BBC local gardening radio 'under threat' UPDATED

A petition has been launched to save BBC Radio gardening from planned cuts.

Radio petition

Fear have been raised that already curtailed gardening radio will be cut further and that will be to the detriment of local nurseries, gardens, charities and retailers - as well as ordinary gardeners. Local knowledge of soil conditions and weather is essential, say broadcasters, while interaction via live broadcasts can't be done through podcasts or many forms of social media.

Petition organiser and gardening PR Vikki Rimmer said: "Most of the garden programming that goes out across the different regions are broadcast on a Sunday. The current proposals are for afternoon, evening and weekend programming to be shared by regions. This will put radio gardening broadcasters out of a job but it will also affect pretty much all the gardens to visit in the UK, as well as NGS open gardens, smaller garden events, charities and nurseries who want to share garden news.

"For example, if three counties share one radio show then the hours talked about gardening will go from six to two! It will be incredibly difficult for smaller gardens, charity events to get their news shared because they will be competing with two additional counties. So many stories will not make it. We have all seen how negatively centralisation of news and new hubs have affected local newspapers. It's a worry that radio will not be the only casualty here - will local news be next?"

The petition states: "BBC Local Radio supports everyone in the community by sharing stories, large and small, our triumphs, our disasters, help needed and community action being taken. It is quite simply the voice of our community and it's specific to our region.

"The current £19m cuts planned to the local BBC radio service will see the current regional programming cut and instead shared across counties in the afternoons, evenings and weekends, with the loss of jobs and also the loss of a vital voice for many in the community.

"There will be less space to talk about our charity endeavours, events, community action needed, support delivered or services in crisis. There will be too much competition for space and not enough local knowledge to share the essential stories of our community.

"Local knowledge and action are the definition of 'grass roots', and without a mouthpiece our communities will be weakened. 

BBC local radio was a life-line for many during Covid, especially those who were house-bound and alone. The news that their 'friend' will be irrevocably changed may be hard to take.

"Once the service has begun to be dismantled, it will be impossible to put it back together again. 

"Please help us to call on the BBC to rethink their plans to weaken local BBC radio and to support it rather than dilute this unique service."

Many local radio gardening slots have already been cut with experts such as Ken Crowther and Chris Day losing their roles. Covid ended some shows such as West Midlands and they have not returned.

Ken Crowther, ex-Radio Essex gardening presenter from 1986-2020, and now broadcasting at World Radio Gardening, said: "I would say that local radio stations most likely serve more listeners across the nation than even Gardeners Question Time. Many program,es are weekends where the biggest cuts are coming. One also must accept that the experts as long as they are good and qualified are local and understand the locality and it’s varying conditions.  Sadly many local radio stations have diluted their gardening content and popped int less dedicated programmes and use often good amateurs instead of solid professionals. Local stations have tried going for a younger audience and have ignored those listeners they had which we can see why stations like Boom radio have doubled their audiences. Again sadly they do not include gardening. However, World Radio Gardening is there on line 24 hrs a day and answers gardening questions on line or phone." 

Broadcaster and writer Howard Drury said "the majority" of gardening has already gone: "It's such as shame it's gone the way it has. When I do BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester when Reg Moule's not available we never run out of calls, questions and emails."

He added: "Gardening phone-ins don't fit with the BBC mode of programming. One or two stations are still doing them, going against the BBC." 

Garden writer and broadcaster Val Bradley said: " A lot of people will feel very let down over this decision, mostly older folk who listen in every week. Radio Kent get calls from all over the country plus France, Germany and beyond." Steve Bradley does BBC Radio Kent gardening every alternate Sunday for four hours and Radios Sussex and Surrey about eight times a year. He's already heard from Surrey, saying he doesn't think the Dig It show will continue after the New Year." This means 130 hours a year.

Steve Bradley said : "Local radio gardening shows vary from 1-4 hours per week, and I was told a while back that all of the local radio stations which offer gardening (a few don't), the listening figures for gardening was always in the top three at each of these stations."

Garden Media Guild's Mike Palmer said: ""I’m saddened by the announcement of the proposed BBC cutbacks to local radio stations‘ content which will undoubtedly cause an unimaginable loss to many communities across the UK.  The vital ingredient of a regional flavour to local radio broadcasts is so important and a lifeline to many listeners. 
"During the Covid pandemic millions of people took to their green spaces for the very first time. They joined a legion of gardeners, who, irrespective of their personal experience, still enjoy the interaction and information imparted by local radio gardening broadcasters, many of whom are members of the GMG. Their invaluable regional knowledge of local soil and growing conditions, prevailing weather and climate will never be replicated as readily through national broadcasts. We hope, at the GMG, there  will be space for the BBC to rethink the proposal."
Media minister Julia Lopez said losing local content raised "serious questions" as the 39 local radio stations in England would share more shows.
The BBC said the plans would prioritise digital content and "grow the value we deliver to local audiences everywhere".

BBC director of nations Rhodri Talfan Davies said: "The plans will help us connect with more people in more communities right across England, striking a better balance between our broadcast and online services and ensuring we remain a cornerstone of local life for generations to come."

#The DCMS Committee’s session on Thursday 1 December will explore the implications of the proposed changes and the impact on listeners.

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