"Kew's purpose is to increase mankind's understanding
of the plant kingdom". This statement is reproduced on the
mission statement of Kew and is central to the strategic planning
and policy development within the Education Department. Beyond
this, the Education Section at Kew has its own mission statement
which puts forward the philosophy of the Section within the context
of Kew's overall mission, namely "To increase public knowledge
and understanding of the value and vital importance of plants
and to increase recognition of, and support for, the work of RBG
There are of course a number of very different audiences
at Kew, each of which require a specific approach. These are:
To deal with these varying audiences Kew provides
three educational programmes. Within each programme the strategy
is to inform the relevant audience about the subject-matter and
through this to support and encourage good management of the world's
plant resources on which our future depends. The three programmes
Adult Education was launched as a selffunding
programme within the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew two years ago,
and originated with such courses as Garden Design, Botanical Photography
and Botanical Illustration, to provide baseline funding for the
operation. In 1993 the latest development will be offered, a
course in Plant Conservation Techniques. This will be a five-week
course teaching the basic skills and expertise required for the
management of ex situ and in situ plant conservation
world-wide. It will enable staff from reserves, botanic gardens
and similar institutes to see their particular needs in a broader,
international context and consequently develop programmes which
fit more closely within a global strategy for the conservation
of biodiversity and sustainable environmental management.
Kew has excellent resources and highly skilled staff
who can provide examples of a range of techniques and first-hand
examples of in situ and ex situ conservation practices.
The Herbarium of six million specimens provides a resource for
floristic surveys and checklist production. These currently provide
information to support the establishment and management of reserves
in programmes such as Projeto Nordeste in Brazil. The world seedbank
at Wakehurst Place will provide on-site training in seed collection,
storage and the genetics of ex situ management. The Micropropagation
Unit at Kew will provide further training in ex situ conservation
practices. Case studies for in situ reserve management
where Kew has been involved, as in the Cameroons, St.Helena and
Brazil, will also be presented, with opportunities for discussion
on problem-solving and tactical management.
This is just one of the courses on offer at Kew, but one that is central to its mission. All courses contain specific elements which highlight the importance of plants, biodiversity and the vital role played by botanic gardens world-wide.
Until a few years ago, schools programmes at Kew
were reactive. They were often given in isolation and did not
address the contemporary needs of schools. Over 52 000 children
visit Kew on school trips every year, and it soon became obvious
that it was impossible to provide individual training for all
groups. Kew education staff were also disappointed by the narrow
way in which botanic gardens were seen as a resource for teaching.
A change in approach and policy was clearly needed, and this
was developed and put into operation as soon as possible.
The schools programmes at Kew are now aimed primarily
at teachers; this is both time-effective and more efficient in
the dissemination of information over a wider area. It had also
been recognised that environmental education sometimes failed
to make the direct link between the subject-matter and the student,
making it difficult to develop attitude changes. By providing
a more intimate link between people and plants, their support
for conservation strategies could be more readily enlisted. This
philosophy led to the use of 'Economic Botany' as the focus for
developing an interest in plants, the interrelationship of mankind
and plants and, through this, an awareness of the need for conservation
Currently one of the major strategies of the teacher-training
programme is to inspire teachers to use plants as the focus for
every aspect of curriculum work. Traditionally, schools have
used botanic gardens for specific programmes such as science with
the themes: Variety of Life, Processes of Life and Adaptation
to Environment. Botanic gardens serve these programmes well and,
of course, can aid the introduction to environmental education.
With a little more innovative approach, however, teachers can
introduce conservation issues into all subject areas.
Once students understand that plants are used in
all aspects of life: as food, textiles, building materials, flavours,
religious symbols, industrial oils, transport and medicines, it
becomes easier to explain the need for classification and investigation
into the properties of plants. Matching plant topics to areas
of the curriculum becomes simple for teachers, so that history,
geography, religious education, technology and music can all be
covered using, for example, cotton, spices, plant-based religious
artifacts, furniture and musical instrument production.
All of these studies lead naturally to a discussion
of the sustainable management of these resources. Paper production
and timber use open the discussion of logging and of investigations
within botanic gardens into alternative timbers and their management.
Technology can move from environmental control within glasshouses
to ex situ conservation techniques such as micropropagation,
and in situ habitat management.
The concept of ethnobotanical investigation is, again,
easy to develop. One of the most exciting programmes at Kew run
recently involved the subject of 'wrapping'. This linked objects
to raw materials and examined techniques for 'wrapping' within
other cultures. The themes for teachers were technology, art
and design, and geography, but the overlying objective was to
encourage an informed interest in other cultures and to raise
awareness of the contrasting opportunities and constraints facing
people in different places.
Another exciting programme was on body painting. This course linked mathematics, art and design, and geographical studies. In this instance, children were invited to a lecture on the Amazon Basin, with specific focus on the way that indigenous groups utilised plants. The influence of plants in art and design and in mathematical patterns in plants provided the children with ideas for body painting designs. These were transferred into reality by the children painting their own plant-based designs onto themselves or each other.
The Interpretation Programme at Kew is similarly aimed at delivering simple messages about plants, their biology and uses, to encourage an interest in plants in general and in the conservation of plants in situ and ex situ. This is achieved through a variety of media:
Currently Kew has an exhibition called 'Cellulose'. The various uses of cellulose in the form of rope and basketry, paper, dietary fibre and textiles are presented in an audio-visual manner, and the consequences of cellulose extraction and the development of sustainable management of cellulose resources are discussed during the presentation.
The gardens at Kew and Wakehurst Place also have a major programme for label and information sheet production. The labels are designed to attract the interest of the public and to present information that shows the interrelationship of plants and mankind, and which also often reflect research programmes at Kew, such as the biochemical assaying of plants for medicinal purposes. The information sheets that Kew produce have a dual purpose, serving to provide enhanced information on plant species, aspects of Kew research programmes and on habitats and their management for both the interested general public and as background information for teacher programmes.
Perhaps the most effective form of interpretation
is the direct one-to-one interpretation provided by guides. The
USA has a long history of development of 'docent' or guide schemes
but all botanic gardens world-wide need to address the dissemination
of information to visitors; this method can provide a vital tool
in gaining support for the work of botanic gardens. The main
objective is to break down the barriers between the 'science'
and the 'public', and for this you need a team of committed and
well trained communicators.
At Kew it had long been recognised that the drain on staff resources to interpret for groups was becoming a problem. A Volunteer Guide Programme was set up to overcome this, and the first recruited guides have now been in place for six months. Changing staff attitudes to volunteer guides was the first hurdle to overcome and this was achieved by the staff personally training the guides: this ensured the accuracy of the message being delivered. The volunteers were also made to jump through several hoops: recruitment interviews, training, examinations and probationary periods before being accorded guide status. In this way the staff were fully satisfied that the message being given and the people delivering the message were right. Volunteers discuss the history and the role of Kew during all their presentations, and statistics such as those shown here are given to guides and regularily updated so that they can discuss the overall implications of taxonomic research and conservation measures in action at Kew.
The changes in attitude of students on such courses
and our visitors is reflected in their readiness to discuss conservation
issues later. A more energetic and innovative approach provides
a more stimulating forum for introducing environmentally sound
The ultimate message that the Education Section at
Kew hope to get across is:
When we achieve that with all those who use the Gardens
for education, we shall certainly be moving in the right direction.
Preface | Contents List | Congress Report | Workshop Conclusions | List of Authors