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Botanic gardens and their response to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation

Volume 2 Number 7 - July 2010
Sophie Williams and Suzanne Sharrock

It is generally recognised that botanic gardens, coordinated and supported by BGCI, played a significant role in the development of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) and its ultimate adoption by the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2002.  Since then the GSPC has provided a framework for action and stimulated new initiatives for botanic gardens, enabling an internationally coordinated approach to plant conservation (Wyse Jackson and Kennedy 2009).  It has also informed and influenced the work of BGCI and is a major focus of BGCI’s outreach and communications with its membership.  It is clear that botanic gardens have responded to the GSPC in various ways and at different levels and there is no doubt that their actions, individually and collectively, at local, national and international levels have contributed to the achievement of many of the targets.  This paper looks not only at the role botanic gardens have played in the implementation of the GSPC, but also investigates the impact the GSPC itself has had on the activities of botanic gardens, drawing on the results of a global survey carried out recently by a PhD student from Bangor University, Wales, coordinated by BGCI.

The global response to the GSPC 
A shared rationale and framework for the global conservation work of botanic gardens has existed since well before the adoption of the GSPC, with BGCI publishing the Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy in 1989.  This was followed in 2000 by the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation, which aimed to address the need for botanic gardens to become active participants in the implementation of the CBD and to contribute to sustainable development programmes nationally and internationally. In 2003 an International Agenda registration system was introduced, allowing botanic gardens to formally ‘register’ their commitment to plant conservation. Over 450 gardens from 83 countries have made such a commitment.  Through implementation of the International Agenda botanic gardens contribute to the achievement of the 16 targets of the GSPC. However, in order for this contribution to be more explicit, efforts were made to link the International Agenda directly to the GSPC and BGCI developed a series of global botanic garden targets closely aligned with the GSPC targets (Wyse Jackson, 2004).  The International Agenda targets were adopted by botanic gardens in 2004 as a mechanism to monitor the global botanic garden contribution to the GSPC. These targets subsequently also provided guidance for the development of national and regional targets for botanic garden networks, for example in Mexico (see pp.20-23) and in the North American region (Galbraith and Kennedy, 2006). 

Botanic garden networks and the GSPC

Botanic garden networks exist at national and regional levels worldwide (see  For many of these networks, the GSPC and the associated International Agenda targets proved to provide an ideal framework for the development of national and regional botanic garden strategies and action plans.  Examples from Brazil and Mexico are provided in this issue (see pp.8 and 20).  While some networks address all 16 targets of the GSPC, others focus on specific targets, particularly Target 8. In the UK for example, PlantNetwork (the Plant Collections Network of the UK and Ireland) adopted a plan with eight targets aimed at the conservation of all the endangered plants in Britain and Ireland by 2010 (Jebb, 2005).  The plan focuses on linking ex situ with in situ conservation and includes strong elements of protocol development, public awareness, education and partnership development, thus addressing GSPC Targets 3, 7 14, 15 and 16 as well as Target 8. 

At the regional level, the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation published in 2006 attempted to harmonise the GSPC, International Agenda and the Plant Conservation Alliance’s National Framework for Progress.  The North American Strategy brought together for the first time the American Public Garden Association (APGA), the Centre for Plant Conservation (CPC), BGCI, the Canadian Botanical Conservation Network (CBCN) and the Association of Mexican Botanic Gardens (Asociación Mexicana de Jardines Botánicos AMJB) in a strategic contribution to plant conservation.  It was hoped that the Strategy would help to demonstrate the collective impact that botanic gardens in North America could have on the protection and conservation of native plants and plant communities. It was felt that by setting outcome-oriented and measurable targets, botanic gardens in Canada, the United States and Mexico would be able to contribute significantly to the ultimate goal of halting the loss of plant diversity.

“This North America Strategy will help to further progress toward the goal of providing a richer, more diverse world, one with greater resilience and more beauty than could be achieved in any other way”. Peter Raven.

The GSPC and individual botanic gardens

At the individual level, many botanic gardens have embraced the GSPC and in some cases specific targets have been mainstreamed within their programmes.  The in-depth review of the GSPC, carried out by the CDB Secretariat 2007-8, noted the success of the GSPC in allowing botanic gardens to engage in the work of the CBD (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2009) and gardens such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Missouri Botanical Garden have produced publications highlighting their contributions to the GSPC. However the extent to which the large number of smaller and less well-resourced botanic gardens around the world have engaged with the GSPC, and the influence it has had on their programmes is less well understood.  For this reason, BGCI, together with Bangor University and RBG Kew, recently carried out a GSPC survey of botanic gardens.

Surveying botanic gardens

The survey was developed as part of a PhD research project focusing upon the role of botanic gardens in plant conservation. The aim of the survey was to collect information on botanic garden activities that contribute to the GSPC, with two specific objectives in mind:

• To investigate the degree of influence the GSPC has had upon individual botanic garden activities;
• To assess what activities botanic gardens are currently undertaking that contribute to each of the GSPC targets.

