Politicising Plants

Does “decolonising” the botanical collections at Kew undermine its core mission?

December 29, 2021

The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew are the custodians of arguably the world’s greatest plant collection, enjoyed by generations of visitors. The institution’s purpose – broadly, research in plant science, giving advice on the science of plants, maintenance of its collection and public access to it – is defined by the 1983 National Heritage Act. For carrying out these tasks Kew receives over £30 million in public funds annually.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter, Director of Kew Science Professor Alexandre Antonelli has stated that “it’s time to decolonise botanical collections” and the RBG has started to act on this premise. It now talks of promoting “transformative societal change” and “decolonising science”.

Politicising Plants sets out how this modish agenda runs counter to Kew’s legally defined purposes and undermines its core scientific mission. An impartial, scientific institution should not stray into contentious political debates, let alone spend public money on them. Adopting such stances undermines Kew’s distinctive and invaluable reputation as a non-political, rigorously scientific resource.

Policy Exchange urges the government to initiate a course correction at Kew and ensure that it solely engages in its legally defined mission.

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