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Botanic Gardens: Modern-Day Arks.


by Sara Oldfield

NEW HOLLAND 24.99 [pounds sterling]



To paraphrase Rupert Brooke, there's some corner of Scotland that is forever Chile. At the S0-hectare mountainside Benmore Botanic Garden in Argyll and Bute, the relatively warm, wet climate of western Scotland mimics the growing conditions in southern Chile's temperate rainforest. The alerce, one of the world's most impressive--and most threatened--conifer trees, is sheltered here, its valuable timber leading to its precarious status and subsequent listing on Appendix 1 of CITES.


Benmore is a satellite of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, a world leader in conservation planning for conifers. Martin Gardner, who runs the International Conifer Conservation Programme based there, says conifers 'are often dismissed as Christmas trees or leylandii hedges, but they are fascinating trees of immense ecological and economic value'. Despite conservation difficulties, none need become extinct, he believes. Alerce seedlings and cuttings have been sent to 44 'safe sites' across the UK as part of the programme.

Around the world, such major initiatives on a whole range of plants are being undertaken by botanic gardens--increasingly in collaborative projects involving local communities and volunteers, whose unpaid work is a vital aid, especially in the face of climate change.

Sara Oldfield, secretary general of Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), explains that while some plants are naturally rare, others are threatened by humanity and aggressive weed species. 'Over the millennia, plant species have adapted to changing climates or have migrated as a gradual response to temperature and rainfall changes, but now dramatic climatic changes are simply too rapid to allow plants to respond.' Botanic gardens, once showcases, are now 'finding a new role as modern-day arks, rescuing plants from the brink of extinction'.

It would have been good to know on what basis Oldfield selected her choice of gardens and to have had some more careful editing. But this is a fascinating and hugely informative read, with royalties from each copy sold going to BGCI.

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Author:O'Brien, Joanne
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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