Improving Afghan capacity for environmental protection

Afghanistan is home to between 3500-5000 plant species, 15-20% of which are endemic. Protecting this rich plant biodiversity is vital to safeguarding ecosystem services and the economy of this largely rural country. Since 2009, CMEP have been assisting national and international efforts towards biodiversity research and conservation. To date, CMEP work in Afghanistan has involved strategic planning and capacity building.

Afghanistan faces numerous environmental challenges as it emerges from decades of conflict. As a recent signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Afghanistan is committed to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. This includes commitments to in-situ conservation, ex-situ conservation, scientific research and monitoring. Helping to strengthen the national capabilities of developing countries like Afghanistan is an obligation of all Contracting Parties to CBD.

CMEP is working with a range of partners in Afghanistan to assist the implementation of biodiversity conservation, through:

  • Developing an ex situ conservation strategy for the Kabul University Botanical Garden
  • Providing training and support for IUCN Red Listing
  • Implementing a training programme in biodiversity research skills at Kabul University
Iraq is facing major threats to its biodiversity following years of unstable government, breakdown in traditional land management and more recently rapid development. Almost 30 years of scientific isolation has resulted in limited in-country capacity to deal with these threats. At present the only organisation in Iraq actively engaged in conservation work is Nature Iraq, who have adopted the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) approach to identifying biodiversity-rich regions. Since 2005 BirdLife International has been supporting this work, conducting surveys and running training courses in collaboration with Nature Iraq. More recently, CMEP (part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) has also been working with Nature Iraq to develop botanical training in Iraq. These activities have involved staff and students alongside personnel from major Iraqi organisations with an interest in the environment including the major Universities and Ministries in both Iraq and the Kurdish Autonomous Region (KAR). The birds of the region are relatively well known and progress in identifying KBAs based on bird data has been good. However, plants are relatively poorly known and there is a lack of appropriate identification tools. Flora of Iraq and Flora Iranica, the two floras covering the region, are almost complete; but, it has been found on recent training courses, they are linguistically and technically almost totally inaccessible to Iraqi professionals and students. Conservation work in Iraq cannot wait for the completion of these Floras or their conversion into more user-friendly formats. To address the lack of plant data available to inform conservation planning in Iraq and to build capacity for surveying and managing biodiversity-rich areas, the project partners have together identified three overlapping and complementary areas of work:
  1. Collection of botanical data to build capacity for conservation.
  2. Capacity building in Protected Area Management.
  3. Training in foundation skills in botany, ornithology and conservation.
  Find out more about the project at
  Earthwatch is working with Oman’s National Field Research Centre for Environmental Conservation (part of the Diwan of the Royal Court) to develop a number of field research projects in Oman. These are based in Jabal Samhan in the Dhofar mountain range, Wadi As Sareen in the Eastern Hajar mountains and Jabal al Akhdar in the Western Hajar mountains. We are working with Earthwatch to deliver field training courses and plant identifcation to support this programme. We’ve trained over 60 Omani participants in botanical fieldwork awarding them with RBGE’s Certificate in Practical Field Botany. Courses included training in digital photographic techniques towards the production of field guides for plant identification.

Integrating evolution into practical conservation

The Socotra Archipelago has been referred to as ‘the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’: its’ charismatic flora sits at the crossroads of three biogeographical regions and includes such intriguing endemic life forms as the dragon’s blood tree Dracaena cinnabari. The island is topographically, geologically and climatically diverse, with endemic taxa concentrated in high altitude ‘wet refugia’ which experience increased precipitation. Endemic taxa are also found on dry upland limestone plateaus and coastal plains. Several genera appear to have radiated within and among these refugia, while others appear to have radiated on an island-by-island basis throughout the archipelago. Socotra harbours some 835 vascular plant species: 308 of these (37%) and 14 genera are found nowhere else. This is complemented by high levels of animal endemism, resulting in its’ designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve, WWF Global 200 Ecoregion and Plantlife International Centre of Plant Diversity. Despite this, it does not qualify as a biodiversity hotspot in its own right as it falls short of the criterion of 0.5% of the world’s plant species as endemics, although its’ 37% plant species endemism exceeds that of 11 out of 34 officially designated hotspots. When ranked by number of endemic species per km2 it is exceeded by a single oceanic archipelago (Hawai’i) and isolated continental islands that are much larger (eg. New Caledonia, Jamaica). Socotra is a continental fragment whose extant biota may reflect vicariant or dispersed elements, in contrast to oceanic islands where taxa have dispersed, adapted and diversified in situ on a clean slate of environmental opportunity. While the flora and its traditional uses have been comprehensively described, the evolutionary drivers of this diversity and endemism are poorly understood. Conservation assessments have been carried out for most of its vascular plant species and areas designated for protection: however these designations do not take into account the evolutionary uniqueness of the flora or identify and conserve the processes by which it has evolved.

Objective One:

Are protected areas on Socotra best defined by patterns of plant phylogenetic diversity?

Objective Two:

What is the origin of the Socotran flora, and what processes have driven the evolution of the island’s endemic species?

