Conifer conservation boost: from Chile to Britain and back again

The government of Chile’s decision to create a network of national parks over a massive 10 million acres has been hailed as a significant boost for leading conservation experts pioneering international ex-situ management and protection strategies throughout Britain and Ireland.

Within the new network, in Patagonia, grow magnificent Fitzroya (alerce), tall long-lived conifers of particular interest to the International Conifer Conservation Programme (ICCP), based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE).

Martin Gardner, the ICCP co-ordinator, explained how the conservation of this ancient conifer had been transformed in recent years:” Historically, Chile has lost unprecedented tracts of temperate rainforest, with only 11 per cent of what remains having any form of protection. Therefore, news that more forest is to be protected is to be welcomed by the International Conifer Conservation Programme which has spent 25 years researching these forests and working with Chilean partners to influence the conservation of Chile’s precious and unique natural history. It is a good day for the planet!”

Before the ICCP started its quest, a single female clone of the threatened conifer Fitzroya was in cultivation, having been introduced in 1849 and identified through DNA fingerprinting research conducted by RBGE and the University of Edinburgh.

Parallel DNA fingerprinting carried out of the native forests has helped guide conservation policy of Fitzroya in Chile and led to a restoration programme of alerce in the country’s Central Depression.

Today, in tandem with the work being undertaken in Chile, in cultivation in Britain and Ireland, there are 103 trees which are genetically different represented by 400 plants over 52 sites.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is a charity (registration number SC007983)