James Martin fellow, Institute on Plants for the 21st century.

What is the main focus of your work at the moment?
Our research helps others manager and conserve vegetation in rare plant hotspots worldwide. I collate data that enables us to localise hotspots of rare plants on all scales to identify both global and local trends. I also provide training for Rapid Botanic Survey (RBS), the technique used to identify and document these hotspots at the finest scales.

Why is rapid assessment of these areas important?
Speed is important if a location is to be developed for mining, for example. Our RBS technique allows us to identify and localise 400 species per day, so we can quickly determine if an area is a hotspot. Ultimately, we aim to raise awareness of the location, names and properties of these plants to provide a scientific basis for their conservation.

How is your work helping the world’s rainforests?
The dearth of scientific botanists makes sustainable forest management hard to achieve. It’s hard to make a case for forest protection without good baseline data and managers. Part of our work is to train local botanists. We also carry out environmental impact assessments for large companies compelled by carbon trading regimes to mitigate their carbon footprint.

How do you balance the needs of local people and rare plants?
Plant biodiversity cannot be lost without serious consequences. Many local people depend on the rainforest. We record which plants are locally valued, to balance our knowledge of globally rare species, and advise officials on how to avoid loss of useful plants.

What happens to your data?
We are developing and online ‘Plant Observatory’, allowing browsers to see global hotspots and photographs of rare species. A star system classifies the global rarity of species, a key factor for measuring hotspots.

What keeps you motivated?
Finding a new species, or one I don’t recognise. When patterns emerge from the ‘random jungle’ of species, and you can start to make sense of the ecosystem and contribute to better management.

Why should we all be passionate about plant conservation?
Quite apart from keeping forests standing for the sake of the climate, we must try to prevent the bursting dam of biodiversity from total collapse. We can’t predict which plants are critical for biotechnological advances or to keeping other such species alive so we must try to conserve all. Diversity is key - to help those in the future to optimise their world for human well-being.