James Wong to join MPs at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew public meeting

Ethnobotanist and RHS ambassador James Wong will join local MPs Zac Goldsmith and John McDonnell to speak at a public meeting about cuts at Kew Gardens tonight.

Science buildings at Kew
Science buildings at Kew

The meeting at The Avenue Halls in Kew, west London, will discuss the impact of the £5 million yearly shortfall faced by Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (RBG Kew) because of a decline in Government funding and rising costs.

It has just completed a consultation on its restructuring plans with staff, which suggested creating three-year career development research fellowships for Kew scientists. As many as 120 jobs could be lost overall, mostly in science. Kew union Prospect, which represents many Kew scientists, said 50 employees had already taken voluntary redundancy but RBG Kew has so far not confirmed the numbers.

RBG Kew was promised an extra £1.5m in funding by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last month but this is only enough to slow, rather than stop the programme of job cuts and a change to the long-term staffing structure.

Wong, who trained and worked at Kew and is now a broadcaster, writer, garden designer and RHS science ambassador, has been critical of the cuts since they were announced. He told HW in April that the cuts would be "disastrous for the nation" saying that the UK was a world leader in botany.

Goldsmith and McDonnell, who tabled an Early Day Motion about the cuts now signed by 34 MPs, have also been critical.

The meeting has been organised by the three Kew unions – PCS, Prospect and GMB. An online petition started by Prospect negotiator Julie Flanagan against the cuts has been signed by more than 100,000 people.

Kew is also due to host a state visit by the President of Singapore Tony Tan Keng Yam, and his wife Mary on Friday.

They are expected to tour the gardens with RBG Kew director, Richard Deverell, director of horticulture, Richard Barley, and director of science, Professor Kathy Willis.

Kew has said that the visit will celebrate the historic and future scientific and horticultural collaborations between RBG Kew and Singapore.

Defra minister Lord de Mauley is also due to announce a programme to host a number of scientists, horticulturalists and interns from Singapore at RBG Kew, which will also send mycology experts to Singapore to build capacity on the science of fungi in the region. A fellowship has just been awarded to RBG Kew by the Singapore Botanic Gardens with a focus on conducting research into fungal diversity in South East Asia.

In addition, Lord de Mauley will also announce that RBG Kew is opening its archives to Singapore Botanic Gardens researchers to show support for its bid to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Current director of Singapore Botanic Gardens, and of the country’s National Parks Board which is responsible for the city state’s green infrastructure policy, Dr Nigel Taylor, was also head of horticulture and public education at Kew between 1995 and 2011.

The meeting starts at 7pm.

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