Cross-party members of Peers for the Planet travelled to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew for a visit hosted by senior staff, scientists, and horticulturalists involved in ground-breaking research to help restore our planet to health.
The day involved a tour around Kew’s iconic sites to meet with the staff involved in pioneering global research into nature-led solutions to the dual climate change and biodiversity loss crises. Kew staff explained how important understanding the diversity and make up of plants and fungi is to finding ways to protect and restore the natural habits we depend on to sustain life on Earth in this crucial decade.
We learnt about Kew’s ‘Nature Unlocked’ programme where they are gathering scientific evidence from their ‘living laboratory’ in Wakehurst, Sussex, that could significantly improve the world’s understanding of carbon storage and sequestration and provide evidence to policy makers to help improve land management policies. Those involved in the project showcased new technologies and metrics they are using to understand how trees, plants, and fungi help to store carbon and how these insights could be used globally to increase carbon sequestration and combat climate change.
Next stop was to the glassy labyrinth of the Princess of Wales Conservatory to learn about nature-based solutions and food security. The session explored Kew’s research into crop species that could suffer due to climate change and how improved knowledge of underutilised crops that have greater genetic biodiversity and therefore resilience, could be the key to sustaining people as the climate changes.
Kew staff highlighted how important it is to understand how people and nature interact, and explained how their work in Madagascar is looking at the multifunctional needs of ‘mosaic landscapes’. Often improving livelihoods can be the first step in providing people with the capacity to engage in implementing local solutions to enhance biodiversity and take the pressure off threatened resources and wildlife.
In the afternoon, we toured the Jodrell laboratories to meet staff involved in Kew’s science programmes.
Kew works in a staggering 110 countries worldwide, employs 470 scientists and curates a Noah’s Ark of 8.5m plant and fungi specimens and 2.4bn seeds in its underground Millennium Seedbank at Wakehurst.
Kew staff gave a demonstration of their lab work exploring the uses and chemistry of plants and fungi for their commercial potential, including species origins in products and traceability that may improve consumers understanding of product origins, sustainability, and authenticity to help drive more informed consumer choice in the future.
The final stop was to meet researchers in Kew’s historic Herbarium. Gathered by the Victorian wrought iron spiral staircases and with the smell of nearly 200 years of collecting and cataloguing dried plant and fungi specimens from across the world, we learnt how Kew’s vast collection remains more important than ever to understanding the importance of plants and fungi to the functioning of society and the planet.
Crucially, work is also underway to digitalise the vast collections into an open data resource that will speed up global research into how to better understand and protect plants and fungi and identify the next generation of resilient crops as the climate changes.
On behalf of Peers for the Planet, thank you to Richard Deverell and all the staff and Directors at Kew for such an informative visit and for bringing to life how the most important step for restoring our planet - is to look first to nature itself for the answers.