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A Conversation with the Director of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Richard Deverell, Director of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew director Richard Deverell comes to the Garden March 23 to talk about the future role of botanic gardens. The Garden’s International Japanese Garden Training Center director Kristin Faurest recently spoke with Deverell about the climate crisis, biodiversity and the catalytic role botanical gardens like Kew can play in both issues.

KF: You’re coming here to speak about the future role of botanical gardens and how they can help us find solutions in the era of climate change.  What are some of the ways an institution located in the U.K. can address climate change globally?

RBG Kew is a global organisation; our team of 300 scientists operate in more than 100 countries and our plant and fungal collections of about eight million items are also global.

We have to ensure we are developing and delivering ambitious global solutions to the twin challenges of climate change and the biodiversity crisis.

KF: The role and the image of botanical gardens has undergone a tremendous shift in recent times. When, in your estimation, did the role of these institutions start to shift?

Successful organisations evolve and respond to a changing environment.  The global challenges for botanic gardens are clear; we need to respond through our research and in-country solutions; our potential to train the next generation of plant scientists and horticulturalists and finally our ability to inspire millions of people with the importance of plants and nature.

KF: Botanical gardens have something of a fraught history in terms of their relationships with some of the communities whose plants they’ve built their collections from. Do you think there’s a need for atonement, and if so, what does that look like?

The best thing we can do is to ensure they have access (through digitisation) to the collection we have gathered from all over the world over the past couple of centuries.  We also need to work in partnership with communities around the world to help develop and deliver solutions to the biodiversity crisis.  We have, for example, digitised all our Brazilian specimens – now available to any researcher in Brazil.

KF: How has Kew’s emphasis and mission changed in recent years? I also was curious about why fungi has taken on such importance in your work.

We are seeking to align our purpose much more directly towards the climate and biodiversity crises.  Fungi are the great unknown kingdom (somewhere between 3-5m species perhaps) yet incredibly important in terms of plant health, ecosystem services and medicine.  Kew has unique fungal collections and expertise – an area I hope to grow.

KF: Botanical gardens can, as you indicate, play a substantial role in the fight against climate change, but they can’t do it alone. What else needs to happen? Who else needs to take the lead?

We have to work in partnership with other biodiversity organisations in the UK and around the globe; we need strong and enduring government support and we also need engaged, active and vocal citizens.

I hope Kew, with other botanic gardens, can play a catalytic role in ensuring each happens.

Richard Deverell speaks in the Yanai Classroom March 23 at 3 and 5 p.m. for “The Future Role of Botanical Gardens” as part of the Garden+ Public Lecture Series. Tickets go on sale later this month.

The event is part of the Garden+ Lecture Series and is presented by the International Japanese Garden Training Center. The Garden+ lecture series places the Japanese garden  in bold and inspiring new contexts by bringing designers, authors, practitioners, and researchers to the Garden to share fresh ideas.  Come experience original perspectives, thought-provoking research, and new creative work. We bring presenters from around the globe to shed new light on how gardens connect to subjects as diverse as spirituality, technical innovation, architecture, culture, design, and society — all made more resonant with the  Garden itself as a backdrop. Garden+ is a presentation of the International Japanese Garden Training Center, which is supported by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.