Plant hunting and access and benefit sharing legislation – a research project.

In February, 2018, I gave up full time work in order to study a Masters by research, through the School of Anthropology & Conservation at the University of Kent.


My research aims to discover
  1. Why people grow plant material with known wild provenance (KWP)? What is their motivation?
  2. To what extent UK horticulture is directly reliant on KWP plant material?
  3. What benefits could, or does, commercial horticulture provide to provider countries and to what extent?


This research comes in the wake of much discussion regarding the potential impacts of the Nagoya Protocol on commercial horticulture and the translation of national laws on access to genetic resources into international law through the Convention on Biodiversity.

Putting the research into context

Plant hunting, the process of collecting new plants and plant material internationally for the purposes of scientific understanding and cultivation, has been atthe heart of horticulture for as long as horticulture has existed. During the 18th and 19th centuries plant hunting reached a peak, with the Victorians having an insatiable appetite for new and interesting plants from around the world. The centre of trade in these new plants was based in the UK, although Belgium, the Netherlands and France also had significant interests in this industry. Plant hunting played a vital part in fuelling the British Empire, and although newly discovered commodities such as Tea and Rubber were of great importance to the British economy, the majority of plants introduced were for gardens; both for science and pleasure. Today this tradition continues, albeit on a smaller scale, with nurseries offering plants raised from seed collected in the wild. The demand from gardeners for these plants continues and thus many ornamental plant nurseries rely on known wild provenance (KWP) material either partially or in some cases entirely.

In 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) came into effect. While many countries already had a permit system in place to allow for the collection and commercialisation of seed, this now put national jurisdiction over genetic resources into international law. It has given each country’s individual legislation an international framework on which to hang. The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the CBD, also known as the ‘Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing’ (ABS), is a supplementary agreement to the CBD. It provides a transparent legal framework for the effective implementation of one of the three objectives of the CBD; the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. By helping to ensure benefit-sharing, the Nagoya Protocol creates incentives to conserve and sustainably use genetic resources, and therefore enhances the contribution of biodiversity to development and human well-being. ABS allows for countries to set out terms under which access may be given to genetic resources in return for benefits from any research and development of those genetic resources. Many countries also put restrictions on the commercialisation of wild collected seed, and the resulting plants that are grown, even though there may be no intention to do any research and development.

Whilst the implications for the plant breeding sector are clear, for nurseries selling plants of known wild provenance (KWP) they are poorly understood within the horticulture industry.  My research aims to investigate how the ABS regulations may impact these nurseries, how commercial plant nurseries may be able to work within these regulations and to understand what may already be being done by nurseries that would meet the requirements of the ABS regulations and the terms of any legislation that would allow access to a countries plant resources.


Lathyrus belinensis, a recent introduction to horticulture and a threatened species in the wild.


I would not be able to undertake this research without generous financial support from both The Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust and The International Dendrology Society or without the technical support of the Royal Horticultural Society.