Threatened seeds of Lebanon find protection in Edinburgh

Crucial conservation efforts in Lebanon are set to benefit from high-level skills transfer workshops in Scotland this week. During a three-day visit, leading plant scientists from Beruit will work with collaborators at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) to more clearly define the threats faced by their country’s plants and natural areas.

Dr Magda Bou Dagher-Kharrat, Head of Life and Earth Science Department at the Faculty of Science, University Saint Joseph, Beirut, and her colleagues arrive in the capital today (Wednesday) - funded by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund - to work with RBGE’s Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (CMEP) to attain the broader skills needed to assess which of Lebanon’s plants are most at risk. 

Lebanon, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, is a small country less than one sixth the size of Scotland, but with over 2,500 native plant species. However, this diversity is under threat. The Edinburgh sessions follow a trip by CMEP staff to Beirut earlier this year, when they delivered the first of two International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) “Red Listing” workshops.

RBGE Director of Science, Professor Pete Hollingsworth explained: “Conservation assessments are a vitally important tool for biodiversity scientists around the world. They allow us to assess any living organism in a comparable way, to work out how much threat it is facing in its natural environment. For example, we can use the same set of guidelines and criteria to assess and compare the threats faced by the red squirrel or capercailie here in Scotland, and the cedar of Lebanon in Lebanon.

“Red lists summarise all these results to give an overall picture of threats to the biodiversity of any given area. In this they can be very valuable and important tools to help lever political will and support to tackle the pressing conservation and sustainability issues affecting humanity the world over.”

Dr Kharrat added: “In Lebanon our native plants are facing a growing range of threats, such as urban expansion, mining and habitat degradation, over-grazing, climate change.  Even the cedar of Lebanon, probably our most iconic species, is threatened because of historic logging and now climate change. So, it is vitally important that we assess these threats to build a clear picture of the situation and allow all those involved to prioritise conservation efforts”.

At the start of the three-day session, Dr Kharrat will join Prof Hollingsworth in planting a young cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani),  grown from seed collected by RBGE staff on fieldwork in Lebanon in 2011. This work was undertaken as part of RBGE’s International Conifer Conservation Programme, a global effort aimed at helping to protect conifers from extinction. Other trees grown from the same collections are being planted at “safe sites” around the UK. This new generation of Cedars will act as a living gene-bank, which can be drawn on by conservationists in the future.  

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