Science and Horticulture must combine forces to save nature

 Scientists and horticulturists must urgently and increasingly work in partnership if any real impact is to be made on global conservation efforts. That’s the rallying cry to an international assembly of high-profile experts sharing information and pushing boundaries at the Flora Malesiana 10 symposium in Edinburgh this week.

The call to action is coming from the auspices of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and the message is simple: habitats around the world are threatened by a variety of destructive forces including human activity and climate change. This will not be resolved by agencies working in isolation.

Under the banner CLASSIFY, CULTIVATE, CONSERVE the symposium is a platform for difficult and constructive conversations on what really needs to be done and what information is needed  to make conservation projects more effective – specifically in the countries of Malesiana, but also relevant to others around the world.

The venue for such debate is particularly relevant. Dr George Argent, of RBGE, a recognised authority on tropical botany in Southeast Asia and a leading expert on Vireya rhododendrons explained: “Taxonomists need to identify, describe and extract every piece of available information from specimens and feed the data into the expanding bank of knowledge that underpins the ability to conserve fragile habitats.

“At the same time, the expertise and ingenuity of horticultural staff is essential in cultivating unknown species and bringing them into flower so that they can be scientifically described. This has been aided by an enlightened policy at RBGE where horticulturists and taxonomists go on collecting expeditions together so that their knowledge can be used to bring back plants in good health and we can better understand the natural conditions in which they can grow. The two disciplines need to work as one team to be truly effective”.

These sentiments were echoed and expanded by Dr Sara Oldfield OBE, Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission Global Tree Specialist Group, who spoke of “the urgent need for a more coordinated approach to action by the different agencies involved”.

She made the call to arms for more constructive working partnerships: “The fundamental importance of taxonomic botany needs to be empathised as a basis for conservation decisions. The multi-functional role of botanic gardens as agents for plant conservation is ideal for international collaboration and must be utilised.”

With international UN targets now agreed for biodiversity conservation by 2020, the Edinburgh symposium is being used as the platform to prioritise what action must come next.

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