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Threatened trees

Spotlight on tree species

The future of all life on Earth, including our own, is inextricably linked with the fate of the world’s trees. They supply the air that we breathe, help to keep our climate stable and form the backbone of the world’s forests, providing habitat, food and shelter for millions of other species.

Safeguarding the world’s forests has long been one of Fauna & Flora’s key priorities, and we have a proven track record in protecting these ecologically, culturally and economically vital habitats.

While the importance of forest ecosystems as a whole is well known, the fundamental and often irreplaceable role played by individual types of tree is all too often forgotten. From apple trees and baobabs to yew trees and zebrawoods, different tree species provide humanity with a range of food, medicines and timbers.

Yet despite the fact that one in three of all tree species is in danger of extinction, conservation effort to date has largely failed to consider trees to be in need of active conservation management in their own right.

Today, over 22,000 tree species are threatened with extinction. Of even greater concern, more than 2,800 species are listed as critically endangered – likely to go extinct unless urgent, targeted action is taken now to save them.

Fauna & Flora’s vast experience of forest conservation means that we are ideally equipped to drill down and address the survival needs of individual tree species within those wider landscapes.

Saving our charismatic megaflora

Fauna & Flora adopts a unique approach to tree conservation. We work across the world to protect areas of forest rich in tree diversity and carry out urgent and targeted action to ensure that the most at-risk tree species survive within these habitats. This may include protecting valuable timber species from selective logging, helping local communities to ensure the harvest of tree products is sustainable and replanting some of the world’s rarest species to boost numbers in the wild.

A voice for threatened trees

For well over two decades, Fauna & Flora has championed the in situ conservation of threatened trees at the species level. Initially, this was under the auspices of the Global Trees Campaign, which we co-founded. This partnership with Botanic Gardens Conservation International, in association with other partners around the world, aimed to secure the future of the world’s threatened tree species in the wild, for the benefit of people and wildlife. During its 20 years of operation the partnership addressed the conservation of over 400 threatened tree species in more than 50 countries worldwide, as well as developing local capacity and helping to increase the profile of tree species at risk of extinction, catalysing others to take action and directly supporting conservation work on the ground.

Today, our work to safeguard the world’s threatened trees continues to be based on the following four pillars:

1. Identifying priority tree species for action

We identify which trees are most at threat so that we can direct conservation efforts to the species most in need. This is mainly done through red listing trees under the recognised IUCN system, but we also take into account how people use and value trees to ensure conservation action also reflects local priorities.

2. Directly supporting projects relating to threatened trees

We take action on the ground for some of the world’s most threatened tree species, all of which have cultural, economic and ecological value.

Examples of this work include:

  • Supporting our local partner and communities to conserve Grandidier’s baobab in Madagascar – an iconic tree with a huge, swollen trunk, which is pollinated by bats and greatly valued by people for its fruits, seeds and bark (the latter of which is used for rope, roofing and medicines).
  • Helping communities in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to sustainably manage a number of highly threatened fruit and nut trees such as Niedzwetzky’s apple – an ancient ancestor of many of today’s domesticated varieties.
  • Supporting Saint Lucia’s Forestry Department to conserve the lansan tree, which is endemic to the West Indies and has suffered a steep decline as a result of destructive tapping for its resin, which is prized as incense. Using a scientific approach, we helped to identify a more sustainable and productive harvesting method, and supported the development of a species management plan that involves training and licensing tappers to use the new method.

3. Empowering partners

We work to ensure that the future of the world’s threatened trees is in safe hands, supporting local conservationists to develop the skills and knowledge they need to deliver effective action on the ground. We provide local conservationists with best-practice guidance and help them get training and technical support from tree conservation experts. For example, we provided a long-term programme of training and technical support to nature reserve managers and rangers in southern China, helping them to better conserve a range of magnolia, fir and rhododendron species.

4. Inspiring others to act for threatened trees

With more than 22,000 tree species at risk of extinction, we recognise that we cannot do this alone. We therefore work to inspire and motivate other individuals and organisations to act for tree species. For example, in Brazil’s Araucaria forest we have successfully influenced people working in tree nurseries and tree planting projects so that they use a much higher diversity of tree species. This has helped to ensure that trees at risk of extinction are routinely included in planting initiatives, saving the tree species themselves and establishing much richer forests (which are good for other wildlife). We have also supported emerging tree conservationists to become ambassadors for tree conservation in high priority regions, so that they could catalyse more concerted action on behalf of threatened trees in their own countries.