Useful Plants Project workshop: rural livelihoods conserve plants

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Delegates at the Useful Plants Project workshop held at the Millennium Seed Bank from July 22-24. Image courtesy of Wolfgang Stuppy and the Millennium Seed Bank.

Last week the Millennium Seed Bank hosted a week-long workshop on useful plants and livelihoods as part of the evaluation of one of it’s flagship initiatives, the Useful Plants Project. The event was also an opportunity to take a broader look at Kew’s livelihoods projects and how we could maximise the way in which they meet rural communities’s needs and thereby increase their impact. The breadth and scope of Kew’s projects never ceases to amaze me: from the Great Green Wall project in subSaharan Africa to the restoration and conservation of dry forests in Peru, the conservation of forest reserves in Madagascar and of course the Useful Plants Project (UPP) itself; an ambitious and innovative initiative that seeks to link rural communities, livelihoods, restoration and the ex-situ conservation of seeds in Mali, Botswana, Mexico, Kenya and South Africa. Continue reading Useful Plants Project workshop: rural livelihoods conserve plants

Birth of a new research project… Ascension Island


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Ascension Island, southern approach. Image courtesy of the Guardian newspaper

It always surprises me the unpredictable mix of chance, curiosity and vision which can result in the birth of a new research project. Several conversations over the past few months with the British Ambassador to Bolivia, colleagues at Kew and at the Natural History Museum are hinting that a new research project focussed on a small forest on the UK Overseas Territory of Ascension Island could be forming. It would be a project with strong links to the history of Kew Gardens, the Royal Navy and of two of the most famous UK scientists of the 19thC, Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker and their idea of using forest to capture moisture from clouds to provide  an isolated and important staging post in the middle of the South Atlantic with freshwater. Darwin and Hooker, each famous in his own right had visited the isolated volcanic island of Ascension in the South Atlantic during the first half of the 19thC. Both were struck by the barren nature of the island’s central peak and lack of water. For unlike many island peaks Ascension island had no forest to trap and extract moisture from passing clouds and so the Royal Navy Garrison stationed there suffered from water shortages. Darwin and Hooker set upon the idea of planting a ‘fantasy’ cloud forest using the most appropriate species from around the World  supplied from the Tropical Nurseries of Kew Gardens and the South African Botanical Garden in what was also a great experiment in reforestation and forest species assembly.

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The cloud forest, 160 years after it was planted on a design by two of Britain’s most famous scientists: Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker

Continue reading Birth of a new research project… Ascension Island

UK Ambassador visits and we present our project to the Governor of the Pando

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HM Ambassador to Bolivia, Ross Denny talking with the leader of the San Jose community on a visit to one of our agroforest plots in Bolivia. Click on link to see clip of children being filmed for BoliviaTV. Image Alejandro Araujo.

As well as working directly with rural communities through our collaboration with the Bolivian NGO Herencia, the strategy for our project is to influence regional decision-makers. We were very lucky therefore to be able to host a visit by our Ambassador, Ross Denny and for him to use the opportunity to formally introduce our project to the Governor of the Pando, Lúis Adolfo Flores Roberts. Ross Denny visited our agroforest demonstration plot, tree diversity inventory plot and the children’s Bosque de los Niños forest reserve being developed in collaboration with Herencia. Ross’s visit attracted a lot of interest from the local media which we were able to benefit from through several television interviews with Ross himself, forest engineer Rolma Velarde and I, to be broadcast nationally soon. Continue reading UK Ambassador visits and we present our project to the Governor of the Pando

Inga establishment on heavily compacted degraded soils

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Seedling growing on a site where topsoil was removed with a bulldozer. Obvious signs of stress are the yellow hue to the leaves and the brown fungal infection.  Click to see a clip with further explanation.

In addition to restoring soil fertility to abandoned slash-and-burn sites we are also working to use Inga to rehabilitate degraded pasture and severely degraded soils. Soils that have been heavily compacted by cattle over several years or by heavy machinery. Rehabilitating such sites, especially in the case of cattle pasture could have a significant impact in the region because adding value to such marginal land could help reduce the pressure on natural forest. With this aim we planted two such sites in March 2014. Revisiting the sites in July has shown mixed results with some of the seedlings doing very well (see image below) whilst others are clearly suffering (see image above). In comparison with slash-and-burn sites where we have lost very few seedlings, and most of those to overzealous weeding, Continue reading Inga establishment on heavily compacted degraded soils