United Kingdom: key achievements 2006 - 2011
The UK team carries out a wide range of projects on plant and fungi in the UK. These projects lead to a greater understanding of these species, contributing to their conservation and sustainable use. In addition, we contribute to policy decisions on a range of topics relating to UK biodiversity and its conservation.
Many policy-related activities of the UK team have related to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) and the UK response, Plant Diversity Challenge (PDC), and a meeting co-sponsored by Kew and the Royal Society and organized by Kew was held in 2010 to discuss “Science and development of government policy post-GSPC”. UK-focused activities have involved partnerships with other Botanic Gardens (RBG Edinburgh and the National Botanic Gardens of Wales), governmental organizations including the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Natural England and Defra, and NGOs, including Plantlife International and the Royal Society. Team members contribute to a range of UK committees and groups including the UK Biodiversity Research Advisory Group (BRAG), the Plant Conservation Genetics Working Group, Plantlink UK, the IUCN UK Committee and PlantNetwork.
Members of the UK Team were authors of the new editions of the Botanical Society of the British Isles handbooks on Sedges of the British Isles (Jermy et al., 2007) and Grasses of the British Isles (Cope & Gray, 2009). Kew research on the genus Sorbus was also incorporated into the BSBI Handbook on Sorbus (Rich et al., 2010).
Studies of UK plants in support of conservation have continued, largely as a result of Kew’s ongoing programme of projects in part funded by Natural England (an arm of Defra). Various phylogenetic and population-level techniques are used to provide information on UK plants in their European context and data concerning patterns of genetic variation among populations. These data provide a scientific basis for conservation management of these species and also lead to papers in peer-reviewed journals on orchids (including Fay et al., 2007; 2009; Pillon et al., 2007; Bateman et al. 2008; Devey et al., 2008, 2009; Micheneau et al., 2010), Hieracium (Rich et al., 2007), Sorbus (Chester et al., 2007; Cowan et al.; 2008) and mosses (Rowntree et al., 2010). Recently developed techniques have been used to study the transcriptome and epigenetic effects in Dactylorhiza (Paun et al., 2010, 2011), and flow cytometry is being used to evaluate patterns of ploidal variation in UK taxa including Sorbus and Tragopogon spp. As part of a larger project on redlisting European orchid species, Kew has contributed 153 redlist assessments, including all UK native orchid species.
The Checklist of British and Irish Basidiomycota, published in 2005, was launched as an online version in 2006, with periodic updates. The establishment of a permanent Fungal Conservation Research post in 2010, based at Kew, currently part-funded by Natural England, has provided the opportunity to manage, carry out and report on field surveys of prioritised species of fungi listed on Section 41 of the UK National Environment and Rural Communities Act.
Work on fungal interactions with plants has resulted in a series of high-profile articles, including papers on the fungi that facilitated colonization of land by plants (Bidartondo et al., 2011; Humphries et al., 2010), the fungi that dominate eucalypts planted in England (Pennington, Bidartondo & Barsoum, 2011), the symbiotic fungi of Marchantiophyta (Bidartondo & Duckett, 2010) and on the effect of pollution on pine forest fungi (Cox et al., 2011).
Following success of the programme to store seeds of all UK seed plants (over 90% of the UK native flora banked by 2000), the banking of UK seeds is now moving into an exciting new phase with the launch of the UK Native Seed Hub. By maintaining a seed store at the Millennium Seed Bank and associated seed production beds at Wakehurst Place, the UK Native Seed Hub will provide quality seed, advice and expertise to other partners and growers wishing to use native species for restoration, reintroduction or habitat creation activities.
Seedlings of Cypripedium calceolus and Liparis loeselii (Orchidaceae) produced in vitro have been provided for reintroduction into suitable sites in England in support of the Biodiversity Action Plan, and some have now reached flowering size. Research into seedling production of other rare orchid species has also continued.
Research into in vitro propagation and cryopreservation of bryophytes (e.g. Rowntree & Ramsay, 2009) has been resumed following a hiatus in funding. This provides a secure ‘insurance collection’ of some of the rarest British species, in some cases of global concern, with potential for re-establishment and a resource for understanding biological processes.
Work on grassland restoration/habitat conservation has continued, principally at Wakehurst Place, and with the establishment of the Restoration Ecology Programme at Kew discussions are underway to identify possible restoration projects with the conservation agencies and other interested organizations.
In a project looking at traditional and novel medicinal uses of native plants, more than 350 species have been screened for potentially useful activity. Another project addresses a UK societal need for an authentication resource for plant species being used in cosmetics and over-the-counter medicines, especially those used in traditional Chinese medicine.
It is important that we are seen to be “practicing what we preach” at home as well as elsewhere. The portfolio of projects includes basic research into UK native biodiversity of plants and fungi, providing support for conservation of many of the rarest species, carrying out redlist assessments, conserving and improving the condition of habitats at Kew, Wakehurst and elsewhere, studying native plants and fungi for potential medicinal use, and storing seed and other material of threatened species ex situ in the Millennium Seed Bank and Conservation Biotechnology. Activity in habitat restoration will increase as the Restoration Ecology programme becomes established. Finally, information provided to our visitors at both sites increases knowledge of British biodiversity at the same time as contributing to the quality of the experience.
With its wide range of activities the UK Team contributes to all of seven strategies of the Breathing Planet Programme. The Team has a particularly large involvement in 3 and 6 (conserving what remains and restoration).
Conferences and workshops
- A meeting hosted by Kew was held in 2006 to assess the progress in the UK towards GSPC. This resulted in the publication: Plantlife International, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2007. Plant Diversity Challenge: 3 years - 16 targets - 1 challenge. Progress in the UK towards the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.
- Kew hosted Orchid Biology: from Linnaeus via Darwin to the 21st century as a contribution to the Linnean Tercentenary events in 2007. Work on UK orchids was showcased at this conference, and several papers on UK orchids appeared in the resulting special issue of Annals of Botany (volume 104 number 3) in 2009.
- Kew hosted a joint Kew/Royal Society Discussion Meeting in 2010 entitled “Science and development of government policy post-Global Strategy for Plant Conservation: lessons for the future. This resulted in the publication: Chase, MW et al. 2011. Science and development of government policy post-GSPC. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society volume 166 number 3.
- The work on medicinal plants in Britain was presented at Natural Products in Drug Discovery, at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, in 2009.
The main policy linkage for the UK team is with GSPC, specifically relating to the implementation of the strategy in the UK, under the umbrella of Plant Diversity Challenge, the UK response. Projects in the portfolio of the UK team relate to nearly all targets in GSPC.
Science Team Leader: Mike Fay
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew