Vital in-situ conservation revealed on Nepalese Republic Day

New partnership initiatives to protect Nepal’s globally-important biodiversity while encouraging sustainable commerce have been revealed in a keynote speech at the Nepal Development Conference, in London. Conservation plans focussing on trade of the medicinal plant jatamansi, proposals for development of the living landscape at the UNESCO world heritage site of Lumbini - the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, or Buddha – and sustainable farming methods were outlined to leading government officials and business representatives by Simon Milne MBE, Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE).

Speaking on Nepalese Republic Day (Tuesday, May 29), Mr Milne said a new Darwin Initiative project with TRAFFIC International would concentrate on better governance in the trade of the medicinal plant jatamasi. A member of the honeysuckle family, jatamasi is in high demand for its aromatic and medicinal properties and is on its way to being critically endangered in the wild. With around 1,600 species of medical and aromatic plants in Nepal, this section of the country’s “natural capital” is also enormously valuable - both for healing and generating income.  Loss of habitat combined with over-harvesting threatens the survival of many of these plant species. RBGE is working on the development of a DNA reference library and toolkit to aid the identification of jatamasi as the starting point in regulating trade in it and other vulnerable species.

From world leading technology to the holy site of Lumbini, Mr Milne revealed: “At the birthplace of Lord Buddha, we are very pleased to be assisting our partners in Nepal to address the botanical and zoological needs of this World Heritage Site, balanced alongside the archaeological, build landscape, spiritual and tourism requirements. Proposals include a thorough aerial survey, replacing non-native and diseased trees and shrubs with species propagated from specimens at Kapilavastu, where the Lord Buddha grew up, and other nearby sacred sites. As part of wider outreach, our partnership teams will develop interpretation to inspire people about the natural world at this sacred site.” 

In Nepal, as elsewhere around the world, invasive alien plant species are a threat to native plants and wildlife. RBGE is working with local communities to raise awareness and help with management of some 25 plant species that are recorded as problematic invasive weeds. The project involves: three districts, 15 community forests, 750 households, more than 3750 people and involves the removal of invasive alien species that are currently converted into char to sell at markets. After their removal the reclaimed land will be replanted with economically useful and sustainable native plants.

Mr Milne concluded: “With a relationship in plant exploration and conservation dating back more than 200 years, we continue to build on past experience to create even stronger models for the future. We have a team of amazingly talented and committed people – Nepalese and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh scientists and horticulturists, Sherpas, and guides – who are unified in a quest to understand more about plants, the fundamental natural capital of the world. They are undertaking work that underpins vital conservation programmes which in turn play a critical role in sustaining life - including supporting the communities. There are vast amounts of work still to do, but with a very positive sense of determination.”

RBGE’s work in Nepal resonates with the concluding remarks by Nepalese Ambassador, Dr Durga Bahadur Subedi, who stressed that UK partners should take a long term view with their collaborations, and work with local government and rural communities to support the Government of Nepal’s goal for “Prosperous Nepal and Happy Nepali”.

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