Compliance with CBD and ABS Provisions

  • Region

  • Country

    United Kingdom
  • Topic

    Policy and Advocacy
  • Type

    Case Study

Institutional Tools and Approaches used by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Example provided by: Kate Hughes and David Rae, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

Adapted from case study 4.3 from Davis, K (2016) The Plant Collection in the International Policy Context. Ch. 4 in Gratzfeld, J. (Ed.), 2016. From Idea to Realisation – BGCI’s Manual on Planning, Developing and Managing Botanic Gardens. Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Richmond, United Kingdom. Full manual available here, chapter here.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) uses a range of tools to ensure that its extensive collections of living plants, herbarium specimens, DNA, pollen and dried tissue (stored in silica gel packages) specimens are managed in compliance with the CBD.


RBGE’s Collection Policy (Rae et al., 2006), distributed to all staff, lays down the rules of engagement, regulations and procedures to be followed by all staff and associated workers, and states RBGE’s commitment to comply with both the law and spirit of the CBD. RBGE is a member of the International Plant Exchange Network (IPEN) and of the Consortium of European Taxonomic Facilities (CETAF), and has endorsed the Principles on ABS and the CETAF Code of Conduct.

Agreements and permits:

All wild collections are made and brought to the botanic garden with the appropriate permits. The Plant Health Officer checks the permit documentation when the health of living collections arriving at the Gardens is checked. All collections must be accompanied by a ‘Letter of Authority’ which is signed by the Plant Health Officer. This is required because RBGE is one of the official quarantine sites in Britain. Living collections are logged into the database (see below) and given a unique number and all permits and other related documentation is scanned in and linked to the collection through this unique number.

Herbarium specimens will not be accepted into the Herbarium until all the appropriate documentation and permits that accompany the specimens have been received by herbarium staff. Specimens are then logged on the database. They are then mounted on archival paper and a unique barcode is added to each specimen, after which they are laid away in the herbarium for use.

RBGE has Memoranda of Understanding with a number of overseas botanical and research institutes, typically including agreement to share collections, to provide and attend training sessions, to publish the outcomes of collaborations jointly and, importantly, to act within the CBD.


All plant material is given a unique identifying number allocated by the centralised plant record system (BG-BASE software) on entry to the collection, whether herbarium, living or DNA material, and regulatory documents such as permits, phytosanitary certificates and plant passports are permanently linked to the relevant accessions in the database, which can also be used to record publications and studies generated from plants and samples). New herbarium specimens are barcoded but a backlog of non-barcoded historic material remains. The database allows for a number of different levels of permission and compliance. Not only can they vary from country to country but can vary within a country, from plant family to plant family to collector and researcher.

Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs):

RBGE publishes a catalogue online so that organisations and individuals can request certain plant material. A ‘Conditions of use’ form must be completed before RBGE material is released. There are separate versions of this for the living collections and for herbarium material. The latter includes the RBGE policy on destructive sampling for DNA and pollen.

An IPEN number is generated for living material destined for IPEN botanic gardens. The IPEN number and/or the Conditions of Use form serve as MTAs. The plant record system links these MTAs to accessions so that RBGE can keep track of all material that has been sent out. RBGE’s shop only sells commercially available plants, not wild collected material.

Destructive sampling:

All requests for destructive sampling are recorded. Requests for destructive sampling are given a reference number and each is assessed individually. Not all requests will be approved. A ‘Conditions of Use’ form must be signed and received by the Herbarium before sampling material will be removed from the specimen and sent out. Specimens that have material removed will be updated to that effect on the Herbarium database and the specimen label will be annotated accordingly. No permission is given for destructive sampling from herbarium specimens that are on loan.

For herbarium specimens that are exchanged or gifted, perhaps because they are duplicates, the process is straightforward for the majority of collections made before 2014. However, some countries of origin and plant families have conditions attached and this is noted with the specimen. The exchange or gift is granted on the basis of the notes on the individual specimen. For collections made since 2014 permission must be sought from the country of origin before collecting the duplicates. The permissions sought at the time of collection remain attached to the individual specimen throughout processing and when it is stored in the cabinet.


Benefits frequently result from years of inter-institutional staff collaboration. For example, an RBGE staff member is a professor at the University of Bogotá, resulting in a number of Colombian PhD studies being completed in Edinburgh, supporting Colombian botanical research. RBGE also has long-standing working relationships with several botanical institutions in Chile, resulting in many Chilean collections at RBGE and extensive experience in cultivating Chilean species. In early 2014, collaborators in Chile sent spores of an endangered fern to RBGE to establish horticultural protocols for the species, which can then be used in Chile. Similarly many Chilean individuals have travelled to Edinburgh to study the cultivation of Chilean and other flora with the prospect of applying this knowledge on their return.

Other benefit-sharing examples include joint expeditions, delivery of training workshops and courses, study visits to RBGE by partners, and the publishing and distribution of resources such as books, field guides and websites. Projects have also included the testing of ABS protocols for the commercialisation of selected plant species, covering issues of prior informed consent, monetary benefits and monitoring of material transfer from the provider country to the UK.