Kew funding crisis

Funding crisis threatens Kew

Globally important conservation and science are under threat at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew due to government cuts

Globally important conservation and science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Wakehurst Place, its Sussex estate, are under threat because of a steep reduction in funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

More than 100,000 people across the globe have signed a petition calling on the UK government to urgently reverse existing, proposed and further cuts to Kew’s annual operating grant in aid.

Kew’s most important global contribution is its plant science. It maintains the world’s premier plant and fungal collections, including 30,000 living plants, one billion seeds and the DNA of 20% of the world’s plant species. Without these collections and expertise, plant conservation stops.

In 1983, 90% of Kew’s funding came from the UK government as grant in aid. By 2014, this had fallen to below 40%. Funding was reduced by £0.9m in 2009-10, £1m in 2010-11, and by an extra £0.5m year-on-year thereafter.

Prospect wrote to the environment secretary Owen Paterson in June 2014 calling for:

  • additional interim funding for Kew
  • an assurance that Defra is opposed to Kew making any compulsory redundancies
  • a review of Kew’s funding arrangements to ensure long-term clarity and security.

The union said it was incongruous that the Department for Business, Innovation and Science is investing over £1bn in life sciences, yet one of the UK’s pre-eminent life science institutions is being irrevocably compromised by short-sighted cuts.

Kew has already lost approximately 50 posts, vacancies are not being filled and management is planning the loss of a further 50-70 posts. Most of the endangered jobs are in the areas of science and public engagement.

Cutting staff reduces Kew’s capacity to fulfil its statutory obligations, to carry out its leading science and conservation, and to generate its own revenue.

Successive independent reviews of Kew have praised the quality and value of its scientific work and recommended that its public funding be maintained or increased.

Broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough said: “Kew has an absolutely crucial role in looking after out botanical heritage and our botanical future. The important thing to remember is that it is the premiere botanical gardens in the world scientifically.

“People who think it is just a place to go to look at pretty flowers and flower beds are mistaking the importance of Kew Gardens”. He added that the Seed Bank is of world importance and should be supported by the government like a proper institution or university. 

  • The earth is losing one major drug plant every two years – yet we’ve researched less than 3% of tropical plants for new drugs.
  • 80% of the world relies on plants for medicine, yet 15,000 medicinal plants are threatened with extinction worldwide.
  • 70% of the top-selling pharmaceutical drugs are directly or indirectly derived from natural sources – primarily plants and fungi.
What you can do

Sign the petition:

Visit the campaign website:

Follow the campaign on Twitter: @KewCuts and Facebook: Stop Kew Cuts

Hashtag: #kewcuts