Kew supports Mexico in race against time to protect incredible biodiversity

November 29, 2016

One of the world's leading botanical science research institutions, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is celebrating 15 years of partnerships aimed at protecting Mexico's biodiversity during this year's Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties, CBD-COP13, in Cancun from Dec 2-17th.

RBG Kew has been in partnerships in Mexico since 2002, principally with the country's largest wild plant seed bank at the Faculty of Higher Studies of Iztacala, part of the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) and CONABIO (The National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity). To date, the collaboration has resulted in 7% of Mexico's flora being safeguarded in the Seed Bank at FESI-UNAM, each with a duplicate collection also held at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank in the UK - the largest off site plant conservation programme in the world. This equates to 986 Mexican plant species duplicated at Kew's MSB.

On December 2nd at the Business Forum in Cancun, Kew will sign a new agreement with the Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature (FMCN) and HSBC Mexico to support a two year project focussing on arid areas in Baja California which are threatened with habitat loss, climate change and invasive species.

Kew's Director of Science, Prof. Kathy Willis, who will be addressing businesses on December 3rd on some of the ways in which they can contribute to global efforts to tackle threats to biodiversity, especially from agriculture, says;

"Mexico is the fifth most mega biodiverse country in the world. It is facing pressures on its ecosystems from agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism, leading to rapidly changing land use. We're starting to see some very tangible results from the work we have been doing here for over a decade and we're proud that Kew's world class science and expertise is helping to inform some of the big environmental decisions about what to prioritise and where in order to ensure sustainable ecosystems in the future. We are committed to our existing partnerships and are exploring new ones so we can collectively buck the trends and foster greater collective responsibility for the solutions to the biggest challenges facing our planet."

Solutions include field identification and collection of the wild relatives of commonly used crops that could hold the key to future food supplies in areas under threat of climate change. Some of these plant species which will be stored in Mexico's seed bank may represent sources of new genetic diversity and will potentially be available for plant breeding experiments, contributing to a wide range of beneficial agronomic and nutritional traits.

Kew is also just beginning a four year Tree Project in Mexico that aims to conserve seeds from approximately 300 priority tree species nationally, including endemic, protected and useful plants important for the livelihoods of rural communities. Outputs from this project will also include a database of tree species and a map of tree species 'biodiversity hotspots'. Both will be critical assets when 'modelling' the actual and potential distribution of these important tree species under a changing climate.

China Williams, Senior Science Officer, RBG Kew will be participating in the Science Forum in Cancun and on the UK Delegation at the CBD. Kew's Director of External Affairs. David Cope, Director of External Affairs, RBG Kew will be hosting a side event at the CEPA Fair which hopes to foster a lively discussion with representatives from several other botanic gardens about the wider role they play in communicating, educating and raising public awareness of biodiversity.

For more information, images or to book an interview with a Kew spokesperson, please contact Ciara O'Sullivan, Head of Media Relations and Tel: + 44 7753 10 34 60. In Cancun 30/11 to 5/12

TWITTER: @kewgardens@kewscience@COP13MX

Agenda of Kew Staff in Cancun

1-2 Dec: 3rd Science for Biodiversity Forum More details China Williams, Senior Science Officer speaking on panel. Available for interview.

3 Dec: 14:15-16:15, 2016 Business and Biodiversity Forum, More details (CBD website). Kathy Willis, Director on Science speaking on Panel. Available for interview.
Session G: Agriculture - negative impact of current agricultural practices on ecosystems and biodiversity. Business opportunities and challenges.

5 Dec: 13.15, Experiences in Tourism and Biodiversity. Contact Group 3 Meeting Room at the Universal Building.
David Cope, Director of External Affairs is a panellist on this event organised between the British Embassy in Mexico and the Mexican Ministry of Tourism

6 Dec: 15:30, Kew's CEPA Side Event More details Venue: Universal Building (Moon Palace Hotel, Main Floor).
Title: 'Gardens of the Anthropocene: How botanic gardens are reconnecting people with plants'.
Topic: A panel of experts from botanic gardens and universities across the globe will discuss the role of botanical gardens in communicating, educating and raising public awareness of biodiversity.
Notes to editors

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. In May 2016 Kew released the first ever State of the World's Plants report which will now be an annual report tracking progress and scanning the horizons on issues ranging from useful plants to illegal trade and agreements like the Nagoya Protocol being discussed in Cancun in December.Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately just under half of its funding from the UK Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The Kew Foundation charity raises much needed funds from individuals, companies and trusts to support Kew's work. For further information visit our website.

