Botanic gardens hold the trump card when it comes to environmental education. But how can they use this card to their own and their public's best advantage? This paper presents the rationale behind the first draft of the BGCI education strategy.
The aims of the strategy are to:
This paper presents a draft of the strategy. It acknowledges the enormous task facing botanic gardens in educating the public about conservation. It argues that more resources need to be allocated to education, both from inside and outside the garden.
Strategy. I am very pleased to be given the opportunity to talk about the first draft of the BGCI Environmental Education
We have gathered here today representatives from
botanic gardens all over the world and I thought it would be interesting
to start off by doing a quick survey among ourselves:
Well it is interesting because there seems to be
a sharp contrast between what we feel about education and what
we are actually doing.
Just to give a quick overview of the present education situation in botanic gardens. There are currently about 1600 botanic gardens and arboreta in the world. Of these about 34% run an education programme. This includes all botanic gardens that run education programmes for university students. If we look at the numbers of botanic gardens and arboreta that run education programmes for the general public and not university students (tours, teacher training, school programmes) the number drops drastically to around 6%. You can see that we have got a long way to go. We agree that education is important but we are not doing enough about it.
To begin with, botanic gardens are at the forefront
of conservation. They are the only institutions in the world
with the mandate of saving wild plant species. No other organisations
have this immense responsibility. Over the last couple of days
we have heard the extent to which botanic gardens are involved
in conservation. Their existence is vital for the conservation
of plants. So we have something unique to teach.
To exist, botanic gardens need funding. So who funds
them? The public, the government, the private sector? How does
a botanic garden justify its existence? Especially when there
are so many other worthy projects to fund crocodile research
and trade control, effects of deforestation on chewing gum, effects
of selective logging on mammals. If your funders do not know
what you are doing or why what you are doing is important, then
why should they fund you? We live in a competitive world and
it is a sad fact that only a few of the hundreds of worthy projects
ever find funding.
Basically, it does not matter how wonderful and important
your message is - unless you get it across to those people who
hold the purse-strings you may as well be whistling in the wind.
We also need to show the local community that their
botanic garden is a valuable resource, and one way of doing this
is by running education programmes. If people can come into the
gardens and learn about conservation then they will understand
for themselves why the gardens are important and relevant to them.
But education is a long-term process. Tomorrow's decision makers
are today's children.
So education is important for the economic survival of the gardens.
The state of our planet affects us all. It does
not matter how wealthy you are, what religion you practise, or
what colour you are. Plant conservation is everyone's concern.
We are not mere observers witnessing the inevitable destruction
of our planet. We are the key players in its future.
Our attitudes, our behaviour, the decisions that
we make, affect the environment. The very fact that we have all
travelled here by air and car has had an effect on the environment.
In fact it is rather worrying to think that this presentation
is probably worth an acre of rain-forest. I just hope that it
To be responsible citizens, we need good clear information
about the environment, and we need to examine many of our long-held
attitudes and ways of behaving. The way we live needs to be in
keeping with a future that is sustainable. The only way to achieve
this is through education.
So botanic gardens clearly need to get involved in education if they want to survive and they want the planet to survive.
'Plants are boring': an all-too-familiar cry
from people who do not know much about plants. But consider the
sheer diversity of plants that botanic gardens have and think
about how plants touch every area of our lives food, clothes,
medicine, music, building, the air we breathe, even the water
cycle. You can see that the scope for education is endless.
Imagination is the only thing that limits what you can teach.
Botanic gardens are ideal places to teach people
Botanic gardens provide a wonderful opportunity for
people to understand more about plants where they come
from, what they are for and why they are important. They give
people a chance to see plants, not only from the country they
live in, but also from other countries.
For many people living in urban environments, botanic
gardens offer a window to nature. They are tremendous places
to help people get in touch with the wonders of nature; to understand
that everything is interdependent and that we are an integral
part. Botanic gardens give people a chance to reclaim their unity
So we agree education is important and that there is a lot botanic gardens can offer for education, but:
Developing an education programme is an enormous
challenge for a botanic garden. So how do you start?
This question was one of the prime reasons for developing
the BGCI Environmental Education Strategy. The Strategy will
not provide botanic gardens with prescriptive answers, as every
botanic garden is different. Rather it is intended to help botanic
gardens focus on the issues they need to address to develop an
effective education programme. The aim of the Strategy is to
give help and guidelines for educators setting up education programmes.
To start with, botanic gardens need to develop an
education plan that will fit into the overall garden strategy.
So who should be involved in its development? Everyone who will
be involved in education the director, curator, education
officer, gardeners, volunteers, local people. They all have different
experiences and views on how the garden functions, and involving
everyone is one of the ways to make sure the education programme
will be a success.
So once you get everyone together what are you going to discuss?
It is important that the education programme is delivering
the same messages and this will, of course, vary from botanic
garden to botanic garden depending on their circumstances. A
botanic garden could, for instance, be concerned with conservation
messages at different levels: local, national or international.
For example, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in
Scotland has spent the last couple of years running a project
on the Rainforest. Children spend a day at the Garden learning
about how people of the Rainforest live and how importantly plants
feature in their culture. The Rio de Janeiro Botanic Garden,
on the other hand, has concentrated on an issue closer to home:
the Atlantic Forest. It has developed an exhibition targeted
at the general public.
