Updates from London: Raising the profile of plants in illegal wildlife trades
Although illegal wildlife trade is a top priority for global conservation, plants like orchids still fall victim to "plant blindness", the "misguided anthropogenic ranking of plants as inferior to animals". This has serious and detrimental consequences for biodiversity conservation.
In a sector where policy debates are focussed on the international trade of charismatic fauna, the OSG is actively working to raise the profile of plants trade--including at two key recent events in London, UK.
For example, in 2018, in UK Government hosted the 2-day London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, a high-level policy conference. The only formal session on plants was about the illegal timber trade. However, following extensive lobbying, the Orchid Specialist Group secured UK Government support for a booth highlighting the scale of plant trade--complete with a display of live orchids, including many endangered species grown by Writhlington School Orchid Project. This highlighted to global policy-makers and NGOs the diversity and scale of illegal plant trade.
Photograph showing students from Writhlington School Orchid Project and former Minister of State for Environment and Rural Opportunity, Therese Coffey, at the booth at the London Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade.
In 2018, the Group also hosted a workshop at the event Evidence to Action: Research to Address Illegal Wildlife Trade, to discuss the consequences of ignoring plants within this emerging conservation arena. Following this event, colleagues published a new paper "Illegal Wildlife Trade and the Persistence of Plant Blindness".
The paper offered three main findings:
1. Plants are overlooked in illegal wildlife trade research and policy;
2. The presence and persistence of illegal trade in plants is paid insufficient attention by funding agencies; and
3. Plant blindness is at least in part responsible for these absences.
A wide variety of plant species are threatened by illegal trade, yet plants receive little attention in illegal wildlife trade policy. For example, orchids make up over 70% of all species listed by CITES wildlife trade convention, yet little is known about commercial trade in wild orchids, which is potentially devastating for their conservation.
The paper makes it clear that to maintain current levels of biodiversity, plant conservation must be taken seriously by policy makers, scholars and funders.