Botanic Gardens Conservation International
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Conserving trees through partnership

Volume 7 Number 2 - October 2010

Douglas Gibbs

French: Conserver les arbres par le biais de partenariats

Spanish: Conservando árboles por medio de una asociación


The two way flow of information from local communities to the global level is vital for developing and prioritizing conservation activities.   Douglas Gibbs explains how BGCI has successfully evaluated the conservation status of thousands of trees by collaborating with local communities and contributed to the implementation of Target 2 of the GSPC. 

Over the past few years BGCI, with Fauna and Flora International (FFI) under the partnership of the Global Trees Campaign, has developed a logical, stage by stage, approach to plant conservation. The aim is to help BGCI and other organizations prioritize the allocation of limited resources, including time and funding, to ensure that threatened plants are not lost for ever.

The first stage is to establish which plants are under the threat of extinction and which are of less immediate concern, by applying IUCN’s Red List Categories and Criteria and contributing to Target 2 (conservation assessments) of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). This is carried out through a global network of experts and has so far focused on Magnolias, Oaks, and Maples, and also on regional approaches in Central Asia and the Andean Cloud Forest, amongst others.

Once it has been established which plants are threatened, the next step is to find out  which plants are currently being grown in botanic garden living collections around the world and which are not. Thus, in this second stage it is easy to identify which threatened species are not being grown in ex situ collections and therefore to prioritize them for conservation action to ensure that they are not lost.

Progress for Colombian Magnolias

In Colombia, a hotspot for Magnolia diversity, BGCI is working with Jardín Botánico de Medellín Joaquín Antonio Uribe and Jardín Botánico de Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira on the final stage of the process – measures to save these important trees from extinction. As slow-growing large trees (up to 40m), Colombian Magnolias have long been and are still greatly valued as quality hardwood, fetching high prices due to both its quality and rarity. However, as many of the species are typically found in mature primary forest and with very restricted distribution, they are at high risk from habitat loss and forest degradation. In addition to bringing into cultivation these threatened Magnolias (in support of Target 8 of the GSPC), which includes the associated research into propagation techniques, a critical component of the programme involves working with local communities and institutions.

Each botanic garden has sought the involvement of a wide range of local institutions and individuals, including municipal representatives, National Park authorities, environmental institutions, community action boards and the owners of private nature reserves. Through community participation workshops, it has also proved possible to identify which institutions and individuals would be interested in the conservation of Magnolias and the work of the garden in the longer term.

The workshops aimed to raise participants’ awareness and understanding of the importance of, and threats to, the Magnolias within their local community. The garden staff were also able to freely discuss their plans and interests, sharing horticultural knowledge and techniques for the propagation and care of Magnolia seedlings with the local communities. When feasible, each participant would be offered a Magnolia seedling to take away and care for at the end of the workshop.

It was thanks to one such workshop that the Endangered Magnolia jardinensis was declared the ‘Emblematic Tree’ and included in the municipal coats of arms of the Jardín Municipality in Antioquia.

Importance of local support

The identification of key individuals in the local community has proved one of the most useful outcomes of these workshops. Not only can local knowledge greatly benefit our understanding of the distribution and ecology of threatened species, it can also further our research into the restoration and rehabilitation of wild populations.

In one such community workshop a participant was a farmer who also sold a range of timber species, including the Endangered Magnolia yarumalensis. Over the past ten years he had also been identifying and collecting seedlings of this threatened Magnolia in the forest, bringing them back to his nursery and growing them on. The 2008 ex situ survey carried out by BGCI identified only a single botanic garden to be cultivating this particular Magnolia.

When the seedlings reached about 30 cm, the farmer planted them back in the forest, in a range of locations where he could monitor and help them establish themselves over the subsequent years. The success of this individual effort, carried out entirely on his own initiative and with minimal resources, clearly demonstrates that a wider restoration of wild populations of M. yarumalensis is technically possible. However, local community awareness-raising work carried out so far by the garden only partially addresses the broader drivers of habitat loss, which will certainly need to be tackled to ensure the long-term survival of the remaining wild populations and the reintroduced trees.

Through the publication of The Red List of Magnoliaceae and the Global Survey of Ex situ Magnoliaceae Collections, the network of botanic gardens in Colombia (Red Nacional de Jardines Botánicos de Colombia) has identified itself as key to the long-term conservation of Colombian Magnolias. With this responsibility, it also realises that to ensure success, the full and meaningful participation of local communities and institutions is vital.

For the overall process to work well, each stage requires clear and appropriate communication methods and materials; whether it is technical publications from BGCI to the botanic gardens, or community workshops and discussions at a local level. It is also important to appreciate that information needs to flow in both directions, with local knowledge informing researchers, and researchers having all the necessary data to inform policy and decision makers. This example focuses on BGCI’s, and its partners’, current work in contributing to Targets 2 (conservation assessments), 3 (models and protocols), 8 (ex situ conservation) and other components of the GSPC. The resources produced, the Red Lists and ex situ surveys, are all freely available to download from – allowing any botanic garden or conservation organization to use them in planning their own conservation and education priorities and activities.



Pour conserver les arbres menacés de disparition et en faire une priorité, l’information doit être collectée et diffusée auprès d’un large public. Le BGCI, en partenariat avec des experts, a coordonné une évaluation de la conservation de plusieurs milliers d’arbres. A la suite de ces évaluations, le BGCI accompagne les jardins botaniques pour établir quels sont les arbres menacés dont la culture est maîtrisée en collection ex-situ.

Avec ces informations désormais disponibles, il est possible de développer et de placer les actions de conservation en tant que prioritaires. Cependant, comme les travaux menés en Colombie l’ont clairement démontré, il est crucial de pouvoir impliquer les communautés locales dans le projet car cela peut apporter une valeur significative aux efforts de conservation.

Il est indispensable que l’information soit diffusée en utilisant les méthodes et les supports appropriés, mais il faut aussi qu’elle circule en amont des communautés locales et en aval de l’échelon international.


Para priorizar y conservar árboles en amenaza, se necesita recopilar y diseminar información a un amplio rango de personas. La BGCI en asociación con expertos, ha elaborado los estados de conservación de varios miles de árboles. Con esto, la BGCI hace un inventario en los jardines botánicos para establecer cuantos árboles que se encuentran en amenaza existen en colecciones ex situ.

Contando con esta información es posible priorizar y desarrollar actividades para su conservación. Sin embargo, como claramente se está demostrado en Colombia es esencial y de valor muy significativo el unir esfuerzos  incorporando a las comunidades en estos proyectos para lograr la conservación de los recursos en amenaza.

Además de la necesidad de tener la información es necesario transmitirla  efectivamente usando los métodos y materiales apropiados, donde comunicación debe fluir efectivamente en ambas direcciones de la asociación.

Douglas Gibbs
Conservation Initiative Manager
Descanso House
199 Kew Road
Surrey TW9 3BWUK