Available for Interviews

Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science, RBG Kew (Cancun, Dec 1-3): Kathy was appointed in November 2013 to lead Kew's Science Directorate, and the development of a new Science Strategy for Kew which enhances its world-leading science and conservation work, strengthens its position as a global resource for plant and fungal knowledge, and promotes plant and fungal-based solutions to current global challenges. Kathy's career began with a degree in Environmental Science from the University of Southampton and was followed by a PhD in from the University of Cambridge. Kathy remained at Cambridge in the Department of Plant Sciences for her early postdoctoral career, obtaining fellowships with Selwyn College, NERC and the Royal Society, before moving to the University of Oxford in 1999 to take up a lectureship in the School of Geography and the Environment. While in this role she established the Oxford Long-term Ecology Laboratory in 2002, and was made Professor of Long-term Ecology in 2008. Kathy became Professor of Biodiversity in the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford in 2010 and maintains this position and an adjunct Professorship in Biology at the University of Bergen.Kathy's research interests focus on the relationship between long-term vegetation dynamics and environmental change, with current projects examining biodiversity baselines and processes responsible for ecosystem thresholds and resilience. Recent work has also focused on the development of technologies to measure and derive economic and ecological values for biodiversity.

Julia Willison, Head of Learning and Participation, RBG Kew: Julia Willison has over 20 years' experience of working with botanic gardens around the world, supporting them to develop their education programmes. Julia leads Kew's Learning and Participation Programme which includes the schools programme, visitor learning (families, guides and participation) and Grow Wild, a UK-wide programme inspiring people to transform local spaces with native wild flowers. Her professional interests lie in how we engage people of all ages and backgrounds in understanding the importance of plants in our lives and how our decisions and behaviours impact the sustainability of the planet. Julia is the originator of 'Communities in Nature: Growing the Social Role of Botanic Gardens', an international initiative supporting botanic gardens to work with their local communities on common issues of social and environmental importance and she also co-led INQUIRE, a pan-European project aiming to reinvigorate inquiry-based science education in formal and informal education systems.

David Cope, Director of Strategy and External Affairs, RBG Kew: David is responsible for building Kew's external reputation and relationships across all our stakeholders, facilitating changes to strategic plans, and ensuring the effective governance of Kew. David joined Kew after eight years working in a variety of change management, strategy, analysis, performance improvement and policy roles in the UK Government department for the Environment Defra and the Home Office. David trained as a biologist, conducting his PhD and postdoctoral research on the population dynamics and conservation of herbivores. David aims to bring his passion for science and conservation along with his developed knowledge of strategy formulation and implementation and his understanding of the workings of government in order to support Kew in achieving its potential to make an even greater positive impact in the world.

China Williams, Senior Science Officer (Science Policy), RBG Kew: China's role focuses on ensuring that Kew staff comply with the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources, as well as the national laws of our partner countries. This involves supporting Kew staff preparing for overseas collecting trips, developing legal agreements with partners, and making sure that policies in all research areas ensure that we are using material legally. In addition China represents Kew at national and international meetings and work with the UK government so that Kew's breadth of science knowledge is used to guide policy decisions. China has developed and delivers a range of policy training modules for Kew staff, partners, others in the non-commercial research sector and also at the graduate and post graduate level.

Alison Purvis, Co-CEO (interim), Kew Foundation: Alison brings years over 15 years of experience in philanthropic, institutional and corporate strategy and International NGO development work to support Kew's mission to unlock why plants mater. The Kew Foundation was named the second fasted growing charity by income in the UK by Cass Business School in February 2016 and Alison has expert knowledge of non-profit fundraising within complex, global and scientific research organisations working in over 100 countries with public, scientific and educational objectives. Alison is a FRSA and holds her BA from St Lawrence University in New York and recently completed the PMNO course at the Harvard Kennedy School. She has resided in London with her husband and son for 15 years.

Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

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