How Might Botanic Gardens Adapt to a Post-COVID World?

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    Services for Botanic Gardens
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There has been a great deal of speculation about how the current COVID crisis might change the world and whether there will ever be a return to business as usual. On balance, it is unlikely that COVID will precipitate a complete revolution in the way we think and act but it may well accelerate trajectories that we are already on, including digital interactions and biotechnological innovation. For botanic gardens, this will create threats and opportunities.

As outdoor visitor attractions, we are adversely affected by policies that confine people indoors, and our older demographic is more vulnerable and therefore cautious. On the other hand, gardens are safer than indoor venues and potentially much more attractive to people who have been confined to their homes for months on end. As discussed on BGCI’s COVID forum, some gardens have run very successful online promotions, including Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden’s virtual cherry blossom tour, which was watched by 320 million people. As China returns to normal, and as gardens re-open, it remains to be seen whether these online efforts will boost visitor numbers in the long term but this is entirely possible.

Recognising that not all gardens can afford to develop sophisticated online content, BGCI is partnering with Google Arts and Culture to develop virtual tours of member gardens, and to create a platform for those tours to be showcased. Their ideas about staying in touch with your audiences are usefully summarised in a presentation available here. We are also partnering with the plant identification app, PlantSnap, to promote botanic gardens and to generate income for gardens when their visitors sign up (check out the partnership) Both of these initiatives are digital experiences designed to encourage people to learn about, and come and see, the real thing. If you are interested in partnering with us on either or both of these initiatives, please do get in touch.

Behind the scenes, for botanic gardens staff who are working from home, I suspect you will all be very familiar by now with using Zoom, Google Meet, Skype or other platforms for virtual meetings. In fact, your meetings may even be more efficient as a result and, almost without exception, you will have gained time through not travelling to work or to meetings elsewhere. This approach even extends to conferences. I see that the American Public Gardens Association is going virtual with its annual conference this year. We wish them every success and will be participating and learning from the experience.

So will working from home and/or virtual meetings become more common? I think this is likely. On the whole, digital infrastructures have coped well with the current crisis but much more importantly, we have seen a cultural shift to virtual meetings becoming the norm. Although this may be temporary, it is bound to have a longer term effect. It also has positive implications for shifting to a low carbon economy. BGCI’s international travel carbon footprint was over 120 tons in 2019. We aim to reduce that baseline significantly over the next few years, and virtual meetings will surely be part of that strategy.

Finally, will there be impacts on our science and conservation work? We need to be cautious about the many herbal remedies and plant derived medicines that are being touted as potential ‘cures’ for COVID-19 but the connection between zoonoses and loss of biodiversity is already well established in the scientific literature. This will surely create opportunities for further biodiversity research and it may even lend impetus to our efforts to protect habitats and species. Let’s hope so.

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