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Communities in Nature: Growing the Social Role of Botanic Gardens

In 2009 BGCI, supported by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, launched a groundbreaking research programme into the social role and relevance of UK botanic gardens. A cornerstone of this pioneering initiative was BGCI’s 2010 report ‘Towards a New Social Purpose: Redefining the Role of Botanic Gardens’. In a key finding, the report recommended that botanic gardens relocate their social and environmental roles within a modern framework of values, mission and vision. It urged them to work together, through partnerships and networking organisations like BGCI, to face the environmental and social challenges of the 21st Century.

During 2010 and 2011, BGCI supported three UK botanic gardens to develop their social roles through a programme of workshops and funded, small-scale research projects.  Winterbourne House and Garden, part of the University of Birmingham, set up Urban Veg, a community based vegetable garden designed as a two way cultural exchange and learning experience for the Islamic communities of Birmingham and the Garden.  Ness Botanic Garden.  ran a series of science focused workshops for students from a deprived area of Liverpool. Click here to find out more about the projects. An evaluation of the whole project was carried out by the Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG), University of Leicester.  Click here to read a report of the evaluation findings.


winterbourne house and gardens - seed sowing  shorefields visit to ness bg
 Planting out seedlings at the Urban Veg plot,
Winterbourne House and Gardens, Birmingham
 Students involved in the science workshops during their
visit to Ness Botanic Gardens


Now, with the continued support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, BGCI is delighted to announce that four more gardens from across the UK have been selected to participate in the programme ‘Communities in Nature: growing the social role of botanic gardens’: Bristol Zoo Gardens; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh; University of Leicester Botanic Garden; and Westonbirt, the National Arboretum. The gardens represent a diverse cross-section in terms of location, scale and focus through which to develop the programme.

Through a series of workshops and one-to-one support, BGCI will work closely with the gardens over the next six months as they shape, implement and evaluate their projects with new local communities and reconsider their role, responsibilities and mission in a world of pressing environmental change. BGCI will also develop an online handbook that will capture the learning, identify innovation and best practice, and provide an accessible resource for botanic gardens, wherever they are in the world, to reflect on their influence and realise their potential for developing a more social role. 

By taking on this challenge, BGCI’s project partners will find themselves in the vanguard of a development that many agree is critical to the successful engagement of botanic gardens with their host communities.  To follow their progress and to join in the blog visit

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