Kew Gardens is home to over 30,000 types of plant. The herbarium has over 7 million preserved plant specimens. The seed bank holds over a billion seeds, preserving traces of plants which may soon be extinct. It is one of the greatest scientific endeavours in the world.
However, government spending cuts mean that Kew Gardens is lacking money. A recent report from the Commons Science and Technology Committee warned that Kew’s current world-class status was at risk, with a hole in the 2014/2015 budget of over £5 million, and 47 scientific posts lost in the past year.
In addition to its own revenue, 45 per cent of Kew’s funding currently comes from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), compared to 90 per cent in 1983; much of this is tied to specific expenditures. Comparatively, the Natural History Museum receives twice the amount of government funding, and is given financial freedom over 96 per cent of its funding.
Ministers say there should be more consistency between the treatment of the two organisations, and criticises DEFRA for ‘micromanaging’ Kew’s finances, with too many spending decisions needing to be approved by the government.
Kew Gardens recently announced their revitalised science strategy for the next five years, including digitising their collection and the launch of an annual ‘health-check’ of the world’s flora. But this planning ahead has not been matched by the government’s ‘short-term and stop-start’ approach to funding.
Committee chair, Andrew Miller, said, “The government must work out a stable way of funding the gardens that provides greater long-term certainty for Kew’s important work.”