Botanic Gardens Networking

Mark Richardson, 2006

Introduction

The concept of networking is today usually associated with computers, but it is equally applicable to organisations or individuals.  The very important and common principle of networking is that it needs to allow a free flow of information in any direction and today it is the availability of email and the web that helps make this possible.

While the main concern for the individual organisation is usually itself, the value of a community of organisations is potentially greater .  This fact applies in numerous ways, including not only the recognition of a community at a global level but also in terms of an individual organisation having a recognition which extends far beyond its immediate area of operation.  And the latter can often be important for its survival.

All too often there is a belief that a network is based in a certain place and is not the sum of its members.  If, for example, an organisation says that they are willing to assist with the development of a database or the production of a newsletter then it often is assumed that that organisation is actually the network.  As a result many organisations do not wish to become involved because they believe that they are giving something away in saying that whatever they do is as a part of the network. 

Networks and Botanic Gardens

The concept and use of networking is something that has and will continue to prove very important to the botanic garden community.  For a long time botanists have been renowned for the large number of contacts they develop in their quest to understand and collect the world’s flora.  These contacts have often extended well beyond other botanists to include people such as land managers and owners, geologists, clergy, village chiefs and government officials. 

One well-established example of networking among botanic gardens has involved the circulation of Index Seminar, or Seedlists.  This practice has assisted them to keep each other aware of at least some of the plant material being grown and to take advantage of it for their own collections.  While this form of networking was frequently very valuable for research work, it also has potentially provided a conservation threat in terms of spreading weeds.  Because of this, it is a form networking that is being questioned from both within and outside of the botanic gardens’ community.

Although the interaction between botanists has been extensive, it did not in the past seem to extend to the general activities of botanic gardens outside of the Index Seminar. However, the networking at the organisational level has certainly gained momentum in last 50 years and has been considerable in the last decade.  Not only are organisations making a greater effort to communicate at an international level but also at regional and national levels.

Some of the main benefits of networking to botanic gardens have been:

  • Promotion of international, regional and national cooperation between botanic gardens, arboreta and similar institutes maintaining scientific collections of living plants
  • Faster communication of global trends relevant to botanic gardens
  • Better opportunities for staff to move between different organisations
  • Encouragement of effective documentation to assist exchange of information
  • Promotion of conservation as an important role for botanic gardens
  • Improved development of informal education as a role for botanic gardens
  • Better understanding of botanic gardens by the community at large
  • Promotion of horticulture as an art and a science

With the development of thinking in botanic gardens there has been more and more emphasis put on the national and local flora.  Many of the botanic gardens developed in the last 15 years have a major focus on their country’s flora and they are keen to promote it and encourage its use in local horticulture. 

With this increase in interest in indigenous plants, the need and desire for the transfer of plant material has reduced, however, there is still a continued, if not increased, need for the exchange of information.  While the floras between countries and regions differ, many of, for example, the horticultural, conservation and education procedures and guidelines, equally apply.  As such, the effective distribution of such information between botanic gardens is very important.

In the same way that computer networks and search engines are making a huge difference in terms of the exchange of information, so too are botanic gardens networks.  And it will be that exchange of information that will always remain their strength.  Although much of that information is now transferred electronically, the networks assist that transfer through activities such as congresses, workshops and training courses.  And while the rapidly increasing speeds of our lives have sometimes caused the meeting of people to be viewed as less valuable, it is often social interaction that provides some of the thinking that makes projects work.  It is often the spontaneous aspects of meetings that produce the quality results.

Without activities such as congresses and workshops, there are seldom reasons for the representatives of organizations to gather and take advantage of each other’s knowledge and experience.  Communication which then goes beyond the first meetings have frequently resulted in the effective operation of many programmes and projects.  Just the piles of business cards that people collect from other like minded people can represent a hugely valuable resource!

How should a network operate?

While the ideal form for a network is for the members to communicate freely in any direction, a network cannot just exist in name alone.  There is always a need for a driving force within it, which for a botanic gardens network is usually a main office based in a particular botanic garden.  This obviously has its pluses and minuses.  On the plus side it helps to sustain the idea and activity of the network, produce and distribute its products (e.g. newsletter and website) and also provide some suggestions for direction.  On the minus side, is the strong association that can be attached to the head office (and hosting organization) and the disassociation that members can often then feel.  Too frequently, if the head office of an organization sources funds that allow members to carry out their own projects, the members still have a feeling that they are doing it for the head office.  It is sometimes very difficult to get members feel that the network is for a common cause. And not just for the benefit of the head office.

