Illegally collected Himalayan plant specimens at Edinburgh Botanical Garden. BBC not investigating!

Botanical specimens of 'exotic' plants illegally collected in the Himalaya, are dug-up then deposited in the herbarium (plant museum) at Edinburgh Botanical Garden, UK, the Himalayan Plant Association (HPA)'s Environment Correspondent has found.   Experts recommend that after reading this article, they should compare with: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35699297  and: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/flawed-tabloid-level-on-line-bbc-article


Androsace is a favourite among collectors © Chris Chadwell

National Himalayan authorities say no permission was obtained to gather and export the plant material.

The activity harms the environment and deprives local people of benefits from the trade of plants, they add.

Experts say horticultural societies and clubs across the UK have long raised questions about such practice, especially as they do not understand what a herbarium is for!


Teams of botanists head up to high altitudes in the Himalaya in search of rare botanical specimens for Edinburgh Botanical garden © Chris Chadwell

"When people are flouting the regulations, then that impacts us - because the host countries get more cautious about things, and we are trying to help them grasp the concept of ethical sharing of plant materials and the benefits by providing free HPA membership to any institution or individuals in the Indian sub-continent interested in Himalayan flora, providing complimentary copies of our journals" said Chris Chadwell, Founder of the HPA & author of a series of digital photographic guides to flora of the NW Himalaya.  He continued, "This is especially shocking as Dr M Watson, of the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh complained about others 'flouting the regulations' in a BBC World Service on-line article in March 2016." Self-evidently, different rules apply to Edinburgh and those with the right connections there - which it seems those who were 'named & shamed' by the BBC, do not possess.

Participants in treks in the Indian NW Himalaya ('Flowers of the West Himalaya: Monsoon and Beyond" in the Kulu Valley and Lahaul for West Himalayan Holidays including a member of staff at Edinburgh Botanical Garden) dug-up, then pressed botanical specimens, for depositing in the herbarium at Edinburgh Botanical Garden, where staff handled the elicit material, identified it, then mounted and labelled the specimens onto reference sheets which are stored in metal cabinets. The haul from one such smuggling episode included: Anemone polyanthes, Oxygraphis endlicheri, Ranunculus hirtellus, Ranunculus natans, Corydalis govaniana, Arabidopsis cf. mollissima, Arabidopsis cf. pumila, Arabis amplexicaulis, Cardamine impatiens, Chorispora macropoda, Draba stenocarpa, Lepidium apetalum, Acer acuminatum, Acer caesium, Acer cappadocicum, Astragalus amherstianus, Astragalus chlorostachys, Astragalus himalayanus, Astragalus munroi, Astragalus rhizanthus, Dalbergia sissoo, Astragalus amherstianus, Hedysarum aff. cachemirianum, Hedysarum microcalyx, Indigofera hebepetala, Indigofera heterantha, Melilotus indicus, Oxytropis aff. mollis, Cotoneaster cf. acuminatus, Cotoneaster cf. affinis, Fragaria nubicola, Potentilla bifurca, Potentilla monanthes, Potentilla multifida, Potentilla potaninii, Potentilla salesoviana, Rubus cf. hypargyrus, Spiraea arcuata, Saxifraga sibirica, Philadelphus tomentosus, Rosularia alpestris, Rosularia rosulata, Arenaria debilis, Dianthus angulatus, Silene gonosperma, Silene griffithii, Myricaria squamosa, Geranium regelii, Geranium wallichianum, Rhamnus cf. persica, Rhamnus purpureus, Cynanchum auriculatum, Vincetoxicum cf. officinale, Gentiana glabriuscula, Gentiana marginata, Jaeschkea oligosperma, Arnebia euchroma, Cynoglossum wallichii, Hackelia uncinata, Lappula microcarpa, Myosotis alpestris, Physochlaina praealta, Pedicularis oederi, Scrophularia koelzii, Veronica beccabunga, Veronica biloba, Orobanche cernua, Xylanche himalaica, Strobilanthes atropupureus, Phlomis bracteosa, Stachys cf. melissifolia, Bupleurum cf. falcatum, Chaerophyllum relexum, Vicatia coniifolia, Lonicera obovata, Lonicera spinosa, Lonicera webbiana, Galium asperuloides, Valeriana jatamansii, Anaphalis monocephala, Artemisia brevifolia, Artemisia dracunculus, Artemisia gmelinii, Crepis flexuosa, Erigeron acer, Gerbera sp., Lactuca macrorhiza, Senecio cf. coronopifolius, Androsace sarmentosa, Androsace sempervivoides, Polygonum paronichioides, Elaeagnus parvifolia, Arceuthobium minutissimum, Quercus cf. baloot, Quercus semecarpifolia, Salix denticulata, Salix karelinii, Salix sericocarpa, Calanthe tricarinata, Dactylorhiza hatagirea, Epipactus helleborine, Malaxis muscifera, Oreorchis cf. foliosa, Oreorchis micrantha, Allium humile, Aletris pauciflora, Ophiopogon intermedius, Polygonatum cirrhifolium, Polygonatum cf. geminiflorum, Juncus allioides, Juncus himalensis, Arisaema flavum, Arisaema intermedium, Arisaema jacquemontii, Arisaema propinquum, Blysmus compressus, Carex inanis, Carex norvegica, Carex psychrophila, Carex stenophylla, Eriophorum comosum, Kobresia laxa, Kobresia cf. royleana, Kobresia schoenoides, Melica jacquemontii, Phleum alpinum, Adiantum pedatum, Asplenium varians ( a total of 136 species). And would you believe no less than six terrestrial orchids?  Those undertaking the collecting for Edinburgh and the Botanical Garden staff were perfectly aware of the rules and regulations, in advance.....

