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Report on the Colloquium "Nature and Botanical Gardens for the 21st Century"

Volume 2 Number 3 - May 1994

Pierre-André Loizeau

"Nature and Botanical Gardens for the 21st Century" was held to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de la Ville de Geneve, Switzerland, in June 1993.

The proceedings have been published as volume 47 of the Journal Boissiera, reviewed in this issue of BGCNews.

The symposium, held in Geneva, Switzerland, 2-4 June 1993, was financed and supported by the municipal council of Geneva. It was attended by some 250 particpants from 27 countries. A documentary on the Conservatoire was produced especially for the occasion and there was a great deal of national and international media coverage for the event.

The symposium was officially opened by Alain Vaissade, Administrative Councillor of Geneva. He thanked the Conservatoire on behalf of the town of Geneva for their contribution through the congress to the sustainable development of the Environment. He then read a message from the Conseil d'tat de la Republique et Canton de Geneve, conveying its pride in possessing such a prestigious Institution. Rudolphe Spichiger, Director of the Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de la Ville de GenŠve then briefly described the history of the garden and showed how the themes of the symposium, conservation and education helped define it role in solving environmental problems. Alain Clerc, envoy of the Executive Director of UNEP recalled the Rio de Janeiro Conference (UNCED, 1992) and said that Geneva had welcomed the Secretariat of the World Convention on Biodiversity.

Plenary Session

Session I Conservation of the Environment: the Role of Botanic Gardens.

Martin Holgate (director general, IUCN) chaired the plenary session, stating that the role of botanic gardens had changed and that they "were front line areas in the battle against erosion and destruction of the the vital resources of the planet". He hoped that all the botanic gardens in the world would be coordinated by BGCI, in order to conserve the maximum number of species in danger.

John Akeroyd (editorial committee, Flora Europaea ) said that the botanic gardens of Europe provided an essential link between the field, garden, herbarium and laboratory studies that are the background research for conservation strategies for plants. Botanic gardens should have a central role in the protection of Europe's native plants for the use and enjoyment of future generations.

Peter Wyse Jackson,(programme director, BGCI) stated that only 30% of the rare and endangered plants of Europe are grown in botanic gardens and most of them do not represent the genetic diversity of the wild species. He believed that if every botanic garden in Europe agreed to ensure the survival of only a handful of species, perhaps from their local area, the conservation of the European flora could be assured. He stressed the importance of gene banks, education programmes, and improving the quality of horticulture and recording systems in botanic gardens.

Attila Borhidi (president, IABG Europe-Mediterranean region) thought that tropical botanic gardens, for the most part, were used as nurseries for the exploitation of tropical forests, more than for conservation and made a plea for the need for collaboration between rich and poor countries.

Louis Olivier (director, Conservatoire Botanique National de Porquerolles, France) outlined the history of the Mediterranean botanic gardens and suggested that a fresh start can be given to botanic gardens in the area if the right solution can be found.

In a general discussion, Martin Holdgate set out nine ideas expressed by the speakers which he regarded as essential:

  1. Botanic gardens must become centres of conservation and biological diversity.
  2. We must continually develop and maintain links between north and south, east and west, in situ and ex situ.
  3. Enormous sums of money are spent by institutions, governments, and non governmental organisations on conservation, but very little is spent on botanic gardens. Botanic gardens must try to obtain funds for the conservation of biodiversity.
  4. Botanic gardens must also look outside themselves. They must become involved in activities such as habitat restoration, species reintroduction and the maintenance of nature reserves.
  5. Taxonomists too are an endangered species. It is absurd that in this age where we are aware that perhaps 80% of the flora and fauna is unclassified, the professionals engaged in classification are so poorly supported.
  6. The necessity of making botanic gardens attractive.
  7. We must use the strengths and resources that exist.
  8. We should look for publication outlets and other communications.
  9. All development must be in a cultural context.
  10. There is no single solution.

Session II Structure and Resources of Botanic Gardens

Hartmut Ern (Botanical Museum, Berlin-Dahlem) chaired the second session and gave a definition of a botanic garden: an institution, controlled by one or many botanists, which conserves a living collection in accordance with a scientific system, generally based on two utilities, the library and the herbarium. He questioned the use of the Index Seminum and called for it to be replaced by inventories of living collections and a fundamental examination of the exchange policy of plants and spores between gardens.

John Reinhart (director, Hortus Haren, Netherlands) said that Hortus Haren had become independent of the State University of Gr"ningen in 1988. It has since become a profitable tourist attraction, based on the themes of Nature and the Environment.

Lev Andreev (director, Moscow Main Botanic Garden). The Association of Euro-Asian Botanical Gardens (AEABG) was set up in April 1992 as a successor to the Council of the USSR Botanical Gardens formed in 1952. The Association organised four scientific conferences in 1992 in different areas.

J. Esteban Hern ndez Bermejo (director, Jardin Botanico de Cordoba, Spain) traced the history of his botanic garden and highlighted the value to be derived from co-operation with other gardens through membership of networks such as the BGCI, IABG, the Association of Latin American and Botanic gardens of the Caribbean and also the Iberian-Macronesian Association of Botanic Gardens.

Hartmut Ern summarised the papers in a general discussion and urged eastern European countries to follow the Spanish example in reviving botany and botanic gardens.

Session III Education and Management of the Public

David Bramwell (director, Botanic Gardens, Las Palmas, Islas Canarias, Spain) opened the third session by stating that education has become one of the most important themes in the international network of botanic gardens.

Julia Willison (education programme co-ordinator, BGCI) expressed the view that "Botanic gardens need to get involved in education if: (a) they want to survive, and (b) they want to help the planet survive." She outlined the actions necessary for education in botanic gardens.

Fran‡ois Gingins (Centre LSPN - Swiss League for Nature Conservation, Champ-Pittet, Switzerland) discussed the importance of environmental education, using examples of education campaigns organised by the Nature Centre at Champ-Pittet.

Gail Bromley (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) described the education programme at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, with particular reference to its cost-effectiveness.

Terry Keller (New York Botanic Garden) described the Bronx Green-up programme for community gardening, which has a positive effect on ethnically diverse and disadvantaged communities in The Bronx district of New York.

David Bramwell said in the general discussion that the most important points were for programmes to be taken into schools, for them to be exchanged between botanic gardens to avoid duplication, and for the education of teachers, to enable programmes to reach more children.

Session IV Management and Landscaping of Botanic Gardens

Rodolphe Spichiger (director, Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de la Ville de GenŠve) introduced the fourth session and asked how science and art can be joined. Architects had met to plan the future development of the Geneva botanic garden, which he hoped would lead to an imaginative approach.

William McK. Klein Jr (director, Fairchild Tropical Garden, Miami) described the reconstruction of his garden after two-thirds of it was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. This had led to a radical reappraisal of the accessions policy.

Mike Maunder (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), using examples of the collaboration between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Cameroon and St Helena, illustrated how botanic gardens are the main agent for ex situ conservation at one end of the management spectrum and have a responsibility to implement development programmes which are ecologically and economically viable and socially desirable.

Gille Clement (Ecole National Superieure du Paysage, Versailles, France) disussed how plants from different parts of the world should be grown together to form a harmonious community. He described his work in the Parc Andre Citroon, where he has a mixture of 150 species from all over the world. The role of the gardener is to follow their development and understand their growth, leaving them to interact.

General Conclusions

Rodolphe Spichiger said that botanic garden missions had multiplied and that they will only be accomplished by collaboration with each other and external organizations such as universities, non-governmental organizations and environmental agencies.

Vernon Heywood (consultant director, BGCI) introduced several thought-provoking topics. He felt that the time for large collections, inventories, gene banks and protected areas was over, and that the primary role of botanic gardens should be one of habitat restoration. He noted that we were obsessed with rarity, itself a confession of failure, and pleaded for more thought on biodiversity. He questioned the relationship between botanical research in the laboratory and herbarium with that of the garden itself.


The third day of the symposium was devoted to workshops:

Workshop 1   The new Europe of botanic gardens: what is their future? Peter Wyse Jackson

Workshop 2   Education in botanic gardens: a new approach. Didier Roguet

Workshop 3   National networks of botanic gardens: advantages and difficulties. Patricia Geissler & Rodolphe Spichiger

Workshop 4   Convention of Washington (CITES): role of botanic gardens. Bertrand von Arx

Workshop 5   Architecture and landscape for the year 2000: example of the Geneva botanic garden. Catherine Lambelet-Haueter

Workshop 6   Databases and botanic gardens. Catherine Zellweger


The symposium was a great success at both a local and international level. The organisers would like to thank all the participants at the symposium and the organizations which advised and supported the event, BGCI and CITES.