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Australia and New Zealand: International partnerships in horticulture

Volume 8 Number 1 - January 2011
Daniel Bishop and Brooke Stark

Introduction

Despite concerted effort and much goodwill, the botanic garden community has failed to realise by 2010 the ambitious objectives of the first Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). The recent BGCI review Saving Plants, Saving the Planet (Sharrock, et al., 2010) reports on examples from around the globe, acknowledging the difficulty for some countries to provide information due to language, format issues or lack of data. However even relatively advanced botanic garden communities such as Australia have not met the most pertinent target for them: 60% of threatened species in ex situ collections (nationwide the figure hovers at around 21%). So what responsibilities do members of Botanic Gardens Australia and New Zealand (BGANZ) have to assist in the development of emerging botanic gardens in the world?  With funding for our own projects increasingly difficult to come by, and plenty of work still needed at home, it’s a stretch to suggest we need new international partnerships to obtain display material for our collections… After all, aren’t we all devolving back to regional flora bases anyway?

Meeting plant conservation targets

Saving Plants, Saving the Planet does highlight some positive outcomes but is perhaps more insightful for what it is unable to report, especially from those regions whose flora is not well accounted for. As the Convention of Biological Diversity’s Plant Conservation Report (SCBD, 2009) notes “There are still serious gaps in capacity for ex situ conservation, especially in Africa, parts of Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East, where existing institutions involved in ex situ conservation are often poorly resourced.” Without doubt we must look anew at what we are proposing for ex situ conservation and redouble efforts to effect serious change within our regions.

Many BGANZ gardens and particularly our ‘capital city’ botanic gardens have well recognised international linkages. Most often these revolve around research collaboration, sister city arrangements, plant exchanges or personal associations at executive level. How are we moving beyond this paradigm of interactions between established institutions to the groundbreaking work required to enable Target 8 to be realised? As the Plant Conservation Report notes:

More integration of the activities undertaken by botanic gardens and gene banks is needed to ensure that shared priorities can be developed, and experiences, resources and technologies shared.”

Is it too obvious to suggest that only though networking and the targeted development of ‘non prestigious’ or perhaps not yet established gardens can we dramatically improve our chances of reaching these ex situ targets? 

While BGCI continues to provide the lead for the coordination of development programs, the establishment of BGANZ in 2005 has helped provide a platform from which regional botanic gardens in Australia and New Zealand can assist the implementation of GSPC targets. The 2007 BGANZ International Networking Policy outlines the value of international networking for our organisations and assists in determining the best response to an approach to their agency. Providing guiding principles and outlining strategies; it encourages collaborative effort to share information, provide skills, develop resources and assist policy development, particularly with our regional neighbours in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. BGANZ recognises that an effective pathway to reach Target 8 is to build capacity in living collections management. While science programs have for many years recognised the need to form collaborative efforts as an essential ingredient to their work, curatorial staff on both sides of the development divide, rarely see or seek the benefits of building such productive partnerships. By improving skills and providing guidance to staff working in botanic gardens or allied industries to implement modern techniques of botanic horticulture, record keeping and seed conservation, we can directly assist their ability to propagate, document and conserve their regional flora.

International training courses

In March 2010 a certificate course was launched by BGCI in Singapore to provide training in botanic garden management. Successfully hosted by Singapore Botanic Garden (SBG) with contributions from three BGANZ gardens in Australia and the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, this was the first attempt to specifically focus our attention on developing technical skills in botanic garden staff within the region. Topics ranging from sustainable waste management, record keeping systems, safe arboricultural practices and ex situ conservation, through seed-banking and public garden education were covered over a 2-week period. Fourteen students from eight countries participated in what is hoped will become a regular calendar event. An intensive program such as this can only remain viable through the contributions of staff from a number of participating organisations, sharing the financial burden and through the encouragement of sponsorship partners. In this case the BGANZ gardens funded their staff participation and provided some financial support for the course. This funding was sourced specifically for development programs and apart from staff time, did not detract from their core functions at home or impact on limited BGANZ resources.

The future success of this program will rely on the ability of course developers to focus on the needs of participants, while harnessing the skills present within BGANZ /SBG horticultural and research staff, with the aim of reducing the capacity deficiencies identified within the GSPC. While a number of scholarships and part scholarships where offered to encourage broad participation in this training course, it inevitably targets those sufficiently confident and resourced to attend.  BGANZ is aware there is an altogether different audience that requires assistance, those less active in the botanic garden community.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) introductory training course in basic horticulture and field botany skills provides a proactive format to facilitate international collaborations. BGANZ is keenly interested in partnering in the development and implementation of such grassroots programs and sees the RBGE courses as a model for disseminating basic horticultural education into regions that may not yet identify their parks and gardens as conservation agencies.  By working collaboratively with BGCI, RBGE and others, BGANZ can share the overall financial costs of widespread implementation as well as reducing the administrative burden often encountered by duplication.

