
  • the local departmental council (Conseil Général du Finistère)
  • WWF France
  • GIAT Industrie.
  • the national education and research ministry (Ministè de l’Education Nationale de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche).

The landscaping was designed and the interpretation managed entirely by the staff of gardeners and the members of the National Conservatory Garden of Brest.

This arrangement is an interesting experiment because it is certainly one of the rare examples of the provision of structured information about endangered species found in a botanic garden.