The iron miners and the golden daisy
The Republic of Guinea in West Africa is one of the poorest countries in the world. But it is one of the richest sources of iron ore on the planet. So, when mining company, Rio Tinto, asked Kew’s conservationists to assess an area of the Simandou Ridge, Kew scientists could not resist the opportunity to explore this lesser known area of plant diversity and train local botanists. Of course, mining would disturb the natural landscape, but it could also help to lift an entire nation out of poverty.
Kew works in partnership with Rio Tinto in order to fulfill the company’s ‘Net Positive Impact’ strategy on biodiversity. Within Rio Tinto’s strategy, there is a pledge to value flora and fauna, including a commitment to avoid or mitigate detrimental activities where botanically important species occur. In Guinea, Kew began conducting vegetation surveys within Rio Tinto’s mine land holdings and providing scientific expertise about its plant species.
On his first drive along the ridge, Kew botanist, Martin Cheek found what appeared to be a roadside weed. But after identification of the specimen at Kew’s Herbarium, the ungainly flower turned out to be a rare species of daisy, Melanthera tithonioides, previously known in only one other location. Fortunately, during later surveys more specimens were found farther along the steep slopes of the ridge outside the proposed mining site.
Six years later, Kew is continuing to work with Rio Tinto to conduct vegetation surveys, including along the coast to a proposed new port – much-needed infrastructure for a country where transport links are even poorer than its people. Guinea is, however, already richer in scientific knowledge than it was. Kew’s scientists have trained several local botanists, who now do much of the surveying work. In addition, 15 local young botanists have learned basic plant collecting and identification techniques and a national herbarium has been established at the University of Conakry.
Through this and other subsequent partnership projects, the relationship between Kew and Rio Tinto has flourished, along with the state of botanical education in Guinea. And so has Melanthera tithonioides, now more commonly known as the Simandou daisy.
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