Other partnerships

Of course individual BGANZ gardens are also making significant and widespread contributions. Many gardens retain a focus on their historic links, just one example being the interactions between Adelaide Botanic Garden and Georgetown, Guyana, which have existed since the 1860’s. New Zealand gardens continue to provide support to Pacific nations, often as a consequence of long-established community relationships.  The Wellington Botanic Garden is currently exploring opportunities to provide operational training programmes within New Zealand for staff of Honiara Botanic Garden in the Solomon Islands. These historic and community partnerships can still deliver very tangible benefits at both ends of the relationship as can new programs formed with old colleagues. Support from Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank project has enabled Australian botanic gardens to establish their own network of seed banks. Generally modest in size in comparison with our northern hemisphere colleagues, the skill of operational staff and their experience working with limited resources are often ideally illustrative for developing countries. The small Royal Tasmanian Botanical Garden seed bank has assisted Asia’s largest, Kunming, providing staff on short-term exchange.
 

“Partnerships may be based on historic links, community relationships or specialised skill sets”

Other gardens are forging completely new links to help plan new botanic gardens or providing specialist assistance to improve the capability of their conservation programs. Western Australia’s Kings Park and Botanic Garden is active in the Middle East assisting various countries with similar climatic conditions to understand the complexity of dry land ecosystem restoration as well as fundamental activities of seed collection, propagation and botanic garden management. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne is working with Chagual Botanic Garden in Santiago, assisting to design and establish a ‘modern’ botanic garden for Chile. In February 2011 the Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney (BGT) will form a new relationship, assisting in the development of a proposed Forest Botanic Garden near Bidoup-Nuiba National Park in central Vietnam. 

We should not forget the distinct benefits our own organisations gain through partnering in these relationships. Participating staff develop new skills, networks and experiences outside regular activities, bringing renewed confidence and ideas to their positions as well as encouraging them to carefully research their own procedures as they pass them to others.  Agencies working outside their ‘walls’ in support of global climate change and conservation agendas can as a consequence find additional support for their broader activities from government, the community and sponsors.

“While larger projects do require support either from sponsorship or agency funds, all gardens can make small meaningful contributions.”

Simply maintaining contact with visitors or inquiries from developing regions, BGANZ gardens can provide an opportunity for ongoing support and communication that may later flourish into tangible programs.  We should all consider providing several sponsored places during botanic garden conferences to encourage attendance from regional neighbours or students. Local community/Friends groups may be able to provide a translation service or provide short-term hospitality and accommodation. Another effective strategy is to encourage Friends organisations to support programs that seek to achieve GSPC aims.  Several gardens including Auckland Botanic Gardens and BGT Sydney have developed closer relationships with botanic gardens in China, Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere through Friends-funded scholarships that support staff travel. Offering and facilitating training opportunities within your garden to targeted groups can provide invaluable work experience. One attempt being undertaken by the Mount Annan Botanic Garden in south western Sydney is through the establishment of a work experience partnership with a tertiary education provider who attract international students to their horticulture training programs. These are examples of simple measures all BGANZ gardens can use to share their wealth of experience without the need for significant funding. Heads of botanic gardens need to ensure there is an understanding within their organisation of these activities and facilitate discussions with government, existing sponsors and Friends groups regarding their importance. 

Conclusions

Both BGCI and BGANZ have a fundamental role to play in bringing potential partners together, tapping into the latent enthusiasm for botanic garden staff to be more involved in shared programs that meet GSPC objectives. As lead agencies they may better initiate collaborative agreements with aid agencies, federal governments and partnering organisations that remain sustainable over time. Significant suspicion remains for many garden managers on both sides for ‘unsolicited’ enquiries or ‘random’ offers. The role of BGCI in linking requests for assistance with possible support needs should be enhanced so that outreach programs can find their intended targets less by accident and more by design. As well as the inevitable cultural misunderstandings, language is another barrier that can be alleviated through this facilitation process to ensure projects are not hampered by conflicted agenda’s and that consistent outcomes are generated. 

BGANZ is seeking to increase involvement within our region to tackle a renewed focus on ex situ conservation. We need to accelerate our activity to meet the updated Target 8 for 2020 of “at least 75 percent of threatened plants in ex situ collections, preferably in the country of origin and 20 percent of them included in recovery and restoration programmes”, making sure it is not just freshly minted ambition…

References

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).  SCBD, Montreal, Canada. Available for download from www.cbd.int.

Sharrock, S., Hird, A., Kramer, A. and Oldfield, S. (Comp), 2010. Saving plants, saving the planet: Botanic gardens and the implementation of GSPC Target 8. Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Richmond, UK. 
Daniel Bishop
Botanic Gardens Trust,
Mount Annan Botanic Garden
Mount Annan Drive,
Mount Annan 2567
Australia

Brooke Stark
Auckland Botanic Gardens
102 Hill Road,
Manurewa,
Auckland 2105
New Zealand