What are Kew Gardens doing about Horticultural crime?

Illegal wildlife trade (Bio crime) is worth an estimated $15 billion dollars worldwide with rare or valuable plants are often stolen from parks and botanic gardens. The definition of Bio crime, in this context of horticultural possessions, is when a pathogen or toxin is used in order to damage or steal. The theft and damage towards endangered and rare species of plants has caused botanical gardens to go to extreme measures of surveillance. These botanists up and down the country must be as vigilant as possible in order to deter any chance of people pilfering cuttings without permission. This crime is ever growing, as the exotic plant market expands and is in higher demand. To bring plants over to countries unfamiliar to such wildlife is seen as a commodity, and can reach extortionate prices in trade. Botanists are also concerned about the rare flowers being sold on the internet. There are five times more plants than animals covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

In 2014 Kew Gardens found itself a victim to such an act, however this particular theft was highly significant. A priceless rare African water lily, the Nymphaea thermarum, was stolen. It was most likely dug or pulled up from a shallow water lily pond. Kew Gardens was said to be of only one of two places that held such a rare plant.

From this incident Kew Gardens has produced, and carries out today, an interactive workshop for KS2 & 3 students to educate on the harm of horticultural crimes. Named “Kew Crime Science “the objectives to teach the children include: identify the location and characteristics of a temperate biome, recognise that a changing environment can pose dangers to living things, describe some of the dangers facing temperate plants and finally recognise the importance of plants, including as medicine, food and products. Overall the aim to this course is to engage students in how not only plants contribute to society but how they are needed to be preserved for the advancement of science.

In university’s based in South Africa there has been work on isotope testing, so that when plants are discovered, botanists will know whether it has been taken from the wild rather than cultivated. Software engineers are also developing a system to scan internet sales and alert officers to suspicious adverts.

Overall this form of biological crime is a looming threat. Although the work that is being produced in order to raise awareness, and trampled any advances into this crime seem to be hopeful.

Romy Fitzpatrick, Esher college