The year 2015 marked a great year for the Global Trees Campaign (GTC). As we make plans for another exciting year ahead, we thought it would be fitting to reflect upon what we and our partners achieved in 2015 and share our proudest moments with our followers and supporters.
Prioritising species of greatest conservation concern
Of the c.25,000 tree species that have conservation assessments, at least 9,641 species are threatened with extinction. The majority of the world’s tree species are yet to be evaluated and as a result, there is a huge amount of information missing to allow conservationists to carry out their work. In order to rectify this, a core area of our work focuses on establishing which tree species are at the greatest risk of extinction and then using this information to prioritise most at-risk species for conservation actions.
In 2015, we consolidated for the first time the most comprehensive list of the world’s threatened tree species alongside their conservation status (see more below). However, this list is growing as new tree species have their conservation status assessed. This year 348 new conservation assessments for trees were added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including trees from the tea (Theaceae) and magnolia (Magnoliaceae) families, and the oak genus.
This year we identified which tree species are most in need of support from botanic gardens, arboreta or seed banks (ex situ collections). The results were summarised in our report ‘Conserving the World’s Most Threatened Trees: A global ex situ survey’ which highlighted that, whilst some excellent conservation initiatives are in place, a striking 74% of the world’s most threatened trees remain ‘uncollected’ by botanic gardens and seed banks. We can now use this report to ensure the most threatened trees are earmarked for collection, in order to provide an insurance policy against extinction – and to begin developing sufficient stock for restoration in their natural habitats.
Ensuring the protection and recovery of the world’s most threatened species
A core area of the GTC’s work is the direct protection of tree species in their natural habitat. For a number of our priority species we made significant steps to improve the plight of wild populations by increasing numbers of individuals and securing areas of habitat for future regeneration.
On beginning our work with the Endangered Ziyuan fir in 2012 it became clear that regeneration of the species in the wild was extremely rare and one of the greatest threats to its survival. The year 2015 marked a key milestone in rectifying this issue. Due to mismatched flowering periods of the male and female plants, the species was struggling to reproduce. Our partners in China, trialled hand pollination techniques on wild Ziyuan firs. The result has been the germination of hundreds of Ziyuan fir seedlings in the wild– a phenomenon not seen at this scale during over a decade of research on the species.
Over the last few years our partners, Madagasikara Voakajy, have been working with villagers in Madagascar to establish areas of community managed forest to help protect endemic baobabs. In April 2015, we established our first community managed forest to specifically protect Endangered populations of Diego’s baobab in the north of the country. This marks a milestone in securing the long-term protection of a key population of a species that has received little conservation attention to date. This story was featured in Oryx in July.
It was also an important year for Magnolias. Planting trials for the Critically Endangered species, Magnolia longipendunculata, led by GTC partner South China Botanical Garden for were highly successful. Persisting only in a single nature reserve, the species is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. To counteract this, seedlings were planted at a new site in Tianxin Nature Reserve, 200km north of the current species range. The seedlings exhibited high survival rates at their new site, increasing the population size and providing a safeguard against the effects of climate change.
Empowering people to save threatened trees
The GTC aims to provide other conservationists and practitioners with the skills to undertake conservation projects focused on threatened tree species. We work in countries from Central Asia and the Far East, to the Americas and Africa to achieve this aim.
In 2015 we focused our attention on training practitioners in East Africa, a region with a huge amount of diversity and endemism, but limited capacity. We trained 73 individuals in Uganda and Ethiopia in tree conservation techniques including seed collection. In both countries, we worked with participants to develop a list of priority trees for conservation action based on their rarity and current lack of protection . Full story coming soon!
For a number of years, we have been working in the Caribbean to promote the sustainable harvest of lansan tree resin and 2015 marked a key milestone for this work. Following training and support provided by the GTC, the Saint Lucia Forestry Department developed and began the implementation of a national level plan and licensing scheme for lansan tappers which promotes sustainable methods of harvest whilst producing profitable resin yields. More information on how this was achieved to appear on our website in 2016.
Mobilising other groups
The GTC is the only international programme dedicated to threatened tree species conservation, but we don’t want to be working alone! We aim to promote widespread ‘arbophilia’ and inspire other groups to work towards the survival of the world’s most at risk tree species.
This year the GTC worked closely with Oryx the International Journal of Conservation to produce a special edition focusing on the plight of threatened trees which posed the question; ‘how can we save the charismatic megaflora?’. The edition was crucial in presenting key methodologies used in tree conservation and highlighted some of the fantastic work of a selection of our projects. Cambridge University Press were kind enough to make this edition free of charge throughout 2015, enabling our message to inspire and inform a large audience with the examples presented in the issue.
On the ground, our project to mobilise other groups to restore populations of native threatened trees in Brazil’s Atlantic rainforest made huge steps. Our partner, Sociedade Chauá, established partnerships with municipal government nurseries, NGOs and large landowners in order to encourage the wide-scale growth and planting of priority tree species. As a result of this work, this year marked a step change in the number of threatened species directly planted in the wild with more than 17 different threatened species planted across a range of project sites.
New shoots for 2016
Looking ahead we have some exciting activities in the pipeline for 2016. We will be launching several new projects in new areas including in Bhutan, Armenia and Nigeria. We will focus on inspiring young conservationists to become advocates for tree conservation. We aim to publish more practical guidance for aspiring tree huggers in our online tools section by sharing case studies of our most inspiring projects. Finally we aim to explore some exciting new themes in tree conservation so all we can say is – watch this space!