Objective Three:

How can evolution be integrated into practical conservation strategies?  

Describing the plants of the Arabian Peninsula & Socotra

The Flora of Arabia will contain definitive descriptions of the 3500 – 4000 plant species in the Arabian Peninsula countries of Saudi Arabia, Yemen (including Socotra), Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait.

CMEP staff edit and produce technical descriptions for the Flora of Arabia. Gathering data for the Flora program requires regular expeditions to the Arabian Peninsula. Since 1996, CMEP over 50 CMEP surveys have collected the necessary data to describe the complex plants, habitats and environments of the Arabian Peninsula. This data can be used for environmental impact assessments, habitat monitoring, climate change studies and restoration projects.

Two volumes of the Flora are currently published. Volume I was published in 1996 and covered pteridophytes, gymnosperms and angiosperm families from Casuarinaceae to Neuradaceae. Volume V part I contains all 470 grass species (Poaceae), and was published in September 2007.

Identifying the most important sites for wild plant diversity

Over 100 provisional Important Plant Area (IPA) sites have been identified in Saudi Arabia, Oman & Yemen. CMEP is engaged with project partners in surveying and producing final assessments of these sites as IPAs. IPA programs are a response to Target V of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. Target V states ‘Protection of 50 per cent of the most important areas for plant diversity assured.’ Data from IPA habitat and species surveys is intended to inform this conservation planning process. In Saudi Arabia, a number of IPA sites have been proposed as protected areas. To date, IPA full site assessments have been published, on Jibal Qaraqir, the Farasan Islands, Uruq Bani Ma’arid and Jabal Aja’. CMEP developed criteria for IPA selection in Arabia with the IUCN Arabian Plant Specialist Group. Criteria for the Arabian region specifically include relict species and refugia for connectivity and climate change mitigation. They also target traditional protected areas (himas in Saudi Arabia, hamiyah in Oman) for inclusion in the network.

Locating and protecting important sites for biodiversity

Nature Iraq’s Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) program aims to create an Iraq National Inventory of Important Sites of biological diversity. CMEP is assisting the KBA program through capacity building and surveying in northern Iraq.

The KBA project aims to locate and assess important sites for birds, mammals and plants. The KBA survey program for plants has been running in Iraq since 2007. To date, surveys have been undertaken in the southern marshlands and in the northern mountains of Sulaimani, Erbil and Dohuk governorates. 

Since 2009, CMEP has assisted Nature Iraq with botanical KBA surveys, data management, plant identifications, and training for conservationists and botanists in Sulaimani governorate.

In May 2010, CMEP ran a 10 day training course on Qara Dagh for 10 participants from Nature Iraq, Baghdad University, Twin Rivers Institute and Sulaimani University. This training course covered survey design, field skills, data management and plant collecting.

In June 2010, CMEP participated in a detailed botanical survey of Piramagroon. Project partners will use this data in the KBA selection and prioritisation process for Iraq.

Developing biodiversity conservation in urban Istanbul

Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanik Bahcesi (NGBB) is a small botanic garden situated in a motorway intersection in a residential area of Istanbul. Since 2004 RBGE have contributed to the development of NGBB, through strategic planning, capacity building and training in horticulture, collections management and botanical art.

Surrounded by high rise apartment blocks, NGBB provides a vital green space for local residents and visitors. Although small, it delivers all the principal elements of a botanic garden. One of the most popular gardens in Istanbul, it has a beautiful collection of mainly Turkish plants, including wild collected geophytes. NGBB’s educational programs for local school children are aimed at producing the next generation of environmentalists.

Initial funding for RBGE’s collaborative involvement with NGBB came via a UK Darwin Initiative project to develop the capacity of this fledgling garden. Staff exchanges and collaboration has continued beyond the life of the original project. Recent collaborations include horticultural training as well as botanical artwork. Botanical artists from NGBB are currently providing the artwork for a major new RBGE publication on Chilean plants.

Developing a world class botanic garden

The Oman Botanic Garden (OBG) is a new world-class development celebrating the unique plants & environments of Oman. Since 2005 CMEP has provided planning & design, landscaping, surveying and capacity building services to this groundbreaking project.

CMEP has contributed a wide range of services to the OBG project, including:

  • detailed habitat design & implementation advice
  • habitat surveys
  • OBG site surveys
  • nursery design & management
  • arid lands horticulture
  • horticultural & botanical training

Currently under construction, the 420 ha project will be the largest botanic garden in the Arabian Peninsula. It will showcase Oman’s 1200 plant species in a series of habitats from the dry central deserts to the rich monsoon woodlands of Dhofar.

The Oman Botanic Garden aims to promote and demonstrate best practice in sustainability, through the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification process. This iconic sustainable garden will become a unique destination for local and international visitors.

