Germplasm with diverse, agronomically relevant traits forms the foundation of a successful plant breeding programme. Since 1993, the United Nations has been advocating the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the subsequent 2002 Bonn Guidelines as international best practice on germplasm collection and use. In 2006, a European team made an expedition to Asia to collect wild germplasm of Miscanthus, a C4 perennial rhizomatous grass, for breeding an environmentally adaptable, resilient and high-yielding bioenergy crop. We outline general aspects of germplasm collection, conservation, breeding and biomass production evaluation while following the CBD's guidelines, respecting biodiversity and conservation needs, and the ethical use of genetic resources. Effective protocols, quarantine, methods for collecting seed and rhizomes, and a genebank for conservation were established. Versatile informatics and database architecture were used to assist in selection, flowering synchronization, crossing, evaluation, phenotyping and data integration. Approaches were formulated to comply with the CBD guidelines. A total of 303 accessions of M. sinensis, M. sacchariflorus and M. floridulus were collected from 158 geographically and environmentally diverse locations. These species were shown to accumulate different amounts of aerial biomass due to combinations of stem count, height and thickness. Progeny from one interspecies cross accumulated more biomass in early trials and has shown double the yield performance in years 3-4 compared with the existing commercial cultivar M. × giganteus. An example of an F1 hybrid has already demonstrated the long-term potential of exploiting this collection for a breeding programme. By conforming to the CBD principles, the authors' international collaboration provides a practical example of implementing the CBD. The collection widened the genetic diversity of Miscanthus available to allow for breeding of novel hybrids that exhibit more diverse traits to increase yield and resilience for growth on marginal land and in climate-challenged environments. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Annals of Botany Company.