Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum

Attending the 7th Global Botanic Gardens Congress

Posted: November 29, 2022 at 14:16 pm Author: Mark Ballad - Curator (Forestry England Westonbirt Arboretum)

In the 10-Year Vision for Westonbirt Arboretum, entitled ‘Our Place in a Changing World’, we aim to be a world leader in trees inspiring people through education, conservation and participation. Westonbirt has long played a key role on the international stage, working closely with partners and institutions across the globe over many years for mutual benefit. After all, the wonderful living collection of trees and shrubs that we enjoy today, originate from across the temperate regions of the world, and many of our rare and endangered specimen trees form an important part of ex-situ conservation.

Dan Luscombe, Hannah Griffiths, and Mark Ballard during the congress

I was very fortunate to head to the glorious city of Melbourne, Australia, for the 7th Global Botanic Gardens Congress (7GBGC) in September 2022. The title of the congress was ‘Influence and Action: Botanic Gardens as Agents of Change’, with the aim of exploring how botanic gardens and arboreta can play a greater role in shaping our future. The accelerated loss of biodiversity across the globe, increased urbanisation, population growth and climate change, means that the need to work together to find new solutions for the future has never been greater.

A Pandani grove (Richea pandanifolia)Mark Ballard excitedly holding a young plant of Lomatia tasmanica (King’s Lomatia), which is extremely rare and critically endangered

Around 500 international delegates gathered at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, and the congress programme was packed full of inspiring speakers, fascinating workshops, panel discussions, symposia and presentations. Thanks to the generous funding from The Friends, I was joined on this trip by Hannah Griffiths from our Learning & Participation Team. We also travelled with fellow UK delegates: Dan Luscombe from Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest); Olivia Steed-Mundin from Wakehurst Place - Kew Gardens; and Dan Crowley from Botanic Gardens Conservation International.

Olivia, Dan C, Mark and Dan L out in the field

A backdrop for the congress is the ‘State of the World's Trees’ report recently issued by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). As part of this Global Tree Assessment, intensive research was undertaken over five years to compile extinction risk information on the almost 60,000 tree species worldwide. We now know that 30% of tree species are threatened with extinction, and sadly at least 142 tree species are recorded as extinct.

Did you know that nearly 800 of our specimens at Westonbirt are classified as in danger under the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species?

Fallen Nothofagus gunnii (the tanglefoot) leaves, which is Australia's only native winter deciduous tree and has stunning autumn colour

Everyone that I spoke with found the congress to be thought-provoking and inspirational, as well as a great opportunity to network and forge new relationships with like-minded plantspeople within our global community. To get the most value, I attended around 17 themed sessions with multi speakers during each session. The main takeaway for me, was the need for more focus on conservation horticulture, as well as impactful engagement and education. Conservation has always been part of our modern role at Westonbirt, however, I am currently developing a Tree Conservation Project that will enable us to concentrate our efforts even more on this vital aspect. This project will encompass international fieldwork, but importantly, also conservation of threatened native tree species within the UK – more details to follow in the near future!

The Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annanfriends-of-westonbirt-arboretum-fowa-7gbgc-2.jpg

To take full advantage of our international travel, we planned and arranged a full itinerary post-congress, which entailed visiting native habitats, temperate rainforests, and botanic gardens in Melbourne, Tasmania, and Sydney. We are always incredibly lucky to be hosted by fellow professionals wherever we go, who generously give up their time to show us around, as well as share knowledge and experience. We also discussed how we can help Australian counterparts with in-situ and ex-situ conservation, and specifically providing expertise with wild seed collecting.

The National Parks were very accessible and often included low-impact boardwalks

For me, particular highlights that will stay long in my memory, include climbing high within Mount Field National Park and Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park. Essentially, I am Westonbirt’s landscape gardener, and it is amazing to see how nature does plant compositions in natural habitats!

Find out about The Friends' partnership with the University of West England to study the risks to Tilia...