‘Green-fingered’ staff act to save at-risk plants

St Andrews Botanic Garden.
St Andrews Botanic Garden.

THE Botanic Garden in St Andrews is playing a leading role in a worldwide campaign to help to save endangered species of plants.

An important part of the work of ‘‘green-fingered’’ staff and supporters of the popular visitor attraction - as in other botanic gardens around the globe - is the collection and distribution of seeds, as garden superviser David Laing explained.

Every year, staff collect seed from plants as and when they become available. During the winter months, when the weather is not always conducive to gardening outside, staff and members of the Friends of the Botanic Garden begin the task of painstakingly cleaning and sorting the seeds.

Mr Laing told the Citizen: ”They are put into envelopes, carefully labelled with the family name and accession number before being stored on mesh shelves to dry out in our seed room.”

Before storing, he scrutinises the packets and highlights them on the facility’s database, which allows staff to download the list that becomes their index.

Once printed - usually in January each year - the booklet is sent to over 480 institutions throughout the world, ranging from New Zealand to Chile and Siberia to Canada.

Staff at the Fife Council-run garden then wait to be flooded with requests, usually amounting to some 150, which translates into an estimated 2500 packets of seed.

Mr Laing added: ”All are labelled and addressed using the all-important database before being dispatched in the spring, usually until May, although a few requests continue to filter in throughout the whole year.

“With our connection with Botanic Gardens Conservation International I envisage getting even more requests and I cannot emphasise enough how helpful the work of the Friends is with what is a huge annual undertaking.”

The BGCI was established in 1987 as a secretariat under the auspices of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

It is the leading international body working to save all flora in the world and now has over 700 members from 118 different countries. They can connect through the network in order to exchange plants, knowledge and ideas as to how best save both endangered species and the gardens themselves since many, as in the case of the St Andrews facility, are under serious threat.

To help conserve threatened plants BGCI invites member gardens to upload their plant names to the unique database. It holds records of over 150,000 species in cultivation in botanic gardens, including over 12,000 types that are under threat of extinction in the wild. BGCI is at present working on recovery programmes for over 500 endangered plants.

CONSTRAINTS

The future of the award-winning 18-acre St Andrews garden is uncertain owing to financial constraints and a steering group is at present taking forward negotiations involving Fife Council and St Andrews University to help secure its long-term survival. It is owned by the university and managed by the local authority, but the lease is due to expire next year and the latter is due to reduce its annual £300,000 subsidy by 50 per cent.