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Modern day plant hunting

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

I would like to start a discussion on modern day plant ‘hunting’; in issue three of the YPS zine we had an interview with Daniel J Hinkley, who is probably the most famous modern day plant ‘hunter’. In the interview I asked him about the Nagoya Protocol treaty. I wanted to get his opinion on it as much as I want yours so we can together see all sides of it and make our own judgments. First I'll explain what the Nagoya protocol is; from my understanding it was created to ensure the people from who's country the useful plant/traditional practices come from see benefit from the utilisation of it. It was signed by a majority of countries excluding three of the biggest land masses; United states, Australia and Russian Federation amongst others. So in the UK to travel to countries who have signed the treaty, collect plants and bring them back for commercial use you need a specific license, which generally only botanic gardens have which they use to conserve wild sourced plants to ensure they don’t get lost in their natural habitat.

I’m particularly interested in this subject as I would like to one day travel to see plants in the wild and collect them if they are suitable for the nursery industry where I am. I would only like to do this if it is not affecting any people in a damaging way to their livelihoods or traditions and I am not introducing a vigorous plant that will damage local ecology. I believe it’s important to have many sources of the same collection of plants to ensure their ongoing survival, which is what botanic gardens do when they pass plants from one another. I also believe it’s important to the industry to introduce ‘new’ and beautiful plants so the focus isn’t just on bred cultivars (which is totally fine, just it’s good to have both). And to propagate from the collected material so wild mature plants are not stolen en masse for commercial use due to status of 'rarity' or 'exoticness'.

My experience of it all has lead me to come up with this idea; for individuals to be granted a project to collect and research a plant with help from a botanic garden, the material will be donated to the country of origin (if not already in possession) the botanic garden and the individual who can make it commercially available (obviously ruling out any plants under IUCN threatened species) after sorting the taxonomy of the plant. The individual shouldn’t be able to put PBR (Plant breeders Rights - like royalties) on the plant. I believe this would protect a lot more plants from extinction as there may be a plant out there that no botanic garden is looking at and so can get lost in the meantime. At the same time making sure the individual doesn’t lose the plant by killing it or putting it into the system with the wrong nomenclature. Now I understand a lot of this could only work with everyone agreeing and trust, but for me who is not a scientist, botanical horticulturist or pirate the current situation rules me out to collect plants even with the best intentions.

*I have set hunter out as I would prefer to use collector but as that is not the used language at the moment I’m just going to make reference to it.

There is so much more to learn about this complicated subject, especially considering the history of plant hunting and how it has been used for and against peoples. I hope to do more work in this field and get a better understanding, and I will let you know of what I find.

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