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The Role of Botanic Gardens in the Conservation of Europe’s Overseas Territories

Volume 3 Number 1 - December 1998

C. Hankamer & M. Maunders

The overseas territories of Europe are often much richer in plant biodiversity than their sovereign or associated Member State. For example, in France (Métropole) there are just 250 endemic plant species compared with 1,796 in Nouvelle-Calédonie/Kanaky (New Caledonia). This Territoire d’Outre-Mer (TOM) is an IUCN recognised Centre of Plant Diversity along with four other European overseas territories. Many territories have high numbers of threatened species - for example, St Helena, where 41% of vascular plant species are threatened compared with just 1% on the UK mainland - and almost all have a poorly developed conservation infrastructure.

Plant Conservation Priorities in the European Overseas Territories

In the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants (K. Walter and H.J. Gillett, 1998), 32 countries are listed with at least 5% of their native species threatened. It is not surprising to note that 6 of these are European overseas territories: French Polynesia, Nouvelle-Calédonie/Kanaky, Réunion, Bermuda, St Helena and Dependencies and Pitcairn. Most European overseas territories have no formal assessment of the biodiversity conservation priorities by way of a Biodiversity Action Plan. In fact, a significant number require basic floristic surveys before any action plans can be put together (Table 1).

European Overseas Territory Plant Genetic Resources and the Current Role of Botanic Gardens

Only 24% of the European overseas territories have in-country botanic garden/gene bank facilities. A large number of plant collections from the overseas territories are held in European Member State botanic gardens and there is concern that the genetic value of this material is largely unknown. Therefore, absolute priority must be placed on the development of within territory conservation facilities such as field gene banks and managed reserves. Botanic gardens in the Member States can take an active role in supporting projects in the territories. In 1997, the Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest hosted a conference on the threatened plants of France, including key presentations from the French DOM/TOMs. Existing ex situ collections should act as a ‘shop window’ for directing resources and funding to overseas territory activities. For example, island issues are promoted through interpretation panels at the Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest and the new Nouvelle-Calédonie/Kanaky glasshouse at the Jardin Botanique, Mairie de Paris.

Current Role of Botanic Gardens in the Conservation of the European Overseas Territories

  • Ex situ conservation collections (in the overseas territory and sovereign or Member State),
  • Repatriation of germplasm,
  • Fund-raising to support overseas territory conservation activities,
  • Provide a focus for plant conservation activities, through collaborative projects with research institutions and wildlife conservation organisations;
  • Biodiversity surveys,
  • Species recovery and reintroduction,
  • Habitat restoration and management,
  • Protected area establishment and management,
  • Implementation of the Convention of Biological Diverstiy (CBD), CITES and Agenda 21,
  • Training of conservation professionals.
  • Case Studies of botanic garden projects in the European overseas territories

The following three case studies illustrate a range of botanic garden projects, which address botanic garden responsibilities to the CBD and highlight important lessons learnt.

1. The Trésor Project, French Guiana: Protected Area Management

  • First in situ conservation project of the Dutch Regional Office of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).
  • 1995 - purchased 2,450 ha of rainforest and wet savanna in the Kaw Mountain range (300-370 m).
  • Flora is still not completely known even though area relatively accessible. An international working group is producing the flora of the Guianas.
  • Threats - hunting, logging, mining (gold and diamonds).
  • March 1998 - Réserve Naturelle de Marais de Kaw established (100,000 ha).

Role of the Dutch Regional Office of BGCI

  • Fund-raising (see illustration of brochure)
  • Protected area management and environmental legislation

Scientific Research

  • Development of new conservation projects e.g. species conservation programmes
  • Public awareness and environmental education
  • Ecotourism and sustainable development
  • Cooperation with local community

Lessons Learnt

  • Representation of business enterprises through Plant Charter Group enabled swift reactions to funding issues.
  • Local authorities and organizations were not sufficiently informed of project’s activities. Appointed local representatives of Trésor Foundation to overcome this.

2. Ruizia cordata, La Réunion: Single Species Recovery

  • The flora of Réunion island has 180 endemic species,
  • Ruizia cordata (endemic genus, family Sterculiaceae) is limited to the dry, low altitude region of Réunion,
  • In the last century, it was the dominant species of this region. It was then thought to have become extinct (through local harvesting), but was rediscovered,
  • In 1998 only 2 plants remain in the wild.

