Community participation in plant conservation – the achievements of the Bristol Community Plant Collection

Chard Court residential accommodation

Chard Court residential accommodation

I knew that there are things that are going extinct. But I didn’t think much about it to be honest. You just assume that someone else is going to do something about it don’t you?… normally it [plant conservation] is something that other people are doing. For me it is great that they [Bristol Zoo Gardens] are saying well they are going to see if people in sheltered accommodation would like to do it’. Resident from Chard Court Sheltered Housing, Bristol, 07/09/2012

How is it possible to stimulate people’s curiosity to participate in a    conservation project by growing and collecting the seeds of a species in their local environment? The innovative character of the Bristol Community Plant Collection project, part of the wider Communities in Nature program, captured the hearts and green fingers of nine community groups from the wider Bristol area to work together towards conserving marigolds (Calendula sp.), a commonly cultivated plant in the English garden. The project aimed at piloting a new way of holding a National plant collection which is a Plant Heritage scheme where individuals or organisations undertake to document, develop and preserve a comprehensive collection of one group of plants in trust for the future.
Bristol Zoo Gardens instigated action amongst different community groups in order to establish plant collection of an annual species not in one garden but disperse the collection in different parts of the city. The community growers varied from a sheltering accommodation and a care home for patients with dementia to a Community garden group and a school gardening club.

Watch the short video produced as part of the Communities in Nature programme to get a snapshot of what the Bristol Community Plant Collection was about:

 

Read the Bristol Community Plant Collection Report which explains the successes and challenges of this initiative but also presents the reflections of the very committed staff on how the engagement with the community groups went and what were the benefits for both parties (the Bristol Zoo Gardens and the participants).
In summary, the project successes concerned not only issues related to marigolds conservation but many benefits for the participating groups. In summary:

  • Bristol Zoo Gardens obtained 10 of the 11 recognised species of Calendula with the support of botanic gardens from around the world. This means that the Calendula plant collection can be considered as a comprehensive botanical collection of the genus in order to obtain ‘Provisional’ National Plant Collection status once the relevant paperwork has been completed.
  • Seven out of the nine community groups produced plants for display in the Zoo.
  • Individuals in various groups demonstrated an increase in confidence, pride and satisfaction in participating in the project
  • The emotional connection with some of the groups was completely unexpected on both parts.
  • Two community groups increased the amount of planting at each location during the process and improved their own environment.
  • By the end of the project seven additional community groups approached Bristol Zoo Gardens to express their interest to participate in the project in the future.
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