Silva Mediterranea

Over 90 years of Mediterranean forest management

The INHERIT Project

Authors: Heywood, V. (University of Reading, International Association of Botanic Gardens); Montmollin, B. de. (Mediterranean Plant Specialist Group - Species Survival Commission of IUCN); Valderrábano, M. (IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation).

The Mediterranean region, however defined, is one of the world’s most important centres of plant diversity – both in terms of its floristic richness and its ecological communities and landscapes, despite centuries of modification by human action. There is, however, a marked difference in the extent and pattern of conservation action between the countries of the European northern shores and those of the North African and the east Mediterranean Levantine regions

In November 2018, IUCN published an overview of our knowledge of plant conservation in the area, Conserving wild plants in the south and east Mediterranean region (VALDERRÁBANO et al., 2018), written by over 50 authors and other contributors. The book contains four chapters: State of knowledge of the flora, Status of the threatened flora, Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) for plants and Approaches to plant conservation. It is well illustrated and incudes a wealth of information and literature references.


Floristics and taxonomy

The flora of the region is now relatively well known but some areas are still poorly explored and generally detailed information on the distribution, demography and reproductive biology of species is lacking. There is a shortage of skilled taxonomists and too few young botanists are attracted to taxonomy and field studies and so replacement of older specialists when they retire will be difficult. More investment in plant databases is needed.

Threatened flora

Knowledge of the threat status of the flora of the region is poor and only a small percentage of each country’s flora has been assessed for extinction risk in the IUCN global Red List. None of the countries in the region has a complete or recent national Red List and some have none at all. Red List training has been undertaken in some of the countries but although the main general threats to species have been identified, such as agriculture, overgrazing, urban expansion and commercial development, overexploitation, and pollution, the amount of work is needed to assess the detailed threat status of the majority of plant species is a huge challenge.

Key Biodiversity Areas

A detailed overview of Key Biodiversity Areas for plants (KBAs) – sites that contribute to the persistence of globally important plant diversity – is presented for each of the countries the region. However, developing the necessary management plans for the plant species will be a major task. It is pointed out that many of the KBAs for plants overlap with the current Protected Area Networks in the region although it notes that most of the Protected Areas do not have management plans which include targeted actions or monitoring for plant species.      


There is a marked contrast between the northern (European) region and the southern and eastern regions of the Mediterranean in terms of plant conservation achievements and prospects. Unlike the European part of the Mediterranean which benefits from legislative structures and conservation agreements such as the Habitats Directive, the Bern Convention, and their networks of Protected Areas, and various EU LIFE programmes which have been a cornerstone of plant conservation (EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES 2008; HEYWOOD 2014), as well as the CARE-MEDIFLORA project for the conservation of threatened plants in Mediterranean islands (MONTMOLLIN et al., 2019), no equivalent arrangements exist in the south and east Mediterranean.

The southern and eastern Mediterranean has a diversity of areas that are protected by national legislation and a number of others that are managed through traditional practices. While there has been an increase in Protected Areas in most countries in the last two decades, there are still serious gaps in coverage and ecological representation and the level of management is not always adequate.

The conservation and recovery of the large number of threatened species in the Mediterranean region has generally been inadequately implemented, especially in the counties of the east and south where there is little tradition to undertake such species-targeted conservation actions and very few recovery programmes have been initiated although more actions are being planned. Hardly any successful species reintroductions have been reported in the east and southern regions where most countries place excessive reliance on the presence of threatened species in Protected Areas as a means of their conservation without taking appropriate actions to ensure their survival and persistence by removing or containing the threats to which they are subjected. Some progress has been made in the ex situ conservation of plant material in the east and south Mediterranean but this is hindered by the lack of the necessary facilities such as gene banks, botanic gardens and conservation nurseries.

The lack of resources and facilities for conservation in the east and south Mediterranean is a serious concern and needs to be addressed urgently. More specialists in conservation biology and conservation practice need to be trained and deployed. It is also essential that networking leads to much greater cooperation between institutions and practitioners. Much planning and preparatory work for plant conservation has been undertaken in recent years but the urgent need now is to move on to a phase of implementation and action on the ground. The information and guidance in this publication should help initiatives aimed at conducting plant conservation action in the Mediterranean.


EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES. 2008. LIFE and endangered plants: Conserving Europe’s threatened flora. Luxembourg.

HEYWOOD, V. H. 2014. An overview of in situ conservation of plant species in the Mediterranean. –Flora Mediterranea 24:5-24.

MONTMOLLIN B. DE, BACCHETTA G., CHRISTODOULOU C.S., FOURNARAKI C., GIUSSO DEL GALDO G.P., GOTSIOU P., KOKKINAKI A., KYRATZIS A., PIAZZA C., VICENS M. & FENU G. 2019. CARE-MEDIFLORA: a conservation project for threatened plants in Mediterranean islands – Project summary. Edited by: G. Fenu, P. Gotsiou, A. Kokkinaki, D. Cogoni and B. de Montmollin. Chania (in press).

VALDERRÁBANO, M., GIL, T., HEYWOOD, V., DE MONTMOLLIN, B. (Eds). 2018. Conserving Wild Plants in the South and East Mediterranean Region. – IUCN Gland and Málaga.

last updated:  Monday, October 14, 2019