The University of Southampton

FloraGuard - Tackling the illegal trade in endangered plants

Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Intelligent Systems and Machine Learning

Over the last 60 years, commerce in exotic wild plants increased in Western countries. Alongside the legal trade in plants, the profitability of the market also boosted illegal markets. Wild plant trafficking threatens and destroys numerous species and important natural resources and hinders the rule of law and security as profits are also used to finance other forms of trafficking. The Internet has increased the illegal trade in wild plants, facilitating the encounter of supply and demand; no matter how highly specialised the market in certain wild plants, it is much easier to find potential buyers or sellers online than in the physical world. Unfortunately, the policing of such a criminal activity is still scarce and poorly resourced: a major challenge is the fact that many law enforcement agencies have limited training opportunities and lack of equipment and specific expertise to counter effectively this illegal trade. In this context, the question of how can we best control and prevent this criminal market needs to be addressed.

FloraGuard combines innovative and cross-disciplinary ways of analysing online marketplaces for the illegal trade in endangered plants and analyses of existing policing practices to assist law enforcement in the detection and investigation of illegal trades of endangered plants. It focuses on the UK, which serves as a major transit and destination market for the European region.

The research is structured around three cumulative work-packages (WP). WP1 comprises analysis at a community level of economic, social and geographical dynamics of a sample of online marketplaces active in the UK and associated with the illegal trade of endangered plants. WP2 focuses on the policing of this criminal activity by mapping current law enforcement practices and interventions, assessing their effectiveness in the light of the findings of WP1, and identifying law enforcement’s needs for more effective policing. WP3 develops and tests a digital package of resources to assist law enforcement investigations into illegal trades of endangered plants in the UK.

Floraguard is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Primary investigator

  • Anita Lavorgna

Secondary investigator


  • UK Border Force
  • Kew Gardens

Associated research group

  • IT Innovation Centre
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