Scottish Biodiversity

RBGE works on a range of projects within Scotland to support the needs of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. We combine skills in conservation science and horticulture to achieve effective conservation including habitat restoration and species reintroductions. 

Our work focusses on three regions within Scotland:

1/ Cairngorms National Park

Working as a partner in the Cairngorms Nature Action plan, we are establishing the evidence base to guide conservation including the recovery of threatened plant populations

2/ Temperate rainforests

Temperate rainforests on the west coast of Scotland harbour internationally important populations of tree dwelling species such as epiphytic lichens. We have provided management tools to respond to the threat of climate change and tree disease. Further work is now ongoing to understanding  the spatial scale at which conservation efforts can be most effective and how translocations can be used to restore damaged rainforests.

3/ City of Edinburgh

(c) Crown Copyright Forest Research / Mike Smith

RBGE is a lead partner in the Edinburgh Living Landscape (ELL) project along with the University of Edinburgh, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Edinburgh City Council, and Edinburgh and Lothians’ Greenspace Trust.  The ELL improves urban green space to benefit human health and biodiversity, and examples of RBGE’s work include edible gardening and using lichens as indicators of air pollution. Our aim is to create an urban landscape that is both nature rich and provides health benefits to our residents and visitors.  Exciting projects at RBGE will be making scientific and horticultural knowledge available to communities to deliver positive change.

These regional projects develop from our research work in the following areas:

  • Threatened Species
  • Species Ecology
  • Climate Change
  • Ethnobotany
  • Macro Ecology
  • Plant Health
  • Population Genetics
  • Systematics and Taxonomy

Reintroductions of Threatened Species

We have collected and cultivated 156 plant species of conservation concern, contributing towards Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. This aims to bring at least 75% of threatened species into ex-situ collections. For more details visit the virtual plant trail, and see the Target 8 Project website. These ex situ collections provide the raw materials for conservation translocations, used to recover threatened populations.

RBGE played a lead role in setting the national and global standards in conservation translocations. We were part of a team that wrote the IUCN guidelines for Reintroductions and Other Conservation Translocations, and, working in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, we led the authorship of the Scottish Code of Conservation Translocations

Species Ecology

Our ecology programme focusses particularly on groups for which Scotland is internationally important, such as bryophytes (mosses and liverworts) and lichens. This has included work to describe and understand the environmental factors controlling lichen epiphyte distributions in Scotland to improve the assessment and management of woodland habitat, as well as monitoring bryophyte species in habitats threatened by climate change to inform Government policy when adapting to offset climate change risk.

We also work on Scotland’s iconic species such as the native British bluebell and its interaction with non-native Spansih bluebells in the wild, the nursery, and in common-gardens across southern Scotland. The results help us to determine their current status and assess the future prospects for Britain's favourite wild flower. 

Visit the Bluebell ecology project's web page.

Climate Change

Research on climate change at RBGE aims to understand how species might adapt to cope with climate change, and identify the requirement for translocation where fragmented landscapes limit species migration or gene flow. RBGE has also provided bioclimatic modelling for lichens to help target monitoring of the risk of climate change to biodiversity. This is supported by experimental work that uses the different climates of our four RBGE gardens to study climatically-controlled growth rates. Our expertise in this area contributed to the assessment of climate impacts for terrestrial biodiversity.


RBGE has played a key role in characterising the traditional use of our native flora, through the flagship Flora Celtica project. More widely, this documented and promoted the knowledge and sustainable use of plants in the Celtic countries and regions of Europe. The project explores the contemporary and future potential use of Scotland’s native plants, both domestic and commercial.

Macro Ecology

Climate change, habitat destruction, and loss of connectivity between habitats (fragmentation) present major threats to biodiversity. We are drawing on large-scale floristic data to analyse the impact of environmental change on plant biodiversity. For example, we characterised spatial patterns for c. 1500 native vascular plants of the British Isles to identify species that may suffer from insufficient connectivity between populations. This information helps to prioritise future risk assessments. Where possible, we are incorporating information on species dispersal characteristics and adaptive potential.

Plant Health

RBGE provides advice on plant health for the horticultural community, and has an active research group studying pests and diseases which impact our native flora. This includes research on the fungal diseases of montane willows, investigating the role of endophytes in disease resistance for Scots pine as a partner of the PROTREE project, examining the impact of ash dieback on associated diversity, and exploring management options, and understanding how the evolution of plant diseases is affected by land management.

Population Genetics

Our work aims to enhance the integration of genetic data into conservation programmes to maintain and increase the resilience of plant populations in the face of environmental change.

Systematics and Taxonomy

RBGE has played a lead role in describing the flora of the British Isles, in particular for internationally-important specialist groups such as bryophytes, diatoms, and lichens. RBGE staff were lead authors or taxonomic authorities on the British Lichen Flora, and the landmark field guide to British Liverworts and Mosses. Research now focuses on the use of molecular tools to better understand rare species in threatened habitats, such as in the Cairngorm snowbeds, and using high-throughput sequencing to better characterise cryptogamic diversity on a large-scale.

Our research is fundamentally supported by RBGE’s Collections:

A key aspect of RBGE's work is establishing 'which species grow where'. The Herbarium at RBGE is the best collection of Scottish plants in the world. These specimens are reference points for taxonomic, identification and distributional studies and also provide base-line data to underpin conservation projects. 

As well as being a world-class repository of international botanical information, the Library at RBGE represents a specialised bibliographic resource relating to Scottish plant biodiversity. This ranges from all published local floras in Scotland, journals dedicated to plants in Scotland such as the Botanical Journal of Scotland, and many hundreds of unpublished reports on Scottish biodiversity.

In addition we hold historically important archive material pertaining to Scottish plants, including phenological data and the archives of the Botanical Society of Scotland, the Scottish Alpine Botanical Club and the Cryptogamic Society of Scotland. 

A large collection of photographs of Scottish plants is housed at RBGE and includes images of native higher plants, bryophytes, fungi, lichens and algae as well as more general habitat photographs. Visit the image collections web page for more information. 

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