Curator defends end of university botanic gardens

Closure does not signal a 'lack of interest in studying plant science'

A leading curator has attacked claims that university botanic gardens are in crisis. University of Oxford Botanic Garden curator Timothy Walker said the demise of Bristol University Botanic Garden does not signal a lack of interest in studying plant sciences. Bristol’s garden is relocating in spring 2005. Bracken Hill House, its site since 1959, is for sale at £3 million and may have houses built on it. The site attracts just 7,000 visitors a year — typical of many provincial university botanic gardens, some of which have cut botany courses in recent years. This has led to their gardens declining, as at Swansea. Bangor recently missed out on a Heritage Lottery Fund grant and Bristol now has to start again on a greenfield site. The move is part of a review of the university’s gardens and how they can be used as an academic resource and visitor destination. Under curator Nick Wray, garden staff started propagating plants 18 months ago to prepare for the move. Wray said he is excited by the shift to the £600,000 site, but added “we’re not going to close tomorrow”. Walker said: “Universities have to be financially secure if they have an asset like a botanic garden. “I don’t sign up to the line about the crisis in plant science. It’s a myth that nobody wants to do plant sciences at university. Since 1988 the number wanting to study plant sciences at Oxford has gone up by four times. To study plants you need a botanic garden to do it well.” Walker said he sees no lack of interest at Bristol, Cambridge, Birmingham and Leicester universities. He added that Liverpool university, which “went through a crisis”, is making a “significant contribution” with work on the invasive alien species part of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. He added: “Closing runs contrary to government policy. I’m irritated by the constant assertion that no one is interested in plant sciences. Because we are and I don’t believe we are alone.”

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