Himalayan Marsh Orchid, the tubers of which are taken by illegal Indian smugglers for use in Ayuvedic Medicine in India -
permits are required to collect and to export plants © Krishan Lal

And on another occasion, a medical student collected over 100 plants specimens for the Edinburgh Herbarium during a University of Southampton ornithological and mountaineering expedition in Ladakh. Edinburgh offered no advice about obtaining permission to collect these specimens or for their export back to the UK.  Why not? After all, they are in the best position to know what they are.  It is difficult for private individuals to know what is permitted and what is not, when the officials of National Authorities in the Indian sub-continent, cannot be bothered to reply to letters and/or e-mails.  Reporters for the BBC are, it seems, treated more respectfully.


Local staff from 'West Himalayan Holidays' who looked after clients who collected illegal botanical specimens for Edinburgh Botanical Garden © Chris Chadwell

'Totally Illegal'

Some suppliers of botanical specimens say they get them from local collectors and therefore they need no permission from host countries.  "This is carrying on a tradition established by famous plant hunters, such as Ludlow & Sherriff, Kingdon Ward, Wilson etc., who often went out in the summer months, whilst their teams of local collectors returned in the autumn to gather botanical specimens and seeds for botanical gardens in the UK - sometimes, these skilled collectors would undertake all the work themselves but the herbarium specimens and seed were assigned the British plant hunter's collection numbers".  At that time, much of the Himalaya was controlled by the British (until Indian Independence in 1947). The best botanical collections made in the NW Himalaya between 1912-1936 were by American botanists Ralph Stewart plus Walter Koelz and Thakur Rup Chand (the latter two on behalf of the Urusvati Institute, Kulu Valley, in what is now Himachal Pradesh) - I doubt if they had permission to collect in the first place or export to the US.", Chris Chadwell, the leading authority on the flora of the region, says. If this was a BBC article on the subject, it would no doubt have been an un-named 'expert'....


The old 'alpine house' at Edinburgh Botanical Garden - where several Himalayan specimens are grown. Some of the seed introductions, such as from Nepal, would have had official permission, thanks to Edinburgh's work on various Nepalese government-approved projects but others, including species from the NW Himalaya, may well have been illegal. 

Some of the Botanical & Horticultural Expeditions mounted by Edinburgh Botanical Garden to the Himalaya between 1981-2

1981 Expedition to Makalu and Barun Khola, Nepal - this was chiefly to collect seed (and live plants) including Rhododendrons (which makes a mockery of the condemnation of collections in Sikkim for the RCMG mentioned above).

1983 Expedition to Marsyandi Valley, Nepal - primarily horticultural including seed collections.

1989 Kew-Edinburgh Expedition to Kanchenchunga, Nepal - a major, horticulturally orientated expedition; a great amount of seed was collected and distributed to many botanical gardens, nurseries and private growers around the world.

1991 Edinburgh Expedition to Makalu and Milke Danda, Nepal - primarily horticultural with funding from a number of Charitable Trusts, specialist societies, botanical gardens and a number of nurseries.

1992 Edinburgh Expedition to Sikkim - which included one horticulturist and a certain Mark Watson (so it is OK for him to go to Sikkim but not others, on behalf of a specialist horticultural society).

'Recipient Responsibility'

"I myself collected botanical specimens as team-leader of the survey of vegetation in the Suru Valley, during the University of Southampton Ladakh Expedition, 1980. This was my first expedition to India; I assumed that the university plus the leader and co-leader, who had been on previous university expeditions to Ladakh, would have secured any necessary permissions and after all, why should India object to foreign scientists, visiting at their own expense to help to improve studies on Himalayan flora.  A set of pressed specimens was deposited in the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew, herbarium.  Kew raised no questions nor offered any advice as to securing permission for the initial collection, then export of said specimens back to the UK.  Similarly, the University of Kashmir, which received a duplicate set of the pressed specimens, made no comment about any required permission - surely the onus was on them to advise prospective foreign expeditions.  The 1981 team deposited a set of pressed specimens in the Natural History Museum herbarium in London; once again, no member of staff at this institution raised any issues as to permission.  Surely, as the leading Western Institutions involved in the study of Himalayan flora, Edinburgh, Kew & the Natural History Museum, London, they had a particular responsibility, compared to young and inexperienced students (who only had they best of intentions and were not aware they were doing anything illegal). 

As with everything in life, 'ignorance of the law' is no excuse, but if there is any blame, the main part must be on the world-famous institutions, with full-time, paid staff, not volunteers, who end up out-of-pocket.", says 'expert' Chris Chadwell, leader of botanical tours and expeditions to the Himalaya, founder and secretary of the Himalayan Plant Association.  But the 'new' EU regulation which implements the 'Nagoya Protocol' (and please correct me if I am wrong but the 'protocol' is not in itself, legally binding but provides 'recommendations' - each nation must legislate subsequently.  The protocol only came into force, mid-October 2014, so even if the EU set a  president as to the speed of drawing up fresh legislation, this presumably has only just become law?  Some when during 2015?  As laws are not generally, applicable, retrospectively, so all the introductions of seed prior to this, could not be subject to this new law! Furthermore, the straightforward 'cultivation' of plants, whether in a private garden, botanical garden or nursery is not covered by the protocol's definition of 'using of genetic resources', thus 'due diligence' does not come into play, unless the seed was collected after the date of legislation covering the European Union.


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