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Slash and burn of Kew science

The Royal Botanic Gardens’ world-class research centre is at risk from massive funding and job cuts, says JULIE FLANAGAN

Alarm bells are sounding at reports that the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is facing a budget deficit, leading to significant job cuts, mainly in the science area.

To most people, Kew Gardens is unrivalled as the most beautiful and famous garden space in the world because of its collections of living plants housed in a world heritage site amid iconic buildings. 

However, Kew’s most important global role is actually its plant science. This, along with its collections of plants and fungi and unrivalled expertise, is used in researching climate change, food security, discovery and authentication medicine, and to help balance ecosystems.

Set up as a non-departmental public body in 1983, Kew received 90 per cent of its funding as grant-in-aid from government. But continuous cuts have seen this funding reduce to below 40 per cent as of this year. 

In recent times funding has been reduced by £0.9m in 2009-10, £1m in 2010-11 and by an extra £0.5m year-on-year thereafter. With a further cut in funding of up to £1.8m before the end of 2016, Kew is now facing a budget deficit of £5m. 

Despite efforts to mitigate the effects of budget cuts, which have included growing commercially generated income, and an increasing reliance on philanthropic funding, Kew is now unable to meet financial constraints without axing around 125 posts. 

The majority, (37 per cent) will be lost in science, horticulture (22 per cent) and public programmes (19 per cent). Kew will lose dedicated, expert staff with decades of experience and whole areas of work are likely to be halted.

The government’s short-sighted approach to Kew’s funding is madness given that the effects of climate change are obvious. 

Eighty per cent of the world relies on plants for medicine, yet 15,000 medicinal plants are threatened with extinction worldwide. 

Seventy per cent of the world’s top-selling pharmaceutical drugs are directly or indirectly derived from plants and fungi. 

It is crucial that funding levels are maintained in a sustainable way to enable Kew to continue its invaluable and unique work. 

Kew’s trade unions are urging the public to support the campaign against the cuts. An Early Day Motion has been tabled, aimed at generating a debate in Parliament and has received cross-party support. 

A petition has also been set up, which is receiving global support and has so far received 78,500 signatures. Add your name by going to: http://bit.ly/save_kew 

Julie Flanagan is Prospect negotiations officer.

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