New Conservation Strategy

A new Conservation Strategy for Plant Heritage was approved by the Board of Trustees in September 2015. You can download a PDF version of the document on this page:

Cons strat

Tim Upson, Chairman of the Plant Conservation Committee explains:

“The Venn diagram shows the three main strategic activities within Plant Heritage’s conservation work and how they interrelate. Underlying the circles is the original purpose as stated by Chris Brickell in the 1970s to ‘conserve the unique gene pool of accumulated variation from centuries of selection and breeding.’
The modern framework in which we operate, including the Aichi targets and the Nagoya protocol, places the work that Plant Heritage does in an international context. Specifically in terms of recognising that the historic cultivated plant diversity within the UK and Ireland has appreciated in value given the restrictions on the flow of wild plant material and its utilisation. This emphasises the prescience of Brickell’s work.
Unique gene combinations are important, as from a conservation standpoint it brings together the conservation of both plants of wild and domestic origin. From a scientific perspective, we need to ensure that our work with wild species is primarily with those of known, documented origin; which may represent populations lost from the wild; a strong representation of diversity within a species (such as forestry plots) or be key genetic material from critically endangered species where each individual is precious.

At the heart of Plant Heritage’s conservation work is still the living collections, represented by the National Plant Collections and the Plant Guardians scheme. Underlying the NPC scheme are the new criteria agreed in 2011/2 which from a strategic perspective offer the opportunity of greater flexibility in the concept of a collection, with the emphasis on historic collections which aim to capture important threatened cultivated groups, and the option to conserve single plants within the Plant Guardians scheme.

One aim is to further ensure that the focus and scope of future Collections are informed and driven by the TPP, so that we are able to proactively capture more groups in need of conservation into the Collections scheme. We would still welcome applications from all, but we need to seize the opportunity to target our work.

One question to ask is, are we conserving the plant groups that we need to? There is a two-fold approach to this: using gap analysis to help focus future recruitment work; and working on the UK and Ireland’s significant plant genera. This approach ensures that we don’t miss big difficult to list genera, or smaller more historically crucial groups. Apples stand as a good example here, due to their wide cultural significance, plethora of unique local cultivars and the sheer number of taxa involved. We have good collections, but there may be areas in which our coverage is patchy. Another example would be daffodils where there has been a long history of breeding and selection, but a comparatively sparse set of Collections. Using both these tools to identify conservation priorities in terms of living collections is key to progress.

Partners are, most importantly, the Membership, who are all potential Plant Guardians, Collection Holders, or propagators for the Plant Exchange and plant fairs, followed by institutions such as the NT and the RHS, and others such as colleges where we might wish to encourage collections or guardianship. Again this is where I see the TPP informing by identifying plant groups in need of conservation that might engage greater interest from students. The TPP overlaps with the partners through data exchange. Reports to gardens produced by the project showing the threatened plants that they hold have been very useful, to demonstrate what is in gardens and what might potentially be lost during moves or renovations.

As a whole the diagram covers the network of connections and work that will provide for a sustainable future for cultivated plant conservation.”