The mountains of Oman are dramatic and beautiful. They are also in places extremely remote and inaccessible. At first sight they seem an unpromising place to find plants however they are home to a surprisingly rich and varied flora. For example, over a third of Oman’s flora has been recorded from the the Western Hajar mountains including 14 Omani endemic species. Oman’s Department of Economic Planning Affairs invited CMEP to survey 15 of Oman’s highest mountains as part of a multidisciplinary team. Most of these mountains had not been previously surveyed by botanists. The project concentrated on the remoter mountains of the Eastern and Western Hajar range, including the isolated sumits of Jabal Qahwan and Jabal Kawr. As well as visiting Isolated Mountains in the Interior (sometimes referred to as the Isolated Hajar Mountains).  

Improving livestock production in Afghanistan

CMEP provided specialist plant identification services for the PEACE Project in Afghanistan.

Since July 2006, Texas A&M University (TAMU) in collaboration with the University of California-Davis, USAID and the Government of Afghanistan (GoA), has been implementing a program to reduce the social and economic risks associated with extensive livestock production in Afghanistan.

The focus of this program, termed the PEACE (Pastoral Engagement, Adaptation, and Capacity Enhancement) Project is to provide nomadic herders and the GoA with information on emerging forage conditions and market prices, for planning, mitigation and response purposes. The PEACE Project is also building the capacity of GoA staff so they can conduct research themselves; and Afghanistan’s herders, the Kuchi, so they can peacefully mediate conflicts among themselves and with local villagers of other identities.

Afghanistan has approximately 3500-5000 plant species. A series of conflicts over the last 40 years have left Afghanistan without the skills and resources for conducting research or reliably identifying plant species.

CMEP staff used their floristic knowledge of SW Asia, along with RBGE institutional expertise and resources, to provide accurate plant identifications.

Red Listing Aquatic Plants from the Arabian Peninsula

Freshwater habitats and biodiversity in the Arabian Peninsula are unique and highly valued for the essential role they play in people’s survival, as well as that of its native flora and fauna. The limited number and area of wetland systems within the region, and the restricted size of many of them, constrains the distribution of species and the abundance of species in many basins. The greatest numbers of freshwater species and threatened species are found in the mountains of Yemen, the Socotra Archipelago, southwest Saudi Arabia and Dhofar in southern Oman. These areas, identified as centres of freshwater biodiversity and threat, can help focus development and conservation actions in ways that aim to minimise impacts to freshwater species throughout the region. The project evaluates the conservation status of 292 species belonging to five taxonomic groups – 18 fish taxa, 30 molluscs taxa, 59 dragonflies and damselflies taxa (odonates)and 3 freshwater crabs. In total, 182 wetland dependent plants are also assessed. Overall, 17% of the Arabian freshwater taxa assessed are threatened with extinction at the regional scale, with a further 3% assessed as Near Threatened and 20% as Data Deficient. The success of conservation planning in order to guarantee the future sustainability of livelihoods, as well as the resources and services provided by functioning wetland ecosystems depends critically on the adequate involvement of communities in the long-term future of freshwater species and habitats across the region. By compiling this existing information and updating it where possible this report provides an important resource for current and future decision making on the management and conservation of inland waters.  

Protecting the land of the Dragon’s blood tree

The Socotra Archipelago UNESCO World Heritage Site is an area of outstanding biological diversity, natural beauty and cultural heritage. Since 1989 CMEP have been at the forefront of ecological research and planning on this unique archipelago.


CMEP has produced definitive publications on the Socotran environment, including The Ethnoflora of the Soqotra Archipelago.

Conservation Planning

CMEP holds an extensive database of plant habitats and species distributions across the Archipelago. This has contributed directly to several major conservation planning documents, including the Conservation Zoning Plan (1999) and the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation of 2008.

Surveying and Monitoring

CMEP have conducted numerous Environmental Impact Assessments on Socotra, particularly in relation to development and road building.

A network of over 70 monitoring sites has been established across the Archipelago. These are being monitored in relation to development, grazing and climate change. CMEP has also established monitoring programmes for endangered species e.g. Duvaliandra dioscoridis.

Building Capacity

We have an on-going programme of building capacity with local conservation workers. CMEP training covers plant identification, data collection and survey techniques. A continuing programme of training is also taking place at the Socotra Botanic Garden.


CMEP provide assistance to a local soil restoration project initiated by the Geographical Institute at the University of Tübingen.

Developing conservation capacity on Socotra

CMEP is helping to build capacity at the small Socotra Botanic Garden in Hadibo. The garden is an important resource for local conservation, education and awareness programmes.

In 2007 SBG staff participated in horticultural training at RBGE, completing the Certificate in Practical Horticulture. This training is being continued at the SBG by CMEP staff. 

CMEP has provided the garden with equipment and materials needed for better plant maintenance and record keeping, as well as seeds of important endemic species collected on early RBGE expeditions to Socotra. Species such as the Critically Endangered Pelargonium insularis have now been returned to Socotra and are being grown at SBG.

Several new displays have been created at the garden including some which replicate natural habitat areas. A new succulent garden has been created, containing the majority of succulent plants found across the islands.

Plants are grown using local materials and recycled waste such as empty water bottles. 

Thanks to this partnership, SBG has grown into a globally significant collection of endemic and endangered Socotran species. SBG has also developed its involvement in several other Socotran conservation projects including the Homhil Soil Restoration Project.