Plant and fungal biodiversity in the UK is generally a subset of that found on the continent of Europe, but despite this it is of great biological interest due to the great wealth of records spanning over four centuries regarding, for example, distributions and phenology. In addition, some species of bryophytes and fungi have populations of global significance in the UK. Many species of both plants and fungi are rare in the UK, either because they are at the edge of their range or due to human effects. With effects of climate change and increased demands on land, the number of rare species is likely to increase, and this will require increased conservation efforts. Kew has an extensive programme of UK activities relating to characterisation and conservation of our native diversity. The conservation-related activities in this programme form part of the UK government response to international conventions, notably the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD, 1992), and other initiatives such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC, 2002).
The UK Team is composed of staff from all of Kew’s research directorates. The portfolio of projects, many based on Kew’s extensive UK collections including the DNA Bank, Seed Bank, Herbarium and Fungarium), is a mixture of pure science and applied science, often related to conservation; with the launch of Kew’s Breathing Planet Programme, Restoration Ecology and the UK Native Seed Hub, the conservation profile of the team will increase.
Kew’s current activities in the UK are fuelled and facilitated by long-term and successful relationships with statutory bodies, notably the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Natural England, and NGOs, including Plantlife International, universities and Wildlife Trusts. They mostly relate to targets laid out in the CBD and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (1994), the GSPC and Plant Diversity Challenge (PDC, 2004) which resulted from the CBD. Kew was a significant player in the development of both GSPC and PDC, which identified 16 targets to be met globally and in the UK, respectively. Both are now in their second phase, with revised targets for completion by 2020.
Notable areas of activity include:
- work relating to the updated versions of GSPC and PDC
- checklisting of major groups of fungi;
- studies of plant/fungal interactions;
- the banking of seeds of nearly all native flowering plants, now moving into an exciting new phase with the launch of the UK Native Seed Hub;
- propagation of a range of orchids for reintroduction and ex situ conservation;
- cryostorage of threatened UK bryophytes with feasibility planning begun for a systematic conservation collection programme of all 1000+ species
- population genetic studies of high priority species in support of conservation activities;
- genomic studies of UK species;
- DNA banking of the UK flora and mycota;