Role of Conservatoires Botaniques Nationaux:

  • Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest: conservation done by propagation in cultivation and reintroduction into suitable habitat, with control of exotic plant species for minimum of 1 year after planting (Reserve Jardinée). 2,000 plants were produced by hand pollination and sent back to Réunion.
  • Conservatoire Botanique National de Nancy: played an important role in the creation of the Conservatoire Botanique National de Mascarin (CBNM) on Réunion, in 1992. CBNM has reproduced plants of wild origin for the reintroduction programme.

Lessons learnt:

  • 1,000 plants successfully planted in gardens where they are reproducing freely.
  • In situ reintroductions made to cliffs (to minimise the risk of harvesting) were not so successful. As young plants were not maintained during their establishment.
  • Also due to the great difficulty of access to sites, insufficient monitoring was carried out on these populations. CBNM intends to carry out a complete survey of these sites.

3. St Helena: Sustainable Environment and Development Strategy

  • Almost complete destruction of original habitat.
  • Agenda 21 (1992 Rio Earth Summit) stipulates production of National Sustainable Environment and Development Strategies.
  • Sustainable Environment and Development Strategy (SEDS) developed for St Helena in 1993.
  • The St Helena SEDS was one of first programmes (post-Rio) to begin integrating environmental and conservation issues under goals of sustainable development.
  • Main aim: Through island-wide consultation process - gave islanders opportunity to prioritise issues and actions to ensure a sustainable future for islanders and their environment.

Role of RBG Kew:

  • Managed inter-disciplinary team from the International Institute for Environment and Development, the St Helena Working Group and the World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
  • Produced integrated conservation strategy for the endemic plant species and habitats.
  • Provision of horticultural and conservation training.

Lessons learnt:

  •  Advisory Committee on the Environment was formed in 1997 and will take forward the SEDS process, to enable long-term strategic planning,
  • Document has failed to integrate environment fully with social and economic development (Rowe, 1998),
  • Fewer sources of long-term funding than anticipated,
  • Future projects of this type need to ensure continuity of communications and funding. Results should be presented in a form that is available to the community.

European Overseas Territory Environmental Policy and Biodiversity Funding

While significant conservation activities are in place, there is a need to promote activities which assist the territories specifically to meet their obligations under the CBD or to build their capacity to be included under the ratification of the Member State. The UK overseas territories provide a good example of the issues facing all European overseas territories Even though the UK overseas territories are incorporated into the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (1995), only 6 groups have been included in the UK ratification of the CBD. The UK overseas territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF), which links conservation NGOs in the UK and the UK overseas territories, has recently produced a review summarising current conservation activities and priorities for action. This has been a valuable tool to help raise government awareness, guide government policy and for initiating funding proposals.

Unfortunately, European overseas territories are not eligible for funding through international biodiversity funding mechanisms such as the Global Environment Facility of UNEP which are available to developing countries with high biodiversity.

Within the European Commission Directorates, it is difficult to ascertain which tranches of funding are available to European overseas territory biodiversity conservation initiatives.

Recommendations for Future Action

Specific recommendations based on the stated needs of the European overseas territories:

  • Expansion of in-country skills in biodiversity assessment, horticulture and taxonomy, would promote the establishment of strong in-country teams and facilities. Some Territories rely, at best, on a single self-taught botanist or naturalist. A priority is to raise the profile of plant conservation on the development agenda through the development of community and schools education materials.
  • Surveys are required to identify conservation priorities at the species and habitat levels in order to draw up integrated management plans to secure habitats through the creation of protected areas, adequate enforcement of protection, management of invasive exotics and control of damaging land use practices.
  • Raising international awareness of the conservation priorities for the European overseas territories is required to bring about changes in government policy in order to promote integrated management of natural resources, the implementation of CITES, the CBD and Agenda 21. Increased regional co-operation in the Indian Ocean, Caribbean and Pacific Ocean, such as the BGCI Caribbean Islands Botanic Gardens Network, will be essential for the small island territories. From the European Commission perspective, there is a need for recognition of the long-term needs of individual overseas territories by the Member States and inclusion within biodiversity funding mechanisms.

European Overseas Territories Working Group

The European overseas territories represent an urgent priority for botanic garden action. The unique biotas of the European overseas territories will not be saved by traditional botanic garden practices based on plant collections. It is proposed that a European overseas territories Working Group be established, with the aim of developing a co-ordinated approach to supporting the overseas territories by:

  • Ensuring that threatened plants of the overseas territories are included in the European Botanic Garden Programme for the conservation of rare and threatened plants of Europe;
  • Lobbying individual governments and the European Commission,
  • Collaborating with local teams for capacity building and institutional strengthening;
  • Location, coordination and provision of horticultural and conservation expertise.