Conservation, The Scottish Story

Conservation, The Scottish Story

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[Narrator] The Royal Botanic Garden is a key scientific advisor to Scottish Government on challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss. From conserving at-risk species in the mountains to public engagement on the greening of cities, it is helping to deliver Scotland's Biodiversity Strategy.
[Chris Ellis, Head of Scottish Biodiversity Science] Scotland, it's a small country on the Northwest edge of Europe, but it's got an amazing natural history. It's got a variety of climates, it's got, a variety of elevations, topographies, landscape sites, geology, soil types. Taking together all of that creates a myriad of habitats that provides a home for thousands and thousands of species of plants and fungi and animals. The science that we do at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh seeks to provide the evidence that we need to conserve and protect those species, that biodiversity.
[Narrator] Scotland's temperate rainforest is on the frontline of climate change and rich in biodiversity.
[Rebecca Yahr, Lichenologist] Here we are in Ballachuan Hazelwood and it is an iconic jewel in the crown of Scotland's nature.
[Narrator] What makes the woods special, as well as the trees, are the things that grow on them, because here, the warming effects of the Atlantic make a safe home for hundreds of mosses, liverworts, and lichens, including endemic species.
[Rebecca Yahr] The thing that makes these temperate rainforests special is the epiphytes, bryophytes, mosses, lichens, liverworts and they're very unusual in the global context. We have big populations of them, which we need to protect. So one of the big jobs that we have at the Botanic Garden is not just studying the diversity of the species that occur here, but it's the distributions of them. So temperate rainforest is special for these tiny epiphytes and they're exquisitely sensitive to their environment and they will die as soon as the environments change. But one of the big problems that these forests are facing is that there's very little of it. Here in the rainforest zone of Scotland, there's a tiny fraction of woodland that's in this condition. We need to make sure that these species can migrate across the landscape as their habitats shift underneath them, and that's some of the work that we do.
[Sally Eaton, Plant Conservation Biologist] I'm just applying some Vaseline here to the arms of what is a spore trap.
[Narrator] Bringing science to the woodland, the Royal Botanic Garden studies how species move around the landscape.
[Sally Eaton] I'm just going to switch it on. These little arms here are whizzing 'round at a really high speed and they're picking up any tiny little particles in the atmosphere, including, if there are any, the little tiny lichen spores. They're the reproductive parts of the lichens and they're the things that are going to be travelling on to new woodlands and colonising them. The Scottish government has hugely ambitious targets to create more woodland in Scotland, up to 21% by 2032, and it's hugely exciting, and we can really make the best of that if we learn more about these amazing species that we have in Scotland and how they're moving around the landscape.
[Narrator] The Royal Botanic Garden is doing science which advises landowners and managers on how to structure new woodlands so the rainforest species can adjust to change, including climate change. The mountain plants Cicerbita alpina is another species at risk. Rare, isolated by over-grazing, it is weak in the face of climate change. As the climate warms, plants such as this have nowhere else to go and could disappear, but the Royal Botanic Garden has solutions, giving new hope for the species in Scotland.
[Aline Finger, Biodiversity Geneticist] We've got just four populations left in the UK, all of which lie in Scotland, all within the Cairngorms National Park, and we've got representatives of all these four populations here at the nursery.
[Katy Hayden, Plant Disease Ecologist] Are you able to use these populations to try to increase genetic diversity in the wild?
[Aline Finger] That's the idea. We're learning about the reproductive biology, we're growing more plants, and we're crossing between different populations of plants to give them a higher genetic diversity and make them more resilient.
[Katy Hayden] So we'll do some screening. We'll take the plants that you want to move out and we'll screen them for hidden cryptic soil pathogens before we move them out.
[Narrator] The global threat of plant disease is another focus. The botanics has a leading role in national and international efforts on plant health.
[Katy Hayden] Plants that we have in collection here come from all around the world, and when they're here, they're encountering pests and pathogens that they wouldn't have encountered in their native environment so we can see what the biggest threats are here, which of those with relationships might be very dangerous for these plants, and we can feed that information back to their home countries and to other conservationists.
[Narrator] As science advances, the Royal Botanic Gardens' role in plant health will grow.
[Katy Hayden] It's awe-inspiring to be working in this institution that has been here for 350 years. New technologies in sequencing and molecular biology are allowing us to understand relationships between species, microbes, and hosts at a level that we never have before.
[Rebecca Yahr] (in conversation with Sally Eaton) Right, well, we've just finished our day here at Ballachuan, and unfortunately, it's coming to an end.
[Narrator] In laboratories and in the field, scientists from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh are making a difference. With a focus on Scotland's challenges, they are doing science of international importance that helps conservation in many countries around the world.