As such, it is a very fine line that is walked by the main office of a network.  While it is not wanted to be seen that the main office is the network, it is important that it is not so dissociated that, a funding body for instance, is not sure who they are working with.   The main way that this has to be addressed is by the on-going involvement of members both in terms of the management and goals of any network.  As part of this it is important to openly review the network’s activities at meetings such as the congresses.  It is also necessary to ensure that the development of projects that will be funded by the network, but carried out by the members, have a significant input from members.

To achieve an effective involvement of members, it is also necessary to consider the regular transfer of the head office.  While this means that it may have to go through the associated administrative problems of moving, it does mean that more organizations will feel that they have role to play and the problem of the head office being seen as the network will be lessened.  It will also help to decrease the problem of a network being viewed as the property of a particular individual.

In the end, the success of any network will rely on whether it is performing a useful role for its members.  The enthusiasm is always greatest at the beginning when the idea is fresh, the members are getting to know one another and feel some ownership for the network.  Once this is achieved it is important that the network continues to provide something interesting and worthwhile for members.

The sorts of activities that can be undertaken by networks are given in the summaries below.

Networks in the Asia region

The number networks of botanic gardens relevant to the Asia region is still growing and they exist at the international, regional and national levels.

International Networks
Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI)

In 1987, BGCI was founded to link botanic gardens as a co-operating global network for effective plant conservation. It now includes over 500 member institutions in 112 countries and provides technical guidance, data and support for botanic gardens around the world. It has organized a wide range of activities including major meetings, workshops and training courses. BGCI has helped to create or strengthen national and regional networks of gardens in many parts of Asia, such as SE Asia, East Asia, China, India, Indonesia and Australia, so as to assist botanic gardens there to focus their efforts on plant conservation.

BGCI’s regular publications include the newsletter, Cuttings and two biannual journals, namely BGjournal and the education newsletter, Roots.  These have all provided an important means for those working in botanic gardens to share experience and information.  BGCI education work has become an important means to enhance the role of gardens in many countries in environmental education and awareness. Funding provided by the banking corporation, HSBC, supported major BGCI programmes around the world, as a part of Investing in Nature.  This programme ran from 2002-2006 and a major part of the programme was conducted in the Asia region.

BGCI maintains an extensive website that can be viewed at http://www.bgci.org.

International Association for Botanic Gardens (IABG)

The IABG was, in 1954, the first international attempt to unite the activities of botanic gardens, however, their global activity is now very limited.  The IABG was primarily established to promote international cooperation between botanic gardens, the study of taxonomy of plants, to benefit the world community; the documentation and exchange of information, living plants and specimens between botanic gardens, and; the conservation of plants through cultivation and other means within botanic gardens.  All botanic gardens, arboreta or other institutes and their staff were eligible for membership of IABG through the various regional groups. An Asia Division exists and their last meeting was held in Xishuangbanna in 2004.  Similarly to the parent organization, they have provided opportunities for members to discuss issues but their activity is otherwise limited.

Contact information for the International Association of Botanic Gardens can be found at: http://www.nhbs.com/xchange/pages/xc151.html

Networks in Asia

Regional Networks

South East Asia Botanic Gardens

The first meeting of the South East Asia Botanic Gardens (SEABG) was formed in 2004, at a meeting organized by the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).  The meeting was attended by representatives from botanic gardens from throughout the South East Asia region. The membership of SEABG is botanic gardens from Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Papua and New Guinea and gardens from southern China. The focus of the Network takes in all aspects of the activities of botanic gardens including, public education and recreation, research, identification, documentation, giving special attention to conservation of indigenous plant diversity and dissemination of knowledge (including traditional knowledge) about plant diversity in South East Asia.  A regular newsletter and training workshops have been provided for members.

East Asia Botanic Gardens Network

In April 2005, representatives of the Japan Association of Botanical Gardens, Korean Association for Botanic Gardens and Arboreta, newly formed Chinese National Botanic Gardens and Arboreta Network, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Gardens (Hong Kong) and Botanic Gardens Conservation International met in Osaka, Japan and recommended the formation of an East Asian Botanic Gardens Network (EABGN). The EABGN is a network of the numerous national networks in the East Asia region.  

The purpose of the East Asia Botanic Gardens Network will be to encourage and enhance information exchange and cooperation to improve education, research and conservation work in botanic gardens.  It will also assist efforts for East Asia plant conservation through training and staff exchange

A home page in Chinese, Japanese and Korean is to be developed. 

