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Launch of the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation

Volume 3 Number 5 - December 2000
Peter S. Wyse Jackson

Peter Wyse Jackson speaking at the 1st World Botanic Gardens Congress, Asheville in 2000 said:

International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation"It is a pleasure for me to present to you, the new International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation that is launched here today. I would like to briefly outline the developments that have led to the preparation of this new international strategy for botanic gardens and the roots from which it has sprung. I will also give you a short outline of what it contains, its objectives and the ways in which botanic gardens throughout the world may use it to support and guide their efforts in conservation.

In 1985 the first International Botanic Gardens Conservation Congress was held in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, in 1985 on the theme ‘Botanic Gardens and the World Conservation Strategy’. Its aim was to consider how the botanic gardens of the world could be motivated and coordinated to provide a new force for plant conservation. At the Congress the first draft of a new international Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy was considered. Following the congress the BGCI itself was established to provide a secretariat to help promote and co-ordinate the role of botanic gardens in plant conservation and to guide its implementation. In 1989 the Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy was published, which quickly became an influential guide for the development of plant conservation actions for botanic gardens.

That strategy clearly achieved its objectives, to:

  1. Outline why the involvement of botanic gardens is an essential element in living resource conservation for sustainable development
  2. Identify the priority tasks that botanic gardens need to undertake as their part in implementing the World Conservation Strategy
  3. Propose effective ways in which the botanic gardens of the world can work together to achieve these priorities
  4. Provide a coherent set of principles and procedures that will allow botanic gardens to plan their part, alongside other institutions, in achieving the maximum amount of long term conservation of plant species and populations and focus public attention on the issues of conservation through appropriate educational displays and programmes.

However, since the 1985 congress and the publication of that Strategy, the role of botanic gardens in biodiversity conservation has been expanded and refined and there have been great changes for the botanic garden community. Many more botanic gardens have become active in plant conservation and environmental education. Botanic garden contributions to integrated conservation, sustainable development, genetic resource management and utilization and many other disciplines have expanded and evolved quickly.
Many new techniques have been developed that are now being used effectively by botanic gardens as part of their conservation work. Many more institutions maintaining living collections are being created and redeveloped in all parts of the world to face the increasing challenges for the conservation of plant diversity.
Environmental education is a major concern of many botanic gardens to help make their visiting public aware of the loss of biodiversity and the important role that botanic gardens are playing. Institutional development and capacity building is recognized as one of the most urgent tasks for botanic gardens.

The botanic garden community itself has grown - Many more botanic gardens have been created. In 1989 we reported a total of 1,400 botanic gardens. BGCI's database now contains information of 1,846 botanic gardens. New botanic gardens range from major gardens of international stature to small community gardens serving their local region in many countries

In 1989 few of the international conventions that seek to promote conservation of biodiversity and the environment had come into force - such as Agenda 21, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the FAO Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. In one decade the legislative and policy framework for the global environmental scene has changed almost out of recognition. Botanic gardens now have extremely powerful structures with which to link their conservation actions - and through which their work can be validated and recognised as of great significance for the planet.

Conservation practices for botanic gardens have evolved. The former emphasis of ex situ conservation being the primary task of botanic gardens in conservation has gone, to be replaced by botanic gardens accepting broad roles in other disciplines, involving much greater integration of tools, methodologies and tasks. New work in in situ conservation, conservation biology, molecular studies, is being undertaken. But ex situ conservation itself has not stood still - improved collections management, establishment of new seed banks, focus on the management and maintenance of genepools. New links with the international crop genetic resource conservation sector have been developed, marked by recognition of the role of botanic gardens ands their collections in the FAO Global Plan of Action.

Botanic garden traditional roles in taxonomic research will, I believe and hope, be increasingly revitalized - with increased recognition that good taxonomy is an essential starting point for undertaking any plant conservation. The recent development of a Global Taxonomy Initiative through the Convention on Biological Diversity provides a means for botanic gardens to justify and strengthen their plant taxonomy programmes.