Over the past 10 years, BGCI has widely promoted the GSPC to its members and has supported many GSPC-related activities amongst its global membership. The leadership role of BGCI in relation to the GSPC has been recognised by the CBD and has been reported elsewhere (Leadley, 2005; Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2009).  A further aim of the survey therefore, was to assess the extent to which BGCI’s promotion of the GSPC has been reflected in action on the ground by its membership and to identify areas for greater focus in the future.

The survey was developed online ( and a pilot study of ten botanic gardens was conducted. The questions were refined and the survey was distributed to BGCI members around the world, totalling 505 botanic gardens. The survey was translated into Spanish, French, Russian and Chinese and was publicised through the Kew On Course magazine, BGjournal and on the BGCI website. The results were submitted online and analysed using the statistical package R (Version 2.9.2).

Preliminary results
The response to the survey was excellent with information being provided by 252 botanic gardens, representing all continents (Figure 1). This has provided us with a comprehensive global overview of BGCI member gardens’ activities in relation to plant conservation. 

How influential has the GSPC has been upon botanic garden activities?
The majority of botanic gardens indicated that the GSPC has been either very influential or fairly influential to their activities, with only around 25% indicating that the GSPC has had no influence (Figure 2). The next stage of this research will focus on identifying any common factors associated with a garden stating that the GSPC is not relevant to their activities.   

Which targets are most relevant for botanic gardens?
To gain insight into the GSPC targets most frequently implemented, the Gardens were asked to provide examples of their projects contributing to each target. Figure 3 shows that almost all the targets are addressed by at least one botanic garden in each region of the world and illustrates the wide range of conservation activities being undertaken by botanic gardens (See Boxes 1-3). This encouraging finding indicates that the global botanic garden network coordinated by BGCI is actively contributing to all aspects of the GSPC. 

The survey results indicate that Target 14 is the most frequently implemented target. This is not surprising as education and public awareness programmes are often cited as a key role for botanic gardens. There are a substantial range of approaches to addressing Target 14, with the focus of many awareness projects on children’s education. Academic education within botanic gardens is a feature of many of the larger gardens but also in some smaller gardens, particularly those affiliated with a University. For example, Rajshahi University Botanical Gardens in Bangladesh coordinates a plant conservation lecture and seminar programme for students of the Department of Botany at the Rajshahi University. The botanic garden has a very limited budget and small number of staff, but views their education work as a priority.

Box 1: Conserving species in situ – botanic gardens contributing to GSPC Target 7

Westonbirt Arboretum in the United Kingdom is well known for its world class collection of exotic trees and shrubs, many of which are rare or endangered in their native habitats. What is less well known is that the arboretum also includes areas of semi-natural habitats, managed to conserve their rare native species and thereby support the GSPC. These habitats include lowland broadleaved woodland and calcareous grassland, both of which are included in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as Priority Habitats. Rare species such as the spreading bellflower (Campanula patula) and green-winged orchid (Orchis morio) are being conserved through active management of their habitats, particularly restoration of coppicing and traditional grazing.

As part of the international movement for the conservation of threatened plants, the staff of the Albury Botanic Gardens in New South Wales, Australia assist in the management and monitoring of the local population of the endangered Crimson Spider Orchids (Caladenia concolor). A fencing grant has enabled the area where the plants grow to be safeguarded from the impacts of vehicles and cattle. Staff assist with field work and further surveys, as well as dismantling unauthorised mountain bike trails, that some enthusiasts build in the garden’s protected box-gum woodland. The local community has been involved with the project from the start and have always enjoyed the annual surveys for new plants in various locations.

A roughly equal number of botanic gardens are implementing Targets 1, 8 and 16 (Figure 2). In relation to Target 1, several large botanic gardens (namely RBG Kew, Missouri and New York Botanical Gardens) are playing the lead role in synthesising a global working list of the known plant species, but many other botanic gardens are also contributing to this target at a more local or regional level. (See the example from Brazil on p. 8).  Target 8 (ex situ conservation and restoration) is one of the two targets for which BGCI is the key facilitating agency and is generally considered to be the main ‘responsibility’ of botanic gardens.  As a means to monitor progress towards this target, BGCI developed its PlantSearch database and to date, over 700 gardens around the world have contributed data to this.  The work of individual botanic gardens in conserving threatened species ex situ not only contributes to the achievement of the target globally, but in many countries, this is being done in the context of national targets. For example, the role of Chinese botanic gardens in conserving Chinese species is discussed on pages 14-19 in this issue.

Japan’s botanic gardens agree a target to conserve 50% of threatened Japanese plant species by 2012”. Japanese Association of Botanic Gardens, 2007.

It is also clear that botanic gardens provide a significant contribution towards developing and maintaining networks for plant conservation (Target 16) and it is exciting to see botanic gardens continuing to create new networks.  For example one new initiative led by the Gullele Botanic Garden in Ethiopia is the Horn of Africa Environmental Network. This project aims to develop a centre for training and networking, based at the Gullele Botanic Garden and involving six countries; Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia/Somaliland and Kenya.

Targets 6, 9 and 12 are the least frequently implemented by botanic gardens. These targets address the conservation and sustainable use of socio-economically plant species. As conservation resources are limited, and botanic gardens need to prioritise their activities, these targets may not fall within their remits. There are also other institutions that are more specifically addressing these targets. However, as many of the newest botanic gardens are located in the global south where these targets are more relevant and urgent, they may consider playing a greater role in contributing to these targets in the future.

Box 2:  Developing propagation protocols at the National Botanic Garden in Namibia - a contribution to GSPC Target 3
The National Botanic Garden of Namibia has over the past years become increasingly involved in the rehabilitation and restoration of mined areas. As part of this undertaking, propagation protocols for several rare and threatened indigenous species have been developed, for example Juttadinteria albata, which is endemic to the lower Orange River basin in Southern Namibia and Salsola nollothensis, a dune-stabilising shrub that occurs along the Southern Namib coastline.

Survey constraints

The response rate to the survey was over 50% of those directly informed (BGCI members), and as such, produces a very positive picture of the plant conservation work being carried out by many gardens, large and small, around the world.  These gardens, as BGCI members, are well placed to both learn about and contribute to the GSPC.  However, it can be seen from Figure 3 that the response rate from the global south, and especially from Africa and India, was low and gardens from Europe and North America constituted 60% of the responses.

Given that many new botanic gardens are being established in the south and although they may have limited infrastructure and funding, they do have the ability to contribute to the implementation of the GSPC (Chen et al., 2009), this is clearly an area where BGCI may consider focusing more attention in the future.

Furthermore, the survey focussed on which GSPC targets botanic gardens are currently implementing, providing a useful assessment of the current situation.  No efforts were made to assess or evaluate the success of such projects, and it is clear that ultimately measuring the outputs of projects is important to assess their impact (Kapos et al 2009).  Further research, using this survey as a basis, could provide a more detailed view of the success of botanic garden conservation projects in contributing to the achievement of GSPC targets. 
Box 3: Addressing the GSPC at the Jardín Botánico Regional de Cadereyta, Mexico
The work of this botanic garden contributes to several GSPC targets:
 * Field work and the collection of herbarium samples, as part of a project entitled 'The flora of Bajio and its adjacent regions' - Target 1.
 * Developing protocols for the propagation of 100 native species, 20 of which are threatened, in association with the local community – Target 3.
 * In situ protection of 5 species of threatened endemic cactaceae, representing 25% of the total threatened cacti of the state of Queretaro – Target 7.
 * Ex situ conservation of 25 species which are threatened in the region, 40% of which are endemic to the region, and 5 of which are involved in recovery programmes  - Target 8
 * Artificial cultivation of 7 species from the region listed under Appendix I of CITES – Target 11
 * Talks and workshops aiming to increase the awareness of thousands of people each year – Target 14
 * Maintaining, strengthening and increasing working relations with government bodies, academics and the private sector – Target 16.


The GSPC has provided a framework for the conservation activities of botanic gardens and their networks around the world and the recent survey has provided a ‘snapshot’ of relevant ongoing activities. There are a huge diversity of approaches being taken by botanic gardens to implementing the GSPC, but one of the clear findings of this research is that the global botanic garden community is playing a significant role in conserving threatened plant species. In this paper we have provided some examples of the work being carried out by botanic gardens and have highlighted the importance of this work in meeting the 2010 GSPC targets. With the amendment of the GSPC targets for 2010-2020, we hope the contribution of botanic gardens will continue to be as active and vibrant.


Case studies highlighted in the text and in Boxes 1-3 are based on information provided during the GSPC survey, with additional details provided by Simon Toomer, Paul Scannel and Silke Rügheimer.  We are grateful to these individuals and to everyone else who completed the survey.


Chen, J., Cannon, C.H. and Hu, H., 2009. Tropical botanic gardens: at the in situ ecosystem management frontier. Trends in Plant Science. 14(11): 584-588. 

Galbraith, D. and Kennedy, K., 2006.The development of a strategic plan for a regional network of botanic gardens for conservation: the North American experience. BGjournal 3(1): 8-10.

Jebb, M., 2005. Developing a PlantNetwork response to Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. BGjournal 2(2): 8.

Kapos, V., Balmford, A., Aveling, R., Bubb, P., Carey, P., Entwistle, A. Hopkins, J., Mulliken, T., Safford, R., Stattersfield, A., Walpole, M and Manica, A., 2009. Outcomes, not implementation, predict conservation success. Oryx 43(3): 336-342
Leadley, E., 2005. The BGCI Contribution to the Implementation of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation BGjournal 2(2): 3-5.

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2009. The Convention on Biological Diversity Plant Conservation Report: A review of progress in implementing the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). 48 pages.

Wyse Jackson, P., 2004. Developing international targets for botanic gardens in conservation – a consultation document. BGjournal 1(1): 4-6.

Wyse Jackson P. and Kennedy K., 2009. The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation: a challenge and opportunity for the international community. Trends in plant Science. 14(11): 578-580.

Figure 2: The influence of the GSPC upon botanic garden activities

Figure 3. The number of botanic gardens implementing the GSPC targets in different regions of the world



Sophie Williams
PhD Research Student
Bangor University and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK