Please give generously: your country's plants need you

18 Oct 2016

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I’ve been a member of the BSPP since it was founded in 1981. It’s one of many societies that I have belonged to at one time or other. I am a joiner by nature, seeking to foster new links and develop my own knowledge through the collective interests and values of a society.

Along the way I’ve briefly been a member of the Society of Applied Bacteriology and Agriculture and Human Values. I enjoyed belonging to the Society for Economic Botany for many years but then my interests and key people moved on. Organisations with broad remits also appeal, though some, like the Royal Society of Biology, didn’t deliver – at least for me. Nice magazine, but that was about it.

I’ve been a ‘friend’ of the Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE) for many years. Edinburgh is my home city, though I’ve lived in London for many years. The small annual fee – the cost of filling a car with petrol - is an easy way to give something back and stay in touch with the latest news on plants, educational activities and so on. The RGBE sends out an attractive quarterly newsletter, called The Botanics, to keep subscribers up to date with what’s happening.

The RBGE also solicits donations for special causes. The most recent edition of The Botanics included an unusual appeal: donate to the Plant Health Protection Fund. A generous donation of £500 will allow the RBGE to ‘invest in necessary hardware like pressure washers and air burners to safely remove diseased plants’. At the lower end of the giving scale, £25 will ‘run five diagnostic tests to identify Phytophthora’. Is this the beginning of a trend? 

It seemed a little strange at first, but all hands to the deck in these ash dieback days. The Botanics editorial by Simon Milne, Regius Keeper welcomed the establishment of The Centre of Expertise in Plant Health by the Scottish Government, slightly jumping the gun since details are still to be finalised. Curiously plant health featured little during the period when David Ingold, a respected plant pathologist, was Regius Keeper.

The principle of supporting – or rather supplementing publicly-funded health research is well established. Last year Cancer Research UK raised £446m, ahead of the British Heart Foundation and Macmillan cancer support. Not all the money raised is for research, of course. Weary and battered donkeys attracted public donations in the UK of around £10m in 2015. Surely RBGE friends and others would be willing to assist ‘urgent action … needed to safeguard species like juniper’. The leaflet said that supplies of gin were threatened. Fortunately, the newsletter expanded on the more serious threats to plant health and their wider implications.

I delved a little further into funds raised for plants. The Foundation and Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew raised £102 m between 2010 and 2015 and generated £25 million in income in the most recent financial year. They gave grants totalling £17m in the same period, up a whopping 80% from the previous year. That’s a lot of pressure washers, though it’s unclear what if anything was spent on ‘plant health’. There’s no sign yet of an English plant health protection fund.

The BSPP is of course a charity and generates funds through its journals used to support students and meetings and promote general understanding of plant diseases to schools and beyond. The sums are miniscule compared to the botanical great and good, but a little money goes a long way. Editors, keep up the good work. Occasional bequests from past BSPP members beef up the journal income, though there’s a limited appeal to leaving money for plant health. Or maybe that’s changing. It will be interesting to see how much money the RBGE appeal generates.

Which reminds me: time to write the report of a visit to Kyrgyzstan for the next BSPP newsletter. And a short PS to those who may not have realised that the farmer with ‘little leaves’ featured in the last blog was showing an excellent example of a phytoplasma disease on eggplant.