Botanic Gardens Conservation International
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Communities in Nature: Growing the Social Role of Botanic Gardens

Through the Communities in Nature initiative BGCI is striving to support botanic gardens to realign their organizations with a modern framework of values, mission and vision. More specifically it aims to support gardens to develop public engagement activities which allow participants from hard to reach audiences to learn about environmental issues and facilitate their participation in activities which alleviate these. Simultaneously the initiative aims to develop projects which address social exclusion. By working with diverse community groups these projects are not only benefitting participants in a variety of ways but opening up botanic gardens to new audiences.

In 2011-2012 BGCI worked with four UK botanic gardens to help examine and extend their social role by developing new community projects.

Read below an overview of each project and watch the people involved giving their own account on what the projects where about.  


 For a more details about the individual projects, outcomes, results and lesson learned read the Communities in Nature evaluation report.


 Hidden Voices- Westonbirt, The National Arboretum Feel Green - Univeristy of Leicester Botanic Garden 

 The edible Gardening Project - Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

 Bristol Community Plant collection - Bristol Zoo Gardens



Hidden Voices – Westonbirt, The National Arboretum (Westonbirt)

Westonbirt , is situated in the south Cotswolds. Although the local community generally enjoys a high standard of living there are still deprived communities in the rural areas and an aging population. Like most gardens, in their audience demographic, young adults, disadvantaged adults and black and ethnic minority communities are underrepresented. To help combat this, Westonbirt staff worked with three community groups:  

  • Bristol Drugs Project; working with adults that face substances dependence (drug and alcohol related).
  • Awaz Utaoh/Rase your Voice; working with South Asian women to tackle issues such as community segregation and isolation.
  • Stroud Macular DIsease Society; working with elderly people with Macular disease.

Together with the participants, the arboretum staff developed a programme of activities which ranged from laurel coppicing and green woodwork to creative writing and food tasting with the aim of engaging the participants with plants and the environment. The visits happened over an eight month period and culminated in a photography exhibition, a new trail for people with visual impairments and final celebration.

For more information about this project 


Feel Green – University of Leicester Botanic Garden (ULBG)

ULBG wanted to develop a project that would increase visitor numbers, as well as increase the garden’s capacity for working with people with disability, since there are very few venues within the city and county that cater for them despite the fact that they represent up to 18% of its population.

ULBG formed a partnership with Mosaic, who coordinate the provision of services for adults with disabilities. Mosaic trained the garden staff in working with people with disability, offered advice about activities to ensure that they were relevant and appropriate to the abilities and interests of the participants and helped the garden staff to select four community groups to work with.

The garden ran four workshops which focused on horticulture, plant uses, the environment and art.  Each of the community groups participated in 2 full day workshops over a 3 month period and attended a celebration day at the end of the project. Over the course of the project 28 adults and their carers participated in the workshops. 


 The Edible Gardening Project- Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE)

Even though RBGE is situated on the boundary between middle class districts and disadvantaged areas of Edinburgh, like many botanic gardens, its audience is mostly comprised of middle class people who are mostly over 55 years old. RBGE was keen to address this by targeting young people and communities from areas of multiple deprivation.

Four groups who it was thought would benefit from contact with plants were selected:

The project, which was an expansion of an existing initiative at RBGE, focused on growing, preparing and sharing healthy, and sustainable food. Over a series of five months participants maintained their own plots and attended sessions, which catered the individual needs of the groups, and covered topics such as, water conservation, peat free gardening, food security and biodiversity.


Bristol Community Plant Collection – Bristol Zoo Gardens (BZG)

Although BZG is located in one of the most prosperous areas of the city, within Bristol reside some of the most deprived communities in the country. BZG was keen to reach out to these groups, which were previously underrepresented in their audience. The following 9 groups were selected:

The garden wanted to engage the groups with horticulture as well as facilitate their participation in conservation and so, decided to establish a dispersed national collection of calendula. To be considered a national plant collection by the charity Plant Heritage, the collection must contain 75% of known species of the plant.

After training from BZG the groups grew the plants at their site and collected seed. At the end of the growing season the plants and seeds were moved to BZG and the project culminated in a celebration event. 

You can find more information about this project.