Journal Archives > BGCNews > De-Accessions Policy for Plant Collections: Responsibility Versus Practicality
De-Accessions Policy for Plant Collections: Responsibility Versus Practicality
Volume 2 Number 2 - July 1993
Many collections of live plants in botanic gardens are amassed to support the research work of taxonomists. Good examples at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh include the extensive Zingiberaceae collection made by Miss R. Smith and the south-west Asian plants gathered by Mr A.G. Miller. These types of collection may incidentally include rare or endangered species but, more recently, there have been initiatives to amass entire ex situ conservation collections, such as the Edinburgh-based Rare Conifer Conservation Programme. From a conservational point of view there are important differences between the two types of collection. In one, the plants have been gathered to support taxonomic work and there will usually be only a few individuals of several species. In the other, there will typically be many individuals of fewer species. This paper is restricted to the disposal of plants from the first type: taxonomic collections, but assumes that the colection will include plants of conservation status.
Botanic gardens in which collections of living plants are used to support in-house research tend to be unlike other gardens because, when a particular line of research ceases, a large number of plants may suddenly become redundant and could be disposed of. The accumulation of these plants will have taken considerable time and skill, to say nothing of the costs involved. Such collections may be considered unique, even priceless, biological research tools and serious thought should be given to any other uses to which they could be put before breaking them up; once dispersed they almost certainly could never be reassembled. The disposal of any such unwanted plant material poses problems for curators but when the collection contains species of conservation importance additional problems arise. On the one hand, space is required for new collections, so curators will want to dispose of as many plants as possible as quickly as possible, but on the other hand, most will appreciate that there is some moral obligation not to dispose of rare, threatened or endangered plants. The dilemma is one of responsibility versus practicality.
When the collection has no conservation value there are few problems and the plants can be gifted, sold or composted. However, what should be done when the collection does contain plants of conservation value? What should be kept, what can be destroyed and is there such a thing as responsible disposal? At the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, the Conservation Advisory Committee has been attempting to formulate a series of steps that can be followed by curators when breaking-up long established collections that are no longer required for research. The discussions are at an early stage but before going any further it would be useful to receive comments from others who face similar problems. Once a deaccessions policy has been formulated it will be added to the accessions policy of the Garden and the two together will create a fundamental plant management tool so that managers, staff and other interested parties can have a clear idea about how and why plants enter and leave the Garden. This paper now lists the series of steps that have been suggested so far for dealing with "redundant" collections.
For the whole collection:
For the conservation plants:
These steps are intended to be responsible yet practical and realistic. There can be no guarantee that a plant gifted to another institution will be held for ever but the procedure outlined above has been designed to bestow a reasonable degree of security on conservation plants held in botanic gardens.
I would emphasise that these are still proposals rather than policy at Edinburgh and any comments will be welcomed. Once the ideas have been refined they will be applied to a group to test practicality.