National Networks

Japan Association of Botanic Gardens

Japan Association of Botanical Gardens (JABG) was organized by the representative botanical gardens in Japan in 1947 and was made an authorized national corporation by the Japanese Government in 1966. Its membership now exceeds 120.  The Association not only does extensive work in Japan but also abroad. The association conducts activities in research investigation about botanical gardens, collection of the documents and information concerned publication of scientific documents and information exchange with other social sectors. Several committees are set up within the Association to promote each project like the seed and plant exchange between the members, to dispatch parties to foreign countries for scientific investigation and enhancement of international relationship, for the plant conservation and etc. In each year, it has and an annual meeting at the end of May. It issues the Journal of Japan Association of Botanical Gardens annually and a news letter called Shokubutsuen news three times a year.

The website for the Japan Association of Botanical Gardens is: http://syokubutsuen-kyokai.jp)..

Korean Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta

The Korean Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta (KABGA), includes 14 national and public gardens, 12 private gardens and 5 university-owned gardens, as well as supporting the development of new gardens in Korea. The future challenge is to use this structure for an integrated approach to conservation that combines both in situ and ex situ approaches and involves all the relevant institutions networked under the umbrella of the KABGA. This is being further strengthened by collaboration with botanic gardens outside Korea such as Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK, and international plant conservation bodies such as Botanic Gardens Conservation International.

Chinese Botanical Gardens Network

There are now over 100 botanic gardens in China.  These have been represented by three main networks: 1) the Chinese Academy of Science; 2) the Chinese Association of Botanic Gardens Chinese Society of Environmental Sciences, and 3) a municipal network.  Although the three networks have covered the majority of the gardens, there has for some time been a desire for the botanic gardens in China to operate in a more unified manner. A meeting was held to discuss the development of a new network that would cover all of the botanic gardens in China, however, the network is yet to formalised.   The purpose of the new network will be to provide an umbrella organisation for all of the botanic gardens in China.

The website for the Chinese Academy of Science is http://www.cas.ac.cn

Contact details about the Chinese Association of Botanic Gardens can be seen at http://www.bgci.org/worldwide/asia

Indian Botanic Gardens Network

In 2003, a national conference was held in Lucknow, India the Indian Botanic Gardens Network (IBGN).was launched and named  The principle aims of the IBGN will be to establish a network of botanic gardens in India effectively representing the breadth of gardens both geographically and administratively and to encourage a greater collaboration and sharing of resources (database) and knowledge among the botanic gardens in India;

The work of the IBGN will encompass all aspects of the activities of botanic gardens but give special attention and concern to conservation of indigenous plant diversity. Throughout India it will seek to enhance the effectiveness of botanic garden education. as well as other areas including, research, sustainable development, sustainability.

The website for IBGN is http://www.ibgn.org/.

Indonesian Network for Plant Conservation

The Indonesian Network for Plant Conservation (INetPC), is a product of the 1992 Kebun Raya Bogor International Conference, and was established in 1994.  It was intended to primarily promote communication and co-operation between conservation organizations, groups, institutions and individuals working in Indonesia.  The INetPC established links with both international and other national organizations.  The main activities of InetPC have included to publish a triannual newsletter, Eksplorasi; to conduct monthly informal meetings for all organsiations interested in plant conservation.  Activity of INetPC has been limited over the past few years, but there is an interest to revitalize the organization.

Botanic Gardens Organization (Thailand)

In 1992, the Thai Government set up the Botanical Garden Organization
(BGO) to strengthen botanical research and ex situ conservation of Thailand’s valuable plant resource. The BGO has a status of a state enterprise under the responsibility of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.  Following the BGO establishment, the Mae Sa Botanic Garden at Mae Rim, Chiang Mai was transferred from the Royal Forest Department to be under the administration of the BGO. It was granted Her Majesty’s permission to use the name as Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (QSBG) in 1994.  The number of botanic gardens in Thailand is around 10 but there are also many well established arboreta.

The website for the Botanical Gardens Organisation is: http://www.qsbg.org/index_E.asp

Other Networks in the region include:

Australian Network for Plant Conservation

Website:  (http://www.anbg.gov.au/anpc/)

Botanic Gardens of Australia and New Zealand 

Website:  (http://www.anbg.gov.au/chabg/constitution/index.html)

New Zealand Plant Conservation Network

Website:  (http://www.nzpcn.org.nz/)