Conservation

The problems of nature conservation are widely appreciated. Those who are considering growing, collecting and studying succulent plants must be aware of the impact that they can have on the wild populations of the plants they wish to study. Most succulents grow in habitats that have a fragile ecological equilibrium, and the environmental conditions often lead to slow rates of growth and low reproductive rates. For example, only 0.1 per cent of the seeds produced by Welwitschia mirabilis will raise a new specimen, even in favourable conditions. In the plant's habitat, the Namib Desert, favourable conditions may not occur for several years, as rain is very rare. If mature plants were to be removed, the reproduction rate of the species would fall below a sustainable level. Similar conditions apply to several other species.

In some instances the demand from collectors has meant that the limit in sustainable collecting of wild species has been reached. In response to this, in 1973 more than one hundred nations signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Some collectors regard the CITES convention as a disaster. It must be borne in mind, however, that CITES does not prohibit the trade in plants and animals; it merely regulates and monitors international trade in endangered species with the aim of preserving them in their habitats.

There are three Appendices in which species endangered by trade are listed:

• Appendix I includes species that are threatened with extinction. The trade in any wild plant or animal contained in this Appendix is forbidden.

• Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is strictly regulated, and the trade in wild plants and animals is, therefore, subject to the issue of an export licence.

• Appendix III includes those species in which the regulation in trade is within the jurisdiction of the nation concerned.

Several succulents are currently included in Appendices I and II; none is at present included in Appendix III. All artificially propagated plants may be succulents-the illustrated dictionary legally traded, even if they are listed in the Convention. It is necessary, however, to check with local regulations to avoid any problems. A useful reference is The Evolution of CITES by W. Wijnstekers.

It is important to remember that even species that are not listed in CITES may be protected by local legislation. If you are going to collect any wild plant, first check the local regulations and ask for an official permit.

Collectors can play an important role in conservation. The management of well-documented collections can help in conserving the genetic diversity of endangered species, and propagation helps to relieve the pressure on wild plants. Collectors should, however, always be aware of the damage caused by illegal collecting, and they should never buy wild-collected plants of endangered species, even with the aim of saving the specimen. The aim must always be to save the species not the individual.

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