The BCSS Conservation Subcommittee was established in 1993, following the confiscation of plants from an organised group returning from a cactus tour on the continent: this became known as “The Felixstowe Incident”. It was thought that this Subcommittee would be able to advise members on how this kind of problem could be avoided in the future. However, it soon became clear that what was even more important was addressing the myriad threats to cacti and other succulent plants worldwide and aiding their survival, and as a result the preparation of the Subcommittee’s aims made this its main consideration. Those threats include overpopulation, agricultural development, invasions by introduced plants, road and domestic and industrial building, predation by goats and other animals and, many years ago now, collecting by commercial organisations and individuals. This latter has almost completely stopped, although in a limited number of areas plants are still collected for food and ornament, especially at religious festivals. The late Gordon Rowley, the Society’s highly esteemed Past-President, provided the first conservation project which was to ensure the survival of Saphesia flaccida in its habitat in South Africa.
Over the years it has been realised that the Subcommittee should also be involved in ex situ conservation, both in this country and abroad, including near habitats, and in promoting the propagation of those plants with a provenance. We have promoted schemes to produce plants from legally collected seed which has been made available to members.
Also important is the conservation of slide collections to ensure the survival of these resources for future generations, and from these initiatives grew the Society’s project for the digitisation of these resources. This has been very successfully brought to fruition by a separate committee with many members doing large amounts of work, culminating in the development a digital presentation library which has been extensively used by branches, zones and individuals.
The Subcommittee also recognises the need for the conservation of plants in cultivation and of associated material such as books and journals, particularly in situations where their owners have become unable to manage them because of illness, age or other changed personal circumstances. Although such matters would normally be dealt with by individual members of the BCSS or its branches, members of the Subcommittee are available to advise members or their families who are unable to find help locally or who may perhaps need help with will making. Past experience has shown that the timely consideration of the management of collections whose owners are finding it difficult to cope can avoid the disastrous loss of valuable and aged plants, some of which may have important habitat data.
Through the generosity of its members, the BCSS is able to make funds available to those working on conservation of cacti and succulent plants anywhere in the world.
A list of projects supported to date is available here.
Bill Maddams BCSS Travel Award
In addition to Conservation Grants the Subcommittee makes available the Bill Maddams BCSS Travel Award for students.
Presentation of the CSSA Conservation Award to the former BCSS President Bill Keen and former Chairman John Arnold by the then President of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America Dan Mahr.
In 2006 the Society’s work in the area of conservation was recognised by the Cactus and Succulent Society of America by the presentation of its Conservation Award.