It is really important for botanic gardens to examine
what issues they want to address, to make sure the education programme
The Strategy helps botanic gardens to focus on their
conservation messages, whether they are on a local, national or
international scale. Through discussion botanic gardens will
come to their own decisions about their priorities.
The messages that botanic gardens want to get across will have an affect on who their target audiences are. For example, several botanic gardens are concerned about the depletion of the soil and are therefore working with farmers to develop sustainable farming methods. This leads me on to look at:
Let us consider for a minute the number of people
your botanic garden could reach if it were to develop its education
programme. Multiply that by the number of botanic gardens represented
here and you can see the enormous potential we have to influence
millions of people. When you think about this we have every reason
to be optimistic.
But let us not get carried away, the problem as always
is that botanic gardens have limited resources and so will be
unlikely to educate everyone. The Strategy asks botanic gardens
to identify their priority groups in the local and wider community.
Botanic gardens need to decide how they will reach
all their priority audience, even if this is at the expense of
another audience. lt may be that the priority audience does not
visit the botanic garden, in which case the garden will have to
go to them.
let us consider a hypothetical town with a population
of around a million people. Like most towns, there is one botanic
garden with one education officer.
The botanic garden has decided to address one of
its conservation messages to the under 15 year olds. Its aim
is to reach all that audience in 3 years. That is half a million
There are several ways in which the botanic garden
could do this:
2- Outreach programmes;
3- Teaching teachers.
If we take the first option, the garden will have
to receive about 16 groups per day 560 children. The second
option would mean that the education officer would have to visit
16 groups per day. And with the third option the garden would
have to receive about 80 teachers per week. As you can see option
3 sounds more realistic.
Whichever way the garden chooses to reach its audience,
there is a lot of work involved, leaving very little time for
the educator to do preparation work or follow-up work, let alone
educate any other group or do any other activity such as sign
writing or making education packs etc.
Reaching all of one audience is a full-time job for
one education officer. It is not reasonable to expect one education
officer to reach every target audience. Botanic gardens need
to be rigorous in their approach. There are different ways of
targeting the education programme, but the important thing is
to be clear about what your overall aims are. Botanic gardens
need to decide whether they are going to concentrate on one section
of the community, for example school groups, or whether they are
going to try to run several programmes at the same time.
If education officers do work with a variety of audiences,
botanic gardens still need to consider whether the education officer
has the experience, knowledge and qualifications suitable to meet
such a wide spectrum of needs.
Of course all botanic gardens will say: 'Yes, we
want to target everyone but we cannot because we do not have the
resources'. This is exactly the reason why it is so important
to look at the resources you have got - the education staff, the
collections, educational material, education budget, volunteers
and decide how you are going to use them most efficiently.
Having prioritised your conservation messages and
your target groups and having assessed your garden's facilities,
it is time to be thinking about what you can teach and how you
are going to get your message across.
But before you do, it is worth thinking about whether
you want the target group to do anything as a result of your programme.
Botanic gardens are excellent at providing information
to people either in leaflets or on tours. This is great. We
now need to think about what we want them to do with this information.
Giving people information is just part of environmental education.
We need to be in the business of changing attitudes, encouraging
new behaviour and teaching new skills.
How do you learn to communicate, for example? Not by reading about it, but by actually doing it. How do you change your attitude about something? Again, not by reading about it but by being in a situation where your existing attitude is confronted and you have to evaluate it. This work is challenging and exciting and is at the heart of conservation.
This is the fun part. We can see the numerous ideas
that botanic gardens come up with to get their message across
exhibitions, classes, courses, drama, posters. With all
these activities going on, it does not take much to realise how
important it is for botanic gardens to network with each other
and other institutions to share ideas and materials. This
is emphasised in the Strategy, and several programmes have been
included so that botanic gardens can take those ideas, use and
As we develop education programmes, botanic gardens
need to develop an effective way of monitoring them. One of the
important functions of the proposed Strategy is to suggest ways
in which this can be done. Evaluation is crucial for the development
of an education programme: we need to make sure that our results
are fed back into the network so we all learn from each other.
Once you have developed your programme, how are you
going to publicise or market it?. Publicity can be used as a
tool to get your conservation message across and is also important
for the success of your programme. There is no point after all
in spending months developing an exhibition which no one visits!
The Strategy helps botanic gardens to look at how
they are going to advertise their work and suggests creative and
inexpensive ways in which this can be done. Glimpsing at the
amount botanic gardens need to discuss, I hope you will agree
that we need to develop an environmental education strategy.
The Strategy is still in its infancy and begs input
from botanic gardens. So far, we only have a first draft. This
will be discussed at the education workshop to which you are all
welcome to come. The final draft of this Strategy will be presented
to the Congress on Education in Botanic Gardens, in Las Palmas,
Gran Canaria, Spain next May. We want as many botanic garden
educators as possible to come. Their input is vital to the success
of the Strategy.
Over the last few years we have seen a real surge
in enthusiasm by botanic gardens wanting to develop their education
programmes. We want to embrace this enthusiasm and help botanic
gardens use it as effectively as possible. A strength of botanic
gardens lies in their ability to work together. We believe that
through education, botanic gardens are a very powerful force for
Preface | Contents List | Congress Report | Workshop Conclusions | List of Authors