Royal Botanic Gardens, Jordan – a community approach to conserving native flora

Mark Richardson, Kamal Nuimat, Annette Kouz 2005

Introduction

On Monday, 21 March 2005, HRH Prince Faisal, the Regent of Jordan inaugurated the first national botanic garden in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This pioneering community project is being championed by HRH Princess Basma bint Ali and is supported by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) as a part of its Investing in Nature Programme, funded by HSBC.

Nationally, the establishment of a botanic garden in Jordan is part of the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, prepared by the Ministry of Environment to implement the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified by Jordan in 1993. The Ministries of Planning and Agriculture have also stated their support for it.

The Royal Botanic Garden has been established as a private non-profit company that is being funded by a range of Jordanian and international sources. It is seeking not only to raise Jordanians’ awareness in relation to the importance of their flora, but also to conserve it through the restoration of the site’s natural vegetation and the establishment of ex situ plant collections.

The Jordanian Ministry of Agriculture donated the site for the new botanic gardens, which extends over 1 km2 of land in a country park at Tel el Ruman, 25 km from the capital Amman. The area is one of outstanding natural beauty, already rich in wild flowers, and overlooks the King Talal Dam. The Royal Botanic Garden will be the first botanical collection of living plants that is open to the public in Jordan.

It will be a regional centre for native plant conservation, public education, and scientific research and will have links with other gardens, both in the region and worldwide.

Rich heritage of biodiversity

Despite its small size, Jordan is a country rich in indigenous plants, with about 2,500 species, many of them endemic to Jordan or the immediate region. However, this rich heritage of biodiversity is, in most cases, endangered by urbanisation, poor land use and population expansion. The Black Iris (Iris nigricans), the national flower of Jordan, is on the brink of extinction in the wild. Only limited scientific research has been done on this flora, and there are quite likely plants in the country still unknown to science. So far, conservation efforts in Jordan have been limited in scope, with some flora conserved in a few nature reserves. However, there are not enough reserves to protect the country’s rich botanical diversity.

Through the Royal Botanic Garden, the diverse botanical heritage of Jordan can be conserved, while educating the public as to its importance.

The botanic garden will also be locally important by providing:

◆ employment for the local people;

◆ an important resource for schools;

◆ an outlet for handicrafts made by the local women;

◆ increased income to the local community; and

◆ improved facilities and infrastructure of the area in terms of communications, transportation, and electricity.

A new visitor attraction

The botanic garden will be a place where visitors can learn about Jordan’s heritage in a beautiful setting, as well as being a place where these plants will be preserved. It will be a regional as well as a national public attraction, in a country where few such amenities currently exist. The botanic garden will also have a very positive and sustainable impact on a beautiful area of Jordan that is being considered for tourism development.

 Garden design and construction

The Royal Botanic Garden is envisaged as one main site, but in the future may include a number of satellite gardens in different parts of the country. In addition to the main site at Tel el Ruman, plans are also being developed for a smaller garden of about two hectares in Aqaba, which will specialise in tropical plants.

The Royal Botanic Garden will feature, showcase and conserve some of the habitats and indigenous plants typical of the different bio-geographical regions of Jordan. Eventually the Garden may also include themed collections, for example, a display of medicinal herbs and orchids. The first phase of the botanic garden development is being funded by BGCI and is planned to be completed by the end of 2006.

Jordan’s botanic garden in Jordan will be an important biodiversity resource. It will preserve collections of plants that may exist in Jordan and nowhere else, and will be a source of technical advice to governments and NGOs.

The Garden as a whole will work to educate the public to appreciate plants and reverse the limited awareness of plants that currently exists in the general public. It will be a chance to both educate them and show them something new. It is accepted that people cannot be engaged to care about loss of diversity if they do not understand or have any feeling for what it really means.

An abstract for a poster presentation at the 11th Meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada 2005.