‘The work at Kirstenbosch should be a labour of love in the greatest job ever begun in the botanical world and I feel that it is an honour to have had anything to do with that job ’.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Fly Fishing Trips Photo Gallery
The vegetation of South Africa is the richest in the world, not only as to the number of species but also as containing an astounding variety ofplants of special and peculiar type … special and peculiar plants are sure to be swept out of existence altogether unless special provision is made for their preservation. In future centuries hundreds of these beautiful and remarkable plants will be unknown save by dried specimens preserved in State Herbaria. ’
The Millennium Glasshouses, sponsored by the Botanical Society, house the extensive scientific collections of Kirstenbosch – the ex situ living collections that are of critical importance to plant conservation.
The primary objective of botanical gardens is to establish collections of living plants in accord with aesthetic, scientific and educational considerations, presented in displays accessible to the public. Increasingly, emphasis has been given to the inclusion in these collections of ‘species of conservation concern’, more commonly termed ‘threatened species’. For many decades, however, the pursuit of species collections was little more than botanical ‘stamp collecting’. Gardens around the world compiled impressive lists of the species in their collections, and distributed their Index Seminum, or seed list, to peers around the globe in a somewhat boastful exercise. The greater the number of species listed, the greater the importance of the garden.
During the 1980s, conservation organisations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) developed long-term strategies for saving the world’s biodiversity. Vernon Heywood of Reading University, Peter Raven of Missouri Botanical Garden, David Bramwell of the Canary Islands, and colleagues from IUCN, established Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). Kirstenbosch was a founder member of BGCI, hosting meetings in Cape Town in 1988 and 1998. BGCI, under the leadership of Vernon Heywood and, later, Peter Wyse-Jackson, initiated discussions leading to the approval in 2002 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) by the Convention on Biological Diversity.
This short history serves to highlight the processes that shaped the policies and corporate plans of Kirstenbosch, the NBI and, later, of SANBI. Following the political transition of 1994, South African conservation scientists were once again able to participate in and benefit from the rapid changes in thinking and action resulting from the Earth Summit that had been convened in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. One of these changes was the move away from the ‘preservation’ to the ‘conservation’ approach to managing living collections of plants.
In the language of botanical gardens, a distinction is made between in situ and ex situ conservation. The first relates to achieving conservation goals by protecting threatened species and associated plants and animals in their natural habitat. Ex situ refers to keeping specimens of such species in the living collections of botanical gardens. These living collections are most often kept ‘off limits’ to visitors – to ensure that they can be carefully managed and are not vulnerable to theft, as many threatened species are of great rarity and high value to commercial collectors.
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