International co-operation between botanic gardens has made remarkable progress. The BGCI membership now includes over 500 botanic gardens as members, in 111 countries. New national and regional networks have been created and strengthened throughout the world. Recent important regional initiatives include Botanic Garden Action Plans in the Caribbean and European Union, supported by rapidly developing network bodies. Such co-operation has greatly enhanced the flow of ideas, information and technical support between institutions in many parts of the world, helping to build capacity for conservation in many regions where it is most urgently required.

The practice of environmental education has moved on from roles in passive education of the general public to more proactive work identifying target audiences, communicating the importance and value of plants and developing a new focus for botanic garden programmes on education for sustainability.

During this decade botanic garden opportunities and responsibilities have undergone a rapid revolution - the agreement of a new International Agenda to guide their actions was therefore very urgent. We believed that simply updating and redrafting to old Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy would be a mistake and a great opportunity wasted to involve many partners throughout the world to produce an action-based document, outlining priorities and targets for botanic gardens in the implementation of specific tasks, as well as to define general principles. We believed that the document should also address the need for botanic gardens to be active participants in the implementation of, for example, the international Convention on Biological Diversity and to contribute to national sustainable development and environmental sustainability.

Two years ago at BGCI's 5th International Botanic Gardens Congress in Cape Town South Africa, BGCI launched a process to prepare the new international strategy for botanic gardens. At Cape Town, delegates endorsed the need for this revision and an intensive international consultative process was launched so that we could seek the views of botanic gardens and many other bodies worldwide on what should be included in the proposed strategy. Submissions were received from almost 200 institutions and individuals, which were used to help draft the text of the International Agenda. A first draft was also circulated to all those who made submissions, as well as to all BGCI member botanic gardens to seek their views to incorporate and final revisions.

Clearly the task that BGCI took on to prepare this new global strategy, and achieve its publication in time for this Congress was an ambitious and challenging one. However, the valuable assistance given by so many people should be acknowledged, without which Lucy Sutherland and I, as compilers of the text, could not have met this deadline. To all of you who contributed, we express our sincere thanks.

What are the objectives of the new International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation?

  1. To provide a common global framework for botanic garden policies, programmes and priorities in biodiversity conservation.
  2. And define the role of botanic gardens in the development of global partnerships and alliances for biodiversity conservation.
  3. To stimulate the evaluation and development of conservation policies and practices in botanic gardens to enhance their effectiveness and efficiency.
  4. And develop a means to monitor and record the actions undertaken by botanic gardens in conservation - helping to set targets and measure whether we are reaching those targets for the first time.
  5. To promote the roles of botanic gardens in conservation and raise global awareness of the importance of botanic gardens.
  6. And provide guidance for botanic gardens on contemporary issues in conservation.

Clearly the objectives of this International Agenda go beyond those of the 1989 Strategy. But what does the International Agenda contain?

It is divided into three sections. The first provides a background to the mission, roles, resources, distribution and policies of botanic gardens. The types of botanic gardens are defined and a global mission for botanic gardens in conservation is presented.

The second sections examines in details the practice of conservation by botanic gardens under a series of diverse headings - integrated conservation, access to genetic resources and benefit sharing, research, etc. Practical recommendations are presented under each heading, to provide the raw materials for individual botanic gardens to formulate and agree their own unique contribution to conservation, which also contributes to these global targets.

The third section outlines the ways in which we can monitor and co-ordinate the implementation of the International Agenda. A registration systems is proposed to record botanic gardens that wish to make a formal commitment to its implementation and administrative structures for its management are outlined, including the means to keep the International up-to-date and relevant as the world changes.

As we can see from this International Agenda, the tasks for botanic gardens in biodiversity conservation are extremely diverse, often complex and sometimes very demanding. Nevertheless, working individually and collectively, I have no doubt that we can achieve the ambitious targets we set ourselves, not only for plant conservation but to raise awareness of the need to build a sustainable future for the planet. I urge each one of you and your institutions to join us in the task of implementing the International Agenda. Plant conservation must become a fundamental global priority if we are to ensure that our biological resources survive to support this fragile world."

Editor's note: This is the text of the launch of the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation at The World Botanic Gardens Congress held in Asheville, North Carolina in June, 2000.

Peter S. Wyse Jackson
Secretary General
Botanic Gardens Conservation International