By Paul Evans
Kew is more than a venerable historic institution; it is a living thing, a community of plants and people that has grown through the centuries. Kew tells us about the past (inglorious though some of its stories are) and it is telling us about our future, too.
When we learn that government ministers are refusing to guarantee long-term funding for Kew I worry that new threats to plants and places will multiply without the research to describe what those threats mean. It has already had to lay off 50 scientists.
I am angry too that such a crucial institution can mean so little to those who have the responsibility to protect it. This is not about hanging on to heritage for its own sake. Kew is a world-class institution doing world-class work that is vital to understanding how to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Much of Kew’s most valuable work is in conservation: a form of cultivation which manages plants based on how they matter to people, and it has a global reach. But there’s more to it than that. As well as scientific research into plants and their uses, Kew cultivates a special sense of place, an ethical common ground for wild and cultivated plants from around the world to inspire us. Here we get a sense of community with the natural world, an access to nature through a scientific, aesthetic, cultural understanding of plants — botany in its broadest sense.