Three groups of plants – one group of enthusiasts worldwide
RCMG SW Branch SUMMER MEETING July 8th 2016
Report of a discussion group at Lukesland, Ivybridge
Part 1. The Nagoya ProtocolNineteen members of the South West branch of the RHS Rhododendron, Camellia and Magnolia group gathered at Lukesland for our second Summer Meeting. We were the guests of Rosemary Howell, and John & Lorna Howell and John Howell joined us for some of the discussion. We are very grateful to them for hosting us.
The subject under discussion was the Nagoya Protocol (NP) and its implications for the future of plant collecting in the wild, and the legality or otherwise of distributing wild collected seed: this especially in relation to our Rhododendron group seed list. We were delighted to welcome Dr Martyn Rix, Botanist, Plant Collector and best selling author, to lead our discussions.
The NP is a supplement to the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) which is already in place. It is supposed to provide a legal framework for the equitable sharing of the benefts arising from the use of genetic material between user and host country. This came into force on October 12th 2014, and any plant material collected from signatory countries since then is subject to the protocol. It is not retrospective, and material collected before that date is not subject to the NP, and presumably seed from the plants collected (legally) before that date which has been stored, is also not subject. Note that CITES (1975) and the Convention for Biodiversity (1993) were already in force before NP. Seed from plants introduced before that date, but collected subsequently cannot be called ‘wild collected’ but potentially open pollinated.
The original intention, no doubt, was to share with the country of origin profts arising from the large scale use of plant materials, say by large pharmaceutical frms exploiting natural resources for the production of new drugs, some of which have the potential to generate millions of dollars for the company, if successful. Beside this scale of operation, the collecting of wild seed for personal use seems a tiny and insignifcant amount, and probably far less than the exploitation of a country’s resources by the country itself; China exports a large quantity of ‘medicinal’ plants to the rest of the world, some of which are endangered species. The use of plant material, by a country’s natural healers, however endangered the plants are, is accepted by the protocol on the basis of established custom. Nevertheless, the group discussed how we, on a small scale, could comply with the NP, and how we could plough back some recompense to the local population of the plant collecting area. Already this is happening on a small scale, but unoffcially and without structure. Remember that the arrival of plant collectors in an area, and tourists as well, brings money to the local economy with the employment of local guides, drivers, and local accommodation.
It should be possible to negotiate some more offcial pathway for some money to be returned to the local economy of the area. Some of the money from the seed list sales could be directed back in some way. Permission to collect is already sought on a local level, but, as demonstrated by a prosecution brought by Sikkim against a plant collector who did not have the ‘offcial’ documentation, shows that there must be a clear method of obtaining such permission.
The NP specifcally says that there should be a clearing house through which plant collectors could go for advice and to obtain the necessary permissions. The CBD website has the details of who to approach in each country and so can act as a sort of clearing house. DEFRA is not the route to this. Penalties for non-compliance are fnes, presumably of a scale to refect the fnancial beneft obtained by the user.
The UK has until 12th June 2017 to provide a report on how it will regulate the situation. Unfortunately, we are still in an interim period where all is uncertain and somewhat opaque. Some countries are relaxed about the collection of small amounts of material for personal use, such as Russia and China. On the other hand, India, Vietnam, South Korea and South Africa have essentially cut off research and commercialisation of their plants. There is a moral question here: who owns nature? Erosion, Technology and Concentration Action group has attempted to look at this with a report which can be accessed through their website (www.ETCgroup.org)
Summary of points raised at the Summer meeting:
A defnitive way forward was hoped for by our discussion group, and had intended us to approach DEFRA. However, the RHS working group representing the Rhododendron, Camellia & Magnolia Group, together with other specialist plant societies has reached an agreement on the collection of wild seed, which will be published shortly. We await the details.
It was suggested that some proportion of our seed list money could be formally sent to the countries of origin or at least show that collection of the seed in the wild was: a. Legal, and b. That money was put back into the local economy. However this might prove very diffcult to do in practice.
The onus is on the plant collector to have obtained the necessary permissions and the seed would be deemed to have been collected legally, and therefore could appear on our seed list. Our group members could then have this seed for personal non-commercial use. The discussion thought some small extra rise in the subscription to pay for some of this could be considered?
However, a procedure for for seed collectors has now been set up.
Some informal contact and relationship with people in various countries should be established; for example Professor Guan Kaiyung from Kunming Botanic Garden has for many years been involved in group expeditions in China, but offcial permissions still need to be obtained. Good will, however, is a valuable commodity.
Although the discussion group felt that the situation was rather uncertain at the time of our meeting, it is now becoming clear that a way forward has been agreed and will be published shortly. Wild collected seed should now reappear on the Group seed list. (I am grateful to Sally Hayward our representative on the RHS committee for making me aware of recent developments)
Part 2. Lunch and Garden Tour
After the meeting we examined (and bought) many of the scented plants brought for sale by Jeremy Wilson. Rosemary then produced an excellent lunch.
In the afternoon, she took us on a tour of the garden, and we saw many interesting trees, some of which had reached an enormous size (such as the Davidia planted in 1936, still with a few ‘handkerchiefs’ hanging down) and some champion trees including a very rare Picea farrerri. Some rhododendrons were still fowering including a presumed Maddenia hybrid with large scented white trumpets, and a Grierson hybrid with large fowers of a good pink colour.
We thanked Rosemary for hosting an excellent day, and presented her with a plant of Azara microphylla as a memento of our visit. John Marston