The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is a beautiful place to visit, a tourist destination for visitors to London, and a green island in an urban ocean. That’s the public face of the Gardens. What is less well appreciated to most of the casual strollers around the flower beds and glasshouses, is that Kew is arguably the most important centre for botanical research anywhere in the world. During its long history it has produced, and continues to deliver, top rate science that informs international conservation strategies, agriculture and horticulture, as well as basic plant science in ecology and evolutionary biology.
It’s also a welcoming, inclusive place that embraces scientific visitors from all over the world, as I know from personal experience. Although I’ve never had a formal relationship with staff at Kew, I’ve benefitted enormously from informal links, which have facilitated research and teaching, including annual trips to the Kew Herbarium for my final year undergraduate students.
I first visited Kew as a naive 20 year old to look at their living plant collection during research for what became my first ever publication: “Adaptations to arid environments in the Asclepiadaceae” (British Cactus and Succulent Journal 1986). So started a long appreciation of Kew and what it freely offers teachers and researchers, which has included access to specimens prior to overseas research trips, to assess distribution and flowering times; identification of specimens we’ve collected on those trips; and primary data for our study of fly pollination in the genus Ceropegia. I’ve also used their archives for my work on John Tweedie. Kew is an incredible resource that, in any civilised and culturally aware country, would be cherished and supported. Unfortunately it appears that I do not live in such a country.
Rumours have been circulating for a while about an impending, massive budget cut at Kew, on top of financial savings that have already been made. Now it appears that those proposed cuts are much bigger than anyone had thought and 120 posts, mainly in science, are threatened. I won’t repeat the depressing statistics underlying all of this – I’ll just urge you to visit the online campaign against these cuts, read the details, watch the David Attenborough video, sign the petition, and share it with friends and colleagues.
Please don’t let Kew wither away; it’s too important to UK science, conservation and education to allow it to be gutted without a fight.