The director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew has told of a "challenging" six months due to a combination of heat waves and train strikes. 

Richard Deverell, who has been director of Kew Gardens since 2012, said that after a promising start to the year visitor numbers have dropped off. 

He said local support had been “essential” but the impact of the cost-of-living crisis was being felt, while some groups of visitors had been forced to cancel due to train strikes. 

He said: “We have about 85,000 memberships and 110,000 members - that community of support is incredibly important to us because some of our other visitor groups have dropped away recently.”

These other visitor groups include international tourism and Mr Deverell said a decline in tourists visiting Kew was a trend which was not specific to Kew but “fairly typical for the big London institutions.”

As part of efforts to make Kew accessible for all, this is the first year in which recipients of Universal Credit or Pension Credit have been able to pay £1 for entry into the gardens.

Mr Deverell insisted nobody should be denied access on the basis of affordability and said he was pleased 22,000 individuals took advantage of the cheaper ticket price. He hopes next year this number will rise to 100,000.

Day paying visitors are down 40 per cent from the usual peak compared to the year just before Covid and Mr Deverell said Kew was grateful to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as the “extra support they gave during Covid was fantastic".

Kew receives 30 per cent of its funding from the government, and Mr Deverell said new projects were on their way.

He said: “We are hoping the government will help us with the restoration of the historic and high-profile Palm House.

“We hope the government funds a third of the cost and two-thirds will come from philanthropy.”

The plan is for the restoration to take place within the next three to five years and Mr Deverell said Kew was very lucky to have a local community which was full of “really committed and interesting local residents who want to support Kew and connect with it".

Kew is also hoping to open a new ‘carbon garden’ and learning centre. Mr Deverell highlighted 100,000 school children already come to Kew each year, but he wanted their experience at the gardens to be “enriched.”

He said fundraising for the £11 million centre was important as it would “enrich pupils’ experiences by including lab facilities, proper classrooms and microscopes".

The learning centre will also be used for community outreach and adult education.

Richmond and Twickenham Times: Kew Gardens director Richard DeverellKew Gardens director Richard Deverell (Image: Ed Halford)

Speaking about plans for a new ‘carbon garden’, Mr Deverell said: “It is a working title and is a new area of two to three acres, where we want to tell a story about the relationship between plants, atmospheric carbon dioxide and storage of carbon in woody materials and fossil fuels.”

He added that one of Kew’s greatest challenges was ensuring it isn’t only known as a gardens in the public imagination but also known for being home to 350 scientists.

Kew Gardens is sending scientists to the COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal and Mr Deverell said Kew’s scientists were playing a critical role by working “globally on plant science and conservation".

He said one of Kew’s most important tasks is “choosing the stories we tell our visitors".

He added: “We are always trying to answer the question ‘why should I care?’

“You should care because nature provides invaluable services to humanity and plants support all life on earth.

“We are always trying to answer that question with compelling and engaging stories which hopefully will strike individuals with a certain personal relevance.”

There are lots of simple ways to support Kew, such as becoming a member or volunteering.

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