Still more work to be done...

Ben McCarthy

Ben McCarthy

Director of Strategy

2nd June 2017

In this line of work it’s good to be optimistic and so I am.

Baobab trees in Madagascar

Above: Grandidier's Baobab (Adansonia grandidieri), near Morondava, Madagascar. Image © Bernard Gagnon/CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s great to see Kew’s latest efforts to describe the State of the World’s Plants. This year’s report continues to describe the global efforts to name and categorise global plant diversity and the challenges we all face in conserving plants.

As the organisation responsible for identifying the most Important Plant Areas across the world, Plantlife takes these challenges seriously. Together with IUCN we are responsible for galvanising global efforts to identify IPAs and to date over 2,500 have been identified across 60 odd countries.

And the good news continues. As the report sets out, analysis of our IPA data clearly shows that there is often good coincidence between IPAs and areas protected for biodiversity conservation. 85% overlap in Europe and Mediterranean area where we have worked most. But this is only half the story.

It should be of little surprise that areas identified for their botanical importance are also important for animals, as plants drive the very ecosystems that support them. The challenge in part lies in the fact that animals are afforded greater protection than plants in the laws and treaties that underpin global conservation efforts. This is why you often the botanical community is often in dismay that ‘animal’ conservation so often gets the lion’s share of attention despite these very species ultimately being reliant on healthy and resilient plant communities feeding the very prey the lions depend.

A key challenge therefore remains to ensure that protected areas work harder to conserve the plants and the habitats they form within their boundaries. Too often this is not the case. Our experience of leading conservation efforts on the ground demonstrates all too clearly that generic management often fails to conserve and enhance the threatened plant species that should form the cornerstone of our protected networks.

Analysis of our IPA database also demonstrates why plant conservation requires special attention. Compared against other systems to identify biodiversity hotspots, plants fair surprisingly badly. As the SotWP report sets out, using bird data as a proxy would only capture on average half of the areas important for plant conservation. And here lies the second major challenge.

For those unfamiliar with the complexities of plant conservation there are a number of challenges in identifying the most important areas for plant conservation. High amongst them is the sheer scale of the challenge of accessing reliable and consistent data for over 390,000 species. So together with Kew and other international partners we have recently set out some revised IPA criteria that clearly sets out why it’s so important to continue the global effort in identifying Important Plant Areas specifically to focus our conservation efforts. Relying on any other system simply won’t cut it and as the report sets out all too clearly plants are, quite clearly crucial to us all.