A decision was taken to focus on threatened habitats, and to implement restoration projects that had a good chance of success, so ensuring the long-term protection of the target species. As in so many matters, Pearson, in his 1911 paper, was ahead of his time when he observed: ‘Protection, to be effective, must be applied, and strictly applied, to areas, not to selected species.’
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A few ‘flagship’ habitats and species were chosen as case studies that could be replicated as experience developed.
A second leg of the Threatened Species Programme (TSP) was to overcome the challenge of limited resources. Instead of being a strictly controlled ‘Kirstenbosch’ project, the TSP was opened up to multiple partners – with a rapid expansion of resources, skills and ownership. New role players included CapeNature and South African National Parks, the City of Cape Town, Working for Wetlands, the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, the Botanical Society, civic organisations, private landowners and many more.
A third leg was to practise ex situ conservation at Kirstenbosch in combination with seed banking. Kirstenbosch had, since its early years, offered surplus plants and seeds to members of the Botanical Society, and for many years the Society’s annual seed list was eagerly awaited by its members. By the 1980s it was evident that merely distributing seeds to home gardeners was of little benefit to conservation, and that the Seed Room at Kirstenbosch did not have the facilities to act as a seed bank for the long-term preservation of seeds. Kobus Eloff, during his term as Director, attempted to establish a proper seed bank but, even though a brave start was made, the required funding was not available.
It was therefore fortuitous that, when Kew established its multimillion pound ‘Millennium Seed Bank’ in 1998, one of the first partners they approached was Kirstenbosch. Sir Ghillean Prance, then Director of Kew, was a long-standing Kirstenbosch friend, and an agreement was soon reached with NBI to collaborate in collecting viable samplings of 10 per cent of all South African species for deposit in the huge seed bank established at Kew’s sister garden at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex. Several Kirstenbosch horticulturists received advanced training at the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), and Kirstenbosch led the international network of teams in reaching the goal of 10 per cent of the national flora in record time. As a globally shared resource, the MSB offers South Africa first call on the valuable collection of our seeds safely stored in a world-class facility at no cost. This is a win-win situation for plant conservation.
Increasingly, the Kirstenbosch business model, and that of NBI and SANBI, has become one of ‘strategic partnerships’. The perennial problem of limited resources can be resolved only through collaboration, and nowhere has this been more evident than in dealing with plants that are facing extinction – or even plants believed to be extinct.
Within a few years, the TSP had become a major programme, and proved to be a remarkable success. And, as is well known, success breeds success.
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